Window into Europe’s centre

[b]Getting to know Belarus[/b]Recently, I met a Polish tourist who didn’t know how to dial out to speak to her relatives in her native town. Evidently, she hadn’t encountered the Belarus.by site; otherwise, she wouldn’t have found herself in this difficult situation. Surfing the pages of Belarus.by, you can see why it’s the most convenient place to find out about the country. Just a few minutes are enough to find any answer imaginable: where to go if you fall ill in Belarus; which vaccinations are necessary; whether insurance is needed; how to behave if you fall victim to a crime or are arrested; where to rent a car; and where to exchange foreign currency.
Getting to know Belarus

Recently, I met a Polish tourist who didn’t know how to dial out to speak to her relatives in her native town. Evidently, she hadn’t encountered the Belarus.by site; otherwise, she wouldn’t have found herself in this difficult situation. Surfing the pages of Belarus.by, you can see why it’s the most convenient place to find out about the country. Just a few minutes are enough to find any answer imaginable: where to go if you fall ill in Belarus; which vaccinations are necessary; whether insurance is needed; how to behave if you fall victim to a crime or are arrested; where to rent a car; and where to exchange foreign currency.
People are also interested in the country’s flag and its territory. These are simple questions, but they are basic points of interest for every visitor. Belarus may be situated at the centre of Europe but such answers have only recently appeared on the Internet — since the launch of the Belarus.by site.
The project was initiated by the Presidential Administration on June 26th; since then, over 100,000 hits have been registered from 160 countries worldwide. “This shows the number of people who have entered the word ‘Belarus’ in a search. They find our site and use its information,” explains Igor Lutsky, First Deputy Director General of the Belarusian Telegraph Agency, who supervises the site. “On average, users visit the site for four minutes — quite a long time. Usually, they look through webpages quickly, but they tend to stay longer on our site.”
Belarus.by isn’t just a country guide; it conducts dialogues with each visitor. “We immediately understood that we need to speak to foreigners in their own languages and tell them what they’re primarily interested in while adding information which we view as important,” Alexey Matsevilo, the Head of Belarus.by Website Forwarding, tells us. “Until now, almost no one has analysed what people are interested in. Many electronic resources that have been designed for foreign readers are just translations of Russian or Belarusian texts. What may seem interesting to us, may not be to them.”
The country’s major website offers no deep insights into history or economics. Rather, a brief, unambiguous picture is painted. Those who want to learn more can be sent to other ‘specialised’ resources. However, Internet users often return. The Belarus.by site offers a ‘one stop shop’ application into the entire country.
Whether you want to know how to enter the country, how to receive a visa, which hotel to stay in or where to go to see the sights, you’re sure to find what you need at Belarus.by. “All our information is practical. If you visit our website, you’ll immediately learn what’s going on in Belarus — and where. All the information is beautifully presented and clearly understandable. We’ve taken into account that lots of users arrive on our site via the Google search system, so we’ve developed an optimal key word mechanism,” Mr. Lutsky explains.
Taking into account the target audience, the site’s major language is English, accompanied by Russian and Belarusian. A Spanish version may also appear soon. Interest from the world’s two leading languages is almost equal, with 10,000 hits from Russia, 3,500 from the USA, 2,500 from Ukraine, and 1,500 to 2,000 from Lithuania, Latvia, Germany and the UK.
According to the developers, 500 hits have been seen from Mexico, 250 from Australia and 100 from Nigeria — unexpectedly. Some of the questions answered by Belarus.by employees are also quite original. For example, a Nigerian user wondered whether it’s possible to buy a Belarusian visa via Western Union money transfer. It opens new horizons in the work of Belarusian embassies, perhaps inspiring progress.
Meanwhile, Belarus.by is probably the only resource to provide full information on famous Belarusians. Mr. Lutsky notes that each country possesses famous personalities — from today and yesteryear, as well as national heroes. However, they may be completely unknown beyond the borders of their homeland. The gallery of prominent countrymen on the site has aroused hot dispute inside the country, with some complaining that outstanding names have been forgotten. Among those chosen are sports figures Olga Korbut, Maxim Mirny and Vitaly Scherbo. Also featured is Israel’s first President, Chaim Weizmann — born in Polesie. In Russia, everyone knows Belarus-born cosmonauts Piotr Klimuk and Vladimir Kovalenok. Tadeusz Kościuszko (who was born in the Brest region) is honoured in Poland as a national hero while Chile reveres Ignaty Domeiko — born near Korelichi in the Grodno region. Undoubtedly, everyone in the world knows Chagall — from Vitebsk — and the founder of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Hollywood Film Studio — Mayer from Minsk.
To set out on your virtual trip through this country located at the heart of Europe, learning the peculiarities of its cuisine and the best time for travel, which products are exported and imported, and where St. Yuri’s Day is celebrated, visit Belarus.by.

By Victor Korbut
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