Many travellers are particularly intrigued by the politics of Belarus, a land steeped in Soviet monuments, architecture, and history – not to mention legacies. Communism was officially established in Belarus in 1922, four years after the Bolshevik uprising in Russia. As a founding republic of the Soviet Union, it became the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic; today it is the Republic of Belarus, an independent sovereign state with a democratically elected parliament.
But unlike some neighbouring post-Soviet states, Belarus’s move towards openness, democracy, and a market economy have been slow and fraught with set-backs. Ideologically, the nation remains faithful to socialism with around 40% of its population employed by the state (it is also one of the least democratic countries in Europe). President Alexander Lukashenko’s self-described ‘authoritarian ruling style’ vividly recalls the days of the USSR – he has been ruling Belarus since 1994.
Economically, Belarus relies heavily on trade with Russia, particularly on its exports of heavy machinery and tractors. In true Soviet style, almost half of Belarus’ population do not declare an official religion. Nonetheless, the country is changing, and the engine driving transformation is its capital, Minsk, now home to a slew of swish new hotels, restaurants, bars, shopping and conventions centres, all signalling the nation’s willingness to engage with the world, the future, and the free market.