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A way out of the niche?
Belarusian literature and its future

Discourse

This event took place before the festival on 18.02.20 in the Roter Salon of the Volksbühne.

Russian with translation into German

With: Julia Cimafiejeva (poet and translator), Andrej Januškevič (historian and publisher)
Moderation: Alexander Chertenko

Since the 1990s, Belarusian writers who do not belong to the official, pro-government writers' union and write in Belarusian have found themselves in a precarious position: due to a lack of support and systematic marginalization in public discourse, they are destined to a niche existence, both culturally and linguistically. Belarusian is regarded as secondary to Russian by the state, which is the main reason why language is regarded by many Belarusian authors as a medium of resistance—even including those who write in Russian themselves, such as Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich. Publishers dedicated to Belarusian-language literature are also faced with a double challenge: they must hold their ground against the dominance of Russian-language publications, most of which come from Russia. In addition to this their work is also shaped by cultural, political, and administrative restrictions.

Set against this difficult situation, a lively literary scene has developed in Belarus over the last two decades, with its own publishing houses, journals, literary critics, and prizes, and it is even gaining recognition beyond national borders. What conditions are the independent authors and publishers working under there? Who are their readers and how do they market their publications in a (linguistically) Russian-dominated book market? If language is a political issue, what does it mean to write and read in Belarusian? And what ultimately needs to happen in order to liberate their literature from its niche?

In cooperation with the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS)

 

Julia Cimafiejeva is a Belarusian poet and translator. She has published two volumes of poetry so far: Kniha pamylak (The Book of Errors, 2014) and Cyrk (Circus, 2016; German translation, 2019) . Cimafiejeva is the co-founder of the online literary magazine PrajdziSvet (discontinued in 2018). In 2017 she curated the Znak rounasci (Equal Sign) literature festival. She also presented the television programme Remarka (Commentary).

Andrej Januškevič is a historian and proprietor of the independent publishing house in Minsk of the same name. He is also the founder of kniharnia.by, a literature distributor that disseminates and promotes contemporary Belarusian literature.

Alexander Chertenko is a German-Ukrainian literary and cultural scholar, Slavist, and comparatist, and is currently working at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen. In 2019 he was a visiting scholar at ZOiS (Center for East European and International Studies).