Over the last several weeks I have received messages from American citizens concerned about the safety of travel in Belarus. The main concern is that the war in Yugoslavia has stirred up anti-American sentiment. Let me assure you that this is not in any way the case.
As many of you may know I am an American citizen and former British resident who lives in Minsk. I have never has any difficulty owing to anti-Americanism or, come to that, anti-Semitism. Last week we took a bus load of U.S. Embassy staff members on a tour of Jewish sites in and around Minsk. No special security measures were required.
Belarus is one of the safest cities in Europe, East or West. I have lived in major North American and European cities and I can assure you that you are safer in Minsk than you are in London or Paris. Belarus is not Russia. The way of life and the outlook of the population is vastly different.
With the ShtetlSchleppers Trip to Belarus coming up in August and September, I am concerned that anxieties about safety will discourage some. Don't be put off. Belarussians are among the friendliest, most hospitable people you will ever meet. And they really are enthusiastic about American culture.
One of our problems here is that distortions in the press make this seem a strange and forbidding country. Belarus is complex but it is also very welcoming. The Jewish community needs to build bridges with communities abroad. The Shtetlschleppers tours are an important contribution to the rebirth of the European Jewish Identity. By visiting us you will not only be regaining contact with your roots, but will also be helping to restore our future.
We are always eager to see you and to assist in your travel plans. If you have professional interest, say in medicine for example, we will be glad to put you in contact with your Belarussian colleagues.
Franklin J. Swartz, Executive Director
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