History of Belarusian printing

History of Belarusian printing

The history of Belarusian printing dates back to 1517, when Francysk Skaryna published his first book The Psalter in Prague.

During XVI-XVIII centuries, there were brotherhoods in the Great Duchy of Lithuania belonging to Orthodox churches and monasteries. They conducted cultural-educational activities, opened schools and typographies. One of the first historic dates is March 18, 1633. Then the Polish king Wladyslaw IV Vasa issued a document where the printing house in Minsk at the Monastery of St Peter and St Paul is mentioned for the first time.

Fraternal printing houses published affordable and cheap books in plain Belarusian or Church Slavonic languages.

Catholic orders joined the publishing business during the period of Counter-Reformation on the territory of the Great Duchy of Lithuania (XVI century). And since the XVIII century, printing establishments begin to rapidly develop in Minsk.

Alexander Susha, Deputy Director on scientific work and publication activities of the National Library of Belarus, chairman of the international association of Belarusian language and culture specialists:
Information about the whole city could be found in Gubernskie Vedomosti (local governmental newspapers). It was some kind of an information source about who people are and what they do, what their occupation is, what position they hold. This information was always in demand. Not only civil servants, officials, a lot of whom lived in the province center, subscribed to this newspaper, but many public figures did it too. Ordinary residents of the town. 

Minsk was one of the most economically developed cities of Belarus in the XIX century. First private printing establishments opened in 1807. They published books on different subjects: religion, art, linguistics, agriculture, books in Polish and Russian languages; literature in the Belarusian language was published very rarely.

Alexander Susha, Deputy Director on scientific work and publication activities of the National Library of Belarus, chairman of the international association of Belarusian language and culture specialists:
First of all we should mention Vintsent Dunin-Martsinkyevich, the famous Belarusian writer and founder of modern Belarusian literature. In the middle of the XIX century, a number of poetic, prosaic, dramatic works by Vincent Vintsent Dunin-Martsinkyevich were published in Minsk, where the writer lived. Some works were in Polish,others were in Belarusian. But later on, many of these works were banned after the November Uprising (1830–31), which was an armed rebellion in the heartland of partitioned Poland against the Russian Empire.

Minsk private printing houses stopped their work for almost 10 years after the suppression of the uprising. But since 1845 printing houses began to gradually recover.

At the beginning of the XX century, the city had about 20 printing houses. Revolutionary fiction was in demand at that time. Prominent representatives of this period were Francišak Bahuševič and Janka Lučyna. Romantic poems by Yanka Kupala and proses by Yakub Kolas also became popular.

Alexander Susha, Deputy Director on scientific work and publication activities of the National Library of Belarus, chairman of the international association of Belarusian language and culture specialists:
At the beginning of the XX century, when a lot of censorial and language restrictions had been cancelled, the process of book printing and book publishing began to take new shape in the modern capital of Belarus. Thanks to the active publication work of Belarusian writers, the Belarusian language began its revival.

Books become an integral part of modern society in the XX century. The history of Minsk libraries begins in 1924.

After World War II, Minsk returns to normal life. The demand for scientific and fiction literature grows in the 1960-1970’s. Universal and specialized bookstores are gradually opened.

It was difficult for an ordinary Soviet person to collect a home library in the 1980’s. There wasn’t a wide choice of books in the USSR; they were mainly about the class struggle and promoted socialist ideas. You could get detectives and fiction books either illicitly or from speculators. Books by Agatha Christie, Alexander Dumas and Maurice Druon were exhibited in the foreground at home and were proudly shown to guests. And if you were lucky enough, you could be given a book to read.

Many economic, cultural, scientific and other ties between the republics of the now former USSR broke overnight in 1991; links between publishers and book-selling organizations were torn apart. Only the best managed to overcome it all. At the end of the 1990’s, people buy books on economics, jurisprudence and IT.

The XXI century is the time of abundance of books, when tons of publications can be replaced by one electronic device. This is time when books are so expensive that not everyone can purchase them. According to some bibliographers, home libraries will serve as a hallmark of intellectual elites and people with an income above average in the future.

Minsk residents:
I love fiction. Classical foreign literature in particular.

You know, it has been a long time since I read some modern writers. That is why I read classics more.

I love works by Remarque.

A real treasure of the city is Central Bookstore at 19 Nezavisimosti Avenue, which was opened 64 years ago.

Irina Darvish, the administrator of Central Bookstore:
Both foreigners and Belarusians are interested in books. Every second buyer asks for the works by Uladzimir Karatkievich.

Since 1994, to promote books and reading, an international book exhibition has taken place in Minsk annually. Over 23 years, many guests come to the city and tell locals about the wide diversity of their culture. The Republic of Armenia was the guest of honor at the 2016 exhibition. The main subject of the Belarusian exposition was the 500th anniversary of the first book published by Francysk Skaryna, due in 2017.

Roman Motulsky, Director of the National Library of Belarus, doctor of pedagogical sciences, professor:
Belarusians want to demonstrate the book heritage of Skaryna. The preserved instances are gathered from all over the world page by page. Skaryna printed books so that people get knowledge and enlightenment. The 2016 book exhibition vividly showed high reader interest among Belarusians and once again proved that books are ageless.