Visiting “the last true remaining dictatorship in the heart of Europe”

As the unseasonably cool summer draws to a close here in Frankfurt, I love living here more and more each day--I am still working on my German, but it is slowly improving.  In some ways, the last month and a half has been quite refreshing despite my very busy schedule at work. I have not set foot on an airplane since early July (probably the biggest gap in four or five years) and it has been nice not to divert €150 out of my paycheck each week to hop on a Lufthansa flight and jet off to a new city or country. But I am getting restless. Thankfully, the fall "travel season" resumes on Friday.

A while backed I booked an 88€ ticket from Frankfurt to Vilnius, Lithuania on Lufthansa for a long weekend. My colleagues kid me endlessly for this, but I am not one to stay in a single place for more than a couple days, and I wasn't about to spend a whole weekend in Vilnius. I know there is much more to see Lithuania and Latvia is close by, but Belarus caught my eye.

Belarus Map

Belarus is in a bit of a time wrap, with Minsk not having changed much from its Soviet heyday. President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Belarus “the last true remaining dictatorship in the heart of Europe.” Currently under consideration is a law that would require government permission for any gatherings carrying out “action or inaction intended as a form of public expression of socio-political attitude or as a protest.” Needless to say, I look forward to visiting.

I will only be there a day and a half, so I was able to procure a transit visa that saved me about $50 (a transit visa is $100 while a single-entry tourist visa is $150 for U.S. citizens). During my visit (I'll be taking a train to Minsk), I intend to take in as much Stalinist architecture as I can and make my own determination whether the country is as backwards as others have warned. I'll also be reviewing the Crowne Plaza hotel in Minsk that I just booked with cash+points earlier today (like Mother Russia, hotel room prices are outrageous in Belarus).

But there will be time for Vilnius as well, so I am looking forward to a wonderful action-packed weekend. Let's hope there are no border issues in Belarus...


Adam K August 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Looks like a great trip, keep us updated on how it goes!


Tom August 17, 2011 at 06:19 pm

Let me know if you need any suggestions for things to see and do in Vilnius!

@Tom: Happy to hear your suggestions.

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