In Search of the Lost masterpieces, Ethnic Identity, and Democracy: the Belarusian Case

Contesting Authority - Vernacular Knowledge and Alternative Beliefs - Marion Bowman

Anastasiya Astapova [+-]
University of Tartu
Anastasiya Astapova is a PhD scholar at the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore University of Tartu, Estonia (in 2013 – 2014, a visiting scholar at the Center for Folklore Studies, Ohio State University). Her research focuses on the forms and genres of resistance and negotiation of political mythology and ideology in Post-Soviet realm, and includes the study of political humor, nationalist narratives, conspiracy theories, etc. Anastasiya was a recipient of the best student paper award at 2012 Summer Humor School and Symposium on Humor and Laughter for the presentation on student jokes. Her recent and upcoming publications on the topics related to this article include "De-Abbreviations: from Soviet Union to Contemporary Belarus" (Names, 2013) and "Political biography: incoherence, contestation, and the hero pattern elements in the Belarusian case" (Journal of Folklore Research, in print), “Why all dictators have moustaches: political jokes in contemporary Belarus” (Humor, in print).


In the middle of the XX century, one of the most celebrated Belarusian writers, Vladimir Korotkevich, wrote a novel dedicated to the national uprising of 1863. The book was planned to be published in three parts: the first two parts were about the organizers of the uprising, their childhood, education, and preparation for the protest, while the third one was planned to be dedicated to the uprising per se. According to the official version, the third part was never written: it appeared as a short novel, which didn’t justify the hopes of the readers and was not very successful. However, as stated by intellectuals, the third part of the book existed but was stolen by the KGB, and is still kept in the closed archives; its publication may cause ethnic consolidation and democratic changes in contemporary Belarus. Departing from the example of this lost book, I will proceed to similar cases, e. g. search for another Belarusian relic - Cross of Saint Euphrosyne lost in the XX century; and further relate it to other narratives debunking Soviet evil and blaming Soviet authorities for today's Belarusian cultural and political decline. They emerge in the context of Belarusian belated search for ethnic identity and become one of the few tools available in the struggle for democracy. This paper analyses action undertaken by searchers of stolen masterpieces, stories rising around them, and hopes laid on how Belarus might change in case they are found.

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Astapova, Anastasiya. In Search of the Lost masterpieces, Ethnic Identity, and Democracy: the Belarusian Case. Contesting Authority - Vernacular Knowledge and Alternative Beliefs. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Oct 2021. ISBN 9781781792377. Date accessed: 08 Jul 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.29208. Oct 2021

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