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Top destination for 2009: Belarus!

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Lenin on his plinth in Grodna, Belarus
Lenin on his plinth in Grodna, Belarus

Last week Berlin hosted the ITB 2009. The ITB is a travel extravaganza, a huge trade fair devoted to extolling the merits of countries from Sarawak to Sardinia.

Europe made a good showing of course, with almost every country of the continent there to present its case for a share of the tourist dollar. Almost every. But not quite all.

Belarus was sadly unrepresented at this year’s ITB, its absence a quiet reminder that there is still one part of Europe fairly undiscovered by tourists. That will not last for long.

Late last year the first ever English language travel guide to Belarus was published by Bradt Travel Guides. And the current issue of hidden europe magazine has a feature on the small Belarusian town of Vetka, a place in the far southeast of the country that was terribly afflicted by radioactive fallout from Chernobyl in nearby Ukraine. That article was written by Nigel Roberts, the author of the new Bradt guide to the country.

Belarusian intrigue

Belarus is one Europe’s most intriguing countries, a survivor from the Soviet era where Lenin still stands on his plinth, the trains still run to time, and the streets are impeccably clean. We were impressed on our last visit. Towns like Grodna and Minsk will before long surely cut a dash in the European tourist market.

This summer budget carrier Wizzair is offering twice weekly flights to L’viv in Ukraine from both London and Dortmund. And Air Baltic, as well as serving Moldova and Ukraine from its Riga hub, will also fly into the Belarus capital Minsk.

For folk less inclined to hop on a plane, Belarus is well served by regular bus services from Vilnius and has excellent rail links with neighbouring Poland. The capital has a daily direct overnight train to Berlin.

If Belarus appeals, don’t forget that you need a visa. And go soon. We have a sense that it is a country on the brink of change.

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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4 thoughts on “Top destination for 2009: Belarus!”

  1. Pingback: Belarus buzz: Vitebsk beckons | Budget Travel Tips - EuroCheapo

  2. PLRS’s comment above raises a thoughtful issue surrounding travel ethics which we feel warrants further discussion.

    On a point of detail, prior to the ethical issue, PLRS mentions a Lonely Planet Guide to Belarus. Lonely Planet do not and have never published a guidebook devoted to Belarus. There are old editions of the Lonely Planet Russia Guide which included a chapter, usually about 45 pages long, that covered Belarus. But the new LP Guide to Russia utters not a syllable about Belarus.

    We timed our EuroCheapo post on Belarus very carefully, aware that it might be judged inappropriate to commend travel to a country that some would perceive as having an unsavoury government. You will all be aware that over the last couple of weeks, the European Union has been carefully negotiating with Belarus over the country’s possible involvement in the EU’s new Eastern Partnership Programme (EPP). Javier Solana visited Minsk last month, meeting with both government and opposition officials.

    Interpreting the political development of eastern European countries is never simple. Countries like Georgia have been feted by the US as strong allies of the West, despite a very questionable democracy and an unhappy neglect of civil rights. Meanwhile, Belarus has over several years been demonised by the US, most famously by Dr Condoleezza Rice in her April 2005 speech. While we do not wish to act as apologists for the present Minsk government, we would point out that Belarus is a post-Soviet state that has not descended into chaos – unlike several others. Life goes on, and on the whole quite well, with the government navigating a cautious tightrope between Russia on one side and the EU on the other.

    There is a measure of emerging private enterprise, with young entrepreneurs struggling under difficult circumstances to develop a modest tourism infrastructure. A good deal of eco-tourism based on farm stays and so on. The publication of Nigel Robert’s new Bradt Guide to Belarus comes at a most appropriate moment in the development of the country. We believe that progressive initiatives in Belarus should be supported, and the EU’s decision over these past days to greatly increase contact with Belarus is (to our mind) very welcome. We wish to play a part in that development.

    Belarus is a country which has been isolated for far too long. PLRS may wish to punish ordinary Belarusians by not visiting their country and waiting for what he / she rather emotively calls ‘regime change’. We respect that viewpoint. Our own understanding of political development counsels a different viewpoint, namely that 2009 is indeed the time to visit Belarus. The ordinary folk who make in their living from Belarusian tourism are in the main thoughtful, intelligent people – who would surely enjoy encounters with travellers arriving across their country’s western border with the EU. They will listen and express their viewpoints in return. By travelling to Belarus, and helping in the free flow of ideas across Europe, we can all make a contribution to the development of Belarus.

    But the ethical issues associated with travel are inevitably contested. PLRS makes her / his decision and we ours. Every choice we make as to destination, mode and style of travel is laced with ethical issues. We have committed outselves to carefully documenting a changing Europe, and refute the culture of greed and environmental neglect that impels some travellers to criss-cross the continent on dirt cheap flights from city to city in an orgy of consumption. And we have committed ourselves to really trying to understanding Europe’s varied communities. So we have travelled and will travel again to Belarus, as part of our quest to really try and understand this interesting country. But we fully understand that PLRS feels differently.

    We hope that other EuroCheapos will express their views on these important issues.
    Nicky and Susanne
    editors / hidden europe magazine

    Reply
  3. Lonely Planet has long published a guide for Belarus.

    There are many cities I would love to visit in Belarus, but I am certainly waiting for “regime change” before heading there myself. No qualms about supporting Lukashenko with your tourist rubles? Color me confused.

    Reply

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