Travelling to Minsk can be a challenge. Not only physically, because of travel connections. It is even more difficult to acquire an appropriate mental connection to the capital of a former Soviet Union state, which is by many criteria so confusingly different. The subtlety of urban life in Minsk might escape visitors with a preference for oblivion. There’s no scarcity of catching images in the city – on the contrary. But they are all somewhat out of turn.Take the “sun city of dreams” (a book by Belarusian writer Artur Klinau) for example, a term referring to the post-war architectural grandeur of the city centre: Yes, the central avenue Prospekt Niezaliežnasci undoubtedly offers a fine selection of socialist classicism. But it’s just a matter of personal taste whether one would find it more discomforting than London’s imperial architecture. Or follow the Lonely Planet’s advice and enjoy Minsk as the capital of “cappuccino communism”, due to the splendid stores and expensive clubs frequented by a confusingly large number of boasting and blossoming women in search of fancy company. The only thing you can be quite sure of when finding a monument commemorating the revolutionary achievements of Belarus-born Feliks E. Dzerzhinsky (the godfather of Bolshevik secret police) on Minsk’s main boulevard just a few dozen metres off one of the city’s several McDonald’s restaurants is this: You can’t possibly understand Belarus without putting it into a European context. And, in return, you start to grasp that Europeans can only be complete when integrating Eastern experiences and aspirations as well. Our continent stretches from the Ural mountains to the Atlantic, no more, no less.
Entering the country for the first time Nils Müller and Gert Röhrborn took the challenge of approaching the city and its inhabitants with receptive senses and open for new experiences. At the end of November 2009 they worked as trainers during a seminar called “mosty – bridges” at conference centre IBB, a German-Belarusian joint venture situated in one of Minsk’s innumerous satellite sleeping districts. Named after former German president Johannes Rau, IBB is an association for international education and exchange that aims to overcome boundaries of various kinds. It corresponds to Citizens of Europe’s mission. Young people from all over Belarus convened at IBB in order to receive conceptual input and do practical exercises in project management. Participants reported on their experiences and trained their skills during an evaluative role play specifically developed for this seminar. In a final module Nils and Gert assisted them in developing further new project ideas, among it a film festival, a cultural event on mediaeval traditions and a bilateral exhibition on remembrance. Mostly students, many participants proved to be well aware of European matters. „Going east“ might just satisfy the traveller’s curiosity, some might argue. We reply that we do so in our best self-interest. When reaching out to meet exciting people we don’t care about under which political system one lives or on which side of the EUropean watershed one stands. As citizens we are interested in people, people, people. Culture makes the crucial difference. In today’s hegemonic interpretation culture separates societies and leads to conflicts – we develop a creative understanding instead that gives us the chance to live at peace with ourselves. You are welcome to join in.