In the end of 2017, I have been twice to Minsk - the capital of Belarus. In the following my personal 5 takeaways from this trips.
Belarus has a vivid and exciting civil society! At both the Minsk Forum XV and the NGO Forum were many NGOs that are active in various fields like human rights, environmental
protection, social entrepreneurship, and more. Also I had the chance to get in contact with members of different NGOs and who knows - hopefully, beginning from 2019, there will be first
projects with partners and participants from Belarus.
Minsk is not my city. The city has nice places like the old town and also along the water. But it is visible that the overall picture of the city suffers from the mix of
missing economic development, missing fresh ideas that come from the citizens, new representative buildings belonging to the political and economic elite of Belarus, and big new hotel
complexes that are much too expensive for this city. I couldn't find an overall concept that would give Minsk a special charm. And when you were and are living in cities like Berlin and St.
Petersburg (that, of course, also have their disadvantages), you are used to either a vivid street life or a city that conserved a lot of its beauty from more than 100 years ago.
But the people in Belarus are very cool! I met many new people during these days. And already the people that I was talking with at the airport were very helpful and even
gave me some Belarusian rubles (it was already too late for changing money) so that I could use local transport. Furthermore, the family of a friend from Belarus, who I got to know in
Armenia, hosted me for three days :) Also on both events, I got to know very kind, interested and motivated activists that want to build more and stronger ties to other activists in Europe.
Furthermore, there seems to be many youngsters that are interested in Germany and learning German. I always appreciate that since German is a very hard language to learn. I even found
somebody who is going to teach me some words in Belarusian ;)
It was the first time that I held a presentation in Russian. Since my voluntary service in Armenia, I am used to present in English (also most of my presentations at
universities in Berlin and St. Petersburg had been in English). But holding a presentation in my third language was a new experience. I would not say that my presentation was impressive because I
know that my vocabulary is still much too limited. And I have to admit that the slides had been translated before by a native Russian speaker. But the feedback was quite positive and it seemed
that people understood what I wanted to tell. Thus, this was just the first step! And a few months ago, I could not have imagined to give a presentation in Russian still in 2017!
The new visa policy of Belarus is a great thing! There are different possibilities for EU citizens to go to Belarus without visa. One way is to fly to the international
airport of Minsk and tell the border officers: "5 days without visa, please." Of course, it is not that easy... At first, I had to learn that this policy is only applicable if you arrive from
an airport that is not situated in Russia because between Russia and Belarus doesn't exist a border control. Thus, I had twice to take the bus from St. Petersburg to Vilnius and then a flight