Shirin Akiner (1942-2019)

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Shirin Akiner (1942-2019) came to the School of Slavonic and East European Studies of London University in 1965 as one of several ‘mature’ students as they were quaintly known at that time. As I was only in my second year of teaching and more or less the same age as these students I became friendly with several of them. Shirin was a brilliant student, recently widowed with a small child, Metin, after her husband had been killed in a car crash. She was born to a Pakistani diplomat and Welsh mother, but brought up in a British school and spoke and wrote impeccable English. I got to know Shirin quite early on, as we shared an interest in classical music, although this is a serious understatement in her case, as she had studied the fiddle in Moscow and Amsterdam under the outstanding Soviet violinist David Oistrakh; I believe that after the tragedy of her husband’s death she never played the violin again. She remarried in the 1970s a scholarly businessman, David Mitchell, and moved from Willesden to Chelsea, and became known in non-academic life as Shirin Akiner Mitchell.

I am sure that it was I who aroused her interest in Belarus in the late 1960s and introduced her to the Francis Skaryna Library and Fr Alexander. With the latter’s help she wrote an article, ‘Contemporary Young Byelorussian Poets (1967-1975)’, published in the Journal of Byelorussian Studies (hereafter JBS), III, 4 (1975), pp. 342-53, which was subsequently taken up by the Belarusians of eastern Poland who produced a Polish-language booklet from this article. Earlier, inspired no doubt by the excellent piece by Fr Nadson in collaboration with G.M. Meredith-Owens, a Professor in the Department of Islamic Studies, University of Toronto and well-known specialist in Persian miniatures, ‘The Byelorussian Tartars and Their Writings’, JBS, II, 2 (1969), pp. 141-76, she also wrote an article on a cognate subject: ‘The Vocabulary of a Byelorussian K’it’ab in the British Museum’, JBS, III, 1 (1973), which later was expanded and revised, becoming a first-class book published by a prestigious German publisher: The Religious Language of the Belarusian Tatar Kitab, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 2009. On a lighter note, when occasionally we were invited to lunch with Fr Alexander who was an excellent cook in addition to his many other achievements, I would bring a bottle of wine whilst she, more sensibly, contributed some excellent coffee.

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Always interested in Near and Central Asia, after an excellent degree in Russian with subsidiary Turkish, Shirin turned mainly to study of Central Asia, becoming a Research Associate at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, where she had mainly faithful postgraduates, and also an Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Despite a glittering career in this field of study, she was loyal to her links with Belarus and Belarusians who, in turn, valued her work. For instance, in 1983 at the International Congress of Slavists in Kyiv, the Belarusian delegation insisted on my bringing her to meet them.

In London she regularly attended various launches, celebrations and other events. In fact, the last time I saw Shirin and her husband was at an exhibition of Belarusian art less than a year ago. She will be sorely missed by her son and husband, and by many scholars round the world, as well as by the Belarusian community in London that she supported so well.

Emeritus Professor Arnold McMillin

The Fourth Annual London Conference on Belarusian Studies

The Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum in London, the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies and the Ostrogorski Centre invite proposals from established academics and doctoral researchers for individual papers and panels discussing various aspects of contemporary Belarusian studies. The conference will serve as a multidisciplinary forum of Belarusian studies in the West and offer a rare networking opportunity for researchers of Belarus.

The Annual London Lecture on Belarusian Studies will follow the main conference panels. This year the Annual London Lecture on Belarusian Studies will be delivered by Anaïs Marin (France), Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus.

The organisers are particularly interested in papers that discuss history, political science, political economy, literature, sociology and religious studies. Interdisciplinary studies and panel proposals are particularly encouraged. Selected papers will be peer-reviewed and published in a special issue of the Journal of Belarusian Studies in 2019.

To submit a paper proposal or a panel proposal please complete this form no later than on 10 February 2019. The working language of the conference is English. The organisers are unable to cover the costs of participants but can facilitate obtaining a UK entry visa. Applicants will be notified about selection by 20 February 2019 at the latest.

The conference organising committee is composed Paul Stephen Hall, Paul Hansbury, Peter Braga, Aliaksandr Herasimenka, Karalina Matskevich. The conference co-chairs are Professor Yarik Kryvoi and Professor Andrew Wilson.

For any questions relating to the conference, please email

Please use this hashtag #belstudies


Raman Matulski, Director of the National Library of Belarus, will present the Facsimile of the Belarusian Bukvar on 28 October 2018.THE BELARUSIAN BUKVAR (1618)Burvar is possibly the oldest primer of the Belarusian language. It was also the first so far recorded to use the word bukvar.

Time: 28th October 2018, 3 pm
Place: Marian House, Holden Avenue, London, N12 8HY

The event is organised by the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library & Museum.
More info at

3-5 November 2017, the Treasures of the Skaryna Library Exhibition

In 2017 the world celebrates the 500th anniversary of Francis Skaryna’s Belarusian Bible and the beginning of East Slavonic book printing. To mark this occasion, the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum in London will hold an exhibition.

The exhibition will include rare Belarus-related manuscripts and printed books dated from 1495, including:

  • a fragment of the Skaryna’s original edition of the First Book of Kings, 1518;
  • a copy of the Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, 1588 (3rd ed.);
  • a manuscript of the Belarusian Tatar Tefsir (in the Arabic script), copied in 1725;
  • some 16th century maps from the Library’s fine cartographic collection.

The Treasures of the Skaryna Library


Friday 3 November 5pm-8pm

  • the opening of the exhibition and presentation of the highlights from the Skaryna Library collection of the rare books and manuscripts;
  • readings from Skaryna in Old Belarusian, Modern Belarusian and English;
  • a tour of St Cyril’s Belarusian Religious and Cultural Centre;
  • refreshments.

Saturday 4 November

  • 1pm-5pm exhibition open.

Sunday 5 November

  • 1pm-4pm exhibition open.

Address 37 Holden Road, London, N12 8HS United Kingdom

Order your free tickets now

Download the invitation


The 500th anniversary of the Skaryna Bible

In 1517, Francysk Skaryna published a book of Psalms in the Old Belarusian language. It was one of the first to use the Cyrillic script. Only two years later, he had translated large swathes of the Bible.

This year, the world celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Skaryna Bible and the Belarusian book printing. These links are dedicated to the anniversary.  Continue reading

The First Anthology of Belarusian Poetry in English: Sponsors and Censors

For 57 years, from 1948 to 1985, UNESCO published its Collection of Representative Works, a series of books aiming to popularise major works of world literature written in lesser-known languages by translating them into more widely-used ones, particularly English and French. In 1971, the first anthology of Belarusian poetry in English appeared in this series. The book, Like Water, Like Fire: an Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day, was jointly sponsored by UNESCO and the National Commission for UNESCO of the Byelorussian SSR, and published by the London imprint George Allen & Unwin.

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Arnold McMillin: The Francis Skaryna Library as Experienced by a Long-time User

I first visited the Library, then housed on the first floor of Marian House in 1963, soon after I had started doctoral work on the history of the Belarusian (then known to my supervisor, Professor Robert Auty, as White Russian) literary language in the 19th century. At that time there was a true Belarusian community in Finchley, with four houses, a number of priests, and many post-war emigrants and their children. Before long the ebullient Guy Picarda, was sent by the priests, who had somehow heard of my research interest, to see who I was and to invite me to visit the Library.

Prof McMillin, Guy Picarda and boys from the school managed by Fr Alexander listen to Professor Reginald de Bray, 1960s

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