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Ep. 7 & 8: Belarus – A Mix Between Russia and the West

Updated: Jul 14, 2023






Benny is a software engineer based in Minsk, Belarus

Belarus is an Eastern European country known for its Soviet-era architecture, big trucks and tractors, world-renowned artist Marc Chagall who painted the enchanting ceiling of Palais Garnier in Paris and biathlon (a winter sport where you ski and shoot).


“Belarus is a mix between Russia and the West, but still resembles Russia more,” says Benny, a software engineer based in Minsk, the capital city of Belarus. (You can find Benny on Instagram @planny.fm)


Belarus was an integral member of the Soviet Union until it dissolved in 1991 and Belarus became its own country. Today, Russian is still the main language spoken in Belarus, while only a quarter of the 9.7 million population speaks Belarussian. Visitors can still see the Statue of Lenin standing tall in the city center of Minsk and communist slogans on subway art banners.




WAY OF LIFE


After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) instead of the European Union and aligned itself with Russia instead of the West.


Today, the average yearly salary in Belarus is around $7,000 USD, on the low end of salaries in Europe. Western sanctions on the country following the allegedly rigged 2020 election in which president Alexander Lukashenko had been re-elected again after first coming to power in 1994, have also hurt the Belarusian economy considerably.



“We’re encouraged to buy domestic and Belarus still trades with Russia and CIS countries and so we get a lot of Russian products,” says Benny. “But as a fan of stationary, when I see the variety of stationary selections online in other countries, I’m very jealous!”


Software jobs like Benny’s are highly coveted for their high pay and relaxed work environment in Belarus. Tech companies are often foreign and privately-owned, while the majority of enterprises in the country are state-owned.



As a Western traveller, you can live very comfortably in the country with its low rent and cost of living. In the capital city Minsk, there are plenty of cozy cafes, beautiful parks and art events to occupy your time.


CULTURE & HOLIDAYS


In Belarus, September 25th is a professional holiday for Belarusian machine builders. Belarus is the manufacturer of some of the world's biggest trucks and tractors with more than 240 enterprises and 150,000 employees employed by the industry.


Belaz Plant Opening Day (Photo by Belaz)

Benny’s father works for one of those companies called Belaz. “I remember visiting the plant with my dad almost every year, you can go there and see some of the big trucks and sometimes even climb them.”


The public can visit the Belaz plant on Machine Builders Day and see all the vehicles up-close and enjoy cultural shows and performances demonstrating physical strength.


Belaz Plant Opening Day Performance (Photo by Belaz)

In Belarus, Intellectual Olympiads are another unique aspect of its culture built into their secondary education system. According to the Belarussian government website, some 600,000 students take part in the Olympiad Movement every year in subjects ranging from Belarussian and English, to something as diverse as Chinese. From 2014-2019, Belarusian students brought home 227 medals from international intellectual competitions.


Students in schools are encouraged to take advanced classes in the subjects they’re studying on top of their regular classes to have a chance at competing in the national-level competition each year.

Belaz Plant Opening Day Entertainment (Photo by Belaz)

“It was very intense,” Benny recalls their experience one year preparing for three national level competition in Russian, Belarusian and English.


“Here, unlike in North America, the smart kids are usually popular too so they could help other students.”


VISITING BELARUS & MINSK


Below are some resources and notes provided by Benny if you’re looking to tour Belarus and Minsk:


A great website created by Belarusians showcasing some of the places worth visiting in Belarus

There's a separate guide of Minsk, but be warned that it was last updated in 2019 and since then some of the beloved places have ceased to exist or relocated, and of course the prices have gone up since then.

(Last updated in 2020)

Minsk-based photographers to follow

Photos showing the parks of Minsk


 

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