Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Talaka or subbotnik: traditional forms of civic engagement in Belarus



Paula Borowska1
1 University College London, UK


This paper studies a traditional form of civic engagement in Belarus –  talaka. Historically,  talaka played a pivotal role in the region of Eastern Europe in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. It took a form of collective agrarian works and mutual assistance of neighbours in a village. Talaka turned to be one of the most widespread forms of social interaction among Belarusian peasants. As the paper demonstrates, at the time, talaka remained a centre for peoples’ socialisation of norms and standards of behaviour.  

This paper compares talaka with subbotnik, which is a state-organized form of civic engagement, popularised by Soviet authorities and restored in modern Belarus too. While talaka can be seen as the voluntary mode of collective action, subbotnik, although declared as such too, it is mandatory in practise. Drawing on semi-structured interviews, this paper elaborates upon modern cases of talaka and argues that it represents a type of civic engagement which can generate community-oriented social capital and, on the whole, benefit the Belarusian society.