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Date : 14th May, 2017
Time : 50’ 48”
Total distance run to date : 1080 km
Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1746319849
If your name was, say, Napoleon or Hitler, and you were crazy enough to attempt a land invasion of Russia from the west, then you’d very likely travel across Belarus. In fact, if you were heading for Moscow, you’d probably follow in the footsteps of the Grande Armee and the Wehrmacht and march directly through its capital, Minsk.
And, since invading Russia is a folly inevitably followed by retreat, you’ll see Minsk on both the way in and the way out. A repeat visit that was to cost the city dear during World War II as the Germans made it a centre of resistance against the Soviet counter-attack. (Please see Facts and Stats below for more detail.)
I was thinking about this because :
- The interviewer from Radio Belarus had asked me how much I knew about Belarus ; and
- We were at the entrance to Victory Park right next to the Great Patriotic War Museum. (Background of the picture above.)
WWII still matters in Belarus (as it does in the UK and many other countries I visit). Shortly before I arrived, there’d been big celebrations for Victory Day. Not to be confused with VE Day, Victory Day commemorates the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War.
It’s a public holiday in Belarus (and a number of other eastern European countries including Ukraine) and by all accounts it’s something of a party with music, marching bands and possibly even a drop or two of liquid fortification. Quite a contrast to the UK where we focus on Remembrance Sunday (when we remember those who lost their lives in the World Wars and other armed conflicts).
And why the national media interview at Victory Park? Because the local British Embassy, led by Ian and the indefatigable Volha, had yet again done a great job supporting what I can only presume they refer to in inter-embassy communications as “you know, that mad man from London who’s running round the world.” I am forever grateful for all the help I receive around the world from our international diplomats.
Along with runners from various international organisations, the Embassy had also invited along the Belarusian Athletics Federation who’d very kindly shifted their usual Saturday run back by 24 hours to accommodate my schedule. They led a group warm up – picture below – and then the run which was to consist of two laps of Victory Park.
As we set off I realised that, horror of horrors, between the interview, the photos and meeting everyone, I’d forgotten to set my Garmin. Recording the runs on my Garmin is my proof that I’ve done them so I had no choice but to wait while it logged onto a satellite. An impatient minute later I was ready to go and it took a 4’ 32” kilometre to catch up with everyone. Considerably faster than I usually like to start these runs. Mercifully it then calmed down for the next 4 km as we completed the first lap of the Park.
For the second lap, I joined the leaders and we settled into a 4’ 40” pace. Which might be OK for training runs but isn’t ideal when you’re me (i.e. not very good at running) and you’re at the start of a trip involving 7 x 10 km runs in 6 days…What the hell. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful setting and (unusually for me) running felt good
After a negative split, we eventually finished (picture below) in 50’48”, my fastest run on this trip. More photos, thank yous and goodbyes and then it was time for a shower and a stroll into Minsk.
Minsk was largely rebuilt after WWII and there are lots of open spaces, expanses of water, big squares and wide avenues. All of which looked rather lovely in the evening sunshine. Even better, as luck would have it, my wanderings took me to the 442 bar which was showing Spurs last ever game at their old ground – White Hart Lane. For Spurs fans like me, this was an emotional moment and I hope readers will indulge me if I spend a couple of paragraphs on it.
I’ve many happy memories of the Lane – and some not so happy ones. One of the least happy was being 3-0 up against Man United at half time – only to lose 5-3. Man United were again the opponents for the final game and this time there were no mistakes as we won 2-1 with goals from Victor Wanyama (“Oh, Victor Wanyama” to the tune of Seven Nation Army) and Harry Kane (“He’s one of our own, he’s one of our own”). The win secured 2nd place, Spurs’ best ever finish in the Premier League.
Queue much joy for me and the one other Spurs fan in the bar (we were heavily outnumbered by the local Man U contingent) – and the fans back at White Hart Lane – picture below.
I owe all things Spurs to Danny Kelly, editor, writer & broadcaster, lifelong Spurs fan and all round great bloke, who bought me a season ticket to White Hart Lane when I moved to North London – and thereby converted me. Which was just as well as I might otherwise have drifted towards Arsenal (Spurs’ bitter North London rival) who’s ground is actually closer to our home. But then I would have been damned forever as an interloper from Woolwich rather than being one of the proud owners of North London. (As you may have guessed, this is a sanitised version of the relevant terrace chant.)
As I left the bar, the streets were full of people including a group of traditional dancers who were, no doubt, celebrating Spurs’ victory. As Napoleon and Hitler could testify, it can get cold in this part of the world in winter but, in the summer, Minsk is a truly charming place to visit.
Enormous thanks to Ian, Volha, everyone at the Embassy and the Athletics Federation for a great run. Volha was good enough to collect the names of some of the runners from the Federation which I’ve included below – thank you to all of them for the company on the run!
And thank you, Danny, for Spurs. COYS!
Facts & Stats
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia
Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital and most populous city is Minsk. Over 40% of its 207,600 square kilometres (80,200 sq mi) is forested. Its strongest economic sectors are service industries and manufacturing. Until the 20th century, different states at various times controlled the lands of modern-day Belarus, including the Principality of Polotsk (11th to 14th centuries), the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian Empire.
In the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Belarus declared independence as the Belarusian People’s Republic, which was conquered by Soviet Russia. The Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia became a founding constituent republic of the Soviet Union in 1922 and was renamed as the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Byelorussian SSR). Belarus lost almost half of its territory to Poland after the Polish–Soviet War of 1919–1921. Much of the borders of Belarus took their modern shape in 1939, when some lands of the Second Polish Republic were reintegrated into it after the Soviet invasion of Poland, and were finalized after World War II. During WWII, military operations devastated Belarus, which lost about a third of its population and more than half of its economic resources. The republic was redeveloped in the post-war years. In 1945 the Byelorussian SSR became a founding member of the United Nations, along with the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR.
The parliament of the republic declared the sovereignty of Belarus on 27 July 1990, and during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared independence on 25 August 1991. Alexander Lukashenko has served as the country’s president since 1994. Lukashenko continued a number of Soviet-era policies, such as state ownership of large sections of the economy. Elections under Lukashenko’s rule have been widely criticized as unfair by the international community; and according to many organisations, political opposition has been violently suppressed.
In 2000 Belarus and Russia signed a treaty for greater cooperation, with some hints of forming a Union State. Over 70% of Belarus’s population of 9.49 million resides in urban areas. More than 80% of the population is ethnic Belarusian, with sizable minorities of Russians, Poles and Ukrainians. Since a referendum in 1995, the country has had two official languages: Belarusian and Russian. The Constitution of Belarus does not declare any official religion, although the primary religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The second most widespread religion, Roman Catholicism, has a much smaller following; nevertheless, Belarus celebrates both Orthodox and Catholic versions of Christmas and Easter as national holidays. Belarus is the only European country to retain capital punishment in both law and practice.
Minsk and WWII
Before the Second World War, Minsk had a population of 300,000 people. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, as part of Operation Barbarossa, Minsk immediately came under attack. The city was bombed on the first day of the invasion and came under Wehrmacht control four days later. However, some factories, museums and tens of thousands of civilians had been evacuated to the east. The Germans designated Minsk the administrative centre of Reichskomissariat Ostland. Communists and sympathisers were killed or imprisoned, both locally and after being transported to Germany. Homes were requisitioned to house invading German forces. Thousands starved as food was seized by the German Army and paid work was scarce. Some anti-Soviet residents of Minsk, who hoped that Belarus could regain independence, did support the Germans, especially at the beginning of the occupation, but by 1942, Minsk had become a major centre of the Soviet partisan resistance movement against the invasion, in what is known as the German-Soviet War. For this role, Minsk was awarded the title Hero City in 1974.
Minsk was, however, the site of one of the largest Nazi-run ghettos in the Second World War, temporarily housing over 100,000 Jews .
Minsk was recaptured by Soviet troops on 3 July 1944, during Operation Bagration. The city was the centre of German resistance to the Soviet advance and saw heavy fighting during the first half of 1944. Factories, municipal buildings, power stations, bridges, most roads and 80% of the houses were reduced to rubble. In 1944, Minsk’s population was reduced to a mere 50,000. After the Second World War, Minsk was rebuilt, but not reconstructed. The historical centre was replaced in the 1940s and 1950s by Stalinist architecture, which favoured grand buildings, broad avenues and wide squares. Subsequently, the city grew rapidly as a result of massive industrialisation. Since the 1960s Minsk’s population has also grown apace, reaching 1 million in 1972 and 1.5 million in 1986. Construction of Minsk Metro began on 16 June 1977, and the system was opened to the public on 30 June 1984, becoming the ninth metro system in the Soviet Union. The rapid population growth was primarily driven by mass migration of young, unskilled workers from rural areas of Belarus, as well as by migration of skilled workers from other parts of the Soviet Union. To house the expanding population, Minsk spread beyond its historical boundaries. Its surrounding villages were absorbed and rebuilt as mikroraions, districts of high-density apartment housing.
Victory Day is a holiday that commemorates the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War. It was first inaugurated in the 16republics of the Soviet Union, following the signing of the German Instrument of Surrender late in the evening on 8 May 1945 (after midnight, thus on 9 May Moscow Time). The Soviet government announced the victory early on 9 May after the signing ceremony in Berlin. Though the official inauguration occurred in 1945 the holiday became a non-labour day only in 1965 and only in certain Soviet republics.
World Bank Data
Here’s the latest World Bank data for Belarus – with the year 2000 as a comparison.
Population 45.2 m 2015 49.2 m 2000
GDP $54.6 bn 2015 $12.7 bn 2000
GNI per capita $6470 2015 $1380 2000
% below poverty line* 5.1% 2015 41.9% 2002
Life expectancy at birth 73.6 yrs 2015 68.9 yrs 2000
Primary school enrolment** 101% 2014 113% 2000
*The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While most of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)
**Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students
Greatest Sporting Nation
Global Cup – 39th
Per Capita Cup – 26th
The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce a per capita ranking.