Belarus is often called „the last dictatorship in Europe“. The image of this country is surrounded by dozens of prejudices and the media always shows it in the negative light. Violations of the rights to freedom of speech, poverty and a president who is in the office since 1994 doesn’t sound very tempting to me as well. But still, it’s the neighbour of Lithuania with whom we have the longest border. So me and Viktorija headed to Belarus to create our own opinion.
The sky was grey and covered with black clouds that looked like they are going to crack at any moment. Can you imagine the better atmosphere to hop into authoritarian world?
Minsk was just like I’ve expected: wide streets, bulky buildings and huge squares. You feel like a little ant surrounded by crazy architecture designed by some megalomaniac. I admire this feeling of space contrasted with big grey buildings in the distance. If you have claustrophobia – Minsk should be your next destination. Most of the cities in Europe are characterized by narrow streets and Minsk is quite opposite to that. And very pleasant to walk around as well.
The city was founded in XI century and later became a part of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Minsk and all the Belarus experienced basically the same historical events as Lithuania. It became a part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569. In 1793 it was occupied by Russian Empire and then swallowed by Soviet Union. Minsk was destroyed during World War II and then rebuilt by Soviets.
The good old Soviet Union is still celebrated here. The statue of Vladimir Lenin stands in front of the House of Government. The names of K. Marx and J. Stalin are on the plates of the streets. Our hotel had a portrait of A. Lukashenka on the wall.
I was surprised to find Minsk a very tidy city. No litters, no chaos and the lawn is sensitively moved everywhere around. The city is full of greenery with cosy parks and a river in the middle. I haven’t seen any abandoned old houses or cracked tiles on the pavements. Everything is how it should be. When we came to a coffee shop, prepared to use our broken Russian, we were shocked to hear barista speaking fluent English. One by one my prejudices about Belarus were flushed down to the drain.
Western brands such as KFC and many others are available in the city. Everything is much cheaper than in Lithuania, especially, with few millions in your pocket. The Belarusian roubles are so worthless that even the entrance to the public toilet cost 3000 of them. The country is preparing to devalue the currency and get rid of some zeros. So probably this was the first and the last time I was a millionaire in Belarus.
Minsk has one of the coolest national libraries I have ever seen. You can climb to the top of the building that offers some nice views of the city. Greenery, constructions, wide streets with not much traffic are all mingled into one surrealistic piece of socialistic landscape.
As this was a weekend trip, we only had one day in Minsk. It is really worth to stay there at least for a few days and hopefully I will do that one day.
Probably, the most interesting thing about Belarus is that all the fields are sowed with crops. I haven’t seen any unused land as it is very common in Lithuania. There is something growing everywhere.
When Belarus was a part of Grand Duchy of Lithuania, some aristocratic families had their residencies here. We visited Nesvizh castle that originally belonged to Radziwill. These people had a really fine taste in building castles and this one was really impressive. It was also a good chance to deepen my knowledge about this well-known family that left a significant mark in Lithuania’s history. We also visited castles in Mir and Lida. Even though they weren’t so interesting as the first one, but still it wasn’t the worst way to spend Sunday’s afternoon, that’s for sure.
It’s a bit stupid that you need a visa to get to the neighbour country, but that’s how it is. The weather was nice and sunny when we were heading back to Lithuania. A symbolic transfer from one reality to another.
“He flew away! But he promised to come back”, – wrote A. Lindgren in “Karlsson on the roof”. I promise you that as well, Minsk.