by Masha Cheriakova
There are many stereotypes regarding our nation. Let’s now discuss a few. After hearing our opinion and experiences maybe it might change (or not) your view of Belarus and its people. So, here we go:
- We are part of Russia or a city in Russia or White-skinned Russians (yes, this is what the French have labelled us, those suave, beret wearing cheese eaters!). So we want to make it clear once and for all that we are NOT Russia! The Republic of Belarus has been an independent country since 1991. We are the Western neighbours of Russia. The cause of this misconception might come from the way Belarus is translated in many countries as ‘White Russia’ instead of our legal name the Republic of Belarus. So, let us clear this up for you. Basically the mistake is made in the word Russia, which shares the stem word ‘Rus’; a different geographical and political term than Russia. ‘Rus’ is also known as Ruthenia, and refers to the Eastern Slavic lands and people that nowadays belong mostly to Belarus and Ukraine. So, while we may share similar histories, language, and gas, be careful not to compare the two countries because we are two completely different nations!
- We are also likely known for being the last dictatorship of Europe. We have to say that this is not the label we are proud of and we believe that this label does not do us (the people) justice. We believe that there is more to us than our government style.
- We still live in the Soviet past. Well, we are not sure Lenin would agree with this one. We do have some really cool Soviet architecture, our secret service is still called KGB, and we are most likely a bit more of a collective bunch of people than in the West. However, Soviet past is a bit far-fetched. We have trendy cafes, restaurants, and coffee shops throughout Minsk with good Wi-Fi connections. Many Belarusians travel all over the world and are introduced to different lifestyles, ideas, and culture which we have brought back and introduced to Belarusian culture.
Lenin statue at Kastrycnickaja street. Photo by Reinier van Oorsouw
4. Belarus is filled with heavy drinkers. Belarusians like their Vodka to celebrate an event or two. And yes, Belarus also belongs in the list of the highest consumers of alcohol per capita (approximately 17.5 litres in 2016). Causing a big headache for Belarusians and our country. But, let us explain this urge for alcohol (mostly strong spirits like vodka) from a local perspective. First of all, we drink because it is part of our culture. Secondly, because it is very cheap (the cheapest bottle of vodka costs around €3). And, we drink because it helps us from not freezing our buttocks off during the cold winter months. But please don’t think that our country is filled with alcoholics walking like zombies through the streets. This is simply not true. The youth prefer good wine and craft beer in cool bars to old-school vodka in the kitchens.
An American/French visitor drinking vodka with his favourite Belarusian friend. Photo by HiFive Belarus
5. Belarus is way too cold for me. Many people believe that Eastern European countries are always covered in snow and freeze, and that the people walk around in fur coats. Well, yes we still like our fur coats to protect us against the cold winter days, but we can reassure you that Belarusian summers, springs, and autumns are friendly and warm. Belarus has a land climate, which means that the summers are warm/hot and the winters are cold.
6. There is nothing to see in Belarus. Well friend, you are in for a treat! We are very proud of our heritage, including our Soviet past. Our cities are laced with its remains and we are not ashamed of sharing this unique period of our past. We are also very proud of our beautiful countryside. When you visit you will see some of the most indescribable nature: from thousands of beautiful rivers and lakes spread all over the country, to lush untouched forests that are home to a host of different animals and birds which have long disappeared from European forests. And let’s not forget our castles! Belarus’ unique location along major trade routes made us quite famous in the Middle Ages.