Expanse and Order

Denis Romanovsky is an artist and one of my friends in Minsk. He invites me round to dinner. We have chicken and aubergine salad, made by his grandmother.
Denis and his girlfriend tell me one of the stories about service in the Soviet army: on one of the last days of a recruit's time in the army, a game called Train journey home used to be played with the lucky man. This involved draping sheets over the lower bunk bed, cutting a window in it and sitting the soldier inside. One of his fellow recruits would then rattle the bed while others walked past the window holding tree trunks.
In Belarus the KGB is still called the KGB. It resides in a magnificent building, one of the many magnificent buildings in the wide, broad centre of Minsk. Minsk was regarded and built as the gateway to Moscow, says Denis. The most important vista of the city leads in a straight line all the way to Moscow.

In the division of labour between the republics of the Soviet Union, Belarus was allocated the final assembly phase - because of its geographical location, its good roads and well-educated population. There was a fridge called Minsk and Belarus tractors all over the Soviet Union. "What a waste", says Denis, thinking about the students who continue to be educated without any prospect of a job and all the scientists and engineers whose skills aren't put to any use.

I could swear that on Victory Square every single flagstone is individually scrubbed. Minsk looks extremely tidy, safe and clean. I go to the Post Office to send books to Germany. Two ladies cut out pieces of packing paper and wrap up the things customers put on the table. No one hands in pre-wrapped parcels. The postage for my parcel will cost more than many people earn in a month. When she notices my hesitation, the lady from the packing table says sympathetically, "I know how you feel. Terrible price."

In Minsk, people don't go out much. They tend to meet at friends, or friends come round to eat in the kitchen. This is called wetschernik, a little evening.

I stay at Ira's. On Wednesday she goes away to direct a training programme. Trainings are an important part of the work of many NGOs. The subject matter of the trainings is, for example, regulations on environmental protection or on democratic decision-making processes. On Wednesday evening, she has arranged for me to meet Andrej Barovska. He is to take me to a jazz concert in the Graffiti club. When the bassist does his solos he says: "Now he is playing the story of his life. He is expressing his whole life. Even my life is more fun than his. " Andrej is very nice and neither of us like the concert. I thank him for his company in spite of the less than perfect circumstances and he says it is a present for the German people.

Another Andrej turns up to take me home. He is a psychologist, therapist and healer and pinches my cheeks.


Na chutterje (more)

A man named L. (more)

Map (large file!)


More articles can be found in the german version of this page



A man named L., we all know who we mean

Two departments of the European Humanist University in Minsk have invited me to give a lecture. At the Institute for German and European Studies one of the lecturers hands me the latest directive of the President of the Republic of Belarus.

This is what it says in the comments "on urgent measures for the organisation of ideological work at universities" of 1 April 2004:
"The propaganda of state symbolism, of the President of the Republic of Belarus and his personal role in the solution of general state tasks as well as the propaganda of the idea that the President is the embodiment of the unity of the nation, and the propaganda of the President as the guarantee for the political and economic stability of the country should be improved upon." There are regulations on the stricter control of capital from foreign funds and foreign educational programmes. The intrusion of foreigners into the university building is to be prevented. It is to be made more difficult for Belorussian students to accept internships abroad and "the participation of students, lecturers and professors in patriotic activities under the motto Heroic Deeds of the Fathers Inherited by the Sons for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Belarus from fascist conquerors and the victory of the Soviet people in the Great Fatherland War" is to be ensured.

Someone says, "Only in the Soviet Union was one so naive as to use the words ideology and propaganda openly instead of just silently carrying them out". Ira says: "Anyone who didn't experience the Soviet Union and would like to catch up on the opportunity: Welcome to Belarus!"
I am told that a lot of anti-European and anti-American propaganda is recently being spread. It has become fashionable again to accuse undesirable foreigners of being spies. The university rooms are supposedly bugged.
One student suggests I buy an official portrait of the President for my presentation of Belarus in Leipzig. Theses portraits are available cheaply and in good quality in bookshops. She hands me a disc, "of other portrayals of the man named L., we all know who we mean."

It was the first request of the students to see Belarus represented by young people like you can find on Skaryna Prospect and it's cafes and not by old grandmas wearing scarfs.







On Sunday we drove na chutterje. Chutter is the word for an isolated farmstead. This farmstead has been bought by an independent youth organisation for which Ira works.

We pick Lena up at Wolodja's. Wolodja Weter receives us in grandiose hospitable style in his worn green towelling dressing gown. He is very charming and makes Turkish coffee for us. We eat his cheese, Tanja and Ira look through his books and then we leave. We race down the country roads with open windows at 100 miles an hour, through the forests, along blue fences, listening to Aquarium and DDT. Every now and then Lena draws my attention to especially good lines in the lyrics, for example: "If we want to learn to live beautifully, we must learn to die beautifully".

We stop by a lake. Tanja, who is interested in the art of the Japanese tea ceremony, makes green tea for us in her nice china crockery. It's raining and we look out onto the lake.

The children's holiday camp is in the middle of the forest, at the end of long, muddy paths. It is pouring with rain. It smells of campfires and wet coats. We go swimming in a dark lake between the birches. Clouds are hanging in the trees. Lutsche ni bewajet, there's nothing better, we say. The mosquitoes are terrible. We meet Igor. He is wearing camouflage and a cape and is leading a children's holiday camp with lots of soldiers' games. He speaks to me in German, which he tells me he has been teaching himself for the last two years.


We have cabbage soup. One girl has written a poem, and someone plays a tune to it on the guitar. We lie around on beds and blankets in a wooden hut. Now Stephanich's great moment has come. He picks someone to come into the middle, switches on the CD player or gets someone to play the guitar and the person in the middle starts to twist around and dance. "Not to dance," says Stephanich, "to move, to express themselves and thus to build the future." The boy next to me is 13. He says Belorussian sentences for me as I haven't heard the language yet. He is learning it at school. Stephanich tells him to tell me why he is at the holiday camp here and not at the comfortable camp on the Krim. He is to tell me about the collective. The liberating expressive dance goes on until late into the night.

It is half past two by the time we start our drive back through the forests. We take the occasional break and Ira sleeps for ten minutes. The sky is glowing white.

At half past five we buy coffee at the Minsk McDonald's Drive In. Dressed up young people are doing the same.