NGO “Belarusian Charitable Society for the Protection of Monuments of History and Culture”
Implementation period: April – October 2016
Coordinator: Anton Astapovich
Context: The Problem Solved by the Project
Pakrouski Pasad (Shkolishcha) is a unique ancient territory in the city context of Mahilou, the eastern regional center of Belarus. Today, this former economic heart of the city is deserted – almost 90% of its historical buildings, layout structure, and basic dominants is destroyed: St. Anthony Church, Bernardians’ monastery, Pakrouskaya [Intercession of the Theotokos; Pokrov] Church, and the synagogue. There are only several water fences left, but they do not work now.
Formally, Shkolishcha is part of the immovable material historical-cultural heritage called “The Historical Center of Mahilou”, but actually – it is not involved in the city’s social, cultural, and economic processes. Its regeneration is possible only if city-folk become interested in this territory. Meanwhile, our important achievement prior to the project was that we had managed to get the city’s executive power interested in it. Thanks to the adjusted labor relations between our association and the Mahilou City Executive Committee, by 2015, we had received all possibilities to regenerate the Shkolishcha cultural landscape with joint efforts of the public and the state, thus involving more and more the local community in the work aimed at protecting and popularizing the historical-cultural heritage.
Such possibilities, quite rare for Belarus, could not be missed; therefore, we decided to strengthen as much as possible the platform of further dialogue. It was necessary to draw townspeople’s attention – first of all, that of the professional community: historians and regional specialists, architects, and the main thing – representatives of business, who could provide new functional contents of this territory. In order to create a platform of public-state dialogue and partnership on this question, we were to work out scientific-research substantiations and a concept of regenerating and interpreting the tourist sphere of Shkolishcha.
The campaign of popularizing the Shkolishcha concept was carried out in several stages. In order to achieve our goal, we had several steps.
– We prepared theoretical and graphic substantiations of a technical project of the concept of regenerating the territory of Shkolishcha in Mahilou. It was a necessary start.
– Having made expositional tablets and the corresponding project albums of archival-bibliographic researches and graphic materials, we put them in the Mahilou City Executive Committee and in the city exhibition hall. At the end of May 2016, we officially presented the concept to 70 architects, historians, activists, businessmen, and journalists.
– Later, there were 4 public meetings – concept discussions in target groups: with the architectural community, business circles, real estate developers and representatives of the local administration. Their major result was an initiative to create a charitable local foundation to manage the cultural landscape of Shkolishcha. Then, a charter project was developed, and in February 2017 we received the physical and legal address in one of historical-architectural monuments of Mahilou.
– The concept offered by us was actively discussed in the city’s mass media, including television. Thus, the TV-channel BT-4 demonstrated a 25-minute documentary film in the series “Familiar Strangers” dedicated to the project.
– There was a number of sessions with those responsible from the Mahilou City Executive Committee and experts from the state Institute “Mahilougrazhdanproject” where the prepared materials were discussed.
Challenges and Possibilities
We also participated in the preparation of the city’s architectural concept of Mahilou (Project of detailed planning of the central part of Mahilou, the General Layout of Mahilou, and the concept of architectural development of Mahilou). The materials worked out by our team became an organic part of this concept, which was later approved by the Chairperson of the Council of the National Assembly of Belarus and by the President of Belarus. Civil society demonstrated its interest not only in the problems of Shkolishcha, but also problems of perspective development of the territory of Padnikolle Suburb that includes Shkolishcha.
During the implementation of the project, we revealed and fixed infringements of the legislation in the field of heritage protection while working on a separate object of historical-cultural heritage (the synagogue, the Jewish school). The conflict threatened to break our cooperation with the City Executive Committee as the authorities supported the primary contractor; however, after long negotiations, we managed to develop a mechanism of teamwork with the Ministry of Culture to control the legislation execution on objects of restoration and reconstruction.
The materials developed by us and the work with the local authorities and the professional architectural community have made it possible to place Shkolishcha in the General Layout of Mahilou as a territory of perspective regeneration of historical buildings. A special document, unprecedented in the history of contemporary Belarusian town-planning, was worked out – the project of special planning of the territory of Padnikolle and Shkolishcha.
As a whole, the real estate developers and business community are interested in perspective investments in objects of regeneration on this territory; however, it is impossible to ignore the current economic crisis in the country, which resulted in the sharp narrowing of the real estate market and the architectural-building sphere.
An important sign of the successfulness of the project is that our ideas in the developed materials are being continued now by the local authorities and civil society’s participation in this process is not denied, but even welcomed.
Our Organizational Potential and Partnerships
The project has given us a huge share of experience and confidence. The Belarusian voluntary association to protect historical-cultural monuments has become the most authoritative organization in Mahilou and the Mahilou Region in the field of protecting historical-cultural heritage. The project was an excellent stimulus for a professional growth of our employees – researchers, designers, and experts in communication.
For example, besides the already habitual kinds of work: scientific-research, design, legal, – we had to work actively not so much with “the wide public”, but rather many different concrete target groups (power, business, architectural and academic communities). This focusing of attention, especially in case with representatives of business, has helped us understand partially their motivations and attitudes to historical-cultural monuments.
The big public interest in a number of volunteering projects prepared by our organization in Mahilou and the Region attests the increased volunteering potential.
We are grateful to our partners in Mahilou. Our key partner – the Museum of History of Mahilou – provided us with its showrooms for a long-term exposition and presentations. The Department of Architecture and Building of the Mahilou City Executive Committee acted as a bridge between our association, the City Executive Committee, the Institute “Mahilougrazhdanproject”, and Belarusian State Scientific-Research and Project Institute of Town-planning.
Owing to regular club meetings, we have received closer connections with Belarusian participants of the CHOICE program, including even those who did not get in the final contest. Also, we were extremely glad to build new contacts with profile organizations in Ukraine, among which: the Tustan Museum, the Ukrainian Modernism Institute in Rivne, the Kremenets Environmental League, the Lviv regional organization of the Ukrainian Society to protect monuments of history and culture, the Lviv regional saving archaeological service, and the Chair of Stone Restoration of the Lviv Polytechnic University.