What do you know about Belarus


Belarus is a blank spot in Eastern Europe: a country that has been on the border of the EU since 2004, but unfortunately most of the West don't care about its history and culture.


Belarus can't really be overlooked. The country lies like a misshapen potato pie in Eastern Europe - between Poland in the west and Russia in the east, the countries and the European schools of thought that have decisively shaped the fate of Belarus. Anyone who travels from west to east or vice versa and does not take the plane cannot get past Belarus. From German diplomats who served in the Soviet Union, one sometimes hears the following sentence: "Yes, I often took the train through Belarus. From Germany to Moscow. But I never got off in Belarus."

The traveler does not get off in Belarus. For most people Belarus is a transit country, a space that has to be bridged. This is still the case today, and it has been so in the past as well. Very few of them have traveled - and are traveling - to Belarus out of curiosity and interest. (In the German-speaking countries, Eugen von Engelhardt's book "White Ruthenia" was the only book that gave reliable information about Belarus until the 1990s. The book comes from an unfortunate time, from 1943. [1])

So it is that Belarus has a terra incognita is, an unknown world, a blank spot in Eastern Europe: [2] a country that has been on the eastern border of the European Union (EU) since 2004, but that tells us next to nothing; a country that only arouses a certain interest among political scientists and linguists, civil societyists, those who come to terms with the past or left-wing romantics; a country whose exciting history and culture are unfortunately pretty much irrelevant to most - so irrelevant that one day Belarus would not be noticed if Belarus were to vanish into thin air (which many might even be fine with). Terra incognita - that is the one stigma that sticks to Belarus. The other: Belarus is known at least by those who follow current political events in the so-called quality media as the "blot of Europe", as the "last dictatorship of Europe", as the country of the autocratic President Aljaksandr Lukashenka, Belarus (ironically since the first democratic elections in 1994) ruled with a hard hand. That's why young Belarusians call their homeland Lukaland. The sharp, sad irony cannot be ignored.

Lukashenka made Belarus known - there is no doubt about that - as an independent country. He succeeded in what the young democrats and patriots could not do in the wild post-Soviet years between 1991 and 1994. Lukashenka has placed Belarus on the European map. Since then, the educated middle-class Westerner has known: It is cold in Belarus. (In the east it is always cold, Siberian cold!) The Belarusian speaks Russian. (What else ?!) Belarus was part of the Soviet Union (like all countries in Eastern Europe!). Belarus is now a dictatorship (typically Eastern Europe!) That is so restorative that it has even preserved the KGB. It is ruled by Lukashenka, a president who wears an unfashionable mustache and is characterized by a rude manner of expression - and who otherwise seems to have fallen out of time. Lukashenka is sometimes a socialist, sometimes a capitalist, always a power man. He fights the opposition, doesn't care about human rights, leads the EU, and sometimes Russia, by the nose.

Lukashenka does what he wants, and he has the miraculous powers with which he swept under the carpet of oblivion even the greatest catastrophe in his country after the Second World War: the worst-case scenario in the Ukrainian nuclear power plant Chernobyl. Chernobyl! The next catastrophe that will shape the image of Westerners of Belarus. The well-informed Westerner knows that 70 percent of the nuclear fallout fell on Belarus. And he may even know that one in four Belarusians lost their life in World War II. That's it. Then fog drifts into the brain of the average Westerner. There is no question that it cannot do a country any good if its image from the outside world is merely between the two terms terra incognita, Dictatorship and catastrophe meander. Such negative stigmatization, from which African countries are known to suffer, is not effective in advertising. It probably only stimulates the wanderlust of adventurers, freaks and disaffection administrators. Belarus is certainly not a country of western desires.

The Austrian journalist and writer Martin Pollack received the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding in March 2011. "Free and prosperous Europe has shifted its borders to the east, but these borders have not disappeared," said Pollack in his acceptance speech, lamenting the ignorance that we westerners towards Eastern European countries like Belarus. "On the contrary. The new borders that cut our continent are no less closely guarded than they were during the Cold War, but now we are providing the relentless guards. This time it is us, the inhabitants of the western countries, who hide behind cleverly secured borders entrench them and demand that they be made even more dense in order to keep out the others, the less well-to-do, who enjoy less freedom than we do. Outside the borders of the new Europe. "[3] So you have to think of the Belarusians as one imagine very lonely people - on the edge of "Fortress Europe".

But why is Belarus so unknown? Why is there so little interest in this country, even though it is, in fact, in Europe (from Berlin to Minsk it is only 953 kilometers)? Belarus, which is not a very small country with 9.5 million inhabitants and the thirteenth largest land area in Europe, has a dictatorship that is a forgotten relic of the totalitarian rule of Europe and thus of the darkest chapters of European history. But even this fact has only generated limited public interest in Belarus. While the outrage over human rights violations and the arrest of artists, journalists or dissidents in China, Iran or Burma (or Myanmar) regularly cause eruptions, there is no less talk about events in Belarus. Examples: At the end of the 1990s, some members of the opposition disappeared without a trace. [4] Almost seven hundred people were arrested after the presidential election in December 2010 alone. [5] Repressions against the media and regime critics are part of everyday life in Belarus. I am hardly aware of a word of criticism or indignation from the mouths of the German-speaking cultural elite.

I've been dealing with Belarus since 1995 - initially as a student of Eastern European history and as a traveler, and for more than ten years as a journalist. I have traveled to Belarus countless times. In Belarus I learned a lot - about Eastern and Central Eastern European history and its extreme breaks, contradictions and upheavals in the border regions typical of Europe. I would even go for the thesis that understanding Belarusian history is an essential piece of the puzzle for understanding European history. "The wealth of Europe is measured by its transitional landscapes," writes the historian Karl Schlögel. [6] But that's not the point here. Because in all these years one question has particularly preoccupied me: Why do we care so incredibly about Belarus? A number of theses and thoughts have accumulated on this.