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A purely analytical perception...


Belarus

Another Place in Another Time

 

 Another Place in Another Time, Long Ago

During its early years Belarus (the name means "White Russia") was inhabited by the Eastern Slavs, who lived off the land and spoke a primitive form of Russian. In the ninth century what is now called Belarus was part of Kievan Rus, (Kiev) a precursor of Russia and the Ukraine. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Belarus fell into the orbit of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and eventually merged with it. The Grand Duchy and Poland formed a union not long afterward that endured into the early part of the nineteenth century. When Poland dissolved, Belarus became a small piece of the Soviet Union, and stayed that way until the Germans invaded in 1941. When the war was over, the country reverted to Russian rule.

Whatever its history may be, Belarus is not necessarily a place that would be high on your list of vacation destinations. The country probably has less to offer that just about any other place on the planet. The first obstacle that you would face is getting there; because of the country's exclusionary attitude, scheduled airlines avoid it like a plague. Overland routes are characterized by poor roads and constant, unnecessary security checks.

"…As we lurch and sputter westward beneath the clouds, the most conspicuous geographic characteristic I detect about Belarus, spread out below, is its lack of conspicuous geographic characteristics. Not a single river, mountain range, depression, or eminence presents a natural border with Russia or the other surrounding countries. Belarus is flat, covered with a mosaic of forest, peat bog, and swamp; crisscrossed by rivers that, for the most part, originate and terminate beyond its frontiers; traversed by highways running south from the Baltic republics to Ukraine and east from Western Europe into Russia." *

The country is geographically landlocked, bereft of natural resources * and industry, economically bankrupt and remains totally dependent on Russia for its mere survival. * Wretched Belarus has less foreign investment per capita than any other European economy and at the rate they are going, the economy could soon equal that of Afghanistan and Sudan, where foreign investment is non-existent. And this is in spite of the fact that qualified workers only receive $70 a month. The country is bordered on the West by Poland, Lithuania and Latvia on its west and north, Russia on its north and east and Ukraine to the South. The country is not large, about the size of the state of Kansas.

"The Belarusian economy is in a state of disarray that makes even Russia, by comparison, seem a model of market-oriented restructuring. There has been no meaningful move towards privatization. Big factories, some linked to the arms trade, continue to guzzle energy and raw materials, producing goods which no-one wants to buy. Inflation is rampant, food prices continue to soar and ever more stringent restrictions have virtually wiped out the markets where, even in Soviet times, farmers could sell the produce of their individual plots." *

Belarus was a battlefield during all of World War II as the fighting waxed and waned within its territory, as Russia and Germany took turns stripping its meager resources to fuel their respective war efforts. Interestingly enough, a greater percentage of Belarus’ population was wiped out during than war than probably any other country on earth; thirty-percent. Moreover, it was not until 1982 that the country’s population once again approached its pre-war level.

"The great trauma of Belarus was not collectivization or purge trials but the Nazi invasion and the Second World War. Whole cities, towns, villages and industrial enterprises were turned in smoking rubble. An unspeakable nightmare of torture and massacre began first against the many Belarusians of Jewish descent, who occupied not only a leading place among the intelligentsia but also among the industrial working class and (despite the stereotype), in many parts of Belarus, an important role in agriculture. No substantial village in Belarus escaped the sight of the fascists hunting and killing children, first the Jews but quickly enough their neighbors as well. In our still extensive woods, a remnant of the brave youth, of all ethnic groups in Belarus, gathered to fight the partisan war. By the time the Nazis were driven out in the second half of 1944, one quarter of the population had been killed, and in most of the republic, every substantial building destroyed." *

While the Belarusian standard of living is rapidly approaching absolute zero *, prices for tourists have been kept arbitrarily high, many believe that it is almost to the point of indicating that the government is attempting to balance its feeble budget by gouging tourists. However, assuming that you make the trip and are willing to put up with the astronomical prices for shoddy merchandise, once there, there is literally no where to go and nothing to see. You would find that you have come a long way just to visit abject poverty. Everything of historical or sightseeing value has been long ago destroyed by the country’s numerous conquerors, who seem to have grown so despondent once they took it over that each seemed determined to destroy what little was left. Having said that, seeing that there was nothing worth preserving, the government itself rebuilt the tattered republic by erecting structures that can generously be described as drab and uninteresting.

"One of the crummiest countries to have emerged out of the dissolution of the Soviet Union is Belarus. My opinion is shared by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe and European Parliament, whose representatives as a joint delegation have just reported that Belarus’ tyrannical President Alexander Lukashenko and his government have done little to install a democracy since Belarus achieved independence 10 years ago." *

Although a country that was always featureless, Belarus historically had another problem; because of its strategic location, even though nobody cherished the thought of visiting it, military tacticians found that it was crucially located and most difficult to defend. Thus, Belarus was regularly overrun by armies wanting to go somewhere else, however it always seemed that Belarus was the only way to get there. Most recently, Poland, Lithuania and Russia have appropriated the country as their own. World War II was particularly brutal to the landscape as it seemed that on alternate Mondays, the Russian and German Armies took turns surgically cleansing the landscape. Because of this, Belarus probably suffered a greater number of its people being killed, maimed and displaced during the war on a percentage basis, than anywhere else on the globe. Historians’ best estimates place the carnage at an astounding one person in four.

If that wasn't bad enough, Belarus is just across the border from Ukraine, in close proximity to Chernobyl. Scientists seem to agree that fully 70% of the fallout spewed out by that disaster landed on Belarus. The radioactive fallout has had a lingering effect, and there seems little question that this damage will accompany the local citizens well into their next two generations. * One of the worst aspects of the disaster was the fact that it caused over one-third of the tillable land in the country to become totally unusable because of radioactively induced contamination.

"Although there are no nuclear power plants in Belarus, for some suspect reason, there are three such complexes very close to Belarus’ borders in Ukraine, Lithuania and Russia. From April 26-28, 1986, there was a catastrophic accident at the facility near Chernobyl, Ukraine, less than 6 miles from the southern border of Belarus – and more importantly, upwind. Over 20 percent of Belarus’ land was contaminated by radiation, and over one-half million people had to be relocated. Seventy-five percent of the destructiveness of the disaster fell on Belarus. This contamination still effects Belarus today, country-wide. The (lack of) response by the government of the USSR, and the current policies of the government of Belarus have compounded the destructiveness of the catastrophe." *

Thus, a short visit to this country will not only give you an opportunity to visit one of the dreariest site on the planet, you will also get a wonderful opportunity to catch a good case of radiation poisoning, something that you certainly couldn’t find everywhere. It are these types of options that make Belarus such an "in" tourist destination. Given the forgoing statistic, it is not hard to fathom that no less than twenty-percent of the country’s annual budget has been directed toward ameliorating the effects of that disaster. In spite of this enormous utilization of resources the situation remains critical and future budgets call for even more spending to palliate Chernobyl’s aftereffect.

The Russian, the Ukrainian, and Belarusian governments were not particularly forthright when the Chernobyl accident occurred. They hid the details of the explosion in spite of the fact that huge clouds of radio-active materials continued to spew from the facility for months. These actions cost the lives of numerous people that would have been alive today. Apparently, it was more important for these governments to conceal mistakes than to save lives. However, this same type of activity is still going on in Belarus today, with the exception of the fact that it is now affecting the essence of their civilization:

"In April 1986, the Soviet government withheld for several days critical information about the Chernobyl explosion. Ironically, on March 20, 1997 President Lukashenko has ordered university graduates to teach in areas affected with high levels of radiation from Chernobyl. He said that he intended to "revive the Soviet practice of dictating to university graduates what jobs they are to take after graduation". This is a violation of the international concept of academic freedom, basic for education in democracies. Professors at Belarusian schools and universities are not free to choose the form and content of education. Surprise check-ups are being made at schools as ordered by the President. They are supposed to monitor if the teachers and the students work the way they are supposed to." *

 

As just about everyone but Lukashenko seems to know, the brightest of a country’s students are usually awarded scholarships for advanced training in elite facilities. That too was the way things worked before new leadership came to power. Lukashenko, ever paranoid, felt that these students that were educated overseas were being imbued with philosophies that were somehow, anti-Belarusian. While he had no evidence of this, he was unquestionably aware that these were Belarus’ brightest and best hope for the future. What did Lukashenko do with this opportunity? He started out by running a public relations campaign through the government controlled media accusing that these students of being enemies of the state. There names were published and within a short period of time, this highly educated cadre’ could hardly find work in Belarus. Even the independent proprietors were unwilling to face the government’s ire by employing them.

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