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408 PASHKEVICH, Alaiza; pen-name ‘TSIOTKA’ (‘Auntie’ in Belarussian) (1876–1916) The most famous Belarussian revolutionary woman poet; advocated ideas of women’s independence. Alaiza Pashkevich was born on 3 July 1876 into a wealthy peasant (Catholic) family on the Peszczyn estate in western Belarus (the Belarussian–Lithuanian ethnic and linguistic territories), in the Northwestern Province of the Russian Empire. She was one of the six children of Styapan/Stephan and Hanna Pashkevich. For one year, Alaiza was taught at home by a female pedagogy student, who served as a vivid example of the new educational and professional opportunities that were becoming available to women. In 1894, at the age of eighteen, Alaiza Pashkevich entered the fourth grade of the seventh-grade private school for girls run by Vera Prozorova in Wilno (currently Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania; the town is considered to be the birthplace of the modern Belarussian intellectual tradition). She completed the school in 1901 and went to work as a teacher in the countryside. In 1902, Alaiza Pashkevich published her first poems, full of sympathy for the life and suffering of impoverished peasants. In that year—her education still insufficient to enter university and with most university courses, with very few exceptions, closed to women—Pashkevich left for St Petersburg, the Russian imperial capital, to begin her studies at the Lesgaft Women’s Courses for Governesses and Women Physical Education Teachers. After the anti-Russian Uprising of 1863, all universities in the Northwestern Province were closed and Belarussian (mostly male) youth were forced to seek their education elsewhere. At the turn of the century, St Petersburg had a small Belarussian intellectual circle and Alaiza Pashkevich was drawn into the literati. In 1903, together with the brothers Ivan and Anton Lutskevich, Ales’ Burbis and several others, she became one of the organizers of the Belarussian Socialist Union Hramada (Unity), established by Belarussian intellectuals receiving their higher education in St Petersburg and involved in the literary life of the city. She returned to Wilno in 1904 with an awakened class, national and women’s consciousness and from that moment on, ‘the woman question’ was an important part of her ideas on social justice. She 409 worked as a nurse in a mental hospital, spoke at workers’ meetings, organized solidarity groups of workers and wrote revolutionary poems. In 1905, after the first Russian Revolution had been set in motion, the Tsar was obliged to consent to the establishment of a ‘Parliament:’ the Russian Duma. In May that year Alaiza Pashkevich attended a Women’s Congress in Moscow as a delegate for the women workers of Wilno. Early in 1906, Alaiza Pashkevich had to emigrate because of her revolutionary activities . Her apartment became a club and meeting place for Belarussian intellectuals (at a time when the Belarussian language had been forbidden by the tsarist administration ). Her poem “Chrest na svabodu” (The cross for freedom) was seen as a revolutionary manifesto and the basement of the mental hospital where she worked was used to print revolutionary pamphlets. In emigration, Alaiza Pashkevich published two books of poetry: Chrest na svabodu (The cross for freedom) and Dudka belaruskaya (The Belarussian horn), both in 1906. She also published the first children’s books in Belarussian. Six years of emigration became a time of intense literary work and study, first at the Philosophy Department of Lwow University (Galicia, in the Habsburg Empire; currently Lviv in Ukraine); later, after she had developed tuberculosis and left for southern Poland, at the Department of History and Philology in Cracow, where she joined a revolutionary students’ organization. Alaiza Pashkevich also studied acting and exchanged regularly with Belarussian intellectuals in various parts of the empire . She traveled to Italy (1908) and Scandinavia (1914) and wrote poems and prose. One of her poems was specifically addressed to women (“To peasant women”) and was inspired by Belarussian folklore. In 1911, Alaiza Pashkevich married the engineer Steponas Kairys (1879–1964), an ethnic Lithuanian, and was able to return to her homeland under her new name. She threw herself into Belarussian cultural and intellectual life, acting in and traveling with the first Belarussian theater group—established by the actor, cultural activist and founder of the First Belarussian Society of Drama and Comedy (1917) Ihnat Buynitski. She contributed to the first Belarussian newspaper Nasha Niva (Our field) and participated in an underground elementary school for peasant children with Belarussian as the language of instruction, legalized in 1915. As the national cultural idea grew in strength...


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