Belarus is a fascinating country, but it also an authoritarian one dominated by a culture of law and order. To make your stay safe, respectful, and fun, Hromadske's partner, Euroradio, has compiled several mistakes to avoid.
Don’t stay in the country for more than five days without registration
If you stay at a hotel for more than five days, the reception desk will do this for you. But if you rent an apartment or stay at your relatives’ place, then you’ll need to go register yourself on your own. Otherwise, you will likely be fined when leaving the country.
Don’t say “Belorussia” or comment, “It’s very clean here!”
“Belorussia” is the soviet name of the country — much like “Moldavia” (today’s Moldova) and Kirgizia (today’s Kyrgyzstan). The right way to say it is “Belarus.” That’s the official name, and that’s how it’s written in UN documents. No, you won’t be beaten up for saying “Belorussia.” But people will relate to you better if you call the country by its proper name.
Also, please don’t comment on the clean streets. That’s the only thing many tourists see in Belarus, and, often, they connect it to the government. This frustrates many Belarusians. We think we have much more to see than litter- and pothole-free asphalt.
Don’t pay with Russian rubles or other currencies
In Belarus, you can only pay in Belarusian rubles or with a debit or credit card. Russian rubles, US dollars, euros, Kyrgyz som, and Angolan kwanza are not accepted. Lucky for you, it’s not difficult to find a currency exchange spot. You can easily convert most major world currencies in any bank without risking a bad exchange rate — the rate is the same in most places, there’s no commission, and you get a receipt.
Don’t joke about a bomb in the metro or the airport
This isn’t a good idea in any country, but it’s particularly bad in Belarus. You can easily go to prison for a joke like that. And it’s happened before. A Russian woman once joked about having a bomb in her bag at border control. The border guards were not impressed, to say the least. She spent a while in pretrial detention and then was transferred for several months to house arrest. So just don’t do it.
Don’t take pictures of the KGB and train stations
Well, okay, it can be done in theory, but there’s still a risk. Belarus has a list of places where you are not allowed to take pictures. The odd thing is, the police never show anyone the list — apparently, it’s only for internal usage only.
There have been occasions when tourists were detained for trying to photograph a state registry building, the offices of the Belarusian security service — which is still called the KGB — or a cinema in the town of Iwye. A photographer from the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper was even detained for snapping a photo of the Academy of Sciences building. But, generally speaking, no one bothers tourists here.
Don’t drink alcohol outside
In Belarus, it is illegal to consume alcohol — even beer — outdoors. And, unlike some of its neighbors, Belarus takes this law seriously. Don’t even try it on the balcony of your home or hotel. The only outdoor places where you can drink are special sidewalk cafes.
Don’t park on the sidewalk
This rule is especially strict in the city center. Many drivers whose cars have Russian license plates seem to make this mistake. If you leave your car on the sidewalk, it may be towed. And Belarusian citizens often record videos of parking violations on their phones and send them to the Minsk police.
Don’t drive to Russia through Belarus
Foreigners can only enter Russia only through international checkpoints. But they don’t exist on the border between Belarus and Russia. Because the two countries are technically a “union state,” there isn’t actually a border between them, although they do check passports. Ukrainians and Poles get sent to the closest international checkpoints in Ukraine, Latvia, or at the Minsk airport.
Don’t walk by the historic central supermarket and not stop in
This place is unique. People come here to drink beer or coffee and eat pastries. You can meet a homeless person or a famous writer treating a homeless person to a beer. Take a look at the stucco moulding on the ceiling.
Don’t try to ride the metro drunk
The inebriated are not allowed in the Minsk metro system. But also be careful if you’re a woman who is unsteady on heels. Such a situation actually occurred. Blogger Elena Stogova claims that she had a bit of champagne and was wearing high-heels, but the metro security decided she was drunk and did not let her into the underground. Of course, they don’t make you blow into a breathalyzer, but they do check out the way you walk.
/Text by Euroradio.fm