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“Welcome to Belarus, the centre of Europe!” giggles a young blonde waitress at Boulevard, a sleek café recently opened on the site of a former dingy vodka bolthole on Independence Street, the broad avenue of imposing Stalinist buildings that slices through central Minsk.

So runs that mantra that Belarusians are determined to recite for the visitor at every given opportunity. While possibly geographically accurate if one divines Europe to stretch from the beaches of the Algarve to the wastelands of the Urals, the assertion heard so frequently in…



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