Soviet-not-Soviet Belarus. Following the fall of USSR, the country celebrated its independence — while, unlike Ukraine to the south, maintaining a friendly relationship with Russia. President and former Soviet army officer Alexander Lukashenko, the nation’s first and in office since 1994, oversees a country that still denies dissidence, peaceful demonstrations, and free press — often deemed “Europe’s last dictatorship.”


The Great Patriotic War Museum in Minsk is an ode to the nation’s endeavors, as a Soviet state, with the Allied Forces. Sitting on a hill overlooking the city, with its enormous bronze statue of a woman holding a trumpet, arms raised in victory, it speaks volumes about the value Belarus places on nationalism.


Belarus memorializes her dead: Inside the dome of the Great Patriotic War Museum in Minsk, meant to resemble the Reichstag, is a tribute to all Belarussian soldiers who gave their lives in the war effort. The culmination of a large and often horrifying collection of memorabilia, it is a triumphant emergence into the light of tomorrow.


One cannot speak of Belarus without also remembering her Jewish dead. Yama, or The Pit, is a memorial sculpture in Minsk set on a site of mass execution where 5,000 people lost their lives. In total, an estimated 800,000 — 80% — of the nation’s Jewish citizens were murdered by. the Nazis.


Despite its repressive past (some would also say, present), Belarus continues to enjoy a rich artistic heritage. The fine arts are all well represented, from visual to performing to literary and more, both classical and contemporary — and even alternative, including the political.


In today’s Belarus, despite the pro-Soviet president and close relations with Russia, dark-themed restaurants and bars can be found that mock and reject the secret police and prison camps of the Soviet past. Coupled with the nation’s opening to tourism in just 2017, it is another indication of change.