Tucked away behind the charmless apartment blocks and broad thoroughfares so beloved of Soviet town planners, the
"It was my time, so I remember it fondly," says Maya Borisovna, a septuagenarian guide, as she explains the artefacts on display. "But now we live better. There are things in the shops. It's completely different".
Or is it? Some would argue you don't have to go to the exhibition to be Back in the BSSR. Streets in the capital are still named after Marx and Engels. A statue of Lenin dominates a city square. There's even a bust of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the original Soviet secret policeman. A metro ride costs 20p. People smoke indoors. Almost no one has tattoos. This feels like a place that is at least one revolution behind the rest of us.
And then there is the leader. This summer,
In the west, they call Lukashenko Europe's last dictator, but he doesn't care. Better a confident dictator than a chaotic democrat, he argues, pointing to the turmoil in neighbouring
In the pantheon of dictators and autocrats, Lukashenko is a middleweight, vain and verbose but not bloodthirsty.
And yet the man who likes to be called "batka" ("father") is omnipresent. Night after night, his every move leads the country's absurd TV news, whether he is inspecting a tractor, ticking off the cabinet, arriving in
Before last month's world championships of his beloved ice hockey, he was taking no chances. Concerned about possible dissent, dozens of activists were rounded up and sent to jail.
"It's really hard to say everything I want to because in this country you pay for what you say," says Pinchuk. Her husband, the human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, did just that, jailed in 2011 for four-and-half years on tax avoidance charges that he and human rights organisations call spurious. Pinchuk was allowed just one visit last year. "It's like a conveyor belt," she says. "People are put in jail, then freed, they criticise the authorities and they are put back again."
She says her husband has been ostracised by fellow prisoners out of fear of political contamination. She is concerned about his health in the labour camp at Babruysk. "People come out of Babruysk with no teeth. It's the lack of vitamins. The food is a joke." She is pinning everything on
One thing certain since Lukashenko came to power is the result of elections. He likes to win, and a favourite figure is 80% - not quite Soviet levels of approval but enough to draw condemnation from observers inside and outside
"There hasn't been a fair election since the first one [Lukashenko] won in 1994," says
Lukashenko's fourth presidential election should, in theory, have been just as straightforward. He is not unpopular - some estimates suggest half of all Belarusians broadly approve.
Sannikov joined tens of thousands of demonstrators in
"I don't remember how I was first kicked, but I was on the ground and then I lost consciousness." On the way to hospital, he says, KGB officers pulled him and his wife from a car and beat him again before taking him into detention.
Sannikov got five years for "organising mass disorder". Sannikov was eventually freed, soon after new EU sanctions were announced against Belarusian officials in
Lukashenko argues that under his leadership his people have education, healthcare and security. He claims that after centuries of subjugation, annihilation and reconstitution, the country has avoided the evils of terrorism, separatism, and "banditism".
"Do you think I stay in power just because I revel in it?" he said in a recent interview. "Permit me to be immodest, but I did something for this country. I don't want all of it to come crashing down in an hour."
The crisis in
Yet he has also come to
Lukashenko maintains Russians are Belarusians' best friends, but warned: "No matter who comes to Belarusian land, I will fight. Even if it is Putin."
Taking sides is problematic: too pro-
Roman Yakovlevsky, a political analyst with opposition sympathies, says: "The entire country is divided over
The economy, meanwhile, slowly flatlines. "
European and American administrations have imposed sanctions on firms and individuals, though critics say they have had little impact.
Yauheni Preiherman, an independent thinktank analyst in
How much longer will "
Elections are due in 2015, but nothing new is expected. At best, Sannikov hopes they may allow a focus for discontent.
It is likely that Lukashenko's fate will be decided by the two big heavyweights he constantly dances between:
In the meantime,
Lukashenko greets Putin in
Second world war veteran Nikolay Sapanovich and his social worker at his Zhitkovichi home. The war, in which a third of the population of
Most Popular Stories
- Americans Still Pessimistic Despite Economic Growth
- Illinois Issues Fracking Rules
- Detroit Muslim Conference Stirs Controversy
- Startups Offer Smartphone Banking Apps
- 'Longmire' Cancelled, Looks for New Network
- Hip-Hop Takes Up Ferguson Cause
- Clippers Deal Started With 2 Numbers
- Echeveste Steps Down, Perez Steps Up at VPE
- Immigration Delay Throws Both Parties a Curve
- Canada, Russia Go to War (on Twitter)