After more than a year spent in Minsk collecting both data and a minimum of experience, I came to the following conclusion: I do not love Belarus, I respect Belarus. This country has serious problems but also a lot to teach the Mediterranean macaroni eaters.
Today I would like to compare the strengths and weaknesses of my motherland and yours to understand what we can learn from each other. Before starting, it is necessary to make an introduction.
As many of you will know, Italy is a much less homogeneous country than Belarus. To simplify the work, I will examine Milan and Minsk, which are the most modern and developed cities of their respective countries.
Many Romans will disagree and affirm the primacy of Rome. Well, let them believe it. They have the Colosseum, carbonara and … a vivid imagination.
Second premise. Considering that I will not write a hypocritical sequence of compliments, I expect the typical comments of 15-year-old ultranationalists who haunt the internet. Peace.
They will not be worse than coffee with salt instead of sugar that my father prepared for me some time ago. I survived coffee with salt, I will survive them, too. What is better here than in Italy? Well, here’s the list.
Order and security
Every morning I wake up in Minsk knowing that I will probably not be robbed. I’ll go into a bar where the owner doesn’t have to pay money for the “protection” of some mafioso.
That my wife will not be assaulted while we walk in the late evening along the river. That my car won’t burn – ok, I don’t have a car in Minsk and I will not buy one to prove my point!
Belarus is a safe and orderly country. Surely it is not a paradise and there is no shortage of corruption and violent crimes, but living here is generally much safer than in any city of Italy.
Many people don’t give justice to the value of safety and mistake it for fascist sympathy. Unfortunately, many improvised experts prefer to study history on Nutella labels instead of books.
Let’s make one thing clear once and for all. Order and security are not synonymous with authoritarianism, and vice versa. They are essential first and foremost to protect the weakest.
The possibility to vote is something positive if no one gets stabbed while going to the polling station.
Milan is not as bad as certain parts of southern Italy (for example Pizzacity or Godfatherland) but the difference with Belarus life is immediately perceived.
In my homeland, I never felt so safe. Here in Minsk, in the worst case, I have to defend my wife from some drunk boors at the bar trying to touch her ass.
Cleaning and liveability of the city
Minsk does not have the number of attractions you could find in Milan or any other Italian cities. It is a capital torn apart during the war (the WWII – note Belarusfeed) and rebuilt from scratch.
But it is well maintained, very clean and super green. There is less traffic, less dirt on the road and healthier air. Many areas have recently been modernized in view of the 2nd European Games by planting trees and creating playgrounds for children and families.
This is the other side of the coin when it comes to Belarusian traditionalism (that I usually don’t appreciate). The families of this country have children. Minsk is full of babies!
Your birth rate is much higher than that of Italy (1,73 vs 1,35). The care dedicated to new generations, both practical and cultural, is much greater than in Milan.
In western countries, the population is aging and the only ones who have children are immigrants because young Italian couples are afraid of the future and the economic crisis and do not know if they will be able to support more than one child.
Furthermore, our country does not do enough to promote births and support parents.
The funny thing is that Christian parties fill us with arguments against abortion and in support of traditional families, but then cut funds for public kindergartens and primary schools, making these services more expensive and less efficient.
What can be improved in Belarus?
Public services and сustomer сare
The second European games are about to begin! Many athletes … many tourists … lots of money! But will the services dedicated to visitors be up to them?
Short answer? I think they will not. Long answer? Excluding public transport, which is well managed and incredibly cheap, Minsk is not (yet) a customer-friendly city.
I’m not just talking about taking care of the tourist, but in general, taking care of the customer.
Unfortunately, the degree of professionalism perceived by me and by many friends, who are entrepreneurs and managers, is just not enough. It does not mean that there aren’t excellent professionals in Belarus.
It means that statistically the professionalism in the services sector can and must still improve. Deadlines that are not respected and disorganization are very common situations in companies and extremely frustrating for foreign partners.
In many shops, salespeople treat customers like intruders and behave in a way that in Milan would be a reason for dismissal. And then there’s English. My friends, I understand that in your country you want to speak your language.
But if you want to be more attractive to foreigners (and therefore to their wallets) you need to be less proud and more realistic. In this city, only a tiny percentage of inhabitants speak English.
More on the topic:
Italians are not particularly better with languages. But in Milan, if you don’t speak basic English you can’t find a job even in McDonald’s. In other areas of Italy, the situation is quite different.
Not only they do not speak English, but they do not even speak Italian properly. Anyway, as we have said, we will focus on these two big cities and so I will avoid the embarrassment caused by some of my compatriots.
What to do to improve? Well, service-related weaknesses are quite understandable in a country that has only recently begun to open up to the world.
Building stronger relationships with other countries and having a bigger competition will be excellent catalysts and will certainly help you increase your standards. So I am optimistic and I trust you!
Wages and cost of living
Salaries are not so bad in Belarus … if you like a healthy diet of plain potatoes and tap water. How do you survive with your wages? Please explain it to me. The average salary of $500 in Minsk can be misleading.
Probably certain salaries in particular sectors such as IT greatly increase this value. The truth is that, especially among the youngest, the monthly salary is totally insufficient without the support of their parents.
Many professions rather prestigious in Italy and throughout the European Union, such as teachers or doctors, do not receive the right economic recognition in Belarus.
To this problem must be added the cost of living in Minsk, which is rather expensive compared to other major cities in the east.
Obviously in Milan life is twice as expensive, but for many equal work positions salaries are three or four times higher. It means that your purchasing power can be half of the Italian one.
Yet my country is considered the black sheep (or, as you say here, the white crow) of the EU. Our salaries are significantly lower than in Germany, unemployment is quite high and the economy is stagnant.
I am a political scientist, not an economist, and I prefer to leave the explanations to people who are more knowledgeable than me.
I hope, however, that Belarus will continue to develop over the next few years and that certain particularly brilliant sectors such as the IT will drive the economy, guaranteeing well-being for the rest of the country.
But we can’t all be software developers, right?
Public health and welfare
This is a controversial point. Your country has good scores in terms of social equality and is significantly better than your neighbors who have forgotten their socialist past very quickly (cough cough Russia cough cough).
Yet certain aspects of your welfare are quite disappointing. Public health needs more investment, both to modernize the structures and to give decent salaries to professionals in the sector.
Another weak point is the high cost of medicines, especially given the limited economic possibilities of Belarusian citizens.
In Italy, prices are reduced considerably thanks to the contribution of the state, and public health system (although weakened by the budget cuts of the recent years) is still one of the best in the world.
Many local friends have told me the same thing: try not to get sick in Belarus. I’m trying, but it’s not easy when the outside temperature is lower than in my freezer.
Civil rights and women’s status
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Listen to Leonardo
The ones I’ve listed are only a fraction of the advantages and disadvantages of living in Milan or Minsk. There would also be many strengths and weaknesses common to both realities.
One of many? The bad state bureaucracy. A nightmare for both Italians and Belarusians. But laziness is about to take over and I need an espresso.
Let me conclude with a couple of final considerations and with a sentence from the great Leonardo da Vinci, who knew well the importance of different opinions and also of criticisms:
Knowing how to listen to means to possess, in addition to one’s own, the brains of others.
Belarusians are a nation of survivors. You have resisted dark times and unimaginable tragedies. You have literally risen from the ashes and for this, you deserve great respect.
But don’t let your pride make you allergic to outside criticism… except if it comes from people who cut spaghetti and drink cappuccino after 11 am. Such criminals do not deserve your attention! 😀
Text submitted to BelarusFeed by Andrea, a contributor. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial staff.