Letters stamped “From the center of Europe”

This summer the first tourist bus will set forth to the Belarusian center of the continent
The small villages of Ives and Shoh of Glubokoe district have recently entered the tourist routes of Swedish tour operators. Why? Remotest Belarusian Polesye attracts the Scandinavian guests not only with Vikings’ knick-knackery and instruments discovered there. The rumor has spread all over the globe: this is where the hub of Europe is located — the geographical center of the continent.

We owe this great discovery to Doctor of Engineering Aleksey Solomonov and Doctor of Geography Valery Anoshko. In the year 2000 they declared their considerations. The center of Europe turned out to be in Belarus. It was calculated within the accuracy of 800 meters. The conventional point lies inshore of Lake Ives in the homonymous village. 
I entered “center of Europe” in Internet and was really amazed. 10 places in different countries contest the right to be called so… as far back as at the end of XIX century the geographical center of Europe was recorded to be in Transcarpathian region, Ukraine. Such a conclusion was made by Viennese scientists who studied the terrain while building the railway. There is a special sign with some lines in Latin: “Permanent, precise, perpetual point, determined at the basis of longitudes and parallels applying a device, made in Austria-Hungary is the center of Europe, it was found out in the year of 1887”. 
The Lithuanians disown the Ukrainian center and believe that the true center of Europe is at their territory — 26 kilometers far from Vilnius. The Lithuanian Supreme Soviet set up a cartographic nature reserve “Center of Europe”. It is decorated with a white granite column with a diadem of stars atop. Other six countries pretend to the “heart” of the Old World. In Slovakia this is the stela atop the Mountain of Kragula, in Poland — a village near Krakow. The Czechs, Hungarians, Latvians also have their own centers. In Russia they talk about two such points: on in Smolensk and the other in Kaliningrad region… 
— Which of the centers can be considered the true one? — I asked Valery Anoshko, a professor from Belarusian State University. 
— The mess stems from conventionality of the boundaries of Europe, especially in the east and south, — thinks Valery Stanislavovich. — There are a lot of disputes about England and Ireland — whether they should or should not be included in Europe. We have reckoned these and other insular territories the continent and included the White and Baltic Seas — and the center of Europe turned out to be in Belarus. In Ukraine, Lithuania and other countries there was a different point of view — depending on the degree of interest… 
Belarusian scientists are quite skeptical about other centeres of Europe. In the summer of 2006 Professor Aleksey Solomonov and representatives of production house “Belarusfilm” applied to the governments of Slovakia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, and Russia with request to find the discoverers of their centers of Europe and submit the methods of analyzing. They received an answer from Lithuania only. There was nothing to do with the root of the matters in the letter, political and touristic motives were the only things the Lithuanian party stressed the importance of… 
In the year 2000 the calculations of the Belarusian researchers were published in scientific magazine “Geodesy and Aerial Photography” (Moscow). Yet, Glubokoe has not been recognized as the center of Europe outside the country. That means that the search for the sacral point has not been put a period to. While researches keep disputing, the only thing is obvious: the central point of Europe long ago became a hot product that can be profitably sold to tourists. 
And are voyagers interested in the Belarusian center of Europe? I called a dozen of travel companies. Strange to say but none of them have tours to Shoh and Ives.
— Frankly speaking I haven’t heard anything about trips to the geographical center of Europe, — said Marina Mastashova, the director of the training center of the National agency for tourism.
And meanwhile as far as 48 kilometers to the northeast there is ancient Polotsk, Carmelite temples in Glubokoe and fabulous Mosar. And the surroundings of Shoh as such are full of historic mysteries. For example, if the weather is fine, not far from the south coast of the lake one can see a real necropolis underwater. There are huge x-type boulders scattered at the bottom. They say that some five centuries ago there was a cemetery, but the lake bed sank and buried it underneath. And a short distance away, in the woods there is still another mystery — dozens of mounds some meters high — an old burial ground of Krivichi tribes. The mounds date back to VII–X and XI–XII centuries. On shore of Lake Shoh there is a small village of the same name — 25 houses and 34 inhabitants. One never can tell: maybe one or another of these villagers is a direct descendant of the very same Krivichi. By the way, there is a village called Krivichi on the way to the district center… 
— There is no doubt that the inhabitants of this territory were highly civilized people, — admits Mikhail Orekhov, the head of the department for tourism of Glubokoe district executive committee. — In the neighbourhood there was the Great European watershed divide and the famous “from the Varangians to the Greeks” route. And there are more evidences of this than just the Vikings’ knick-knackery and instruments exhibited in the Regional Museum of Local Lore, History and Economy. Not long ago we took in guests from Sweden and they were really surprised to hear about Shoh. Swedesh “Shi” means “lake”… This place will certainly be rendered status of tourist resort area. When — everything depends on financing. 
The ice has been broken — the Swedes have included our center of Europe in the tourist route called “Dvina/Daugava Panorama”. The Swedes are going to appropriate to Vitebsk region nearly 100 thousand dollars for the project implementation. If everything goes as it is planned, as early as this summer the first tourist bus will drive along Zapadnaya Dvina stopping over Shoh and Ives. At the moment we offer a bid for memorial project. This is likely to be a post marking the distance to Moscow, Berlin, London — like at squares and stations in Europe. And nearby there will be a mail drop. Tourists will have an opportunity to send a letter stamped “From the center of Europe”. 

Igor Anisimov
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