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The Republic of Belarus ratified the UNESCO 2003 Convention in February 3, 2005 and entered the first membership of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2006 - 2009). Ratification of the Convention was the acknowledgment of the fact that the intangible cultural heritage safeguarding is an integral part of the cultural policy of Belarus and supported by the government both at the legislative and practical levels. Already in 2006 significant changes were introduced in the national legislation on the historical and cultural heritage, inter alia enhance the status of intangible cultural heritage (hereinafter - the ICH), defined the limits of its legal protection, and listed the criteria for its identification, determined the methodology of inventorying and safeguarding. In 2009 the Belarusian ICH element “Rite of the Kalyady Tsars (Christmas Tsars)” was inscribed on the UNESCO Urgent Safeguarding List.
In 2016 it was adopted a Code of Culture of the Republic of Belarus, which significantly expanded the legal status of the ICH, in accordance with the requirements of the 2003 Convention, while designating the special character of the international conventions, which are regarded as mandatory laws. The state supports academic researches in the field of the ICH and its inventorying at the national and regional level, as well as the dissemination of knowledge about intangible cultural heritage through the organization of various festivals, formal and informal education, cooperation with non-governmental organizations and their activities.
The Belarusian ICH is a “living” culture with clear local characteristics, the presence of rare archaic elements and forms of traditional cultural practices, mythological knoweledge, developed crafts and bright folk art. This diversity is reflected in the National inventory of ICH , which currently includes 68 elements of the ICH from different parts of Belarus, and has the online version of the ( Its main objective is to ensure the safeguarding of the ICH for sustainable development, support of bearers, the inclusion of the ICH in the field of regional policy. National inventory combines intangible elements and practices of different regions and places of Belarus, wich are identified and inscribed with the direct participation of the communities, groups and individuals. It is completely open resource for all users. There is limited access only to the information that the carriers themselves decieded not to make public.
The Belarusian national inventory of ICH has no hierarchical devision on national, regional and local levels. It includes all the elements and practices that have been identified and recognized by their bearers as their heritage. Financing of the ICH safeguarding is provided by the Belarusian state at national and regional levels under the State programme “Culture of Belarus”, which exists since 2012 and updates every five years. Sponsorship funds are also used actively, especially in the organization of various festivals and other activities aimed at promoting the ICH. The most famous among these activities are the National Folk Festival “Berahinya” and the ICH International Forum, which is held annually in Mahiliou.
Accession to the 2003 Convention led to an increase the role of international cooperation with the participation of local communities - the ICH practiciners, academic institutions, non-governmental youth organizations. Dissemination of knowledge about the ICH via mass media and an active festival movement contributed to the creation and development of a variety of youth initiatives, which in their activities use the best achievements of the Belarusian intangible heritage, creating on their basis of contemporary creative projects. Among them -- youth dance clubs in Minsk and in many regional cities that are studying and spreading the culture of folk dance, music, singing, organize summer schools and youth camps, competitions and festivals. Young people are also actively involved in the regional programs for the study of traditional crafts, cuisine, folklore and mythology.
The Belarusian agro-tourism association also contributes to the promotion of the ICH. This organization produces a lot of information material about folk crafts, holidays, Belarusian memory places. The Belarusian culinary map was developed by this association. They conduct numerous seminars and trainings about ICH among agritourism farms, including the topics of using of the ethics principles for understanding and practice of ICH elements and its bearers.


The national body charged with the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is the Ministry of Culture, which oversees the process of inventorying and safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. It also provides the general cultural policy for the safeguarding and promotion of intangible cultural heritage. Since 2009, the Belarusian Institute of Culture (within the Ministry) has been the national documentation centre and centre of expertise in intangible cultural heritage. It is also the administrator of a dedicated intangible cultural heritage inventory and organizes training courses in intangible cultural heritage-related matters. The institutional framework in Belarus is relatively de-centralized with six regional cultural Resource Centres in the six administrative regions of the country. Alongside representatives of communities and the local authorities, these regional centres provide for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage at the regional and local levels. They also coordinate the work of over 70 ‘houses’ and centres of folklore and more than 90 houses of crafts which work on the safeguarding and development of folk arts and crafts, youth transmission (with the participation of bearers), the promotion of intangible cultural heritage and provide support to bearers of intangible cultural heritage. A recently adopted national cultural policy programme (‘Culture of Belarus’) adopted for 2011-2015 calls for the creation of an enabling environment for the development and promotion of intangible cultural heritage. The National Programme of the Development of Small Towns and Villages of Belarus provides some measures for and investments in the development of the economy and the social and cultural environment of provinces that are rich in intangible cultural heritage.
For training in the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, the Institute of Culture provides numerous training courses for professionals in intangible cultural heritage. It also provides training courses for representatives of communities and the local authorities responsible for the safeguarding and transmission of intangible cultural heritage. Some seminars and workshops are conducted directly in the regions. The Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts offers Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the field of culture and art. Among other specialties the university prepares specialists in the field of traditional culture and folklore who will become the future employees of the regional resource culture centres, houses of folklore and crafts, as well as local authorities in culture. Among the courses offered by the Belarusian State Pedagogical University is the study of folklore and traditional culture and practical experience in the identification of and research on intangible cultural heritage. Generally speaking, there is a good knowledge base in different aspects of intangible cultural heritage safeguarding and this is being actively disseminated to the regions, local authorities, civil society and cultural communities.
There is a wealth of documentation concerning intangible cultural heritage. In addition to the aforementioned institutions, the Institute of Arts, Ethnography and Folklore of the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences and the Belarusian Academy of Music have archives of folklore records (mostly these comprise traditional music and songs, tales, legends and other oral practices) covering the period of the 1960s to the present day.
The Belarusian Law on Protection of Historical and Cultural Heritage (last revised in May 2012) stipulates the establishment of a system for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage and one of the key objectives of this Law is the inventorying of intangible cultural heritage. At present, intangible cultural heritage is included on two national inventories in Belarus: (1) the comprehensive National List of Historical and Cultural Properties covering both tangible and intangible heritage (with 70 intangible elements listed thus far) and (2) the dedicated National Inventory of the Intangible Cultural Heritage established in 2010, under the control of the Institute of Culture and with financial assistance from UNESCO. The latter now forms the main intangible cultural heritage inventory. The National inventory will consist of (1) the most representative and viable intangible cultural heritage elements of Belarus; (2) the elements in urgent need of safeguarding; and (3) best practices for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage. It is planned that the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the database and the internet portal of Belarusian intangible cultural heritage will be fully established by 2013.
The criteria for the inclusion of intangible cultural heritage in the two inventories are provided by the Law on Protection of the Historical and Cultural Heritage. A number of elements were included in the comprehensive National List, according to the criteria set out in the 2006 version of the Law. When the work for the formation of the dedicated National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage was begun, the criteria were clarified. In the new version of the Law (adopted in 2012) these are the following: the element should satisfy the definition of intangible cultural heritage in accordance with UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage; it should be rooted in the cultural tradition of a particular community and transmitted from generation to generation, presenting distinct local characteristics; it should contribute to the promotion of Belarusian national cultural identity; it should demonstrate a remarkable level of spiritual culture in Belarus; and it should be significant in maintaining the transmission of Belarusian national culture.
The level of community involvement in the process is high; for this purpose, special Regional Committees were organized in every region. These are made up of community representatives, local authorities and bearers of intangible cultural heritage. They determine and select the intangible cultural heritage elements on the basis of the criteria and form the database of the regional inventories. These Committees meet regularly to ensure that proposed elements meet the criteria and to help to prepare nomination forms for inscription in the National Intangible Cultural Heritage inventory. The nomination forms are all filled in by representatives of regional institutions responsible for intangible cultural heritage (local houses of crafts, resource centres, etc.) together with the bearers whose heritage is concerned.
Regional and local culture resource centres, houses of folklore and crafts and non-governmental organizations are very active in promoting intangible cultural heritage and access to intangible cultural heritage by using mass media and online opportunities. The Student Ethnographic Association, a national youth organization, is one of the most active civil society organizations involved in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage with representation in the various regions of Belarus. Public cultural institutions including libraries, cultural centres, museums, and science and technology centres at different levels also actively promote intangible cultural heritage.
In terms of public education, awareness-raising and information programmes, Belarus has established a network of national and regional institutions to provide education and training in intangible cultural heritage. These are especially targeted at young people and, in addition, most schools also provide folklore courses. An educational programme exists to disseminate information on local elements of intangible cultural heritage. Various non-governmental organizations also provide training, learning and experience programmes for the wider dissemination of intangible cultural heritage. Various non-formal means of education and promotion have also been used by amateur folk groups, non-governmental organizations, youth and student associations and clubs (singers, dancers, craftspeople etc.) in the local culture Resource Centres, with the involvement of representatives of various communities and groups to promote their traditional culture.
International cooperation by Belarus in the field of intangible cultural heritage mainly operates at the regional and sub-regional levels (with other Commonwealth of Independent State countries (CIS) and neighbouring countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia). Within the CIS framework, training seminars on intangible cultural heritage are organized for experts and community representatives of the communities. CIS-level recommendations have been adopted for further legislative development to bring it closer into compliance with the 2003 Convention and a CIS Model Law on the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is currently being drafted. The CIS members have also recommended strengthening communication and the exchange of information on the safeguarding and promotion of intangible cultural heritage. In the framework of the Eurasian Economic Community (Belarus, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan), a meeting was held in 2012 devoted to the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage. Training activities and conferences have been jointly held with neighbouring countries (Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia) and, as a form of bilateral cooperation, the Institute of Culture of Belarus has built up stable ties with centres of folklore in Russia and Lithuania. In the Belarusian-Lithuanian Commission on the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, the question of safeguarding shared intangible cultural heritage has recently been discussed.

Sobre elementos de la Lista de salvaguardia urgente

El rito de los Zares de Kalyady (Zares de Navidad), inscrito en 2009


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The Kalyady Tsars (Christmas Tsars) is a ritual and festive event celebrated annually by the villagers of Semezhava (Minsk region, Belarus) on 13 January, New Year’s Day for Orthodox Christians according to the Julian calendar. About 500 men participate annually in the event, from whom seven are chosen to play the roles of ‘Kalyady Tsars’ in the historico-religious drama ‘Tsar Maximilian’. The ritual was revived in the late 1980s and increased interest was shown by both the community and experts from the 1990s so that, today, it is performed annually, as it used to be. At the time of inscription in 2009, the Committee requested annual reporting on safeguarding measures taken; however, by its Decision 6.COM 11, it decided that it was not necessary for the State Party to submit a second extraordinary annual report and that its next report would consequently be expected on 15 December 2013. On the basis of the report received at that time, the Secretariat requested a revised version, notably in order to improve the linguistic quality of the text. Belarus was not able to submit a revised report, hence the original report is submitted to the Committee.

Effectiveness of safeguarding activities

The safeguarding measures that Belarus reports on were adopted by the local community and authorities following inscription and intended to increase awareness among community members of the rite’s status as a part of local intangible cultural heritage and provide for its sustainable development through State investment. They were also aimed at expanding the group of participants and involving as many young people as possible in activities for the revival of local culture. They also sought to raise awareness of and disseminate information about the rite. The rite is one of the priorities of the National Cultural Development Programme (2010-2015) financed by the Ministry of Culture, which organizes an annual folk festival and fair in Semezhava village, provides financial support to bearers of the rite, supports a school programme for studying local culture and handicrafts and supports the development of a local ‘House of Crafts’ as a centre of local traditional culture. In the report it is mentioned that the element has become well-known not only in the local community, but also at the national and international levels (it is reported that in 2012, more than 500 people including tourists visited the village during the holiday). Local people feel greater identification with it and the interest of young people in local traditions has been raised. Local inhabitants have now begun to research and protect other elements of their heritage: crafts, foodways, etc. Belarus mentions in its report that the social and cultural development of the village and the position of the young residents have been greatly improved.

Community participation

It is reported that many safeguarding actions have been initiated by the inhabitants of Semezhava village themselves and all safeguarding measures for the element are reportedly decided upon jointly by the bearers, experts and state institutions in order to provide for the continued practice of the rite. Local inhabitants are said to regard the ceremony as their own heritage and carefully protect it and try to keep the established rules for carrying it out that underpin its sacred value. In the report it is also mentioned that bearers of the rite participate in creating costumes and work with local schoolchildren, organizing a new group of Christmas Tsars comprising schoolboys of 12-14 years old.

Viability and current risks

The rite is reported to be traditionally performed only by young men. Belarus concludes that this has the positive side of involving youth in the ceremony but the disadvantage that many young people have left the village for economic reasons and this poses a threat to future viability. Traditional family-based transmission of the knowledge and skills (from father to son and grandfather to grandson) no longer operates as before, and the report mentions that the main role in transmission is now carried out by participants of the rite. An important government response to this problem is that Semezhava village has been included in the National Programme for the Development of Small Towns and Villages and many young people have now found work on local farms and industrial enterprises. In the report it is explained that the local school also promotes this heritage to school children. New challenges to the rite identified by Belarus include the lack of modern infrastructure for tourists (e.g. hotel, restaurants, information centre, etc.). It is reported that the community association is now developing a project for integrated conservation of their heritage by involving it in modern economic processes and is seeking additional investment to support it. The report also demonstrates the importance of State development funding to the community in order to provide a sustainable cultural community for the element, especially for transmission to the next generation.


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.

‘Juraǔski Karahod’, ritual de primavera, inscrito en 2019