Belarus doesn’t feature on many bucket lists. Often subtitled “Europe’s last dictatorship”, it has changed less than its neighbours since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The state has maintained control of key industries, as well as owning all the land, all the collective farming and many of the hotels, the restaurants and the cafés.
Nevertheless, at street level, Minsk doesn’t feel like a Soviet time capsule. Shops are well-stocked, with luxury items aplenty. Boulevards are wide, grand and lined with imposing Stalinist architecture, and so clean that you could eat your pig fat sandwich (a local delicacy) off the pavements. It has designer districts, a hipster quarter and a thriving IT industry, while the metro must be the cheapest in Europe, at 25p a ride. The arts are well represented, with an opera house that employs a staggering 1,200 people, and ticket prices that make it accessible to all.
And now Belarus is making overtures to international tourists. First it introduced visa-free entry for the citizens of 80 countries in 2017. Next year it will allow low-cost airline Wizz Air to compete with its own national carrier Belavia, as well as welcome the first tour groups from two UK-based tour operators (Wild Frontiers and Cox & Kings).
As a destination, Belarus is a socialist curiosity, but it has developed an intriguing line in “industrial tourism”. The national tourism agency invites visitors “to learn about the production processes and see how the Made in Belarus brands are forged”. Visitors can now tour all sorts of production lines, from glass-blowing to flax linen, from jewellery to biscuits, and the tourism agency says more factories are due to open their doors.
*P.S. Looks like we served bad service to those who want to read the full article, since after my FB friend and us advertised it, FT made it available only for money. May be they thought, ‘Aha! See – its in high demand, let’s get them milked.’ 😂