How is Belarus seen from overseas and what do foreigners think of Belarusians? The authors of “Heta Belarus, dzietka”, an amusing guide to Belarusian culture, and journalists of KYKY magazine talked to some foreign enthusiasts, who contributed to crowdfunding for two more comic books about life in Belarus, about their impressions.
A foreigners’ interest in Belarusian culture is not just empty words. When the crowdfunding campaign started, “foreign capital” didn’t keep it waiting. Some of the sponsors slug on the beaches of the UAE, someone lives an islander’s chill out lifestyle in Australia, and someone builds democracy in the U.S. — but all of them decided to support the guide that popularizes Belarus.
Clark Erwin-Billones, USA: “Why do people at shops seem upset to take your money?”
“I was assigned to work in Belarus, and I gladly accepted. Why Belarus, why not? It’s in between Russia and Europe and I had never been there before. Every country has an interesting culture and people and I was interested in learning about Belarus and what it was about.
Once I arrived I found it very unique. It definitely has a Soviet flavor and the Russian language is common, but Belarus is a relatively new country with a long, shared history. It is a quiet, safe country and the people are so kind. Maybe they are the nicest people I have encountered. They are always willing to help no matter what I needed or when. Thank you, Belarus!
It definitely has a Soviet flavor and the Russian language is common, but Belarus is a relatively new country with a long, shared history.
Belarusians seem to be wary and uninterested in strangers, but they would do anything for their friends. Belarusians love to be in nature, walking in the forest, gardening at their dachas and visiting famous places like museums and cultural performances. They are interested in poetry, art and music and to be in nature for the fresh air and beautiful views.
Belarusians work hard. When they have time off, they like to sleep. They like to visit their dachas and garden, spend time with family and grill meat outdoors. The women do a lot of the cooking and Belarusians enjoy spending time around the table eating and drinking.
A typical Belarusian woman dresses like a fashion model, wears a lot of make-up and focuses on looking beautiful with her hair and clothes being perfect at all times. The typical Belarusian woman usually works a lot for little pay and is also usually responsible for home duties like cooking, cleaning and caring for children. She is not a feminist and she is burdened with most of the home work as a result.
The strangest thing for me to understand in Belarus was why people at shops or at markets always seemed upset or irritated to take your money. Also, people drink tea and coffee very fast.
The strangest thing for me to understand in Belarus was why people at shops or at markets always seemed upset or irritated to take your money. It doesn’t make sense. They are selling things and you want to pay them, but they seem so rude and irritated to sell their items. Also, people drink tea and coffee very fast. In the U.S., if we have coffee or tea, it will be at least a 30 minute experience where we sit back and relax before work or talk with friends at a cafe. In Belarus, my co-workers would make and drink tea within 5 minutes…”
José Fernando Ramírez, Spain: “I wanted to check how people live in “Last Dictatorship of Europe”
“I spent two months volunteering as an EVS volunteer for an organisation in Minsk. Honestly, the main reason I wanted to live in Minsk was to check how people lived in the country named “Last Dictatorship of Europe”. One of the reasons to live in Minsk was to check how much remained from the Soviet era. When I saw that the city was used as movie set for movies recreating the soviet era, it made me understand that still keeps something from the old times.
Once I lived there and left the country, I changed my mind about lots of things and learned how to see things differently, because there are always different sides to see and analyse an issue. What really matters nowadays is that I got a lot of friends there, promoting activities from scratch that never existed before in the country and they want to bring something new and fresh to their society, which seems pretty stuck.
I heard the Belarusian language a couple of times. Once, we had the chance to participate in a Spanish language exchange and one of my best friends explained us what Belarusian language meant to her. I don’t know exactly what she said, but she quoted from memory a poem written in Belarusian language. Since then, I noticed how soft it sounds regarding Russian.
Most of people I met there had not spare time: they used to work a lot and, once they leave their job, they were immersed in some other personal or collective projects.
Most of people I met there had not spare time: they used to work a lot and, once they leave their job, they were immersed in some other personal or collective projects. However, I could see that alcohol was one easy way to get distracted in their free time. Luckily enough, many people I met used to go to the cinema or taking dancing or language lessons.
Sometimes I think I lived in a bubble, with people interested in meeting foreigners or escaping from falling into boring lives. But it’s obvious that it’s not easy to find activities in Minsk, or if they exist, it’s pretty difficult to find for foreigners. The offer is pretty poor, although is increasing with some music or film festivals.
I was lucky to meet all these amazing people with great ideas to make their country move on. What I commonly found was a brave country, who are ready for everything that might happened to them, and concerned about their role in Europe and their neighbours, although they also can defend how the country is lead and how the government can rule the country as long as they can get some stability and security into their lives.”
Sebastian Berroth, Switzerland: “I don’t know exactly why i’m so fascinated with Belarus”
I first got in contact with Belarusian people in summer 2014. I’m a scout in my local YMCA near Zurich since I was a little child. And to this summercamp we invited a group of scouts from Bobruisk.
The camp was really great and I spent a lot of time with the people from Belarus. I was not the only person which liked these people and was fascinated with them so we decided to visit Belarus over the New Year. During this first trip to Belarus i met very nice people and found a lot of new friends. During this trip my local YMCA group also started a partnership with the YMCA from Vitebsk. It was the start and now I’ve already been 3 times to Belarus and in 3 weeks will be my fourth visit.
I don’t know exactly why i’m so fascinated with Belarus. I think it’s because the culture is very different with regard to Switzerland. And, of course, I also like Belarus because I met there so many wonderful people. There are more beautiful Belarusian women than in Switzerland: a typical Belarusian women is beautiful and she has some children; she does the household and lives together with her husband.
The weirdest thing was that every summer the hot water is off for some weeks.
What was the weirdest thing in Belarus for me personally? The thing that every summer the hot water is off for some weeks.
I think it’s important to support Belarus because in Switzerland the image of Belarus is not very good. And if I tell someone that I’m planning to go to Belarus they always are surprised and I have to explain them what I told you now. Most people only know about the politics in Belarus but Belarus is such a beautiful country with such friendly people living there and I’m happy every time when i can bring a new person to Belarus to show him this wonderful country.”
Eva Lacinová, Czech Republic: “I hope that others could get interest in this amazing country which has a lot to offer”
“I was always keen on Εastern Europe. I used to work as a project coordinator for Eastern Europe in one of the NGO (Non-governmental Organization) in Czech Republic. And I was somehow always lucky to meet nice people from Belarus, who showed me that this country is simply great. They taught me about Belarusian history, culture and food. I have still in my mind the day, when they showed me Belarusian dances.
A friend of mine, who lives in Minsk, bought the book to our common friend. When I saw it, I fell in love with it! So, for me it is important to support the book called “Heta Belarus, dzietka”, because I hope that the others could also get interest in this amazing country which has got a lot to offer”.
The original version of the article in Russian was published by KYKY.org.