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14 Jan

Marta Palombo, Belarus Project, January 19, 2012 (Italy)


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European view on Belarus

How interesting is Belarus for Europeans? This was the question held in mind by a group of students of European Affairs in Sciences Po Paris, who have been conducting for already three months a project dedicated to Belarus, “Belarus Project”. To find the answer to this question, they have interviewed about 233 young, and not so, people from Europe and from all over the world.

The survey was completed in the first days of this year by more than 219 people. 63% of the respondents, aged between 20 and 35 years, were either from Italy, Germany or France. The rest represented all other countries of the European Union. As it is common, there were some exceptions: some replies arrived from Russia, Peru, Brasil, Egypt and even from Japan. Three simple questions were asked: why is Belarus interesting, why is it not interesting, and what would you like to find out about it. Here is what people replied.

Less surprising was the refrain “I don’t know anything about Belarus ”, with some highlights from Great Britain such as “I can’t place it on a map”. In fact, the general impression was that people know very little about this country. Several stereotypes emerged: vodka and beautiful women were of course present, but cold weather and similarity to Russia were also mentioned. Nevertheless, the most popular answer in all categories was politics, with 20% of all replies. Let’s take a closer look.

Question 1: What do you think is so particular about Belarus that makes or can make people interested in it?

More than 25% of people replied that they didn’t know what could be interesting about Belarus. Another 3% added that Belarus could be interesting because mostly unknown abroad.

In about 21% of replies, the interest of people was captured by Belarusian politics: among them, concerns about human rights and death penalty, international isolation of Belarus (“It has still an iron curtain”), but most of all the Belarusian regime, described in half of the replies as “the last dictatorship of Europe”.

The majority of Germans were interested in tourism, they asked about language, culture and Belarusian cuisine, but somehow in very general terms. Yet, Grodno and Belovezhskaya Pushcha were mentioned absolutely unambiguously, to our surprise. Some people wrote about Belarusian nature and geography, about the proximity to our sister country, Russia. The latter caught interest due to its influence on Belarusian economy. Intriguing was that 12% considered interesting the history of Belarus, in particular its historic period. Maybe it is high time to build a museum of Soviet Union in Belarus?

Question 2: What do you think makes people not interested in Belarus?

As expected the majority wrote that Belarus is not interesting because it is unknown. The reasons, however, varied. So for example French complained about “lack of media coverage in international press” and Italians spoke about “lack of tourism”. Besides those, who could not find Belarus on the map, there were some quite extreme answers, expressing a “lack of knowledge of the very existence of the country”.

Another 16% of replies considered Belarus uninteresting because unimportant “neither politically nor economically”. One third of them described Belarus as nothing special, and one very brave German even went so far to say that Belarus “is everything but cool”.
Our interest drew also the replies which compared Belarus to Russia saying that “it is almost the same as Russia, but less interesting” or for example, that other neighboring countries (obviously meaning Ukraine) get more attention.

Other responses mentioned again the political situation (11%), mainly attributing the low interest for Belarus to isolation and stability (it is boring if nothing happens), and also economic conditions, together with crime and other social factors. Some other replies referred to geographical reasons, characterizing Belarus “as a small, cold country in the middle of nowhere”. Our team hoped that the answer was written by someone who couldn’t locate Belarus on the map, but was ashamed of saying it.

Question 3: What would you like to find out about Belarus?

After a bucket of ice cold water, let’s have a look at what our European neighbors wanted to know about Belarus.

Roughly 30% expressed a will to find out about the Belarusian culture, from the language to the food and the history. Particularly interesting was the origin of the country name “Belarus” and the difference of the nation compared to Russia. Tourism has also not been forgotten, so someone from Germany asked “will I be able to travel there without knowing a local language”. Besides the position on the map, there were questions about Belarusian civil societies, economic situation and everyday life of Belarusians. Respondents also wanted to know “who are Belarusians”, “why do they hate Russians”, “what relationships they have with European Union and Russia” and “how do they fight for their freedom?”

Conclusion

It is obvious that people abroad know almost nothing about Belarus. It is quite surprising to hear Europeans saying that Belarus is small and far. But by far the most shocking is the label of a sad and grey country hanging on it. Europeans see Belarus only as an arena for political disputes: the last dictatorship of Europe. Famous Belarusian hospitality and warm-heartedness were not mentioned even once. Nevertheless many replies concerning tourists indicate the desire to get to know the country, its culture and originality. Some 10% wrote “what is there interesting about Belarus?” or “why should I be interested in this country?” This question we forwarded to Belarusians, the users or tut.by. As a part of an initiative “Window on Belarus” we’ll collect their answers and will ask you, our dear readers, to rate them according your interest. Stay tuned!

 



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