For the "last dictatorship in Europe" I was surprised that I could arrive in the heart of the country without having my passport checked. It's funny how that sobriquet, bequeathed during George W. Bush's presidency, has come to stick to any and every mention of Belarus and its leader Alexander Lukashenko (not that they get many mentions in the world's media). After spending just a few days in Minsk talking politics with almost everyone I met (locals are far more world-savvy and open with their views than one would imagine), I realised that it's an over-simplification that obscures looking at the country realistically (for an idea of the sort of journalistic hatchet-jobs out there you can read this recent article in GQ). Sure, there's no denying Lukashenko has a tight grip on power, political dissent is only permitted within narrow limits (as attested to by the number of people behind bars for their contrary political views), and there is more than a little corruption to be found; nevertheless these truths need to be tempered with others that don't sell as many newspapers.
|"Just wait a sec, I haven't told you the punchline yet." Belarus's notorious president Lukashenko sporting his trademark moustache. [Source: Guardian.co.uk]|