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Minsk, the heavily industrial capital of Belarus is an unusual destination, good for those with an interest in Soviet society. The city is home to over 250 factories and plants, many in machine building and electronics, with just under half of the population employed in manufacturing. But despite its proletarian leanings, Minsk boasts the cultural refinement befitting any great old Eastern European city. It is the place to see a decent and inexpensive ballet, opera or arts production, or visit galleries and museums, such as the Palats Mastatsva, an art palace with stalls peddling second hand books and antiques.
Historically, Minsk was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from 1242 and the capital of the Minsk Voivodship from 1569. It was annexed by Russia in 1793 during the partition of Poland, flourishing in the 19th century as an important trade centre. Waves of migrants arrived and a large labour movement was already active by the time Minsk became a front-line city in the World War I. In 1919, a year after the war’s close, it joined Russia in a bid for utopia, becoming the capital of the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.Read more
Two decades later, the bombing of Minsk signalled Nazi Germany’s first incursions into Soviet territory and over 80% of the city was destroyed by their relentless military campaign. After it was finally liberated by the Red Army at the end of the war, Belarus was rebuilt with 1950s Stalinist architecture.
To explore Minsk’s soviet past, and socialist present, head to the KGB building, or Independence Square, formerly Lenin square, which retains a statue of the leftist thinker. The Soviet-designed Government building has kept many of its civic and political functions (no photos please) from the days of the USSR. By contrast, the underground Stolica shopping centre is a bastion of capitalist fervour – consumerist colour in an otherwise stark grey socialist landscape.