HABITS AND TRADITIONS
Travellers know: every city has its own pedestrian culture. In New York or Moscow, nobody pays attention to the traffic lights. In Berlin, pedestrians are too disciplined and will wait for the light permission to cross the road. In this sense, Minsk resembles Berlin in many ways. Pedestrians are very law-abiding – already a long-standing city tradition. Foreign journalists once noticed that even during street protests in Minsk, the crowd walked on sidewalks and stopped to wait for the green light before crossing the street. Correspondingly, drivers are well aware of the traffic police’s presence and stop abidingly to let pedestrians pass at the crossings. Unfortunately, there are no pedestrians-only streets in Minsk. In 2013, the city authorities conducted an experiment by making Karl Marx Street a pedestrian street. On weekends, this elegant central street was given away to musicians, artists and street theatre performers. In 2014, however, the authorities decided the experiment was a failure. Despite numerous requests, it did not become an established tradition.
Photo: Siarhei Hudzilin
Visitors often call Minsk a very clean city. This “clean image” of the capital has become a subject of lively discussions among locals. Is this city so clean, indeed? If it is significantly cleaner than other capital cities, what could be the reason? Is it because the citizens are extremely tidy? That’s a valid theory. Another valid explanation, though, is that the cleanness of Minsk could be ensured by the army of workers from socially vulnerable groups. The city hires those workers for wages as low as the one-eighth of the wage of a street cleaner. It is still fair to say that littering is not in the habit of Minskers. Another good news is that waste segregation is slowly becoming available in Minsk’s backyards. Green-minded fellows, check this environment-friendly map of Minsk online.
In Minsk, streets often get renamed. Here, it is seemingly business as usual that the old names are almost immediately erased from the collective memory, as the population is very mobile: former students return to their hometowns and villages; young professionals move abroad - to be replaced by newcomers.
Generally, the policy of street renaming in Minsk seems to be somewhat inconsistent. Take a look at Minsk’s topography: different epochs are fusing with the concourse of historical events. Beside Marx, Engels and Lenin Streets, your ear catches historical names: Haradski Val, Kalvaryjskaja, Ramanaŭskaja Slabada. The Soviet heroes - Kazinets, Kabushkin, Melnikaite – are neighbours to anti-Soviet ones. There is a street named after the author of Belarusian grammar Branislaŭ Tarashkevič and a street named after Minsk-born Jerzy Giedroyc, a Polish writer and political activist. There are also streets named after the Russian writers who never visited Minsk: Pushkin, Lomonosov, or Griboyedov. The same streets cross the streets named after the Belarusian literary classics of the 20th century: Kolas, Melezh, Bryl and Karatkevich.
Many foreigners notice that people in Minsk do not smile often. Sometimes, it is considered as a natural consequence of living in a dictatorship. While politics may have played some role, keep in mind that generally it is not common for Belarusians to burst their emotions out right away. It seems that Minskers’ self-restraint is somewhat deeply genetic. Don’t force Minskers to smile or jump with joy - they will do so only when they see it fit. Although locals like to bear a serious face, Minskers are hospitable and are always ready to help a stranger out. Holding the doors for others in the subway passages or when entering shopping malls immediately reveals a local resident. Those who do not rush to hold the doors for others are unmistakably branded as foreigners or, at least, non-Minskers.