“Oh, come on! I am an ordinary guy!” in perfect Russian my French talker swept aside all exquisite and respectful greetings like “It is my honour to…” when I phoned him to arrange a meeting. However, the personal meeting revealed that while introducing himself Pierre Cabagnols, coordinator of the student exchange programme of Sorbonne and the Belarusian State Economic University (BSEU), was too modest: he had in store a Russian philology department and economic disciplines, single-handedly written management textbooks… All his life is aimed at creating, developing new projects and sharing his experience with people. With him, who knew Belarus not through hearsay, I tried to put on another man’s glasses and see the country from a foreigner’s point of view.
“Tell me, Pierre, how did you happen to be a frequent guest at the BSEU?”
“You know, first time I came to Belarus a very long time ago: when I was a student, I was going by train with my friends to plough the virgin land (Kazakhstan at present). We had to change trains in Brest and the city amazed me. And then many years later I became a friend of Mikhail Mishkevich, dean of the International Economic Relations Faculty. Now we closely co-operate. I come to lecture in Belarus. This time I brought an interesting management project”.
“I wonder whether Belarus changed something in your perception during the years you are connected with the country?”
“I have seen Belarus change a lot”, he is smiling. “I remember when for the first time I came to Minsk not by chance in 1995, the living standards were poor: few amenities, few cars, now everything has changed for the better. I regret many foreigners have a wrong perception of your country. They have not seen Belarus, they know nothing of the country. When they came here, it is an eye-opener. Maybe the language barrier has a negative impact: one cannot make a real picture of the life without talking to Belarusians in their native language. Once my former student from the Company Management Institute of Sorbonne suggested that her superiors should visit Minsk. Later they confessed they expected to see a poor country, poor people, but they saw something on the contrary. Of course, there is no upper limit for perfection, people should strive for further economic development. I think it will come in the future. But, you know, ten years ago Belarusians constantly complained to me about some problems: everyday life ones, social ones, professional problems. Now there are no complaints. I think it happened because the USSR collapse, the fall of the economic system delivered a powerful morale blow. However, I would like to repeat I notice no complaints about personal status. It is a good sign, which shows that people are optimistic about the future, they are building the future, they have economic projects and it is important. One should always think positively and appreciate what one’s got”.
“You’re an optimist! Do you teach your students only that?”
“I am just a consultant”, Pierre is laughing. “You know young specialists bring many innovations, they are inventive. You need to hear them and encourage, as the youth gives new life to the economy, secures its development. During our joint project between Sorbonne and the BSEU 73 students, all of them are talented and sensible thinkers and could work anyplace in Europe, received French master’s degree in economy diplomas. However, boys and girls chose to stay to work in Belarus, they have jobs here, they support their country and it is very testimonial”.
by Yelena Doroshenko