By Ales Bondar
Being Belarusian abroad is never easy.
“Hi, where are you from?”
“I’m from Minsk, Belarus.”
“Oh, from Russia! Pretty cold there, isn’t it?”
What usually follows is a long explanation of where Belarus is (in Europe, wedged between Poland and Russia) and what it is, or, rather, what it is not. Belarus is not Russia, Minsk streets are not full of roaming bears, and Belarusians (who are not Russians) do not drink vodka out of shiny “samovars” (neither do most Russians).
Even a foreigner who had actually heard the name “Belarus” before would usually only recall a couple of other words like “Chernobyl” and “Lukashenka” and give you a consoling tap on the shoulder.
But what is Belarus? We Belarusians have a hard time explaining this to our foreign friends - mostly because we often have only a vague understanding of our country ourselves. What is the origin of Belarus? What is Belarus famous for? How are Belarusians different from their neighbors?
It takes a well-rounded scientist to answer these questions and a talented presenter to make them palatable for a foreign audience. Or, better yet, it takes a good book - and now we have one. “This Country Called Belarus” is an English-language version of a long-time Belarusian besteller by Uladzimir Arloŭ, renowned historian, and artist Źmicier Hierasimovič. With 300 pages and more than 2,000 illustrations this book is a movie-like experience, taking the reader on a journey through Belarusian history, from dinosaurs and cavemen to the declaration of Belarusian independence in 1918. In fact, the only bad thing about this book is that it is so magnificent that one has a hard time giving it away as a present. Well, one can always buy a copy for himself - the books have just arrived in Belarusian bookshops.
“This book is a status symbol,” Źmicier Hierasimovič, one of the co-authors, says. “An illustrated history of a country in English, the language of the international politics, business and science is a prestige object which any country can be proud of”.
Historian Uladzimir Arloŭ believes that the book will be interesting to diplomats, scientists who deal with Belarus, foreign businessmen who work in Belarus, as well as those Belarusians who do business abroad or simply look for a good present to their foreign friends.