Two Russian travel writers, Natalia Ko and Nikolay Varsegov, share their experiences in Belarus – very positive ones, for the most part – with readers of Komsomolskaya Pravda.
You can Gamble in Belarus, but Seances are Forbidden
The first surprise on detraining in Minsk: The taxi drivers here don’t pester you, shouting, “Where are you going?” No bums can be seen either at or near the railway station. Even after driving throughout virtually the entire capital we had yet to see a bum. Nobody could explain why there aren’t any.
Nor are there any Gastarbeiters, interestingly enough. In our three days in the city we didn’t meet a single Caucasian nor a single Asiatic. What’s more, Minsk is a very clean and well-maintained city, although it isn’t quite clear who sweeps the streets, and plants the trees. There are no spokespersons in official institutions, even big ones, because all questions are settled quickly and directly with the managers. Red tape, according to the managers themselves, is punished. If a citizen complains that such and such a department is tardy in solving his problem, its boss is liable to be fired.
There are virtually no drunk people in the evenings. Instead of guzzling bear in the forest parks, young people ride on roller skates and play football instead.
That said, there is one parasite here: Legal gambling clubs, which we have long done away with. It’s said that Russian gambling addicts fly to Minsk on the weekends. They all return, of course, without any money. On the other hand, psychics, mages, and all kinds of enchanters are banned by a decree of Lukashenko himself, which testifies to the good sense of the Belorussian President.
Incomes in Belarus aren’t very high. The average salary, according to official data, is 18,000 rubles (our rubles). Pensions range from 3,800 to 6,500 rubles, with utility services consuming 10% of that. But food is cheap. A dinner in a cafe comes out to 180 rubles for two people. In the evening we had a hearty meal with meats and beer for two, and paid 1,000 rubles for it. In Moscow this would have cost 4,000-5,000 rubles.
Although all kinds of non-criminal businesses are allowed to operate in Belarus, they are under tight control. As such, the local rich try to keep a low profile. They don’t build themselves palaces or drive expensive cars, so as to avoid the interest of the siloviki. On this control of business also allows Belorussians not to worry about counterfeit vodka or fake goods. This is probably why there are no businessmen in Belarus from the rest of the CIS. The local businessmen, grinding their teeth, are forced to work honestly – while those incapable of such are forced to leave for Russia.
Belorussians love to grumble about their President. We, the simple people, can’t go anywhere freely because of his politics, apart from Russia, oh and Ukraine. And Minsk natives dislike that the roads are closed when Lukashenko’s cortege passes.
Everyone, everywhere speaks Russian. Only on the TV is there occasionally – for whatever reason – a broadcast in Belarussian.
That said, of course our view is quite superficial. What can one take in within three days, after all? Anybody with better knowledge of Belarus can share them with us in the comments below this article.
Гость №9503: I was there this year. Same impressions. Everywhere you feel unusually calm and safe, especially in comparison with some Paris or London. Minsk is comfortable, well-maintained, spacious, and feels like a capital city – but at the same time isn’t overpopulated, and prices for services are reasonable even in the center. There are so many sporting facilities that it’s as if an Olympics is going to be held there. The central avenues are beautiful, and have broad sidewalks, and in general pedestrians have it really good. There is a cycle path of 27km throughout the city – that’s just great. Although true, there are few historic attractions; it’s no Kiev, in that respect. As regards Gastarbeiters – Belarus is the last country in the world with a European population.
бабуля в годах: Yurgen [pro-Lukashenko commentator], shut up! It’s disgusting to read your odes to Luka! You probably have a wad of cash from the KGB? Why don’t you try to live on my pension of $120? He created his apparatus of KGBists and other filth because he is afraid to stand before the righteous people’s court. The Belorussians tolerate a lot, but their tolerance will soon come to an end. And you, Yurgen, will have to learn to live a new life.
бабке —пенсионерке [to above]: Wherever do we have pensions of $120? I don’t know any such people. I get 2,800,000 [Belorussian rubles] – that’s $300. Our cleaning lady, who worked as a cleaner her entire life, gets 2,000,000 – that’s $220. Whence the $120? Even if you never worked you still wouldn’t get such a pension. And by the way, my pension suffices for everything, and besides my savings enable me to travel about and go stay with various people. I do have my issues with Lukashenko, but they end as soon as I pass the Belorussian borders. After the crossing of the border I start to love him very dearly.
Новая белорусска: Living in Minsk the past 2 years (Russian Siberians). To say that Belarus is paradise is, of course, impossible. We experience all kinds of things, if in small doses. Yes there are bums, and drunkards too, but they would never start stealing and killing for a bottle – fortunately, the death penalty remains in force here. The young people here make a big impression – many of them are covered in tattoes (arms and legs, completely), they have their specific hairstyles (I think they are national ones), but on the other hand it’s rare to hear swearing in public, they mostly speak about study, work, salaries. They are completely non-aggressive, and Belorussians are in general a calm people. Altercations on public transport are extremely rare. As regards salaries – true, it’s not a land of milk and honey. No comparison at all to Moscow. But if you were to compare it with some Siberian city, Belorussians can afford a lot more. For instance, quality food at reasonable prices. Transport costs aren’t even in the same league – Siberians need $2,000 just to reach the border with their families. So our Russians (not Muscovites) are much poorer than Belorussians.