No gap in Europe’s

Great optimists reside in the Belarusian capital
Rome, Paris and Moscow are usually viewed as the pearls of our civilisation but how do other cities compare? Not everything can be defined by affluence, shops and restaurants, parks, traffic and historic sites. Our personal perception of a city is the most important surely? A poll conducted by Minsk Scientific-Research Institute of Social-Economic and Political Problems has thrown up some interesting results. European urban residents have been asked about their satisfaction with living standards; Minsk has come out as one of the continent’s most attractive places to live. Today, the 950-year old Belarusian capital is a big industrial centre with dozens of enterprises; some, like Minsk Tractor Works and Minsk Automobile Works, are well-known abroad. There are 21 higher educational establishments and several famous theatres and museums. Dozens of academic and scientific institutions carry out research and we have an ideal location — Moscow, Kiev, Warsaw and the Baltic states’ capitals are found in a 700km reach. Two international transport corridors connecting Europe with Asia and the Baltic states with the Mediterranean pass through Minsk.

What do Minsk citizens think of their home? They are not guests or tourists but permanent residents and are concerned with real problems. As in any other city, the most serious task is to find work which pays a good salary. For many, this is a serious problem; more than half of all respondents thought finding a job difficult. This situation is typical for a modern post-industrial society. Minsk is ahead of Berlin, Munich, Madrid and Rome in having more optimistic citizens however — we are on the same level with Vienna. Unemployment in Minsk is actually very low — just 1 percent of the population — and accommodation can be found close to the industrial and service sectors. Our greatest achievement may be our intellectual prowess; our citizens have high educational level.

Finding a place to live is growing more difficult as Minsk population has tripled over the last 40 years — to 1, 760,000 citizens. After the war, the city was completely destroyed and, in spite of building programmes, each person has just 20 sq.m. of living area. Of course, this figure is smaller than in Moscow or other big European cities; the poll has shown that renting a room or an apartment at a reasonable price is more difficult in Minsk than in Berlin, Vienna or Brussels but still easier than in Munich, Paris or Stockholm. The situation should gradually improve as Minsk builds more square metres of residential space; it seems to be growing at 1sq.m. per capital a year. Many families use state financial support to improve their accommodation; in 15 years time, the number of those living in new flats should have risen by 25 percent.

Transport problems are also natural for any big city. In Moscow or Paris, it can take almost two hours to get to work but in Minsk our well-developed system of public transport — metro, buses, trams and taxis — eases the number of cars on the road (to around 500,000). Motorways are being improved; the Belt highway to Moscow has recently been widened and the number of those satisfied with public transport is three times greater than those who are discontented. This figure is better than in Madrid, London or Rome although is worse than in Vienna, Munich and Berlin.

Without listing all the poll’s figures, we can say that Minsk citizens rank the city’s schools and parks on the same level or higher than the citizens of many other European capitals and are especially proud of their tidy streets. More than 85 percent of citizens consider Minsk to be clean; residents in London, Paris and other European cities are dissatisfied with their municipal authorities’ work. More than 85 percent of Minsk citizens are satisfied with their living conditions (as are those in Berlin, Paris, London and Madrid). Only those in Vienna and Munich are more content. At the same time, 52 percent of Minsk residents believe that their city will become more attractive in the next five years; Stockholm, while being in second place, has just one percent of people who believe that improvements will be made. Thus Minsk can be named ‘a city of optimists’.

by Vladimir Bibikov
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