Belarusian village celebrates baby cry of legendary Polish ‘voice of freedom’

“Czesław Niemen was the voice of freedom for us,” said a Belarusian journalist who had the opportunity to interview the man who gave, not only Poles, the feeling of boundless freedom in the lacklustre, grey communist period. This “voice of freedom” was first uttered in a baby cry 81 years ago.

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The memory of the unequalled singer is still maintained to this day, as evidenced by the commemoration of his birthday, that brought together Polish diplomats from the Belarusian regions Minsk and Grodno, plus Belarusian and Polish fans to the little village of Staryya Vasilishki in western Belarus on Sunday – the birthplace of Czesław Niemen.

It was here that Czesław Juliusz Wydrzycki, who later adopted the stage name of “Czesław Niemen,” was born on February 16, 1939, shortly before the outbreak of WWII which left the singer’s hometown detached from the post-war Polish territories.

“Czesław Niemen was a great Polish musician, but for us [the citizens of Vasilishki] he remains our compatriot,” said Uladzimir Sieniuta – the head of Czesław Niemen museum located in his family home in Staryya Vasilishki. Mr Sieniuta added that as many as 10,000 tourists visited the village in 2019.

“Most of the tourists were Polish but… Chinese and Cameroonians visited us too. This is proof to me that Niemen’s work constitutes the heritage of the whole of humankind,” said Mr Seniuta.

And in his time Czesław Niemen used to gather thousands of people who would throng to see and hear the man singing about the vicissitudes of life and the various hues of human experience sung in the most sensitive way.

“When he went on the stage, people started weeping at the sight of him,” said Belarusian journalist Vyacheslav Rakicky, who was also the one to interview and publish the only interview with the musician available in 1976. “It was absolutely amazing, like an otherworldly visit. For us, Czesław Niemen was the voice of freedom,” he said.

The event at Staryya Vasilishki also provided an opportunity for the local authorities to thank the Polish Embassy in Minsk for its support. “The support of the Polish Embassy in Minsk helps us a lot,” said Alena Pasiuta, deputy head of the Shchuchyn District where Niemen’s family home is located, extending her help to the National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad “Polonika” for financing the renovation of the building’s roof.

Niemen’s family left Vasilishki in 1958 along with the last wave of repatriation, escaping the compulsory draft into the Red Army. The family moved around Poland, whereas Niemen entered music school in Gdańsk, on the northern Polish coast, working part-time as a dock assistant and piano tuner, performing in student theatres, cabarets and the Żaczek club.

Talented

Czesław Niemen was a man of many talents that went beyond music and included photography and drawing. In his school years, he was already distinguished with an unusual charisma and indomitable nature.

Throughout his career, Niemen explored different styles of music, starting with Russian songs, progressing to big beat, rock and psychedelic music.

According to Mr Sieniuta, Niemen always spoke about his hometown of Staryya Vasilishki with great pride, despite becoming a hugely successful musician. When on tour in Moscow, he grabbed a taxi to travel many kilometres to spend just a couple of moments at his home village.

Czesław Niemen died of lymphatic system cancer on January 17, 2004, at the age of 64.

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