Lonely Planet’s Belarus page describes Belarus as “Europe’s outcast.” While other former Soviet republics have raced headlong toward capitalism, many Belarusians — especially those who live in the “picturesque villages,” among “a simple yet pleasing landscape of cornflower fields” and “thick primeval forests” — live as they have for millennia. Belarusian villagers are, according to Lonely Planet, of “earthy humour,” and greet travelers with hospitality. At least they greet their bleak political situation with a better nature than one would expect.
Visiting Minsk is different. Though Minsk-dwellers may or may not be of “earthy humour,” they do live in a city that has survived being literally flattened during World War II and rose again in grand Soviet style. Minsk boasts wide boulevards, vast public squares and Soviet-era architecture on a grand scale. It also carries the weight of its current autocracy, complete with KGB-style secret police, rumors of wire taps and spies, and the constant threat of a government crack-down.