I honestly had no idea what to expect when I was coming to Minsk for the first time in August 2014. I don’t think I had ever thought I would be taken off the street by the militia or that I would freeze my butt as soon as I go out, as they say the most common stereotypes about Belarus are. But I must admit my curiosity was piqued. What I found when I arrived were amazingly nice and helpful people, delicious food, a beautiful, modern and very clean city that is not much different, if at all, from any other European capital.
Unfortunately for Minsk, the whole country of Belarus and the entire Central and Eastern Europe region, the awareness and knowledge about their culture, traditions, history and economic potential are very low. I remember chatting with a CEO of a British bank based in Poland who told me the image British people have about Poland, the CEE largest economy, is between five and 30 years out of date, even though hundreds of thousands of Poles now live in the UK.
In order to keep up with their peers from the West, Eastern Europeans have to try twice as hard. And they are.
I still remember my meeting with a representative of a successful Belarusian company who confessed they had acquired all possible certificates and attestations — even though some of them were completely unnecessary — to prove to potential partners and buyers that their products are of highest quality.
Like an HR Director of a global HR company said to me the difficult time of Communism taught Eastern Europeans to be more flexible and produce a lot more with less resources.
I recently flew from Warsaw to London with an elderly American couple who had spend a few weeks in Poland and were stunned by the country’s history. They kept saying they wished they had visited Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp, earlier. They would have understood a lot more.
Well, back to the present, we are now launching the new version of Why Emerging Europe which is addressed to those who have not yet had a chance to come explore Central and Eastern Europe, to those interested in business, economy, traditions and culture of this extraordinary region. This portal is meant to bring our 22 countries closer to all of them.
I am quite happy I am writing this piece in Minsk, the capital of a country that has an enormous potential and still has a great deal of work to fight the stereotypes that most Western Europeans believe in. If I had any, I broke them back in August. I know Belarusians will help others do the same. I am keeping my fingers crossed!