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11 Jan

Kristina Jorgic (Serbia)
Vaseljenska TV, Dec 24, 2013


Destiny of a museum – destiny of all of us

When you mention the word museum, the first association for an ordinary man who lives in Serbia is most likely a list of all objects of great cultural importance that have been closed to the public for over a decade. Even Belgrade, the Serbian capital, has the epithet  ’’the city without museums’’. In a country where ministers of culture justify this insurmountable problem with the words why should we have museums working when we have so many closed factories, maybe we should try to find an answer to the simplest question: Why we should be engaged in museums and art?

Museums are the bearers of tradition, but also the foundation upon which national identity is built. Museums are our anchor in time: they tell us who we are, from where we came, and where we are going. Museums are the medium of communication and the best place to acquaint a foreigner with the cultural treasures of your own country.

The news which has recently made a sensation in Belarusian media caused the most intimate worry at a time when Serbian culture is in deep backwardness. The Belarusian Ministry of Culture has made a decision by which Maxim Bogdanovich’s Literary Museum is losing the status of museum and will become a branch of the State Museum of the History of the Belarusian literature. Reorganisation of museums is carried out by the decree of Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko  and, according to it, the number of museum staff must be reduced by 20% from the next year.

Since Belarusian culture is not well known to Slavic countries, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of Maxim Bogdanovich (1891-1917). He was born in Minsk, today the capital of Belarus, but just one of the most important centres of great Russian empire of that time. Maxim inherited his talent from his mother Maria, who died when he was six. As he was always directed by his father, he started to show interest for his notes in which the history, ethnography and folklore of the Belarusian nation were presented. All these motives would later find place in Maxim’s poems. In 1902 he enrolled in a grammar school but during the revolution (1905-1907) he  joined  the student protests and, because of that, he received a warning as disloyal student.

However, this episode merely strengthened Bogdanovich’s faith in the fight for Belarusian national liberation. At the end of 1911 he applied for a place at the Faculty of Philology in St.Petersburg; he was not successful only due to his lack of money. In that period he devoted himself to translating from classical languages (Ovid, Horace) or French (Paul Verlen) as well as Belarusian. In 1911, he successfully published ’A short history of Belarusian literature until the 16th century’ . As a poet, he had great success in Vilnius in 1914 where he published his first collection of poems in 2,000 copies. He soon received a positive review in the prestigious magazine Our Lands. From the begining of World War I to 1916, apart from writing poems, Maxim published texts in the Russian language. This was such a striking precedent in his own creativity. However, the motive was extremely strong: a desire to present (and also resolve) all the urgent problems in Russian socio-political life of that time.

When he finished lyceum in mid-1916, he finally came back to his native city. Although his health was becoming more and more unpredictable, Maxim accepted a job in the city committee. He wanted to help Belarusian refugees, but also all war victims. When he found out that he was suffering from tuberculosis, his friends collected money to send him for treatment. Unfortunately, it was too late. Maxim Bogdanovich died in the dawn of May 25th in 1917, when he was only 25.

Among the monuments which bear witness to the importance of the poet’s premature death, there is a bronze statue in Minsk, placed near the house where he was born. But the most important monument to this poet is perhaps the Maxim Bogdanovich Literary Museum, founded in 1980 and located in a two-story house, which was built in the 19th century.
When we return to the topic, we can wonder with a doubt: is it possible that this poet, a great writer and an even greater patriot, could lose his museum?

    The good news is that on 11th December there was a day of protest, held by the most  prestigious Belarusian writers against ’’optimization of the museum”. Poet Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu compared the situation in Belarus with the situation in Ukraine: ’’[In Ukraine] there is an ongoing struggle for power (…) But, no one wants to expel Taras Shevchenko and Lesya Ukrainka from Ukraine...’’ The poet and political activist added: ’’This is an effort to grab something which does not belong either to the Ministry of Culture, or to the city - it belongs to Belarus and Belarusians, to our history and literature’’.Another Belarusian writer, Boris Petrovich, in the name of the Union of Belarusan writers, stated that he was especially worried about the Maxim Bogdanovich museum in Grodno, which had already lost its status. He emphasized that it was horrible that noone had reacted, pointing out that ’’this is an attack on Belarusian culture with the aim to russify Belarusian society’’. Writer Uladzimir Arlau agreed with his associates, adding that the latest events had humiliated the genius of Belarusian literature.

In the long run, the fate of this museum - which cooperates actively with several European countries - is in danger. The recent exhibition ’’120 years since the birth of Maxim Bogdanovich’’ was presented in several museums. Does this so-called ’’optimization’’ really have to be related to culture, especially in countries that do not have considerable experience as independent and sovereign states on the map of Europe? Do optimization and similar actions help, or cause more damage in this case? While it is becoming increasingly certain that there could be an elite casino in the place of the Maxim Bogdanovich Literary Museum, one can not relinquish the impression that people in political positions usually do not have any sense of art and culture.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 While the Belarusian artists defy the government’s (not) reasonable decrees in the museum of Maxim Bogdanovich, maybe it is time for Serbian society to ask itself where it is and where it is going. Why are our museums still closed? Why is noone yet taking this problem seriously?

Although we do not know so much about each other, this episode in Belarusian socio-political life points to the similarity of policies which are implemented in our countries, but also the despair of the cultural elite that has no power to resist the omnipresent backwardness. This event also sends a message that this is maybe the last minute to learn from those who take more care of their own history, culture and tradition. I strongly believe that we would be surprised what an easy task this is.

Originally published: http://www.vaseljenska.com/kultura/sudbina-jednog-muzeja-sudbina-svih-nas/