Vincent Dunin-Martsinkevich (1807-1884) was dedicated to the “establishment of literature” in Belarusian and, because of his work, is considered to be a “founder of the New Belarusian Literature” (Philatelia.Net). Born to a petty noble Lithuanian-Polish family, Dunin-Martsinkevich was a Belarusian poet who was educated in Petersburg and “beautifully expressed” the hope for a Belarussian Lithuania (Snyder, 42). In 1827, he worked in Minsk as a bureaucrat and, in 1840, his first work, a “Polish-Belarusian comic opera he wrote with Stanislaw Moniuszko,” was shown in Vil’nia (Snyder, 42).
Dunin-Martsinkevich is best known for his incomplete translation of Adam Mickiewicz’s poem Pan Tadeusz. Mickiewicz described the Belarusian language as the “richest and purest speech of ancient origin” and Dunin-Martsinkevich planned to prove this by translating Pan Tadeusz, a story about a Belarusian gentleman, into a “language that could be read by ‘Belarusian peasants’” (Snyder, 42). Dunin-Martsinkevich wrote both in Belarusian and Polish and, according to the historian Timothy Snyder, “keenly felt the pressure of Slavic literary languages” (Snyder, 42). However, it was the Russian translation, not the Polish, of Pan Tandeusz that inspired him to translate Mickievicz’s poem into Belarusian.
During this time period, the Belarusian language was not codified, which made Dunin-Martsinkevich’s work extremely difficult. In fact, very little was written in the Belarusian language after the region was conquered by Poland in the sixteenth century (Snyder, 42). Dunin-Martsinkevich hoped to “elevate” the language of the Belarusian-speaking peoples in Belarus. Even though the Belarusian language was not banned at this time, Russian officials still confiscated Dunin-Martsinkevich’s translations of Pan Tadeusz because it was written in the Latin, rather than Cyrillic, alphabet (Snyder, 43). Despite Dunin-Martsinkevich’s work, very few people were literate in Belarusian in the nineteenth century and there was no demand for Belarusian literature.
- Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569- 1999 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).
- Philatelia.Net, “Dunin-Marcinkievich (Дунин-Марцинкевiч) Vincent Ivanovich (1807—1884),” accessed 12 April 2012, http://www.philatelia.net/classik/plots/?more=1&id=2783.