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Belarus in Focus
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21 Jan

Daniela Araya, América Economía Newspaper, October 23, 2012 (Costa Rica)

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Minsk: A Living Museum of Socialism

Although the real tourists that visit Minsk are few, those who do visit find an interesting space; frozen in time, imposing and even mythological, the streets of the Belarusian capital are a living museum.

The delight for tourists is to get to know that what they will see is unique, as here the soviet period is real and characterized in every single building.  This is felt as you move towards the classic socialist architecture that whispers that this time in history existed and here is still alive, in the government, in buildings and even in people.

The main street of Minsk (“praspect niezaleyenashti”), is a combination of styles. The remnants Catholic or Orthodox churches melt themselves with the atheist panorama that was held by the former soviets.

In spite of the Russians destroying the real European architecture of the city, a single district smaller than three kilometers was not fully dismantled. The locals explained to me that Russians just say: “history starts in Soviet Union” and therefore they erased all that existed before in Minsk.

Out of these few old houses, all the rest transpires socialism, the wide square streets, the tall unromantic buildings, the statues of the former communistic leaders, the soviet lire and the star everywhere.

On Victory Square, the eternal fire keeps burning. Since the 90s the Belarusians have been an independent nation, but for them little has changed. The soviet times marked them so much that Belarusians even forgot their own language. According to data from the last census in 2009, five of nine millions externalized that Belarusian is their native language. Nevertheless, in reality a few minorities communicate in this language, television, government and even movies are in Russian.

Arriving in Minsk is not easy. The government requires a visa that starts at around 40 euros just for 15 days and you need an invitation letter. Besides this, the extreme security and control rules demand tourists to go through a procedure to register themselves in the county they will reside while they stay.

When they looked at my passport I knew I was maybe one of the first Costa Ricans ever coming.  The government stated that mostly Russians, Ukrainians, Germans and Americans come to Minsk, and even says in numbers that in the last semester three million people visited the capital. However, without wanting to contradict these official numbers, I could count the real tourists I saw on two hands .

Despite Minsk not being a must-visit destination for tourists, it is without a doubt historical, emblematical and full of honesty: they are socialist and don´t hide it, they mostly don´t speak a word of English and yet don´t know how to fake you a smile for a good tip.

Even history didn´t repay them in gold coins –The museum of the Great War states that Nazis killed one in three Belarusians in Second World War and Minsk was destroyed in an 85% over that same time; afterwards 50 years of communism and now arbitrariness. Belarus is indeed a red dot on a blue-ink map. Delayed, hobbling and even frozen, but tourists come to see how it was to live in the Cold War. Here it still exists.

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