Belarus – Europe’s last true dictatorship

I have to admit that Belarus is not top of many people’s holiday lists.
My trip too, was not made on the pretext of visiting many of the fascinating historic sites of this sleepy corner of eastern Europe.

I had come here with eight of my family members to find the village where my father had lived the first nine years of his life. He travelled with us, now 78 years old and returning this place for the first time in nearly 70 years. I will save the family account for another post.

What I will mention today, is that Belarus actually has quite a lot to offer the interested visitor. We didn’t go to the capital Minsk, although I hear it is a clean, attractive city with wide boulevards and impressive buildings. The west and centre of the country, where our visit was focussed, is home to a number of old castles and fortresses from the early part of the last Millenium. The town of Nowogrodek (Navahradak), once an important Polish town and now a one-horse town where little seemingly happens (we were the first British visitors there for a long time, we were told) prides itself on its old ruin and a museum dedicated to Mickiewicz, the famous Polish poet.

Our welcome was warm and understated everywhere we went. Food and drink were very cheap, and our accommodation was basic yet adequate. One thing we did notice however was that no-one would answer any questions around how life is for them, or any other topic that could be vaguely inviting to a criticism of the state. And when out walking early in the morning, I don’t think it was a coincidence that on almost every corner I passed a man sitting alone in a car reading a newspaper and surreptitiously observing, in case we were stoking the flames of revolt.

The people in Belarus are not well-off, and it is reminscent of how I recall visiting Poland as a child in the 1970s. For the interested visitor however, I would recommend exploring this fascinating country. Be prepared for a good welcome, service that is polite but that will leave you scratching your head in bewilderment, and most of all for plenty of behind the scenes attention.
That’s enough from me now though.. there may be someone watching….

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

Comments are closed.