As I write I love Belarus, European readers are amazed that someone can be positive about a dictatorship. As if the sun never shines in autocratic countries! That’s why I will write it again and write it even more often: I do love Belarus, Maryna Rakhlei writes, independent journalist from Belarus.

I noticed just yesterday: My international friends are curious about my pictures from Georgia but would never ask to show Belarus. Why is that?

Of course, the negative catchy brand of “the last dictatorship of Europe” we got from Condoleezza Rice scares people off. Same as the TV reports and news-paper articles about jailed opposition members and shut down dissident media. But there are a lot more countries that deliver such pictures and it is Belarus to be described in a guide book as a forgotten carton of milk that one still has to open to make sure how bad it is…

Russia is exciting. It’s a controlled democracy where journalists and human rights defenders can be shot down in the daylight in the middle of the capital and where bloggers are persecuted. But Russia is an exciting place to see with your own eyes. All those bears, drinking vodka and playing balalaika…

Europeans probably wouldn’t differentiate between Slovenia and Slovakia, but knowing as little about Belarus as the “last dictatorship” tag is enough for them to think they know the country. So why travel there?

Well, being a critical journalist, I am part of the problem.

As I write I love Belarus, European readers are amazed that someone can be positive about a dictatorship. As if the sun never shines in autocratic countries!

That’s why I will write it again and write it even more often: I do love Belarus.

Politicians and political systems come and go; whether you associate yourself with the regime or not, you love your country. Our history is part of the common European story and has its glorious pages. Belarus has stunning greenest landscapes of endless forests, hundreds of lakes and diversified wild life.

Despite the difficulties of the daily life Belarusians are a happy nation. Their notoriously tolerant spirit has a very modern side: we accept different points of view (cf. Belarusian wisdom: “Sure, God exists, we just don’t believe in him”). Actually, all European values start with tolerance, and we have this quality.

We are as hard-working as the Germans, our girls are as decisive as the Spanish girls, our guys are reserved in the way the British gentlemen are. We have a sense of duty and responsibility, know how to enjoy small things, know that money can’t buy everything. We are good-tempered and wilful neighbours, European neighbours of Europe.

And if one takes pains to have a look at the map, he or she will see that Belarus is not only the geographical heart of Europe but also has the shape of a heart.

So talking about forgotten cartons of milk. It is long-life, UHT milk and shouldn’t be in the fridge. It is always fresh and irresistible to try to enjoy. // END

Maryna Rakhlei, journalist