The wind blows over the central square of Mikashevich. The Palace of Culture is a Communist relic; no symbols were removed. The small town near Brest has a population of just under 13,000. The social centre of the town is only a few minutes drive from the central square. Local business owners support an initiative to provide mentally disabled people with simple work.
Six of the participants to this program produce soap in a small building. They package it to sell it in Minsk. Olga is a co-initiator in the project and explains her idea.
"It‘s a way to bring people with disabilities together and to strengthen their sense of belonging and community. Out here, there are not many options to do so. Whenever they are here in our building they feel well and comfortable. We even have made up our own original greeting handshake. Our community works".
The soap in Minsk is sold for the equivalent of 3.50 Euros, however they also have a loyal customer in their home town: an employee of the hospital.
Compared to the 1950s, only half as many people live in the rural areas of Belarus today. Whatever happens in Minsk usually has no direct effect on life in the rural areas.
Seemingly, few things have changed from the way they were in Soviet times. People rarely talk about politics. If they do so at all their topics are pensions, food prices, or the new law that makes unemployed people pay a punitive fine.
Most young people leave their villages and small towns and move to the larger urban areas. The wages there are better.
Small retailers are among the few employers in the country, and so are the remaining collective farms of the Soviet era, the kolkhozes.
There are many monuments in the town. The statue of Lenin as well as the war memorial commemorating World War II are brightly polished. There are monuments like these in almost every village. The commemorative culture in Belarus stands in clear contrast to the ones in the neighbouring countries of the Baltic states and of Ukraine.
Stepan (81) sits in his small house. In 1952 he went to West Germany and worked there in the military liaison mission in Frankfurt. "We had this joke. We dropped a wallet on the street or in a supermarket, and then counted the time until the people came running to hand it back to us.“
Two years later he returned to his homeland. He feels sentimental about the past. "The kolkhoz used to be squeaky clean. In the 60s, we had a director with a German background. His name was Richter. He was picked on by the local police chief because of this. Richter was arrested and brought to the Ukraine, but he wasn‘t sent into jail. I think the manager makes a kolkhoz successful, and not the form of government. With Richter the farm was one of the best ones around here. The name and label of the collective farm is always changed from time to time. This barely affects the way it works. Look at the monuments and memorials, the names on them don‘t change.”