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30 Jan 2013

Foreigners in Belarus: A German banker

Foreigners in Belarus

A German economist talking about snipers eating sunflower seeds and about potato pancakes with an apple sauce

Most of Belarusians see Minsk as a reserved and conservative, clean, with broad streets and prospects, city. What image is formed by a person who has visited the capital of Belarus for the first time? The new project created by TUT.BY will familiarize its users with the foreigners who are living, studying, working in Minsk or have ever toured the nearest outskirts.

From Harvard to Minsk
After studying in USA I didn’t want to work in such organizations as UN and World Bank. I considered them as low effective and corrupt. Although now I think I could have made a good career there. At that time I didn’t want to live in Washington or in New York. I wanted to come back to Europe but I didn’t expect that the good American education is valued nowhere but in London. 2002 year was a really bad one judging by the situation on the market and international companies didn’t hire anyone. I came back to Germany and made a huge mistake. Talking about strategies, now I realize that it is more profitable to be close to money and power. I should have made a certain career in New York or London. First of all you increase number of your contacts and then you can work for certain Eastern Europe markets with developing transformational economics, where the positions are much stronger.

In Germany I worked in a large oil-and-gas company and simultaneously I went in for politics. I organized election campaign for Green Party in Hamburg and almost became a deputy. But as the elections were early I couldn’t get prepared for it properly and promptly. There was no place for me to get into a list. If I had a year or two before the elections, probably I wouldn’t stay here but I would be involved in politics in Germany. Germany supports and sponsors the people with their own idea and will. I didn’t want to wait for 4 years in Hamburg because of early elections, so I decided to change the occupation and got a job in a consulting company, where I consulted Eastern Europe government and private agencies. I worked for 4 years in Berlin where I consulted different institutions from European commissions to our ministries and private agencies on business in Eastern Europe. I realized that I do not run my own life so at the same time I was thinking about my business. My partner and I opened a new company in Nizhny Novgorod. The idea was to bring European business to Russian region. In the end we managed to carry out only one large project that we had led for 2 years. Based on this experience, I understood that it is necessary to stay at one place and more over all the Russian problems are solved in Moscow.

I got interested in Belarus and at the very time I was offered to take part in an international project on the improvement of the investment climate in the country. I agreed to the offer with an idea of doing my business and left for Minsk.

On the whole, people who work here in intergovernmental projects are bone-idle and get their money keeping the heads low. I started promoting my ideas that were always disapproved by people who worked for a long time. There are old communists who left GDR for Belarus and now they explain how market economy works. This is the policy of German International Development Department.

When I worked in civil service and meanwhile started working and developing the consulting activities I was ratted on in the embassy.  I faced with a choice: either civil service or business. I didn’t feel old to sit and draw the state budget. I yearned for achieving real results measured by the knowledge of making money. That’s why I resigned a good position that was at the level of the first deputy of the ambassador. So I went in for business and have been doing it for 4 years.

Minsk is the only city where I have been living for more than 2 years
I don’t remember well my first impression of Minsk, that’s why I discovered the city anew. I thoroughly investigated the local culture, discovered diverse circles of contacts. At first the circle was german-belarusian, then the circle of german business, then governmental and business ones. Also I learned the culture, took up Belarusian folk dances, toured the country and visited philosophy evenings.

During my stay in Minsk I got acquainted with work of Lyapis Trubetskoy. I consider their texts as interesting and rather philosophical, but Mikhalok’s voice is weak. I heard him live and was disappointed. I know such bands and artists as “Pesniary”,”bez bileta”, Malanka Orchestra, “Serebrianaja svadba”, “Sounduk”, Angelica Agurbash.

As concerns the theatres, I’m very much into Yanka Kupala National Academic Theatre. Belarusian classical plays are on the stage there.

Now I don’t feel a German in Minsk. I’m an emigrant. Since I come to Berlin infrequently, I have realized that the my life moved to Minsk.

Minsk is the only city where I have been living more than 2 years running after I left school. I have been here for 5 years already. It’s a huge, long part of my life. The previous 12 years I used to change city, country each half a year or two years, I lived like a tourist. But here I started to put into something, create a basis, a wide circle of acquaintance appeared, but making friends is rather slowly.

Touching the city’s appearance, its architecture can be called monumental. A person feels small and overwhelmed by it.

About places in Minsk
For a very long time I was searching the place where I jumped into water from a weir at 1995. Only after 3 years I got that the place is at water reservoir Drozdy.

Gorky Park appeals to me as live not far from it. As of cafes, I don’t have any favorite cafe, but there are comfortable ones. I like the “Y” gallery as there is rather refined public and there are people I have something in common to talk about. I like “News cafĂ©” because there is fresh English press I always read to.

The night life of Minsk 
I can describe by clubs divided on segments depending on what is expected. There are prostitutes in “Next”, half-prostitutes and sponsor’s girlfriends in “Overtime”, glamour in “Dozari”. Ordinary people go to “Coyote”. People from ordinary to "high fly" with money go to a restaurant “Gosti”, where they have fun. New bands performing alternative music used to play in “Duda King”. And “Africa” is visited by young students.

About Belarusian cuisine
I like Belarusian potato pancakes. In Germany they are as well with the only difference: they are served with an apple sauce. Actually, dishes do not really differ. Germans eat second course (meat) more often than soups. And in Belarus this correlation is fifty-fifty. And the local food is more fattening. From national cuisine I love frying pans with diverse delicacies, potato and cracklings.

Talking about Belarusian people
They are extremely reserved and uptight, proud and principled, stubborn. The Belarusians dislike risks as opposed to the Russians. They approach each step in business very carefully, verify everything and think over it just like the Germans. But the minus is that Belarusian businessmen can’t see a result and can’t think continentally. The Belarusians are introverts.

Belarus is notable for a big shortage of men, using economic terms. Interesting, beautiful, educated Belarusian girls have a small supply of men with the same qualities. I have noticed that when foreigners come here they quickly find a girlfriend and get married after a year of relationships.

Regarding clothes and style, girls dress very feminine in a Slavic style. They use quite a lot of make-up. They are trying to emphasize the figure and curves with the help of clothes.

It is sad to talk about men. They do not attend to clothes, may look untidy. They do not always correspond to the girl. For instance, a well-dressed beautiful girl is walking with a guy in jeans or even in shorts. It makes me sad. Belarusian men don’t look after themselves and don’t think it is necessary. There is neither taste nor sense of harmony. Sometimes I feel ashamed of the mankind. I’m not a gay, but it’s nice to look at a well-dressed, even in medium-priced clothes, man. To a certain extent appearance is the mirror of a person.

The Belarusian language is spoken by no more than 5 per cent in Minsk streets

I meet the Belarusian language in cultural circles, among people enrolled in national movement. It is almost missed in business, science; I hardly hear it at the streets. I would say that no more than 5 per cent speak it in Minsk streets.

Preschool education is better than higher education 
Preschool education is considered as one of the best. Before going to school children are already well prepared. Nursery schools are affordable. A child develops far and wide. I’m surprised, that people who work there earn little money. The state should be ashamed of it. School education is on a good level, too.

Universities are short of professors of a new generation, so students suffer. There is lack of development of one’s own opinion, articulation of one’s own thoughts in a cultural argument. There are few people who are able to express correctly their position, their emotions, explain to another person why the reaction is of this kind.

Unusual events of Minsk’ life. About snipers eating sunflower seeds at the rooftop
I like the Victory Day. This day on the rooftop close by my house from the crack of dawn snipers are lying along the perimeter of the square regardless of the weather. They are lying, securing the first person of the state and meanwhile eat sunflower seeds (smiling, shows a photo on the phone as a proof).

I remind a case that happened to me in Minsk. An old woman comes to me in the underground and asks:”Fellow, are you a mulatto?”.  And what could I answer?.. (Laughs.) I answered:”No, granny, I’m a Negro.”

Nadezhda Naymushina

Translated by Katya Klishchuk


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