Forests make up 40 percent of Belarus and it’s one of the few places where you’ll find the rare European bison. Sounds alright so far. But due to its one-party military dictatorship, the former Soviet republic is the closest thing that Europe has to North Korea.
Former chicken farm manager and once Soviet soldier, Alexander Lukashenko has been the country’s President since 1994. That makes him the only leader the country of nearly 10 million people has known in the post-Soviet era. Not that too much has changed in Belarus since the demise of the USSR. Hence the North Korea analogy.
Belarus remains a country pretty much stuck in its communist past and it has retained a lot of the Soviet era system, including the infamous KGB. Hence there’s not much in the way of freedom of expression and the country’s human rights record is poor.
Due to its Soviet-style economy there isn’t much in the way of money either.
There are elections held, but they are rigged and government critics are harassed or jailed.
Watch this report from Al Jazeera English about what it is like inside modern day Belarus:
The country’s head, Lukashenko does his best to promote a Stalin like cult of personality, and in schools children are fed a diet of propaganda about WW2 and the “triumph of communism.”
As you would have seen in the above video, Belarus remains the type of country where people still disappear, be they businessman, politicians, political activists, or journalists. Even homeless people have been “cleansed” from the capital Minsk say activists and homeless people themselves.
Some of the earlier mentioned forest country is probably still affected by radiation poisoning courtesy of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster from today’s neighboring Ukraine. In total around a fifth of Belarus suffers from radiation fallout, and cancer rates in affected areas are sky high.
Belarus is also the last place in Europe to have the death sentence. Those sentenced get a bullet to the back of the head. The country has the highest suicide rate in Europe, and it has the highest alcoholism rates as well.
Guess all these points above have contributed to why Belarus is the least visited country in the whole of Europe.
Watch this Channel 4 News report first broadcast in 2014 about the country in the lead up to an international ice hockey championship: