Belarus, with its 10 millions inhabitants and 200 000 square kilometers, is probably the most unwell-known country of Europe. Only Liechtenstein could be less well-known, as for example I personally didn’t even know about Liechtenstein probably until I was 16 years old. But, compared to its size and its history, Belarus definitely won the prize. Strangely enough, informations about this beautiful place have a hard time getting out of the territory, and, very often, people don’t know one thing about Belarus other than the country exists (well, sometimes people actually don’t) and has a government.
To be perfectly honest, I also didn’t know much about the « the country with blue eyes » before coming here, which is exactly why I decided to gather a few facts about Belarus, so you can have a brief overview of the country and shine during dinner-parties. Maybe you will even want to pay a visit to find out more by yourself, who knows? 🙂
1. Belarus is the country with blue eyes
Strange nickname for a place, am I right? Especially when you know it doesn’t have anything to do with its inhabitants’ eyes color (even though people do tend to have blue eyes around here). In this case, it is actually a metaphor for the billions (ok, maybe just thousands, but still) of lakes located in Belarus. There are lakes litterally everywhere, and they look fantastic. I have to say I really miss the seaside and the ocean living here, but, with such high quality lakes, I will not complain. Belarusians are also in great need for seaside, which is why they actually call one of the biggest lake near Minsk « the Minsk Sea » (Minsk More). In the winter, the « blues eyes » get frozen, to add even more beauty to the landscape. Some people are brave enough to walk on the frozen lake, but I haven’t tried so far…
2. Belarusians don’t speak belarusian
Though they can! In Belarus, there are two official languages : Belarusian and Russian. Both of them are taught in school, so everyone in Belarus can speak one or the other fluently. But, for historical reasons, the main language here is Russian. There are only a very few occasions when you can encounter the Belarusian language spoken out loud, which I believe is a bit of a pity. Once, outside a bar and around 3am in the morning, someone asked me my opinion about downsides of Belarus. It’s a tricky question, and because I love this place and don’t want to get too much into politics with people I don’t know, I just answered that I thought people should speak more Belarusian. Well, of course it’s kind of politic, but then several people started debating about this question for an hour, in the cold, without stopping, and in Russian (obviously).
3. Belarusians count money in dollars
I was recently in Lebanon for some kind-of-warm holidays, and I was surprised that they also do. So, common point between Belarus and Lebanon: not so much trust in their currency! Right now, two belarusian roubles equals more or less one euro, which makes things quite easy for me to count. But it wasn’t always like that. The belarusian rouble (not to be mixed with the russian rouble) is actually the « new belarusian rouble », since 2016. Before that, there was what is now the « old belarusian rouble ». We had the same situation in France in 1960, when one hundred old francs became one new franc. I’ll always recall my grandma counting stuffs in old francs and my parents counting in francs (and old francs too sometimes, let’s be honest) while I was counting in euros pretty much my whole life. As a kid, what a disappointement to see my thirty francs (so rich!) became… five euros (bouh). But, well, in Belarus, it was more like, ten thousands old belarusian rouble becoming one belarusian rouble. Little bit more impressive. So, basically, there used to be notes of 200 000 (old) roubles, now worth 20 (new) roubles, so, something like, less than 10 euros, let’s say, 8 euros. I can’t imagine the disappointement of the children. But the good news of this story about money is : they also introduced coins! They are called kopeks, and they are cool.
4. Belarus is an IT hub
In Belarus, there are two kind of people : the ones who work in IT compagnies, and the ones who don’t. The sector is really booming here, and many young people find in those companies opportunities to have a good salary and an interesting job at the same time. Belarus is the motherland of the app Viber, of the videogame World of Tanks, and many more other things I couldn’t name as I don’t know so much about IT things.
5. Belarus is the next place to be
Well, it is actually. And I’m not the only person saying it! Recently, Belarus popped up on different websites as a place to visit. For example, Minsk is one of the city to must-visit recommended by TripAdvisor for 2019. Maybe it’s not much, maybe you only know about this kind of articles when you live in Belarus, but still, it’s something. In June 2019, there will be a big event called « European Games », and the whole city is getting ready for it. Haven’t heard about it? Well, it’s the second edition of a sport competition hold every four years (last time was Baku, Azerbaijan in 2015) which can give, depending on the sport, the title of European Champion or qualifications for the Japanese Olympic Games of 2020. Good opportunity to visit Minsk and Belarus, right? But even without this internatinal sport event, and even without TripAdvisor recommendation, you should visit Minsk. Of course, because there are many nice restaurants, many nice bars, many museums, an incredible historical heritage, an alternative cultural scene and, bonus points : it’s very affordable, you don’t need a visa for 30 days, and souvenirs are super pretty. But, more importantly, Minsk is a moving, vibrant city, where ideas and creativity are everywhere, if you know where to look. As for Belarus in general, well, be prepared for the unexpected. Many wonderful surprises are waiting for you here 🙂