Is Belarus ("White Russia") another East Germany?
Belarus gets a bad name in the West because of its authoritarian government. They do have elections there which are not a total sham but President Lukashenko always gets big majorities. So we tend to expect only bad things from the place.
I was talking recently to a lady of Belarusian heritage who still speaks Russian and who still has close family in Belarus. She reports that people who know Belarus are often very complimentary about it. It seems well-organized and orderly with very little crime. It is not a rich country (average income of $8,000 pa) by Western standards but most people eat well and products from all over Europe are to be found in the shops. Some people who know the place say that Belarus is the best country in the world to live in.
There are occasional big demonstrations about the government but that is true of the USA as well. Demonstrators will demonstrate.
That is such a different view to what I had expected that I did a little research to see what support I could find for it. Belarus is however not a place of much interest to the rest of the world but I did find a few interesting facts.
* It is heavily industrialized but is also about 40% primeval forest. Greenies should love it. It has about the same population as Sweden -- about 8 million. It lies between Russia and Poland so was the most "Western" part of the old Soviet Union. It is now an independent country.
* The capital city, Minsk, has a population of about 2 million. It was completely destroyed during the Second World War, but, following the example of Warsaw, it was rebuilt in the same place and now is an attractive city
* Minsk is a very green and clean city. In addition to numerous parks, here is the third largest botanical garden in the world.
* Minsk is a very safe city. In the list of 378 most dangerous cities from Numbeo, Minsk was on the 351th place in terms of danger and became the safest city among the former Soviet Union countries. Belarus itself is one of the safest countries in the world according to statistics.
* Compared to many large cities, there are very few traffic jams in Minsk.
* It is also surprising for big cities that it's relatively quiet at night, relatively few nightclubs and bars.
* Public transport is always on time. Surprisingly, but it's true: the schedule is maintained with a possible deviation of a couple of minutes. The American Green/Left wants to get people out of their cars and onto public transport. Belarus shows it can be done.
So you see what people mean when they find a lot to like about Belarus. What it reminds me of is the old East Germany. After German reunification, some East Germans moved to the West and a lot visited the West. They were mostly not very impressed. They liked the higher salaries, larger apartments and the up-to-date technology in the West but were very scornful of the social life there. The old East Germany had a generally fraternal feel while the West is definitely a dog-eat-dog society. East Germans called it an "elbows" society, where people had little care for one another.
So it should not be a surprise but it is clear that socialism does have an appeal for a lot of people. Living under an authoritarian government that organizes everything can be fairly relaxing as long as it provides a reasonable level of prosperity, which East Germany did and which Belarus does.
So an intriguing possibility which exists is that some Germans could return to a society like the old East Germany. Very little remains -- even in the Eastern lands of modern-day Germany -- of the old Eastern system but Belarus has something similar. Even the language would not be a problem for many Easterners. Russian was taught in the schools of the old East Germany.
If you don't speak Russian, however, forget it. Russian has about twice as much grammar as German and German is frustrating enough for English speakers.
For my previous comments on East Germany, see here and here
See also below: