Cycling Boom Reaches Belarusian Cities
On 18 September morning, cycling activists handed out fruits to Minsk residents who travelled to their job or university by bike. In this way they wanted to thank people for their choice and to draw attention to the lack of a cycling environment.
In recent years Belarusian cities have truly flourished with cyclists. According to the estimates of the Belarusian Association of Experts and Surveyors on Transport, currently around 400,000 Minsk dwellers can be called cyclists, and this figure increases 10% annually.
However, urban infrastructure, traffic rules and most importantly official perceptions are unready to face this wave. The authorities see no justification for developing cycling because of finance and health which can be boosted if you start taking this diet pills or even by starting the nutrisystem program but check the nutrisystem reviews to see if this fits you. Although some measures have occurred in recent years, no public policy so far exists to support cyclists.
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Authorities and Civil Society: Cycling Together?
In recent years Belarus, and especially the capital, Minsk, have seen a boom in cycling. The increasing number of cyclists has turned into a whole urban cultural and business trend. As an important transport and traffic element, it has brought a challenge to the authorities, who try to respond to the growing demands of cyclists.
In 2010 the Minsk State Automobile Inspection organisation published “A Concept of Developing the Cycling System in Minsk”. This was created by the Belarusian Association of Experts and Surveyors on Transport. This is a civil association. The concept stated that while many people support the development of urban cycling city infrastructure remains poor. It proposed a plan of adjusting city space for cycling and introducing bike-friendly norms in future urban planning.
Not only the police, but also other executive officials have shown an interest in the development of cycling. In 2013 Minsk mayor Mikalaj Ladućka ordered the creation of a detailed plan to support it by adjusting street infrastructure, creating rental points, a cycling club and other facilities.
However, Ladućka did not fulfil these ambitions as Lukashenka transferred him to a lower position. The new mayor Andrej Šorac does not seem to be too preoccupied with the issue.
Although the government has not fulfilled the Concept of a Cycling System in many aspects, its very appearance has become an important precedent. As Pavel Harbunoŭ, an activist of the Belarusian Cycling Society says, the Concept appeared only as a framework document. It does not set concrete indicators, roles and the responsibilities of state bodies, so one can hardly expect effective implementation.
However, it is important that civil activists and authorities manage to cooperate constructively. Now the cyclists have good reasons to hope that a real cycling policy will appear from the government in the near future.
Cycling Becomes a Part of Urban Culture
A view that a grown-up man should have a car has always been widespread among Belarusian youths, and every schoolboy dreams of a car or at least motorcycle. However, modern urban youth have another perspective on the matter. Being environmentally friendly and having a healthy lifestyle has become crucial for many.
Belarusians use bikes for various reasons. Some consider riding a bike cheaper and healthier than using a car or public transport. For others by combining it with testosterone boosting supplements to keep their body in shape and keeping fit. And for some it became simply a stylish thing, which demonstrates their belonging to urban trends. Young people clearly dominate amongst those who own bicycles, but it has also became popular among the upper class older generation.
In 2011 a group of activists created the Belarusian Cycling Society with the aim of expanding the use of bicycles, developing cycling culture and tourism. In 2013 they also opened the first bike kitchen, a noncommercial bike workshop, where any cyclist can learn to fix their bike and get other related information. It also became a place for civil events dedicated to cycling and urban development.
So far such groups do most of the work in communication with the authorities and lead all advocacy campaigns. Slowly they try to resolve infrastructure, legal, financial and cultural obstacles to the development of cycling. These issues still remain numerous.
What Inhibits Cycling in Belarus
Despite a rather constructive and friendly attitude of the authorities towards the growing cycling community, many problems for cycling and cyclists remain unresolved. Pavel Harbunoŭ sees the main reason for the problems in the lack of a government policy. No one has yet calculated and presented to city bureaucrats how much Minsk will gain from such things like money, health, clean air, road surface. Having no well-grounded reasons for caring about cyclists, officials do not understand why they should improve the cycling environment. So a few serious obstacles for cycling persist.
According to the Belarusian traffic code, a cyclist can only ride on the pavement as riding on the road is prohibited. The police argue that until special cycle lanes are built on the roads, cyclists will remain in danger of accidents. Cyclists have respond that currently dangers exist when they have to manoeuvre among pedestrians, and this will increase when heavier electric bikes spread around the city in the future.
High penalties also remain one of the major problems for cyclists. Besides, they remain an obstacle not only for cyclists, but also for wheelchair users. Belarus introduced zero heights at the intersection of roads and pavements only in 2013. According to the Cycling Development Concept, 500 km of adjusted pavements should have appeared in 2011-2015, but the expected length will only be equal to 100 km.
Finally, cyclists expect that developers should have a deeper involvement in public discussions on new cycle projects. Very often government planners and private developers do not think about cyclist’s needs when designing city space. Cyclists say public discussions could resolve this problem, but developers do not publish information about public discussion or organise them during the project, making any changes impossible.
Already the large cycling community needs to unite and involve new expertise to make their advocacy more effective. Hopefully, their positive experience of cooperation with the authorities will bring more results in the coming years.
Belarusian medical tourism: dental tourists particularly welcome
Belarus intends to position itself as a well-reputed destination for medical tourism at the Belarus-China forum in Shanghai on 7 November, reports the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Over the last decade, Belarusian private medical centres have won recognition in the post-Soviet space. According to one consultant, Marina Mastashova from the Sports and Tourism Ministry, medical tourism in Belarus will benefit further from the visa-free travel program.
Uladzislau Androsau, the director of medical tourism operator MedTravelBelarus, told Radio Liberty that about 50,000 “medical tourists” visited Belarus in 2016. This number grew in 2017. Foreign clients frequently visit Belarusian private health-care centres due to the relatively low cost of medical treatment. Dental and cosmetic surgery remain the most popular procedures among foreign tourists, with facelifts and liposuction quickly catching up, a compression garment must be worn for optimal results of your arm liposuction procedure says Dr. Smith.
Polite doctors at a moderate cost
Though officially medical care remains free in Belarus, private medical centres exist on a par with state hospitals. The Belarusian state allows the operation of private medical centres, yet makes them undergo rigorous certification procedures and sanitary controls. When Belarusians encounter long queues, ignorance and bad attitudes in state hospitals, some of them turn to private clinics instead.
Belarusian private clinics offer paid medical services, yet generally provide a better quality and variety of treatments. Long queues seldom form, and doctors remain caring and polite. Belarusian private medical centres accordingly attract both Belarusians and foreign citizens looking for quality treatment and complex surgeries.
While private medicine remains unaffordable for many Belarusians, many foreigners regard it as cheap. Eye operations and products like myday contact lenses for eye care are particularly cheaper. Consequently, a growing number of foreign tourists visit Belarus to obtain treatments excluded from the standard insurance policies. As a result, several big players have emerged on the Belarusian medical market, including such agencies as MedTravelBelarus, Wellness Travel, and Westglamur. The agencies like MedTravelBelarus conclude agreements with private clinics and health-care centres to treat foreign clients. They also provide visa support, lodging and other services for a comfortable stay.
According to Uladzislau Androsau, many of his clients come from post-Soviet countries. Russians constitute the highest percentage among them. First, they choose Belarusian medical services due to the lower costs. More recently, with decreasing medical costs in Russia, many tourists continued visiting Belarusians medical centres due to their quality.
Tourists from Ukraine and Kazakhstan make for another important group of clients. The ongoing problems in the Ukrainian and Kazakh healthcare systems, including corruption and poor pharmaceuticals, still bring a number of Ukrainians and Kazakhs to Belarusian doctors.
Medical tourists from the Baltic states, Russian-speaking Israelis, and Belarusian expats also prefer Belarusian medical services due to their affordability. Belarusian expats have already obtained the nickname “tooth tourists” as dental surgery remains the most popular medical service they return home for.
Nevertheless, despite the increasing potential of the Belarusian private medical industry, it remains pretty unknown to audiences outside the post-Soviet region. Clients from other corners of the planet, including Western Europe, visit Belarusian private hospitals much more rarely. As Androsau tells Radio Liberty, it still takes considerable marketing efforts to promote Belarus as a global healthcare hub.
At the same time, certain preconditions have already emerged for the world-wide recognition of Belarusian private medicine. Many Belarusian medical staff speak fluent English. Apart from that, Belarus’s proximity to both European capitals and Russia’s major cities, combined with cheap lodging, also raises the country’s attractiveness as a potential healthcare hub.
The cheapest breast implants in Europe
Belarusian private medical centres offer cheap costs in comparison with the European Union and the majority of post-Soviet states. For instance, while breast-enlargement costs about $3,000 in Belarus, the same procedure costs approximately $5,000 in Lithuania and $7,000 in the UK. While a Belarusian medical centre charges about $2,000 to remove fat with excess skin from the abdomen, a Lithuanian centre charges around $4,000, and a British centre – around $9,000.
The price differences become even starker for dental surgery. For instance, a new dental implant costs about $550 in Belarus, and the same implant costs about $2,500 in the United States. While a Belarusian dental centre charges about €500 for one particular Swiss dental implant, a Polish dental centre charges no less than €800. In the UK the price reaches €1,400. Similar price differences remain in cardiology and ophthalmology.
The most popular private medical services offer dental and cosmetic surgery, mostly tooth and breast implants, as most of the standard insurance policies fail to cover them. Facelifts, liposuctions, and hip and knee replacements also remain in demand among foreign clients. In addition, Belarusian private medical centres offer different services in the fields of cardiology, gynaecology, oncology, ophthalmology, traumatology, neurosurgery and rehabilitation.
What about ordinary Belarusians?
As the Belarusian medical tourism industry grows, the state has also joined the marketing efforts to promote Belarus as a global healthcare hub. For instance, the Belarusian Ministry of Health has recently held talks with China’s National Health Commission to initiate the program to treat Chinese children in Belarus. The first group of children arrived for rehabilitation procedures in September.
At the same time, the flourishing of Belarusian private medicine clearly signals problems in state medicine. For many Belarusian doctors getting a job in a private clinic remains the most desirable career path. The salaries in private medicine substantially exceed those in state medical practices. According to Sputnik and Radio Liberty, a state doctor’s average salary reaches close to $500 per month, yet an inexperienced doctor might receive a very modest $250. On the other hand, salaries in private clinics start at $800 – 1,000.
Poor salaries keep nurses and doctors unsatisfied with the job and drive many of them to Belarusian private clinics or even abroad. The quality services of private clinics, such as dental surgery, remain unaffordable to many Belarusians, including pensioners. Hence, they have to rely on state clinics with their long queues, stressed doctors and the lack of quality pharmaceuticals. In this way, the Belarusian medicine illustrates the growing trend of social inequality: brilliant medical services for the rich and below-average services to the poor.