04 June 1980

Minsk to Smolensk, Afghanistan, Bulgarian wine and the Olympics

After a leisurely breakfast we get moving at 11:00 o'clock. We drive around downtown Minsk, and find it rather forgettable. The high points of the tour are a couple of huge monuments to Lenin and to victory in WW II. Good weather tough, warm and sunny.

One policeman stops me because I am trying to make a right turn from the middle lane of a wide boulevard. I did signal my intention to turn (I think I did) but anyway I was very careful and waited for the road to be clear before turning. He is initially a bit brusque but we start speaking Polish and it all ends with big smiles and a pat in the back. Again, I think he was just curious to meet funny-looking foreigners in a yellow beetle...

We hit the road again in the direction of Smolensk after a quick lunch, and it start raining heavily.

Once in Smolensk we are very warmly greeted by a group of students who run the camping site where we will spend the night. Banter and casual talk accompanied by Bulgarian wine drag on for several hours.

Only a couple of times the discussion is a bit tense, when we touch Afghanistan (they insist Soviet forces are providing brotherly help to socialists threatened by imperialism, pure party line) and the Olympics, (they insist sport and politics should be kept separate, and here they have a point).

They also believe that China (Moscow's Communist rival) got a bloody nose in Vietnam (Russia's Communist friend) last year when it launched its "punitive" campaign following the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. Here the truth is somewhat more blurred, and lots of people on both sides died for no reason when the Chinese pulled back.

The point I take away from this conversation is that the young people we have met actually still believe in Communism and in the leading role of the USSR, in one way or another. Not ONE Pole we met does.

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