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Russian Tourists Ignorant About Belarus

Vienna, January 29 – Minsk tour guides say that nearly 20 years after Belarus acquired its independence, Russian visitors to their country still cannot deal with the reality that Belarus is an independent country and that Belarusians are a separate nation with a separate language, culture, and tradition.

Sergey Plutkevich, a commentator for the Tut.by portal, asked tour guides in his country “what facts from the history of Belarus shock Russian tourists?” Their answers, as summarized on that site this week, suggests just how little Russians understand about their Western neighbors

Anatoly Varavva, who Plutkevich says is “one of the most experienced tour guides of Belarus, said that “almost any fact which you could name when talking about the events which have occurred in our land generates shock among Russian tourists,” few of whom are prepared to acknowledge that “out history can be distinguished from the all-Russian” version.

Tatyana Khvagina, the president of the Pinsk section of the Belarusian Association of Tour Guides, says that Russian ignorance about and attitudes toward Belarus and Belarusians had caused her much grief until she realized that the Russians had seldom been told the truth about her country.

She noted that if one looks at the standard Russian reference works, there is nothing about the Grand Principality of Lithuania and consequently, “it turns out that in the consciousness of our neighbors is missing six entire centuries of the Belarusian land!”  Without a knowledge of that period, she continued, nothing afterwards makes sense.

Varavva acknowledged that Belarusians do not have a perfect knowledge of Russian history, but he said that unlike the Russians, “our people are much more tolerant,” and they never militantly insist on their own point of view,” even on such critical issues as the Grand Principality of Lithuania and the war of 1812 in which Belarusians fought on both sides.

 But Khvagina said that Russians really get things wrong regarding the history of Belarus: “Many Russian tourists sincerely think that precisely Russian liberated us unhappy Slave from under the centuries-long Polish oppression, exactly the same way that they think about Ukrainians. In fact,” she points out, “we are different!”

 “We have our own history which has deep roots,” she continued. “This isn’t something good or bad; it is simply a fact with which others must take into consideration if we want to have good relations.” And it is certainly the case that Belarusians have disagreements with the way in which they are treated in Poland and Lithuania.

This article appeared in
Belarusian Review, Vol. 22, No. 1
Copyright 2010 Belarusian Review
All rights reserved.
Source: Excerpts from an article in: Window on Eurasia, January 29, 2010

Paul Goble

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