My Summer in Belarus — The North Star Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Mariya Taberko, Photographs by Anna Taberko
[Photo caption #1: Statue of Yakub Kolas, famous Belarusian poet, and characters from his tales.]
Growing up as a first generation immigrant in the United States, I had developed an identity crisis about “what” I was. I certainly did not feel “American enough,” despite assimilating from the tender young age of seven years old. Yet my home country of Belarus was honestly just a string of childhood memories that consisted of going to school, watching American cartoons on the television, (dubbed in Russian, of course), and some vague visions of running through the forest, gathering mushrooms and hazelnuts. Although I always referred to myself as a Belarusian, the concept of Belarus had become a sort of abstraction in my mind.
Admittedly, it remained an abstraction as I purchased my plane ticket to Ukraine and train ticket to Belarus, during the six-hour car ride to the Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and even after my dad walked my sister and I to the airport security check, kissed us both, and waved us off. It felt like reality only hit me on the morning of June 21, when I exited the train platform and marveled at the unfamiliar place that for so many years I called “home.”
[Photo caption #2: Towers that form the entryway to the Minsk Railway Station.]
The Republic of Belarus is a small Eastern European country landlocked between Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. Its capital (my hometown), is Minsk. For the last twenty years, Belarus has been ruled by an authoritarian president and the relations between Belarus and the United States have remained quite strained. This gave me a rare perspective on the country as the number of tourists in Belarus, especially ones from the United States, is incredibly low. In fact, many travel websites have little to no information on travel to Belarus. I had the advantage of speaking Russian, one of two official languages of the country, but I also came to the country at a pivotal time for tourism.
This spring, Minsk hosted the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships, which stirred Belarus into preparations for masses of English-speaking visitors. During my stay, I saw countless busses, trolleys, billboards, and storefronts covered with the IIHF World Championship logos, despite being there two months after the tournament’s completion.
Another important event during our stay was the Independence Day of Minsk, a day that celebrates liberation from Nazi forces in 1944. This year was the 70th anniversary, and the city was abuzz with military parades, fireworks, and other festivities.
[Photo caption #3: Maxim Tank Belarusian State Pedagogical University and Lenin’s Square stand decorated with national symbols for Independence Day.]
It was interesting to be in Belarus, witnessing its “opening” to the rest of the world as host to the IIHF World Championships as well as the celebration of their independence while my family was back in the States preparing for the fourth of July. It put me back into that strange state of mind where I felt like an outsider yet again, even though I was finally back in my “homeland.”
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The North Star Reports: The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School and other schools around the world. The North Star Reports has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
The North Star Reports will share dispatches from our student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Student interns have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers.
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA
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