Institute of Belarusian Culture (1922–1928).
The birth of the nation and national science
The activity of the Institute of Belarusian Culture (Inbelkult) was one of the fundamental events of the modern history of Belarus. The Institute came into being and operated in the context of the national policy pursued by the Soviet Union’s government. For that government, the national policy was only a political manoeuvre to control the loyalty of the people who inhabited one of the Soviet western border regions. However, for Belarusians it was a great opportunity, which gave them a historic chance to return to the family of European nations.
Witnessing the events of that time, the future prominent historian, Mikalaj Ulashchyk wrote: “The Belarusian movement grew exponentially. Nationally conscious Belarusians had ceased to be news, a miracle. Their number grew almost every month… There was a huge rise in national self-awareness, people wanted to express themselves in something, to do something not official, not mandatory, but what is called “for the soul”.
The idea of founding Inbelkult was first voiced by Stsiapan Niekrashevich (who also suggested the name of the institution) at a meeting of educational and cultural leaders in January 1921, convened by the People's Commissariat of Education. At that time, the Institute could not be established – staff, funding, building and a solid plan were yet to be found. In February 1921, an Academic and Terminological Commission was set up under the People's Commissariat. It dealt with the topical and important issue of creating Belarusian scientific terminology necessary for the preparation of school textbooks. Inbelkult was created on the basis of that Commission.
Information about the Institute of Belarusian Culture as a structural unit of the Academic Centre of the People's Commissariat of Education dates back to the autumn of 1921. But the Inbelkult in the shape which would become prominent in the subsequent years, can be said to come into being only in the winter of 1922. That Inbelkult was headed by Stsiapan Niekrashevich.
Institute of Belarusian Culture (1922–1928).
The birth of the nation and national science
The idea of Inbelkult’s founding fathers was for it to become a research institute as well as a cultural and social establishment. It was conceived not only to carry out scientific and academic work but also be a national cultural and educational centre for the benefit of ordinary people.
Both the staffing and the structure of the institution were designed to achieve this goal. Until 1927, Inbelkult also had corresponding members – non-professional public activists, “living conscious forces from Belarusian provinces”.
The Institute included sections and committees responsible for various academic and social tasks. Responsibility for conducting scientific research was assigned to the standing committees, while the sections had the character of academic societies, which were to determine the direction of academic work in each area, stimulate research, discuss their results, strengthen communication with the public, in particular through open academic meetings. University teachers, in particular those from the Belarusian State University, and employees of other institutions often acted as heads and members of sections.
The Central Bureau of Local Lore was established at the Institute in 1924 as a standing commission and became a conduit through which Inbelkult maintained contact with the general public.
Local lore activities were not so much academic as practical and day-to-day and were intended to contribute to the economic and cultural development of the country.
Inbelkult actively involved lore enthusiasts in collecting folklore, materials of the modern Belarusian language, information on seasonal natural phenomena, rural crafts and home crafts, etc. At the same time, a clear line was drawn between the work of professional scientists and lore enthusiasts.
The Central Bureau of Local Lore also stimulated the activities of associations of lore enthusiasts in assisting local administrative, economic, cultural and educational institutions by providing them with materials about the features of the area, its natural and economic resources.
A dense network of these organisations, seen as a powerful, creative and effective force, was supposed to cover the entire territory of Soviet Belarus.
An important feature of Inbelkult’s structure was the presence of units that studied the culture of national minorities – the Jewish and Polish national departments. These were the only organisations of their kind in the Soviet Union, and the Jewish Department was the only such organisation in Europe. Later, units for studying Latvian culture and the history of Lithuania were established within Inbelkult.
In terms of this goal, staffing and structure Inbelkult was a phenomenal institution.
The Inbelkult sections included the Association of the Scientific Organisation of Labour and its Psychotechnical Laboratory (since 1924), the Scientific Society for the Study of Belarus at the Belarusian State Academy of Agriculture in Horki (since 1925) and the All-Belarusian Association of Belarusian Poets and Writers “Maladniak” (the “Youth”), which subsequently became an independent literary organisation.
In 1922–1924, Inbelkult continued to work on the creation of scientific terminology, while also taking part in the preparation of textbooks, teacher training courses in Belarusian studies, development and examination of school curricula. The unwritten right of the Institute to approve school programs as well as to recommend candidates for universities was retained by it also in later years.
Gradually, the institution expanded its academic activity, expanding its areas, setting itself the task of uniting all scientific activities in Belarus.
By 1924, Inbelkult's success was so significant that it fell fully in line with the image of “a child of the October Revolution” (Aliaksandr Charviakow), became for the Communist Party and Soviet authorities a significant political symbol of benign state expansion and socialist and cultural development, one of their image-making tools.
According to a decree enacted by the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of Soviet Belarus in July 1924, Inbelkult was proclaimed the highest state scientific institution in Belarus, whose tasks included a methodical study of the Belarusian language, literature, ethnography, history, nature, economics and social movement as well as coordination in these areas of all academic work carried out by academic and cultural institutions and individual researchers.
There was a search for an optimal structure and in the first half of 1925 the reorganisation of the Institute was completed. At this time, the Institute comprised historical archeological, literary, medical, natural science, and agricultural sections and commissions for the protection of monuments of antiquity, art and nature, on compiling a dictionary of the modern Belarusian language (dictionary), on the study of the revolutionary movement, on spelling and terminology and on the study of natural creative forces.
By August 1925, the number of sections had reached 10, and the number of commissions – 15. In the same year, Inbelkult opened its own library, and in 1926 – a publishing department and printing house (incidentally, those were the very same publishing department, that was to some extent responsible for the publication of the books displayed in the digital collection of Inbelkult’s publications; and the very same library where those publications were preserved).
In 1925 the botanical garden in Vialikija Liotcy was taken over by the Institute, and in 1926 (officially, but practically in 1927) a Zoological museum was opened.
In 1926, a prominent Russian and Soviet linguist, Professor Pavel Rastarhuew described the work of one of the commissions of the Institute as follows: “The work of the dictionary commission exceeded all my expectations and caused a feeling of deep adoration for the energy with which the dictionary is being compiled”.
The maturity of Inbelkult as an institution was manifested in the fact that it began to formulate objectives of state importance and magnitude. At the initiative of the Institute in January 1926 the first conference of researchers of Belarusian archeology and archeography was held. At the conference a resolution was passed which in particular declared the expediency of transferring from Moscow to Soviet Belarus the archives of the Lithuanian Metrika, historic heritage of Belarusian working people, and its publication, which would be authorised by a separate resolution of the legislative bodies of the BSSR as a matter of state prerogative; suggested raising with the Soviet Belarusian Government the issue of the repatriation to Belarusian museums of archeological and art objects that had been taken abroad at different times and were housed in museums of Soviet Russia and appealed to the Soviet Belarusian government on the issue of the repatriation to Soviet Belarus of library collections that had been moved outside Belarus.
By early 1926, Inbelkult's authority and position had grown to such an extent that in February it was separated from the People's Commissariat of Education and re-established as an independent institution reporting directly to the Council of People’s Commissars of Soviet Belarus, “noting the importance of the Institute of Belarusian Culture in researching the country's natural resources, science and Belarusian, Jewish and Polish cultures also taking into account the work that is expanding, the impact on the cultural development in the region, which is growing...”. The Chair of the Presidium of Inbelkult (who was at the time Usievalad Ihnatowski) was formally co-opted into the Council of People’s Commissars.
Due to the work of the Institute, Belarusian academic studies started achieving international recognition. In November 1926 it held a conference on the Reform of the Belarusian Spelling and Alphabet. It was attended not only by academics from Belarus, but also from Soviet Russian, Soviet Ukraine, Germany (Max Vasmer), Poland (Jόzef Gołąbek), Lithuania (Mykolas Biržiška) and Latvia (Jānis Rainis, Ernestas Blese) as well as representatives of Belarusian national minorities in Lithuania, Latvia and Czechoslovakia. According to one of its participants, the conference was the first academic entry of Belarus into the international arena; Belarus has shown that it is ready for academic presentations of international level.
The success of Inbelkult was largely due to the work and authority of outstanding academic organisers and administrators, leaders of Inbelkult, who at the same time pursued academic activity (Stsiapan Niekrashevich, Usievalad Ihnatowski, Arkadz Smolich, Jazep Dyla, Vatslaw Lastowski); heads of the Central Bureau of Local Lore (Mikalaj Bialuha, Aliaksiej Kazak, Mikalaj Kaspiarovich); active academic position, talent and energy of mature, young and novice academics (Jakaw Afanasjew, Mikalaj Azbukin, Mikalaj Bajkow, Mikalaj Blijaducha, Jawhien Barychewski, Piotr Buzuk, Iosif Vowk-Lievanovich, Maksim Haretski, Anton Hrynievich, Dzmitry Dawhiala, Mitrafan Downar-Zapolski, Vasil Drushchyts, Siarhiej Dubinski, Ivan Zamotsin, Mikalaj Zbitkowski, Jazep Liosik, Іvan Lutsevich (Janka Kupala), Aliaksandr Liawdanski, Kanstantsin Mitskievich (Jakub Kolas), Ryhor Parechyn, Mikalaj Pijatukhovich, Kanstantsin Palikarpovich, Isaakij Sierbaw, Barys Terlietski, Anatol Fiadziushyn, Aliaksandr Tsvikevich, Aliaksandr Shliubski, Мikalaj Shchakatsichin and many others).
Institute of Belarusian Culture (1922–1928).
The birth of the nation and national science
TOWARDS REORGANISATION IN THE BELARUSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
There was another factor that contributed to the growth and development of Inbelkult. According to the plans of the leadership of Soviet Belarus, it was to become the institution on the basis of which it was supposed to create the Belarusian Academy of Sciences – one of the first in the USSR.
The events leading to the establishment of the academy began on 8 October 1924, when the Deputy People's Commissar for Education Anton Balitski at a meeting of the Council of People’s Commissars of Soviet Belarus mentioned that Inbelkult “is developing into a permanent academic institution with a tendency to gradually become the Belarusian Academy of Sciences” and that Inbelkult must become such an authoritative academic institution, whose voice would be heard by all academic institutions not only in Soviet Belarus but also in Western Belarus (which was then part of the Second Polish Republic), through its transformation into a permanent academic establishment within an Academy of Sciences. The Council of People’s Commissars of the BSSR instructed the People's Commissariat of Education to reorganise Inbelkult “into a permanent higher research institution on the model of an academy of sciences, which should systematically and methodically deal with academic and cultural issues in Soviet Belarus”.
The idea of an academy of sciences was a consensus of the intellectual, national and cultural elite of Belarus, Communist and Soviet authorities at the Soviet Belarusian and USSR levels. For these authorities, who attached great importance to symbolism, it possessed significant political asset, symbolic capital, as the Academy of Sciences was created on the wave of state expansion and socialist and cultural development, led by the Communist Party and the Soviet government. It was considered that the Belarusian Academy of Sciences would be the first and only academy created “by the Communist Party and the Soviet government”, which also had no tradition of pre-October Revolution times. This would be an embodiment of the achievements of the Communist Party and the Soviet government in science and art.
In June 1926, the Chair of the Central Executive Committee of the BSSR Aliaksandr Charviakow in the report to Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR noted more prominent place of Inbelkult in the entire system of institutions of Soviet Belarus. According to him, “all the activities of the Institute prove that it has deep roots in Belarus and that the thorough nature and content of its work leads to its further deployment and design in the form of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences”. A resolution by the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR on this report supported Inbelkult’s transformation into the Belarusian Academy of Sciences. In July 1926, the Council of People’s Commissars of Soviet Belarus decreed: “In connection with the nationwide revival of Belarus and its economic and cultural development, it is necessary from the 1926-27 academic year to give the Institute of Belarusian Culture a direction to its gradual transformation into the Academy of Sciences, but without abandoning its connection through its national departments, sections, scientific societies and the Bureau of Local Lore with the broad working masses”.
The republic's leadership contributed to the success of Inbelkult in implementing the idea of reorganising it into an academy. But when it came to practical measures and the actual change of status, it turned out that the Institute was not yet ready for such reorganisation. There was a lack of qualified personnel, the academic qualification of many of the employees did not meet required standards, there was no suitable structure and there was no financial and technical base necessary for its work.
Since 1926, the question of the reorganisation of Inbelkult began to be determined by domestic political tasks, in particular, the degree of control over the activities of the institution by the Communist Party. And this control was still weak. There were few active communists in the staff of the Institute, and their influence was insignificant. At the same time, a significant part of non-partisan employees was “significantly influenced by national democratic sentiments”. They carried out considerable academic work and enjoyed great authority among the staff. The Communist Party feared that these non-partisan employees might be at the head of a hostile political movement of the intelligentsia. When the ruling party switches to repressive methods of fighting ideological and political opponents in the future, some of these non-partisan figures of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences will be removed from office and expelled from Belarus. In the meantime, the Communist Party had to come to terms with their existence and activities, because it was this non-partisan part of Inbelkult that set the tone of the institution's activities, which symbolised the success of the revolution and Soviet power.
The Communist Party took steps to assume a dominant position in ideological and political terms. But by the end of 1926 the situation with the control over Inbelkult's activities had changed slightly.
Since 1926, the Institute has placed special emphasis on research activities, intensified work on the study of nature.
According to the plan for the 1926/1927 academic year, 11 full-time employees of Inbelkult were to begin “academic research work on new principles. According to the Presidium, the group of these employees should be the first cell of the future Academy”. What these principles represented is not entirely clear, but it follows from this statement that the leadership of the Institute drew a clear line between the principles of the existing institution and the future academy. Inbelkult lived with the expectations of reorganisation and started modelling itself on the image and role of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences.
In 1927, several important events set to transform Inbelkult into an academic institution. A new charter was adopted, which was in many ways similar to the charters of the USSR Academy of Sciences and the All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences (founded in 1918). The charter was seen as sufficiently “academic” and was approved the Council of People’s Commissars of the BSSR on 29 June 1927. The organisational structure was transformed and the institutions of Inbelkult were reorganised in accordance with the principles and tasks of the new charter. Two divisions were created – the Division of Humanities and the Division of Nature and Economy, two national sectors – Polish and Jewish; divisions comprised classes, classes – departments; departments – commissions, institutes, offices, museums, laboratories, etc.; national sectors (Jewish, Polish) were divided into commissions. The Academic Council was formed, the positions of president and vice-president were introduced. Under the direct control of the presidium fell the Central Bureau of Local Lore, bibliographic commission, the commission for the study of Western Belarus, the military terminology commission, the commission for the study of natural productive forces, the library and the printing house. Qualification requirements for active members and staff have been raised.
But, despite all these changes, the establishment of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences did not occur at that time.
One document is crucial for understanding why Inbelkult was not transformed in 1927. This is a long-term plan of the Institute for the 1928/1929–1932/1933 academic years, which can be dated to the spring of 1928. The assessment of the state of the institution in connection with the prospect of its transformation into the Belarusian Academy, presented in the introduction to the plan, is rather critical.
It follows from the document that the Institute had insufficient budget funding; there was a lack of highly qualified academic personnel; there were no primary conditions for the development of science (there were no premises, large libraries, archives, etc.); there were difficulties associated with the training of academic personnel, equipped with the equipment necessary for scientific research
It also follows from this document that the leadership of Inbelkult had a clear idea of what measures were to be taken to achieve of the status of the Academy of Sciences, and that some of these measures were to be implemented in 1928.
Thus, the Soviet Belarusian authorities promoted the development of Inbelkult and the idea of its transformation into an academy of sciences. But that transformation became a long-term project. In the context of serious social and economic developments in the republic, it was necessary to take into account the inability to redistribute financial resources so as to bring forward the creation of a powerful and authoritative academic institute.
The chronology of the legal registration of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences and its opening is as follows: on 4 October 1928 the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus decided to put on the agenda of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party an issue about the re-naming Inbelkult into an academy of sciences “in time for commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the foundation of Soviet Belarus – by December 1928”; on 8 October the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party decided to grant this request; on 12 October the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus instructed to draft a resolution on renaming Inbelcult to the Academy of Sciences; on 13 October the Bureau approved the draft resolution of the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People's Commissars of the BSSR; on 26 December the Council of People's Commissars of the BSSR approved the charter of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences and the first full membership; on 1 January 1929, the tenth anniversary of the creation of Soviet Belarus, the opening of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences took place.
Institute of Belarusian Culture (1922–1928).
The birth of the nation and national science
What has been done by Inbelkult as the first academic institution of the country in the implementation of nationally oriented academic policy in the context of the all the conditions, factors and incentives for its growth and development, the efforts of its leadership and staff in the institutionalisation of national science? What were its achievements? What academic directions did it establish?
The Institute has carried out unprecedented work on the standardisation of the lexical structure and grammatical system of the Belarusian literary language, the study of its dialects and history. It legitimised the language within the family of independent languages.
Inbelkult opened a centuries-old national history, with its form of state organisation and high culture.
Thanks to the Institute, systematic work on the discovery and research of archaeological monuments of Belarus began. It was the employee of Inbelkult Kanstantsin Palikarpоvich who discovered the first Palaeolithic site in Belarus (near the village of Bierdyzh, now in Chachersk district of Homel region), and members of the local lore movement Siarhiej Shutaw and Mikalaj Ulashchyk discovered the ancient settlement Bantsarawshchyna, which became a reference monument to one of the archaeological cultures of the Iron Age. It is interesting to note that one of the first archaeological excavations was carried out in the vicinity of Minsk (near the villages of Rylawshchyna and Piatrowshchyna, in 1925, now within the city of Minsk, respectively, Churlionis Street and Piatrowshchyna Street; near Bantsarawshchyna, in 1926–1928, and in Zaslawje in 1926).
Inbelkult has made a significant contribution to the protection of archaeological, cultural and natural monuments. It should be noted that the Institute's efforts temporarily suspended the destruction of the remains of the ancient churches of the Bielchytski Monastery in Polatsk, which preserved fragments of frescoes. During that time, it became possible to study the marked fragments before they were destroyed. Thanks to Inbelkult, the academic community managed to make a masterpiece of ancient Polatsk art – the famous cross of Ewfrasinnja of Polatsk.
Inbelkult reformatted the cultural memory of the Belarusian people. The value and significance of some of the created images of this memory, such as Frantsysk Skaryna, is not only preserved today, but also increased.
The activities of Inbelkult in the field of studying ethnography and folklore of Belarus became widespread.
The institute has become a centre for collecting, mastering, processing and using the heritage of Belarusian folk art, creating national forms of drama, music and fine arts. Belarusian art criticism with its critique, theory and history of art originates in that institution.
The Institute was actively involved in the organisation of the First All-Belarusian Art Exhibition, which took place in Minsk in December 1925 – January 1926. It exhibited more than 1,000 works by Belarusian artists. This exhibition showed a great potential of Belarusian fine and applied arts.
Among the literary critics of the Institute, in the conditions of free exchange of opinions, there was an active and fruitful search for methodological approaches in Belarusian literary criticism, in particular, those that overcame the simplicity of literary concepts which did not appreciate the creative role of the writer, denied him the right to creative and ideological evolution. Work began on the preparation of classical literary heritage and monuments of ancient writing, which laid the foundations of Belarusian textology.
Inbelkult's activity is connected with the formation of the direction in which the state of health of the country's population and the factors that influenced its indicators were studied.
Inbelkult laid the foundations of Belarusian floristics and geobotany, scientific typological classification of forests in Belarus, environmental activities. The results obtained at the Institute served as a condition for the creation of such scientific areas as systematic, geographical, chronological analysis of flora, botanical and geographical zoning of the territory, geobotanical mapping, forest typology and classification of forest vegetation.
The results of geological research on the territory of Belarus revealed deposits of limestone, dolomite, chalk, diatomaceous earth, light green clays, quartz-glauconite sands, phosphates, and brown iron ore. A dolomite mine in Vitsebsk now operates in the area where dolomites and dolomite limestone were found, while the Krychaw cement plant operates in the area where chalk was discovered by Inbelkult’s geologists.
The Institute was ahead of many academic plans that have been implemented or will be implemented only after many decades, and some only in recent years, such as creating a historical dictionary of the Belarusian language, preparing a multi-volume edition on the history of Belarusian art, publishing the Metrica of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, conducting anthropological research.
Inbelkult has opened up to the world a people with its language, culture, history and a country with its nature and subsoil. It has developed a body of academic research about them, turning Belarus into one of the centres of academic life with its own intellectual elite.
But the achievements of the Institute cannot be reduced to academic only. Inbelkult led a broad intellectual, cultural and national movement.
The systematic and methodical work of Inbelkult, mainly through the organisation and coordination of local lore activities, gave impetus to an unprecedented cultural revival, mainly among teachers and pupils, who formed the basis of local lore enthusiasts organisations. By the middle of 1928 lore enthusiasts had more than 10 thousand people in their ranks.
Local lore has become one of the highest forms of public creative activity in the country. Through research and educational work, popularising science, attracting assistance in academic developments, arousing interest in history and culture, the environment, calling for the protection of historical, archaeological and natural monuments, stimulating its own observations and research, the Institute taught to appreciate the country's achievements, its past and present and to believe in the future of Belarus. After all, what was previously only a means of communication and everyday environment (language, life, nature, etc.), has acquired academic significance and value, has become the subject of close attention and study, has become signs and symbols of cultural and national identity. The institute launched a process of self-awareness of the nation.
The role of Inbelkult in cultural genesis and nation-building cannot be underestimated. It became the foundation of an academic system, a generator and exponent of ideas, an active, lively and creative response to which determined new configurations of culture and formed a national ideology. This culture and ideology have developed a new system of values, new models of thinking and behaviour, new ways of self-awareness of citizens, changed their worldview, cultural landmarks, formed a sense of historical and cultural community, new horizons of expectations, motivated to active and creative activities. This culture and ideology had so intensified by the late 1920s – early 1930s that they began to pose a serious threat to the ideology of the ruling Communist party.
In the 1930s, the lives of many famous figures of Inbelkult ended tragically. They were charged with political crimes against the Soviet government. Many were persecuted. Inbelkult itself, which stood at the origins of Belarusian national science, was declared a centre of enemy, national-democratic, counter-revolutionary forces and was forgotten for many decades.
But history will judge. It is already passing a fair sentence. In good, dignified and eternal memory, which allows the citizen and the nation to go through a difficult path of self-awareness, find the main values and meanings, separate the real from the false and the past, elevate the people and create the future of the country, there will remain only those who, guided by their calling, in the discovery of the mysteries of the universe and the search for eternal truth and harmony, preached life, creativity, search and creation. This also applies to Inbelkult members.