Monday, October 13, 2008

What's Alexander Lukashenko's problem?

You can't take a photo of the president's residence in Minsk. It is forbidden. But it is not illegal.

When I approached his residence with my camera, the guards who patrolled all four sides of the building shooed me away. I tried to take photos of the residence from behind a metal fence in the park across the street, but I was spotted by a guard, and he looked at me with such anger in his eyes that it freaked out my interpreter who advised that we walk briskly away. He was afraid that the guard would cross the street and run after us.

Located in the heart of Minsk, Lukashenko's residence is at the intersection of the streets named after Marx, Engels, Komsomol (the youth wing of the Communist party) and Kirov (a senior Communist Party member and comrade of Stalin's, who was murdered on the latter's orders). It is supposed to be the most closely guarded place in the country, since all the roads leading to the area are said to be sealed off to vehicular traffic. True, there was no traffic nearby the residence, but cars did occasionally stop at nearby streets, and a few did cruise by visibly.

Unlike the White House, which is separated from the public by a huge park and garden area, Lukashenko's residence sits right on the streets. A sidewalk separates it from the streets. It is quite possible to walk on the sidewalk. I managed to take a few photos while hiding behind the column of a theatre building located from across the street. Okay, so I was a little obsessed, but I wasn't Michael Moore-obsessed.

A little bit of a reality check is important to state here. Visitors in Minsk ought to know, a Belarusian friend told me, that security matters are very important. After all, my friend said, with the residence's proximity to the streets, it would be easy for someone to plan an attack on the residence using the disguise of being a tourist.
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