Can Belarusian writers win readers' interest in the 21st century?

Alexander Lukashenko expects Belarusian writers to work with ideas and characters that would win the interest of the person of the 21st century. The head of state said this on October 23 at a meeting with the creative elite of Belarus.

The smell of printing works cannot be replaced by any gadget.  Habitual libraries and books is not an archaism. Belarus still remains the most reading country in the CIS. The republic has 3,500 libraries, in which recorded approximately every third Belarusian is registered. The book/citizen ratio is 7/1 plus 3 books are published annually. Works by Belarusian authors are in demand, says the chairman of the Union of Writers.

Nikolai Cherginets, chairman of the Union of Writers:         
We took 48 experienced writers. We made questionnaire and asked all libraries of the country to answer the question whether they have books by these authors and how often people read them. It turned out that works by 48 writers were requested nearly 2.5 million times within two years. This means that these works are read.

Writers, actors, directors and heads of television channels were received at the presidential residence, the Palace of Independence on October 23. This is the first meeting in this format at such a high level.

The Belarus President drew attention to the fact that interesting and extraordinary people are attending the meeting today. The head of state wanted to talk not only about the state of Belarusian literature but also more broadly about spirituality, culture and the historical choice of Belarus.

Alexander Lukashenko suggested building the conversation around the main components of literary work: the reader, the book and the writer.

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus President:
Frankly, I do not believe in the twilight of the literary era. At least in Belarus. After all, literature has always been a means of understanding of the world and a means of upbringing in our nation's life. No wonder poetry and prose by Kupala and Kolas, Bogdanovich and Melezh, Karatkevich and Bykov is a source of national pride for generations of Belarusians. Why doesn’t such a high bar raised by our great writers correspond to the current state of the literary process? Maybe venerable writers are hindered by inertia of thinking, and the younger generation does not have enough wisdom and experience. Or is it due to the change of the times? Maybe our literature is developing in line with worldwide trends and lost traditions of national literary school.
Literature has always fed other kinds of arts with ideas. How is this creative community developing today? Are writers right when they say that today's composers and directors have turned away from the national literature? Or is the lack of decent books a reason for the decline of interest?

The development of society and the life of the nation are only possible with the support of science, education and culture, said Alexander Lukashenko and suggested talking about the role of fiction in this process.

Today, everyone has access to different sources of information, while earlier relations between the writer and the reader formed the equation "teacher-student".

The President asked how to preserve and develop the literary traditions and at the same time not alienate the reading public.

Alexander Lukashenko:
Watching some movies or reading certain opuses by great writers, artists and other members of your community I am surprised to read about them saying that they were pressed during the Soviet era and prevented from working freely. But all of them became popular and lived decent lives. Therefore it became fashionable to complain: 'Oh, you see, we were pressed back then and so on.' Well, so be it. However, it is in those years when the literature was at its highest point.
Nowadays, no one dictates what and how to write. If I am wrong, please tell me who dictates you. Censorship and state monopoly on the printed word became a thing of the past. If not, please tell me about it, too. However, this freedom did not result in great literature. It led to the split in the community of writers. Is this a dead end? Or do you have hope for the restoration of a single creative field?
Taking part in today's dialogue are not only writers, but also artists, who were somehow connected with literature or, thank God, are still connected with it.

At the meeting, writers talked about declining interest in books in the world, and not only in Belarus. In their opinion, currently literature is not in the best condition.

The reader is increasingly prefers foreign authors to domestic ones, according to the results of a sociological research. The majority of Belarusians will take home Russian or foreign books form a bookstore.

Only 3.5% will choose modern Belarusian books.

Alexander Bodak, chief editor of the Polymya magazine:
We can recall the Soviet period. When the new book by Ivan Shamyakin was released there were long lines near the Central Bookstore in Minsk. People wanted to buy this book. Don't we have new Shamyakins? Or has the reader changed? We have to raise our bar and be more responsible for our word.

The Day of Belarusian Written Language is annually held in Belarus. Book presentations and literary campaigns also take place regularly. Over five years, more than Br16 billion has been allocated from the budget for the release of 500 works with a circulation of 2 million copies. The state does much but the return is not always evident.

Alexander Lukashenko:
Give us works akin to "Virgin Soil Upturned" or "War and Peace" and we will promote and advertise it. Where are they? We have been told not to carry out the Day of Belarusian Written Language and so on because it is not necessary. But I said that they should be continued. These forums help present new goods.  Why are your works not picturized? You may say that we do not give you money.  We are about to finish modernizing our Belarusfilm [Belarusian film company] and allocate a lot of money for it. But why don't they shoot films? Other countries come to Minsk to create movies but you don't do it! In Russia, several movies are made per month. The state does not allocate money. But you come to me, kicking the door open and ask for money. We give you money and it is allocated from the budget. But we don't see any return. What to do next? This is not my money, this is people's money.

Writer Natalia Batrakova (by the way, the best-selling author of Belarus) has suggested organizing a literary contest to give new talents a chance to express themselves.

Natalia Batrakova, writer:
We do not have here such a significant literary contest that would help discover new names. Again, in the genre of drama. But there are different categories. Even if this contest results in the publication of only one book, this will still be a new name. Small prose, novels, detectives. How can young writers express themselves?

Alexander Lukashenko:
Let's hold this contest. As a result of the contest we will receive several works or performances, or movies. And on the basis of this script we will be able to making a film. Ir a writer wins, we will support his book and publish it. But this should not be just a beautiful book of the author who will be forgotten tomorrow. This should be a promising name. And then Cherginets will come and say: 'You know, people do not want to buy it so let's hand it out free of charge. But it does not happen, someone has to pay for it.

The meeting lasted three hours. The meeting participants agreed to continue the conversation in the future and revisit the issues discussed today. Alexander Lukashenko demanded that state investment to support creative people be spent efficiently.

Alexander Lukashenko:
Decide what matters should be decided the President. Are there problems that neither the government nor other institutions can solve? Most likely, this will involve finance but you know that everything we have is our budget. There are no other sources. Only the President can make changes to the budget. I think you will be able to determine people from the two unions, two chairmen, writers, theater personalities or our filmmakers, and so on. But everything should be fair and square. But remember that this is people's money. If you are sure you can make a wonderful movie and if such a script exists the ministers will have their say and you'll start shooting it. If there is a miracle product, let's help to publish it if you all agree on it (either by voting or whatever way you choose). If there are talented people, well, gentlemen, let's look how we can support them. Including with money. But be sure that you deserve this money, that it doesn't spoil you. You understand what is at stake. This is the most important thing. And we can continue our conversation if you want.