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First object:

The Nature of Belarusians


The ‘Tolerant’ Bison

Contemporary mythology:
Myths about tolerant Belarusians
Monumental works:
Monument ‘Bison’ on the Minsk-Brest highway

Another prevalent myth about Belarus is the idea of Belarusians as incredibly tolerant, hospitable, and kind-hearted people. This myth is disproved by statistics: while Belarusians really are quite tolerant towards people from different cultures and religions, their attitude towards migrants and the LGBTQ community can hardly be described as such.

It is common knowledge that the bison, the last preserved species of wild oxen in Europe today, is widely used as a symbol and artistic image of Belarus. Bison are depicted on national currency and stamps, often mentioned in legends and fairy tales; they are the main inhabitant and symbol of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, a relic forest reserve in south-western Belarus.1

Not far from the forest, on the Minsk-Brest highway, visitors are met by an enormous, 70 tons in weight, bison monument. Giant, sharp, crescent-shaped horns grow outwards from the animal’s flat silhouette. Within the framework of the project, the bison monument appears to be a very accurate representation of the myth about tolerance and hospitality of the Belarusians.

Another interesting example is a sculpture Woman on a Bison in Minsk. Its story is symbolic and symptomatic. This sculpture was supposed to serve as a basis for the patriotic monument Partisan Belarus. However, the idea came to nothing as the veterans have spoken against the installation of a sculpture of a practically naked woman, albeit she is holding a banner. As a result, the sculpture stands near the MAZ Palace of Culture and can be read as a symbol of the patriarchate in Belarus: no matter in what way the Belarusian woman is immortalised in stone, whether as a symbol of Motherland or as a bison tamer, she will eventually be perceived as a sexual object.
 
1. Bison monument on the highway Minsk-Brest

Project by Brestproekt OJSC, 2003

© photo: brothergrin.livejournal.com, 2011

2. Envelope with stamp and seal with bison imagery

3. 100 Belarusian rubles, 1992

4. Postcard with a photo of a mosaic at the entrance to the Belovezhskaya Pushcha

© photo: ntravel.by

5. Candy wrapper Belovezhsky Bison made in the factory Kommunarka in 1987

6. A caricature of the Belovezha Accords, in which Boris Yeltsin, Stanislav Shushkevich and Leonid Kravchuk are riding a bison to Mikhail Gorbachev with the flag of the USSR

Printed in newspaper Respublika (Republic), December 1991

© Illustration: M. Malyshev

7. Sculpture Woman on a Bison in Minsk


Note:
1. The Belovezha Accords were signed in Belovezhskaya Pushcha in 1991. There, it was announced that the USSR had ceased to exist and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was established. In 2017 Sergey Shabohin devoted a separate project to the myths around the Belovezha Accords, which was presented as part of the international project ‘Pust*’.