From my POV: Growing up under a dictator

By Mila Sviderskaya

Mila Sviderskaya_optI

If I tell people, “I grew up in a dictatorship,” they’re usually confused and don’t believe me at first. Well, I grew up in a country literally labeled “Europe’s Last Dictatorship.” I lived in Belarus, which has been ruled by the same dictator for 22 years, until I was 10, and still visit every summer.

If you’re lucky enough to work as a lawyer or a programmer, you’ll find yourself living in a nice apartment and owning one or two vacation houses, maybe even in Bulgaria.

If you’re a doctor or teacher, too bad for you because education and medical treatment is free, so you probably won’t get as much money as others. But that’s great news for everyone else.

School is of the highest quality, with competition and discipline encouraged and practiced everyday. It’s fast-paced and extremely hard, and only after 11 years you’re free to go. But physical punishment and insults to children are a daily practice.

The cities are clean and organized to perfection. The streets are free of litter and covered in countless Belarusian flags on both sides. It looks like a perfect picture from a perfect postcard. A little too perfect sometimes.



But of course with each dictatorship there are negatives as well. Businesses and stores are often of lower quality, with rude personnel and little product choice. Over 80 percent of those businesses are government-owned, eliminating competition, and leading to an  unemployment rate of only one percent. It’s great long as you’re on the government’s side of course.

There are no honest elections, with forged numbers every time and countless candidates gone missing or as we later find out, beaten or locked up. When people try to stage protests, it never ends well. For example during the 2010 elections, people gathered in the city to ask for freedom, and in turn, around 700 men and women along with 7 candidates were arrested and/or beaten.

If you want to watch television, you shouldn’t. It’s mostly lies portraying the president as the one and only father figure of the country, and at the same time brainwashing you to believe that other countries in Europe and America are much worse.

Americans are all illiterate, and their government will kill you with GMOs, unless of course you aren’t raped by a teacher or killed in a school shooting first. All these things I personally heard either on television or social media in Belarus. People grow up brainwashed to believe they have a much better life than they would in another country.

There are positives, there are negatives. When people hear the word “dictatorship,” they think of nations discussed in the news like North Korea, or unofficially Russia.

They imagine run-down, poverty-stricken nations. But there are many more countries no one’s ever heard of ruled by dictators. Modern 21st-century countries, with high-tech cities, and great education.


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It’s a reality for the people living there, planning futures and going about their day. It was a reality for my family and it still is every time I go visit. But it’s not a scary reality, it’s a sad one.

I want people to realize that what we learn about the Soviet Union, or the Dominican Republic isn’t the past, it’s happening right now, even if you personally haven’t witnessed it.