Belarus: Back in the USSR? with Nigel Roberts
Nigel Roberts first came to Belarus in 2001 and he has returned countless times since, first to work on sustainable development projects with rural communities blighted by Chernobyl radiation, then to chronicle his adventures and to write broadly about the country
Belarus, one of the last countries in Europe yet to be discovered by the masses, has been an independent nation state since 1991, following the disintegration of the USSR in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Its first president was Alexander Grigorievich Lukashenko, who holds office still.
Situated right at the heart of Europe and at the crossroads of ancient trade routes, its geographical location as the most westerly of the republics of the former Soviet Union might perhaps have suggested it was more likely than any of the others to look to the West for its future direction. Not so. For many years after independence, a visit to this still misunderstood country was like stepping back in time. Those who had visited the USSR experienced much that was familiar. Yet today, a vibrant energetic identity is emerging for a truly independent Belarus, free from its Soviet shackles and at last beginning to establish itself on the continent of Europe.
Echoes of a history that is both tragic and heroic in equal measure are all around, from evidence of ancient settlements, through stunning Middle Age castles to monumental Stalinist architecture of brutalist construction and Soviet urban planning on the grandest of scales. Beautiful, unspoilt national parks and primeval forests abound, where shadows of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe just across the border in the Ukraine yet fall. But wherever visitors wander, they encounter a people whose warmth, openness and hospitality must be experienced to be believed.
Nigel Roberts first came to Belarus in 2001 and he has returned countless times since, first to work on sustainable development projects with rural communities blighted by Chernobyl radiation, then to chronicle his adventures and to write broadly about the country. He is passionate about debunking the myths and lazy clichés that continue to endure and which do great disservice to an extraordinary country that is bursting to be discovered. It will be, one day very soon, he believes.
Nigel is a Brummie Boy and Warwickshire Lad. His antecedents were travelling people who plied their trade up and down the Grand Union Canal in the 19th century. Educated at the University of Cambridge and the College of Law, he spent over thirty years as a lawyer before turning his back on the profession that hadn’t been his career of choice to embark on a second career as a travel journalist.
Now regarded as a Belarus specialist and expert, he writes about the country for anyone who will publish his scribblings. He also works with organs of Belarusian government on a pro bono basis in the development of tourism there. He is the author of four editions of Belarus published by Bradt Travel Guides, still the only stand-alone guide in English to a country now on the verge of being ‘discovered’ by the travel industry.