Belarus: Society and Perspectives

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The panelists after the discussion. © Morgan Walker

By: Shaden Kamel

Organized by students, the panel discussion “Belarus: Society and Perspectives” took place at the Aleksanteri Institute on March 16th. The initiative was taken by Anzhalika Yeraminovich, a Belarusian exchange student, in cooperation with CISSI (the Organization of International Social Scientists at the University of Helsinki) and the Aleksanteri Institute.

The panel discussion hosted Mr. Alexander Ostrovsky (Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus in the Republic of Finland), Ms. Inka Leppänen (First secretary, Desk Officer for Belarus and Moldova, Unit for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland), Dr. Jukka Pietiläinen (Senior researcher at the Aleksanteri Institute), and Ms. Yuliya Len (Researcher in Cultural studies of the Belarusian State University). The discussion was chaired by Ms. Minna Oroza (Planning Officer, ECEBB, Aleksanteri Institute).

The event commenced with Anzhalika Yeraminovich, who introduced general information about Belarus. Surprisingly only 860 km away from Helsinki, the country is located next to Poland, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine. The official name of the state was adopted in 1991, and nowadays Belarus is part of the Eurasian Economic Union. Belarus is also home to many famous figures; Francysk Skaryna, one of the first people who brought the printed bible to Europe; Marc Chagall, a world known artist; and current biathlon world champion Darya Domracheva.

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Mr. Alexander Ostrovsky with Ms. Yuliya Len and the chair of discussion Ms. Minna Oroza. © Morgan Walker

The first speaker of the panel discussion, Mr. Ambassador Ostrovsky, discussed Belarusian-Finnish economic relations. He indicated the advancement of the political dialogue, trade, and economic cooperation between Finland and Belarus in the recent years. The trade relations have been on the rise since 2010, and in 2012, the bilateral turnover of goods has grown by nearly 50 percent. Furthermore, a huge step was made toward the mutually beneficial Finnish-Belarusian cooperation in forestry. Mr. Ostrovsky also underlined the importance of environmental issues in this bilateral dialogue.

Ms. Leppänen provided an insightful overview of the sociocultural relations between Belarus and Finland. It was pointed out that the Finnish Liaison Office promotes both business and trade relations, as well as cultural exchange. For example, the Moomin World from Naantali visited Belarus and attracted high coverage in Belarusian media. Moomin books were also published in Belarus, and this will be followed by the publication of the Finnish Epic Kalevala. Ms. Leppänen pointed to Belarus’s essential and constructive role in the Ukrainian crisis, and expressed her gratitude for the brilliant organization of the 2014 Ice Hockey Championship in Minsk, which attracted many Finnish fans.

In the second part of the panel discussion, both Belarusian society from an outside perspective and Belarusian identity were discussed. Dr. Jukka Pietiläinen shared his experience of living and teaching in Belarus. The multilingual society and high level of English knowledge of the student community was admired. Ms. Len closed the panel discussion by identifying the current trends of the modern art which unfold and depict Belarusian identity. It was said that the modern art is prone to seek identity from the past, but also to depict the deep-rooted narratives of the Belarusian nation.

In general, the panel discussion attracted an active participation on the part of the audience. The event was followed by an informal cuisine-tasting session during which specific questions were discussed in an unofficial environment. Belarussian cuisine was represented by traditional potato-and-meat pancakes (draniki), cured meat (kumpyachok), and a desert made of oats (white kissel).