Maslenitsa in Melbourne

The History of Maslenitsa in Melbourne

On February 5th in 2006 the first ‘Maslenitsa’ was held on Federation Square, Melbourne. It was an unprecedented event, in it vision, grandeur and scope, and achieved high acclaim. This event was created and put together by an entrepreneurial group of friends, directed by Anna Ivanova and Anna Gorshkova in partnership with the Russian Ethnic Representative Council of Victoria.

The vibrant group of organizers, transformed the heart of Australia’s Cultural Capital into a small Russian village emulating the spirit of Russian and its traditions. For the course of the day, the guests where transposed to Russia, to help awaken the earth from its winter sleep, and to welcome the spring with songs, dances, games and laughter.

The honorary guest of the day was the Russian, Australia boxer Kostya Tsu. He opened the festival by cutting a large red ribbon, and the fun and games ensured. It was certainly an eventful day, with plenty of refreshments and Russian pancake stalls, souvenir stalls, Folk songs and dances, puppets shows for the children, Harvard workshops, and the famous maypole dances.  There were tug of war games, and even dog sledding on snow-white huskies. Maslenitsa is a national celebration Russian which combines both its slavic mythology and its christian heritage. Whilst the seasonal change in Australia doesn’t quite correspond to the festival, the vitality of the festival is not lost and can be seen as a celebration of the hot Australian summer instead.

Throughout the day main stage was host to a variety of theatrical performances telling the story of the festival. The audience was marveled by the Russian folk orchestra ‘Sadko’ who are famous across Australia for their virtuoso balalaika playing. The colorful dance ensemble ‘Kalinka’ and the multi-talented ‘Serei Golovko’, playing may instruments including the xylophone and wooden spoons and of course many other wondrous performers. And at the centre of the festival was of course the embodiment of the festival - ‘chuckle’ - a scarecrow essentially made out the first harvest of the previous spring. During the closing of the festival, the ‘chuchelo ‘was symbolically burnt so as to return the good harvest to the ground, so it can reborn with the coming spring. 

The second Maslenitsa festival was planned for February 2009, however, as a result of the devastating fires in Victoria, the organizers deemed it necessary, to move the festival to the 10th of May, and it became a the Russian Fair Yarrmarka. This fair was organized exclusively the Russian Ethnic Representative Council of Victoria, and proved to be a momentous occasion with plenty of dancing, noise and fun; plenty delicious Russian foods, street traders and souvenirs.

Guest enjoyed performances by the Melbourne biased Russian folk groups, ‘Rusichi’, ‘Kalinka’, ‘Sudarushka’, theatrical performances by ‘Studio Inspiration’, balalaika performances by the renowned Yuri Mugerman, and there was of course plenty of other entertainment. The food stalls, where of course a must see attraction, some of the favorites being ‘shashliki’ and ‘blinchiki’, not to mention ‘piroshki’ and everything else. A new element of this festival was a small exhibition by contemporary Russian artists in Melbourne, which also included workshops and Russian arts and crafts. Overall there was certainly plenty to see and do and of course taste!!

The Russian newspaper biased in Sydney ‘Unification’ wrote, that the Fair was “emulating a feeling of warmth and joy - it was a place where the old and the young where equal in their pursuits of merriment, where there was music, song and dance; enchanting women with long plaints in their hair, the most delicious treats, where one could meet happily with both new and old friends... Russia! How far you are, and how close you can sometimes”

The article went on to say that the Fair was truly a significant event in Melbourne, and for the entire Russian-speaking community of Victoria. The fact that the Russian Ethnic Representative Council of Victoria organized and conducted such an large-scale event, is “a great achievement, worthy of admiration and respect”.

The article then follows with an interview from Elena Ilyin, the then president of the Russian Representative Council of Victoria, and the current vice-president. She explains that with the multiculturalism of Melbourne, many cultures have been able to come to the forefront, and show off the richness of their cultures, the Russian community on the other hand has always remained invisible and unseen. It was for this reason that 25 years ago RERC was created to unify the Russian community and the Russian organizations which already existed. Today RERC works on creating a positive image of the Russian-speaking cement, and a large Fair on Federation square, is a very prominent way of showcasing the diversity and beauty of the Russian community in Australia.

In 2013 "Maslenitsa" became bigger and better. The festival gathered more than 47 000 guests. 2nd of March Victorian community together with Serbian friends and representatives of other Slavic groups celebrated traditional festival "Maslenitsa" on Federation Square. The festival was organised by Russian Ethnic Representative Council of Victoria and Serbian Social Services and Support Group with help of Australian government and Russian Council.

Three "Maslenitsa" festivals are done and we, the event organizers, are getting ready for the fouth one, which will be held on 1st of Febrary in Royal Ehxibition Building. We promise you that Maslenitsa 2014 will be bigger and better. Come to celebrate with us and enjoy Slavic culture of feasts and merriment!