1. The Rite of the Kalyady Tsars was inscribed in 2009 on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. It is performed once a year at the Orthodox Christian New Year in the village of Semezhava (Minsk region, Central Belarus). The rite is a part of the traditional Belarusian Christmas and New Year’s celebration. The New Year procession involves local people and is led by seven young men in the ritual costumes known as the Kalyady Tsars. The procession proceeds through the village, enacting a traditional play, and receiving gifts and good wishes from the local residents. The Tsars’ visit is the village’s traditional event and is believed to be a good omen and a sign of prosperity.
2. Inscription has clearly attracted public interest for the ritual held in 2010, and has resulted in a series of initiatives from the local community and public institutions in view of revitalizing the practice. The report states that, in the 1960s, five or six groups used to perform the ritual. At present only one such group is active, with only two persons assuming the role of transmitters. On the positive side, young men are actively involved, including youth who have emigrated from the village and come back during the Christmas holidays. The report mentions the fact that young people are interested only in the formal aspects of the ritual, at the expense of its religious dimension. However, a more positive way to look at this inevitable process is to consider that the ritual, despite a diminution in its religious significance, nevertheless contributes to maintaining a sense of identity and continuity for the local community, instils a sense of pride in popular heritage, and may contribute to local development.
3. It is still too soon to make an informed evaluation about the effects of recent safeguarding measures on the status of the element that has only been performed twice since its inscription on the List. (Although the report was to cover only the period prior to 15 December 2010, since the procession takes place in early January of each year the report also includes information on the January 2011 activities.) It is particularly noteworthy that a system of annual monitoring to observe the ongoing viability of the element was created as planned and is expected to help the concerned community and institutions better evaluate the impact of safeguarding measures.
Consequences of inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding
4. The inscription has had several types of consequences. It has prompted the national and local governments to take actions supporting the safeguarding of the element. It has mobilized the local community in view of revitalizing the ritual. It has also attracted attention from the public, heritage experts, and the media at the national level and even beyond. All this is encouraging, inasmuch as it raises awareness about the element and builds wider support for its revitalization.
5. It is clear that the members of the local community are well aware of the potentially negative effects of media attention. They have reacted in a remarkable way to journalists’ requests to perform the ritual in advance of its due date for TV recording purposes, responding that such would constitute a sin and they would not agree to do so. However it is also crucial that the concerned authorities and local community start considering at this early stage what might be the unintended consequences of large public attention. There are indications that the ritual is scheduled to form the centrepiece of an annual folklore festival. It is unclear what is meant here by folklore. If the planned festival results in presenting performances of the Kalyady tsars and other intangible cultural heritage elements taken out of their socio-cultural context, frozen in a standardized way, and presented to an audience of passive spectators, then there is no doubt that the festival will run contrary to the objectives of the Convention. If, on the other hand, folklore is conceived of as living cultural practices and expressions embedded in communities and groups and endowing them with a sense of identity and continuity, then the planned festival will form part of suitable safeguarding measures for the Rite of the Kalyady Tsars and other intangible cultural heritage of the region.
Efforts since inscription to safeguard the element
6. Following the inscription of the Kalyady Tsars rite on the Historical and Cultural Heritage List of the Republic of Belarus, the local community has undertaken a series of relevant measures to help safeguard the element: awareness raising among members of the local community, incentives to expand the circle of participants, and dissemination of information about the ritual. Beyond the circle of participants, community members have mobilized to create new costumes for the Tsars in the local Crafts Centre and compile a recipe-book of traditional dishes that are usually prepared by the villagers during the festival. Studies have been initiated on the tangible handicraft elements associated with the ritual, and on the cultural landscape within which it is practiced. All these initiatives fall in line with the Convention.
7. The level of financial support from public bodies, which is detailed in the report, is noteworthy. Important efforts have been made to raise the visibility of the element at the national level (in the media, through exhibitions and workshops on intangible cultural heritage, and through other activities).
8. Public authorities have also provided notable support for the revitalization of the element: the practitioners of ritual were granted an award by the President of the Republic of Belarus; the ritual is now one of the main priorities of the State Programme for the Development of the Belarusian Culture; linkages have been created with handicraft production in the village; and study of the ritual and its tangible associated elements are now part of the school curriculum.
9. Furthermore, the ritual has been integrated into rural development programs that are expected to provide incentives for younger generations to remain in the village. A reflection on embedding the ritual in modern forms of culture and on cultural tourism has been started. It can be hoped that this reflection will help the practitioners and other stakeholders make informed decisions about the role the ritual can play in local development, particularly by helping them mitigate the potentially negative effects of excessive commercialization and public attention.
Institutional context for safeguarding efforts
10. Several relevant institutions at the national and local level are involved in the safeguarding activities, mostly through financial assistance and integration in the planning process: the Ministry of Culture; the district-level Department for Culture; and the State Institute for Culture of Belarus together with the Academy of Sciences for documentation and research.
Participation of communities in safeguarding activities and in the preparation of the report
11. The mobilization of the local community is particularly noteworthy. Besides the involvement of the two oldest bearers of the rite, an Ethnic Culture Association was established in 2010 in the village to organize the folklore festival, study the history of the ritual, and monitor its viability. The youth are also actively involved through a local ethnographic club and by participating in the ritual. The inhabitants of the village have been particularly active in seeking public and private sector support for the revitalization of the element, with a concern to link its maintenance to the broader socioeconomic context in the village. The approach needs to be praised and encouraged, again with the reservations previously expressed.
12. It goes without saying that the community concerned participated actively in the preparation of the report.
Evaluation of the measures taken by the State Party to implement Decision 4.COM 14.01 of the Committee
13. The main recommendation of Decision 4.COM 14.01 was to review safeguarding measures so as to enable the continued practice and transmission of the element in a context where there was a lack of broad interest for it, particularly from the part of the youth who had left the village for the city. Judging by the report, this concern has been addressed both at the community level (by reaching out to young men who visit the village at Christmas), and by the authorities through a plan to create development incentives for young people in the village.
14. The Belarusian authorities – both at the local and the national level – appear to have responded carefully and conscientiously to the concerns raised by examiners of the initial nomination and formulated by the Committee in its Decision 4.COM 14.01. While it is not yet possible to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of those responses, the Committee may deem that it is not necessary to receive a second extraordinary annual report, and that Belarus may be invited to submit a further report by 15 December 2013 (that is, the fourth year following the year of inscription) and every fourth year thereafter. Should the Committee decide that a second annual report is called for, it may nevertheless wish to ask that it be submitted in early 2012, so as to include the January 2012 activities.