Environmentalist, the movement of eco-friendly living, has never been more widespread, and Sweden is praised in the media as the leader in environmentalism. We pride ourselves with progressive thinking, innovation, and tough environmental laws, and we recycle everything. In fact, we are so good at it, we even import garbage from Norway.
Belarus, on the other hand, is often condemned in the Western media. It has probably not been praised since 1994 when Bill Clinton thanked Belarus for giving up its nuclear arsenal. However, in the backwater of bad press, you can find positive aspects in Belarus.
Living in Belarus I have come to realize that while Sweden can gloat with its environmentalism, the Belarusians are also significantly eco-friendly, perhaps without even noticing it themselves.
This form of environmentalism is not driven by a wish to save the planet, but by the compulsion for saving. It is caused by the entrenched collective memory of world wars and disasters, and the strained financial situation of Belarus.
Most Swedish people have never experienced poverty, wars, the chaotic collapse of a Union, or the freefall of a currency. Because of that, most Swedes do not have a fundamental bond to saving and living constrained.
In Belarus, it’s important to never leave any food on the plate, neither is it good to throw food away
For example, in Sweden, an average family will consume up to 6 times more household goods than a Belarusian family. The average Swede will buy 23,4 liters of bottled water per year, even though the quality of tap water is among the highest in the world.
The fact that we can choose to buy a Tesla over a Lada, or that we can choose to fly to Italy rather than faraway Thailand, or that we have special “eco-friendly” department in the supermarkets doesn’t make us better environmentalists than the Belarusians. The average Belarusians’ relationship to living constrained runs much deeper than that of a western hipster in a European metropolis.
In Belarus, it’s important to never leave any food on the plate, neither is it good to throw food away. In Sweden, we throw away 130 kilos of food per person and year, a spoiled population throws more food as we get pickier.
In Belarus, large parts of the population will generally choose chicken or pork over beef due to the price, while we in Sweden have difficulties choosing between Irish or Argentinian beef steaks.
In Belarus, you are constantly reminded to turn lights off when you leave the room. In Sweden, we only turn the lights off at night.
Belarusians use old things in new ways, for example old plastic bottles as pots. In Sweden, we throw most things that are broken or old
My Belarusian university does not give any paper handouts, and when the teachers print something, they do not use new papers but reuse old papers by using the backsides. While studying in England, we were given handouts daily, and we had unlimited access to the printers.
In Belarus, the process of printing is restricted as you can only print something during certain hours from a special room where a woman operates the printers.
During hot summer days, taxi drivers in Belarus will often drive with their windows down and the air conditioner turned off, in order to lower the fuel consumption. In Sweden, you will have a hard time to find a taxi that is not air-conditioned.
In Belarus, many people will bring their own plastic bags to the supermarket or pack their groceries in a backpack. In Sweden, only the older generation or eco-friends in the cities would bring their own bags.
Would we in the West be able to live as constrained as an average Belarusian?
Although the process of recycling is implemented in Belarus, not everyone put their trash in the right garbage container.
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However, this is compensated by the Belarusians ingenuity of using old things in new ways, like the way old plastic bottles are substituted as pots for vegetables and plants. In Sweden, we throw most things that are broken or old rather than find another purpose for it.
In Sweden, we have financial possibilities to cherry-pick the parts of eco-friendliness that suit our needs, and we get praised for that in the media. Whereas in Belarus, most people do not have the possibility to choose and are forced to live in a more constrained way.
A different kind of environmentalism, not worse than any other.
So, while we in the West engulf ourselves in environmental pride, we should ask ourselves, would we be able to live as constrained as an average Belarusian?
Text by Simon Öhman. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial staff.