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Belarus preserves aspects of Soviet life

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  • thekoba@aztecfreenet.org
    The following, rather uncomplimentary, travel report, attributed to Dan Fellner, appeared on page T2 of the Sunday, June 15, 2003 edition of The Arizona
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 15, 2003
      The following, rather uncomplimentary, travel report, attributed to Dan
      Fellner, appeared on page T2 of the Sunday, June 15, 2003 edition of The
      Arizona Republic. Funny that Fellner doesn't mention prostitution, rampant
      drug abuse, unemployment and terrible poverty. Then again those are mainly
      post-Soviet problems.

      --Kevin Walsh

      IRON CURTAIN IS HANGING ON IN BELARUS

      As our tour van passed endless tracts of dilapidated, look-alike apartment
      buildings on the bumpy, pootholed streets of Minsk, my wife, Amy, and I
      asked our guide about Alexander Lukashenko, the notorious, iron-rule
      president of Belarus.

      "Would you use the word 'dictator' to describe him?" we asked. Our guide
      nodded, then gave us a warning. "I would be careful about using such a word
      on the streets," she said. "The police do not like such words."


      Indeed, it wasn't long before we encountered the police, who twice stopped
      our van during the course of the tour to see who we were and what we were
      up to. Our guide said it's a routine occurrence.

      It's then that I recalled the immortal words of Lennon--John, not Vladimir.
      Visitors to Belarus truly are "back in the U.S.S.R."

      This landlocked country of about ten million people, which became independent
      in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed, remains largely unchanged. The
      economy is mostly state-controlled, and dissent is not tolerated. It's not
      uncommon for journalists critical of the government to disappear, and our
      guide told us of friends who were arrested for taking part in anti-
      Lukashenko demonstrations.

      For visitors, it's a rare chance to observe life as it once was behind the
      Iron Curtain--drab, dreary and downright depressing.

      Although relics of communism have been removed from much of Eastern Europe,
      Belarus proudly puts them on display. A huge statue of Lenin--Vladimir, not
      John--guards the main government building in Minsk. Enormous portraits of
      Stalin hang in museums.

      Minsk was badly damaged during World War II when the Germans and Russians
      waged a fierce battle for the city. The Soviets' victory gave them an
      opportunity to redesign Minsk from scratch. The result is an efficient
      model of urban planning, with wide boulevards and a mass-transit system to
      meet the needs of the city's nearly two million residents.

      Efficient, yes, but Minsk won't win any beauty pageants. The only thing that
      adds color to the miles of towering gray apartment buildings is the wet
      laundry hanging from the balconies.

      Belarus isn't a place for those who want sanitized, pampered vacations.
      But for travelers who never saw the Soviet Union, it's an opportunity to
      witness a dying era.
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