Maksim Schweiz – It’s Time To Shove Off To Belarus!

National Library of Belarus. Who says tractors and Bat'ka are all there is to it?

National Library of Belarus. Who says tractors and Bat’ka are all there is to it?

In the vein of my recent posts on the myth of Russian emigration, I am now publishing a translation of Уехать в Белоруссию (“Go Off To Belarus”) by Maksim Schweiz writing for Rosbalt news agency. It is a joint effort by Nils van der Vegte, who blogs with Joera Mulders at Russia Watchers and is now busy propagating Dutch language and culture in the Arctic cornucopia of Arkhangelsk, and myself. Nils translated the section on Belarus, I translated the section on Ukraine.


Many pundits have stated lately that Russia is going to experience (or is already experiencing) a large outflow of people who wish to emigrate to other countries because in contemporary Russia, life is supposedly unbearable. However, by looking at the statistics, which we prefer over random quotes, this is not really the case. Also, like some other people pointed out, Russia is not that unique in that a certain percentage has the desire to leave one’s country. Even Russia’s most anti-Kremlin and pro-Western newspapers are fed up with the continuous desire to emigrate. In a recent interview on Echo of Moscow, Konstantin Remtsukov (the editor of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta) commented: “I would like to ask those people who want to “shove off” the following question: just when was it ever better in Russia?” and “Did they want to leave in 1994 and 1993 as well? What aboutin 1998? Do they think they lived better then than we do today?” Instead of doing a serious/academic post on Russian emigration (to counter all these rants) we have decided to translate a rather cynical post by Rosbalt, in which a Russian journalist advises Russians about emigrating to Belarus or Ukraine. – Nils van der Vegte.

Whereas in general terms I have nothing to add to Nils’ comments, I’m not so sure that it’s a “cynical” article. After all, we have to bear in mind that until a few years ago, more Russians left for Belarus than the reverse! This indicates that at least until the country’s recent economic troubles, if you had no special dissident or entrepreneurial proclivities, life was pretty good by ex-USSR standards. That is no longer the case. On the other hand, the Belorussian devaluation does mean that geoarbitrage of the sort I discussed in my last post here is becoming very profitable. The commentator Doug mentioned that Russians are now pouring over the border snapping up Belorussian goods that are now twice as cheap for them as they were a year ago. And property prices in Minsk suddenly look very attractive. So in this sense Russian “emigration” to Belarus doesn’t seem like a bad idea at the moment – just make sure you continue getting paid in Russian rubles! –Anatoly Karlin

TRANSLATION: Time To Shove Off To Belarus!

“Let’s get out”, but where to? In Europe and in the US we are not wanted and the Third World is too far away. For those who are fed up with Russia but who think that Europe and Asia are no alternative, there are two underrated options: Ukraine and Belarus.

There is a popular expression in the Russian blogosphere: “It’s time to shove off” (Пора валить). Usually, Western Europe is the most popular destination. But there are increasingly negative stories about emigrating there: “We are not wanted there”, “All we can do is washing the dishes” and “People are very different and difficult to socialize with” are common mantras nowadays. All of these are true. But if you really want to emigrate to “Europe” there is always Belarus or Ukraine to consider.

The first option is Belarus. Belarus is an ideal country if you want to move out of Russia and live more quietly. The only thing is that, especially now, after the crisis, it is incredibly hard to get yourself a decent living. Even the 200 Dollars needed to pay for a one-or two-room apartment in Minsk are hard to come by. But, as far as other factors are concerned, Belarus can indeed be described as the East-European Switzerland.

Living costs in Belarus are very low. You can buy a bottle of yogurt for 15 Russian rubles, Kefir costs 10 rubles per bottle, a kilo of cooked sausage 10 rubles per kilo and for bread you only pay 12 rubles. An evening in a café or bar in the centre of Minsk costs you about 300-600 Russian rubles.

Belarus has almost completely eradicated corruption: bribes are not necessary when visiting a clinic or during a visit to whatever government agency. Here, the police does not take bribes. If you are caught drunk behind the wheel you have to pay a fine of Moscow-like proportions (1000 Dollars) or lose your drivers license for three years. The latter of these is the more likely outcome, since Belorussian cops are very afraid of taking bribes.

In Belarus, your health will surely improve, and not just because of the famous sanatoriums. For a total of 60-90 rubles you can go ice skating the whole evening. Alternatively, you can also go to the huge “Palace of Water Sports”. In general, the entry fee to all public buildings and the usage of government social services is, by Russian standards, very cheap.

Real estate is very cheap in Belarus. You can get a studio apartment in Minsk for $150 per month, or $200 for a renovated one. Buying a standard one-bedroom apartment will cost you $50,000-$60,000. This is expensive for the locals but not for you Russians, accustomed as you are to “Moscow prices”. Minsk itself is a nice place to live in: it’s full of trees and relatively clean air. Also, Minsk is ideal for couples with children: if you want to send your children to kindergarten it will only cost you 2000 rubles per month.

Now for the minuses. In Belarus, it is very difficult to do business. Even more difficult than in Russia. In Moscow, many issues can be resolved by simply coming to an “understanding” with someone, in Belarus every misstep can lead to confiscation of your property. Also, if you dare to hide your profits and evade taxes, it could put you behind bars for a considerable time. Bureaucratic procedures in Belarus are even worse than in Russia: don’t think that you can register your company within a single day or even within a week. The security services make conducting business here a nightmare, and it is as hard for a businessman to get compensation for his grievances against the state in Belarus as it is in Russia.

For people who are accustomed to Moscow-like entertainment, Belarus is a hard place to live. In Minsk, as well as in the rest of Belarus, there is very little nightlife and if there is, the interior, service and staging is unlikely to be attractive. Belarus does not have a decent amusement park, so don’t think you can somehow organize a nice family day in Minsk. Also, it takes ages before movies from Europe/America arrive in Belorussian cinemas. Don’t expect a Shakira or Madonna here: concerts of world stars almost never happen, prominent sporting events are also absent in Belarus. Belorussians are in general are fond of a quiet, family life. And this is something you have to get used to.

Another decent emigration destination for a Russian, who still hasn’t firmly set his sights on Europe, is Ukraine. This country is the exact opposite of Belarus. You can only really live in two cities – Kiev and Odessa. All others emanate an indescribable sense of gloom and despondency. The Ukraine is dirty, food and entertainment are twice as expensive, and property costs as much or a bit more. There are no affordable gyms or swimming pools. Registration issues are far more inconvenient for Russians than is the case in Belarus, where you can emigrate easily without problems. Healthcare is atrocious, and bribes have to be given for practically everything – even for a consultation in any office. Drunken drivers stopped by the Ukrainian police can buy themselves off for only $200.

On the other hand, Kiev boasts loads of attractions. Here there are always plenty of concerts, many of them free. You can eat lunch in the city centre for only 500 rubles.

There is one unarguably bright side to life in Ukraine – freedom of action. Only in Ukraine will you see signs with “Cafe” or “gas station” on them right in front of ordinary village houses, adjacent to the freeways. Only in Kiev will you see coffee and sandwiches being sold straight out of old, bright-orange Moskvitch cars. You don’t even need a passport to buy a SIM-card. No policeman here will drive out a musician with his guitar and begging cap out of the town centre, or demand to see your passport and registration documents.

People in the Ukraine are responsive and friendly – don’t believe the tales that they dislike Russians. It’s common here to greet fellow customers in the shops and to cut off a piece of cheese for sampling, if you can’t decide which one you want. For all the “backwoods” character and friendliness of Kiev’s townspeople, on weekdays it is full of milling throngs and clonking horns. The tempo of life beats much faster than in Minsk, and is more reminiscent of Moscow – everybody is hurrying somewhere, and getting wound up when they have to stand in traffic jams. And, in contrast to the Belorussian capital, there are certainly plenty of those.

That said, it seems that it’s far easier to do business here, than in Minsk – at least, it’s plainly visible in that there are many home-grown entrepreneurs, who don’t need even a stall to hawk their wares and ply their trades. They do with just an ordinary umbrella.

Summing up, dear Russians, there are many paths of retreat. And if you are firmly set on “shoving off”, then consider that it doesn’t necessarily have to be far away and permanent. There are closer and more humane alternatives.


  1. georgesdelatour says:

    I was in western Ukraine this summer: Lviv, Kamianets-Podilskyi etc. Parts of it are really beautiful. People seem really friendly. There are, unfortunately, quite a few memorials to Stepan Bandera.

  2. Don’t shove off to the inhumane west… go to the lands of the Slavic Brotherly Republics! Move to Belarus because kefir is 10 rubles! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry… Bon voyage, be sure not to clap in public by accident.

    “People in the Ukraine are responsive and friendly – don’t believe the tales that they dislike Russians” … “For all the ‘backwoods’ character and friendliness of Kiev’s townspeople…”

    Ugh. People are nice everywhere and people are dicks everywhere so “Ukraine is friendly but dirty” just sounds paternalistic and chauvinistic (FYI– “the Ukraine” is just plain wrong in English).

    And wow, imagine that– the khokhols like Russians! Maybe the Russian press had it wrong all along, that they are not all fascist banderists ready to stab you with orange tryzuby. And maybe, gasp, Ukraine is more of a free country because they can, you know, not get arrested for demonstrating (or clapping in public) and are able to vote for a somewhat viable opposition party. What a country!

    But you are correct in saying that many Russians have moved to Ukraine. It’s probably not for the orange Moskvitches.

    • The article used the traditional term “на Украине” (as opposed to the PC term “в Украине”) so I thought “the Ukraine” would be the more accurate translation.

      By your logic, Americans should be fleeing to Ukraine in droves.

    • “Ugh. People are nice everywhere and people are dicks everywhere…”

      That’s like saying that people are tall everywhere and people are short everywhere. It’s true that there are short guys even among the Dinka and that there are tall guys even in Burma, but there are also these things called averages that most people with above-room-temperature IQs instinctively understand. Averages tend to vary and they’re important.

      My first experience of the Ukraine (the Hague, the Sudan, the Gambia, the Upper Midwest – what the hell do you know about what’s right or wrong in English?) came at the age of 16. I was shocked by all the politeness. I had never considered myself and my fellow Moscovites boorish until I spent a couple of weeks in the Ukraine.

      “…Ukraine is more of a free country…”

      Since you’re such a fan of democracy, you must be eagerly anticipating Putin’s return to the Kremlin. A country’s most popular politician gets another term at the helm – what can be more democratic?

      • What the hell do I know about what’s right or wrong in English? Umm…. it’s my native language.

        There is no logical reason to say “the Ukraine” because there are no definite articles in Russian. Ukraine is an independent country, and this may be a shock to you, it is not a region of Russia like the Upper Midwest is a region of the US. But go ahead and sound ridiculous, it’s a free country.

        Popular = democratic? Perhaps, but here’s a bad analogy… the only music they play on the radio is Top 40. Not surprisingly, Top 40 music is really popular. Does everyone demand to hear Top 40 music all the time or is that just what the radio stations only broadcast? Luckily, if I want to hear classic country, or classical, or Tuvan throat singing, there are a few radio stations that I can tune into on the left side of the dial.

        If Russians overwhelmingly vote for Putin without the authorities stuffing the ballot box, using intimidation, bribing old ladies with kasha, allow election observers from around the world, etc. then yay, great that’s democracy and anyone should support that. Against all as an option serves as a “choice” to one-party rule in a strange way.

        But if trickery happens, then we can make the point that perhaps Putin feels a bit insecure in his overwhelming popularity.

          • I’m surprised you didn’t just say “well, whaddabout in America!? They rig elections too!!” That would have been easier than linking a previous post.

            My point: if Putin is so popular (which he is) then the 2011 and 2012 elections will be the cleanest in the world and, thus, will be plenty democratic. Let’s see what happens…

        • Fedia Kriukov says:

          “The Ukraine” is the traditional term in English. The article was dropped only recently due to political correctness (well, to pander to nationalistically obsessed people). The logical reason for the definite article is the same as in the case of the Netherlands. The original meaning of the country name is a description of the geographical region itself. “The Low Lands” in the case of the Netherlands, and “the Borderland” in the case of the Ukraine. Incidentally, the term “Ukraine” was invented by the Poles, and it refers to the fact that it was the Polish borderland, not Russian. The traditional Russian name for the Ukraine is “Little Russia”.

          On a separate subject, I would recommend that you avoid using this argument in the future: “What the hell do I know about what’s right or wrong in English? Umm…. it’s my native language.” People learn their native language through brute force memorization. A foreign speaker who achieves a certain proficiency with your language naturally understands its structure better than you (unless he learned intuitively as well, the way a child does), even if his command of it is inferior. If you were to read foreign textbooks that teach your native language to foreigners, I bet you would make quite a few discoveries. Basically, it’s the difference between speaking the language and studying linguistics.

          • You are wrong.

            President Yanukovych, hardly a banderist and a so-called”pro-Russian” and would never say на Украине but в Украине. It is not political correctness. But I’m not talking about its use in Russian, but in English — which is the language my mother forced on me brutally;)

            “Ukraine” in English means “a country in Eastern Europe.” Not “borderland” or “Little Russia.” By saying “the Ukraine” you are not acknowledging Ukraine as an independent state, but as a region of something else. Which it isn’t.

            • Fedia Kriukov says:

              Yanuk isn’t pro-Russian. Don’t believe everything you read in western media.

              In any case, you utterly failed to understand my post above. Your suppositions about whether it should be “Ukraine” or “the Ukraine” are utterly meaningless in light of the fact that for the longest time it was “the Ukraine” in English. It’s simply a fact that you’d be aware of if you read any old texts related to the subject. The reason, like I explained, is that the word itself is of geographic origin in Polish. Even when Ukraine was mentioned as a country, it was still called “the Ukraine” due to tradition. Same as it’s “the Netherlands” despite of the fact that it’s a country. However, the Dutch don’t sweat the article, because they’re an emotionally secure nation, unlike many complex-ridden individuals who run around demanding that people drop the article in English or use “v” rather than “na” in Russian. Not that this type of hysteria is unique in our world, just look at Koreans and their “Corea” project or “the Sea of Japan” debacle. Sometimes, the stupidity of this is overwhelming, e.g.I have to wonder, who thought that Kyrgyzstan looks better than Kirgizia?

              As for Ukraine, personally, I think either way is fine and it should be one’s own preference about which way to write it. I usually drop the article for the simple reason that it’s less typing. However, esthetically I would prefer “the Ukraine” just because I like being reminded of the origins of the word, and it does make it somewhat unique. Ukraine itself could serve as a fine example of linguistic tolerance. Normally, you try to switch to the language of your interlocutor in order to appear polite, but in the perfectly bilingual Ukraine you just keep speaking your own language of choice, and it’s the listener who needs to demonstrate politeness by understanding you. Honestly, it’s a more relaxing linguistic environment that way.

              • I didn’t say Yanuk was pro-Russian. Hence the use of “so-called” and quotes around “pro-Russian.” I used him as an example because saying в Украине has zero connotations of “nationalism” in Ukraine. Only in Russia, and this shouldn’t be the case.

                Anyway your arguments are ridiculous and your comments confirm my original thought — it’s about chauvinism.

                “The reason, like I explained, is that the word [Ukraine] itself is of geographic origin in Polish.” OK then. For the sake of “tradition,” then don’t please call it Lvov, call it Lwów and write it as Львув in Russian.

                Don’t call it St. Petersburg, call it Leningrad. It’s tradition.

                Don’t call it Kinshasa, call it by the old “traditional” and colonialist Léopoldville. That’s tradition, and that’s what the city was founded as.

                “Sometimes, the stupidity of this is overwhelming, e.g.I have to wonder, who thought that Kyrgyzstan looks better than Kirgizia?” Or Mumbai instead of Bombay. Or Peking instead of Beijing.

                Here’s your answer — because people actually living in Kyrgyzstan don’t want to be called “Kirgizia” anymore. That is not what they call themselves.

                Ukrainians don’t want the useless article in front of their country. Respect that.

              • Fedia Kriukov says:

                I see. You’re one of those “complex-ridden” individuals. I’m sorry to have bothered you.

                Also, it would be nice if you’d refrain from trying to lecture me on how to respect Ukrainians given that I’m one myself. Sorry, but I don’t need your inferiority complexes projected onto the entire nation. I find that, rather than “the Ukraine”, insulting.

              • The people of Köln are shafted by an extra syllable in their city’s name (Cologne). Whose chauvinism is responsible for that? I wonder why they don’t act like a bug crawled up their butts…

          • Moscow Exile says:

            It was “die Ukraine” in German as well and for the same reason: in this context the definite articles in both English and German define which region or part of a whole. Likewise, in English it was always “The Crimea” and in German “die Krim”. (For some reason or other, the Ukraine and the Crimea ar feminine gender in German.)

            I still say “the Ukraine” out of force of habit and “die Ukraine” when I speak German. (No problem when I speak Russian!) It seems to me that Germans are less inclined than are English speakers to toe the PC line as regards their use of the definite article with “Ukraine”.

            I am pretty sure that the PC “Ukraine” arose on the advice of a Toronto-Ukrainian, as the nuances in English article usage is often lost on those whose mother tongues possess no articles.

            But why “Crimea” for “The Crimea”? The Crimea was never part of the Ukraine before Khryshchev made it a gift to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic; and it never was a sovereign state either, it being before its annexation by the Russian Empire a Tatar khanate, a satrap of the Ottoman Empire.

            I have often heard Ukrainian nationalists claim that the Ukraine is the former Kievan Rus’, which “state” existed long before Russia, as though the Ukraine’s perceived longevity compared with that of Russia makes it in some way a superior polity. But the area that became the Russian heartland was also Rus’, the term “Russia” having been adopted from the Greek word for Rus’ by the Hellenophile Muscovites (or should that be “Moskals”?) in about the 15th century, probably as a result of the influx there of fleeing Greek Monks after the fall of Constantinople and Moscow’s styling of itself as “The Third Rome”: after the Great Schism of 1054, Constantinople became “The Second Rome”, the seat of of the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium, and of “True Praising” – Pravoslavie or Eastern Orthodox Christianity; upon the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the seat of Orthodoxy eventually moved to Moscow – “The Third Rome never to fall”.

            The historical Ukraine was quite small, it having been bordered to the northwest and west by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, to the northeast and east by Muscovy, and to the south by the Ottoman Empire. It had no sea frontier. That territory that has in recent years taken to calling itself “Ukraine” is, apart from the Crimea, that territory formerly known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, a creation of Stalin. The Ukrainian SSR also contained territories formerly known as Little or New Russia, basically East Ukraine – the Donbas, Kharkov and the Black Sea littoral; Little Tatary, where Odessa is situated; Bessarabia and a large part of Galicia. All the eastern territory and littoral of “Ukraine” was populated by Russians after the fall of the Crimean Tatar Host. Before that, what is now Eastern Ukraine was known as “The Wild Field” and was occupied by Muslim nomads that went on annual slaving raids north into what is now Russian and Ukrainian territory. The slaves were sold to the Ottomans.

            In fact, the place where I holidayed this summer in “Ukraine” only became part of the Ukrainian SSR in 1940 as a result of the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact of 1939; before that it had been part of Romania since 1918; before that, as a result of Russian victories gainst the Ottomans in the Russian-Turkish War 1806-1812, it had been part of the Russian Empire; and before that, it had been part of the Ottoman Empire. But Ukrainian nationalists in their big Stalin-created “Ukraine” insist that that territory west of the Dniestr has always been Ukrainian. They say the same about Galicia.

            They even go further as regards their nationalistic claims, maintaining that the Christianising of Kievan Rus’ in 867 CE was the Christianisation of the Ukraine. But there was no such polity then: Kievan Rus’ was a collection of warring princedoms, where, because of the lack of primogeniture, princely brothers usually switched into killing mode on their fathers’ deaths. This perpetual internecine warfare was finally brought to heel (almost) with the acceptance of a foreign ruling dynasty – the Scandinavian Ruriks. And the Last Rurik was Ivan IV, a Moskal’, whose grandfather, Ivan III, “the gatherer of Russian Lands”, namely of all Rus’, was the first to call himself tsar and was the first Russian prince, a Prince of Muscovy, to refuse to recognise the supreme authority of the Great Khan.

            The rest is history.

            • For whatever reasons, a lot of countries have dropped their articles in recent decades. We used to speak of “the Lebanon,” “the Sudan” and “the Argentine.” Not anymore. But at least there was some sense to it, because articles existed in the original languages too. Not in Russian or Ukrainian.

              “as though the Ukraine’s perceived longevity compared with that of Russia makes it in some way a superior polity”

              The “older therefore better” argument has always struck me as ridiculous. Taken to its logical extent, the most advanced countries in the world should be Egypt and Iraq. Clearly that is not the case.

              “Christianising of Kievan Rus’ in 867 CE”

              Isn’t the traditional date 988? (baptism of Vladimir) Though I dimly recall there were Christians in Rus’ before him.

              • Moscow Exile says:

                It’s all playing games with translations for political reasons. Some Ukrainians have decided that the English language must be changed, and many of those speakers of American English seem willing, in their altruistic way, to toe the PC line and not offend anyone.

                As I mentioned above, I now see “die Ukraine” in German publications far more frequently than I see “the Ukraine” in English ones. The point is, though, that those Ukrainians who wish that the name of their country in English have the definite article dropped are very likely not bothered what German speakers say, because English, the language of the USA and at present the “world language”, is their target.

                In German the names for Switzerland and Turkey both have definite articles: “die Schweiz” and “die Turkei” (both feminine gender, as is “die Ukraine”). As far as I know, no Swiss or Turk, let alone the governments of those countries, has ever complained about this.

                I often meet Russians who say “Lamansh” when they mean that sea strait which I know of as “The English Channel” or, in context, simply as “The Channel”. “La Manche” (literally “the sleeve” in French) is the word that the Russian intelligentsia, francophiles that they long were, adopted for a stretch of water far away to the west of their homeland. Whenever I point out their error as regards English usage, most Russians are amazed: “But that’s what it says on maps!” they say. “On Russian maps” I add. Nevertheless, I feel that most Russian speakers find it hard to believe what I say further as regards this point, namely that if they said “Lamansh” in the UK, nobody would have a clue what they were talking about. Likewise the city that Russians insist on calling “Edeenbyrg”. “You mean Edinburgh”, I say, “pronounced as the American cigarette brand Marlboro?”. “But it’s Edeenbyrg”, they protest, using the Russian adaptation of the French word and its pronunciation for the name of the Scottish capital, which pronunciation would make most British speakers of English think that some German city was being referred to.

                Many years ago I was drinking in a Calais bar with a fellow countryman,. We were saying farewell to France and would shortly board a Channel ferry. It was a stormy day and my compatriot constantly referred to the “English Channel” in his conversation with me. Finally, an irate Frenchman said in heavily acented English: “Why you say “Eengleesh Shannelle” all ze time? Eet eez not ze Eengleesh Shannelle! Eet eez not ze Frensh Shannelle eezer. Eet eez La Manche!” My travelling companion calmly replied: “I say “The English Channel” because it f***king IS!”

                It seems that this American English PC nomenclature and pronunciation of the names of foreign lands and cities only applies to certain places though. Why is it politically incorrect to say, for example, Peking instead of Beijing and Bombay instead of Mumbai, yet no one protests when English speakers say Moscow?

                The place is called Moskva and pronounced “Maskva” by its natives! Or does their opinion not matter?

                There is no definite article in both the Ukrainian and Russian languages, so why the bother over the English name of the sovereign state once known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic? When I say “The Ukraine”, I am not referring to some Soviet vassal state, a country whose native population, or at least a large proportion thereof, claims that it was once in thrall to those awfully wicked Russians: when I say “The Ukraine” I am speaking English.

                PS Don’t know why I got that date wrong concerning the Christianising of Kievan Rus’. Probably because I wrote my last comment at 4 o’clock in the morning Moscow Time.

  3. Umm…Lviv is approaching Krakow or Prague in terms of its cafes, music festivals, and clean, put-together streets. Someone saying Ukraine only has Kiev and Odessa is quite ignorant. This sentance is totally false: “can only really live in two cities – Kiev and Odessa. All others emanate an indescribable sense of gloom and despondency. The Ukraine is dirty, food and entertainment are twice as expensive, and property costs as much or a bit more.” I had fantastic crepes with strawberry wine sauce stuffed with fruits for $3.00; very good calmari julienne with a glass of decent wine for $4.00, etc. in Lviv. Kiev simore expensive, but still cheaper than Moscow.

    @Georgesdelatour, the Bandera statues in western Ukraine are probably no more troublesome than the Lenin statues outsideof western Ukraine.

  4. Leon Lentz says:

    I go to Russia every Summer for 3 months but live in US. I grew up in Moscow and visited Belarus many times including quite recent trips. I have visited Ukraine as well. In the last year I have been visiting for quite a long time (more than a month in each country), Italy, Greece, Israel, Belarus and Russia, US should be put on this list because I live there. If the standards of Iiving are the criteria, I would put US last on that list. It does not have many places to walk, the weather is too hot and it is oppressive weatherwise. Police is quite rude and is everywhere. It is also a country at war with laws very similar to those of Nazi Germany (Obama just signed NDAA laws allowing an indefinite detention of US citizens without a trial). Brutality of OWS movement suppression is something unheard of in Belarus or Russia. I would put Belarus as the top country on the list. I visited Grodno, a charming, beautiful city of 600 thousand. I strongly disagree with the article about entertainment. Amusement parks are quite good, the beauty of nature, the trails and the city itself has no counterpart in US. Restaurants are quite good and cheap. Greece is also quite beautiful and Israel is quite nice an interesting as well. I went to Kineret, Eilat, Tsfat,and had fabulous time. Museums are quite astonishing. Italy is also one of the most fascinating places. Yet, I would think Belarus is the most excellent place to live if you know Russian and have a fairly modest but significant means. Russia is also a great place to live and visit. I would think that Greece, Italy and Israel while being superb tourist attractions, would require about 5-6k$ a month to live and one has to have a network of social connections to settle there permanently. I would recommend US to no one, even though I am OK financially and have a nice house there, moving there long time ago for political reasons and having to live there strictly for financial reasons. Perhaps, only Ukraine with its poverty and crime is worse than US but even that is debatable. Probably the most despicable part o US is propaganda, lies and icredible pride Americans have in their deforested country, in their psychopatic armed forces, deranged public officials, brainwashed populus which seems to be almost mentally retarded in its ignorance, with history of cowardly wars almost always with weaker countries (in WWI and WWII US appeared in Europe towards the end, performing pityfully), slavery, segregation, Indian genocide, political oppression, and virtually nothing else. Russia certainly has higher overall standards of living than US, if the beauty, culture and ability to walk in the woods and in the cities is more important to you than the sizes of houses.