BELARUS is in the news. But few outsiders go there and those that do tend to see little outside the capital, Minsk. John Kunstadter is a retired American diplomat, now a photographer, whose abiding passion is the history and traditions of one of Europe's least-known countries. His website offers a picture of the day, usually with rural or religious themes.
This one, Bench III, is a good example. He writes
What can seem more prosaic than the plain wooden bench in front of almost every village house in Belarus? And yet the bench is the pivot of social life, the village agora, the permanent observation post. The bench is the witness to the changing fortunes of the village and at the same time a testament to Belarusianness beyond time. Together with the fence behind it, the bench is the clubhouse for the bands of kids visiting granny for the summer. It is the place where men gather on a holiday to tell fishing tales. It is the place where, after a long day's work or in the later years of her life, the homeowner sits to take in the afternoon sun, to let the evening meal simmer, to chat with neighbors, to wait for the cow to come home, to observe the passing traffic, to guide the stranger asking for directions-and, having sized him up in an instant, to give him spirited advice about life.
Countries are easy to pigeonhole, and the more neglected they are, the more inaccurate the categorisation. Foreigners (and locals) trying to understand the roots of Belarussian (or Belarusian or Belarusan: even the name is controversial) identity may find Mr Kunstadter's patient, thoughtful work helpful.