Is Belarus’s cultural heritage on sale?

Rumors are circulating in the city of Babrujsk that the buildings of the ancient town fortress – the early 19th- century monuments of the Belarusian history – are being sold out. Earlier reports also suggested that part of the Brest Fortress was being let out as well.

The European Radio for Belarus wanted to find out if the rumors about the sale of the Belarusian national history treasures were true. First, we called the management of the Brest Fortress.

According to Aliaksandr Jakobouski, the fortress director, most of the spaces of the memorial complex were empty and not reconstructed. Currently, tourists can visit only two forts and the Cholmsky Gates.

“We are not selling anything. But we do let out our spaces, because we also need to survive. According to the president’s edict, the rental prices are as follows: 6 euros per sq. m. monthly for businesses; 2.5 euros for enterprises. However, at the moment, we have more idle spaces than the ones that have been rented.

Most of the rented spaces are occupied by offices. When potential tenants come to us, we send them to the Ministry of Culture, which is in the position to decide. Mostly the state-owned companies rent our spaces. There are also the buildings of the local history and arts museums. Some spaces are rented by furniture-making firms,” Jakubouski said.

In Babrujsk, the situation looks gloomier, with the local fortress being sold out, indeed. But Zana Padabedava, the chief of state property and privatization department at the local city hall, describes the sale of the Babrujsk Fortress’s buildings as a positive development.

She confirmed to the European Radio for Belarus that several buildings of the fortress were sold out on auction several years ago, but refused to elaborate.

A local researcher, Nadzeia Mironava believes that historical buildings should not be allowed for sale, because most of them have been sold out for pennies. One should not forget about the restrictions on restoration and usage of historical buildings.

For instance, changing a building’s design and integrity is not tolerated.

In most cases, new owners are not aware that they cannot reconstruct the buildings the way they want it. Ina Ausejcyk, a staff with the local history museum, has commented on the situation to our radio.

“We are definitely worried. The Babrujsk Fortress is a historical monument and a national heritage treasure.

If we look at the law that protects monuments, there are provisions for the conditions of letting and selling such objects. The law has a list of special terms, which owners are bound to meet, because it is a historical monument,” she said.

ERB also turned to the Belarusian historians, asking them to share their view on this situation.

“This is the problem of the initial owner. Previously, the fortress belonged to the military, when nobody could even imagine being an owner.

Secondly, who indeed is the owner of this historical treasure? Who and when declared himself the owner of the Babrujsk Fortress? Who, in this case, is the owner of the Belarusian history?” historian Andrej Kistymau wonders.

We are getting an impression that it is easier for our government to sell out the historical treasures of Belarus and just forget about the problems.

It appears that this country has learned to make money on the national heritage. But it has learned doing it not the way the civilized world is doing it, but by selling it out on auctions. Perhaps, we should simply start raising the money…

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