TRAVEL: 192-PART GUIDE TO THE WORLD; PART 15: BELARUS

OFFICIAL NAME

Republic of Belarus

POPULATION

Ten-and-a-half million, with an average of 131 people per square mile, which makes it one of the most densely populated of the former Soviet republics.

SIZE

About 80,000 square miles. Belgium would fit into it seven times.

BEST MONUMENT

The entire town of Brest was moved east between 1838 and 1842 to make way for the massive Brest Fortress. The complex was ruined in 1941 but its remains have been turned into a grandiose memorial to its defenders. There is plenty of mournful music, recorded gunfire and Soviet-style statuary.

MOST FAMOUS CITIZEN

The president of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenka, is the West's least favourite East European leader, best known for preserving a Stalinist system of state control and favouring the recreation of the Soviet Union. Despite having made 3 July (the day Soviet forces freed Minsk from German troops in 1944) into a national holiday, he has expressed admiration for Hitler, and his police regularly beat and detain dissidents. Offending him has been made punishable by five years in prison.

NATIONAL DISH

Cheese, fish, all sorts of smoked meat, mushrooms, potato and cabbage are major components of a cuisine closely related to the German and Polish. Local favourites are draniki (potato pancakes filled with sour cream and meat) and dracheny (a tasty potato dish with mushrooms).

BEST MOMENT IN HISTORY

With the break-up of the Soviet Union, Belarus became an independent republic, and changed its name from the Russian form, Byelorussia, to the Belarusian form of Belarus. Best of all, the Belarusian capital, Minsk, became the unlikely capital of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

WORST MOMENT IN HISTORY

For most of its history Belarus has been partitioned between other powers. In the Second World War vast swathes of the population of Belarus were wiped out, including most of the Jews.

ESSENTIAL ACCESSORIES

Proof that you are HIV negative if you are seeking a visa for more than three months.

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