Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP) volunteers currently work for seven projects in Belarus. The focal points of their activities include attending to and supporting survivors of the Shoah and persons who performed forced labour under National Socialism; the volunteers also work with children and adults with disabilities. All projects are based in Minsk.
Learning Russian, enjoying improvisation and being both flexible and willing to critically examine one’s own prejudices and values are all helpful when it comes to settling down in Minsk and solving everyday problems. On the one hand, the population continues to face the legacy of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl (Ukraine), which led to the contamination of a quarter of Belarus‘ national territory. On the other hand, the country has been ruled by authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko for more than 15 years and is largely isolated from the international community.
The first large group of ARSP volunteers arrived in Belarus in September 1992. The Belarusian non-profit foundation “For the Children of Chernobyl” was one of ARSP’s first partner organisations. Today, volunteer activities include work in Nowinki, a home for mentally and physically disabled children and young adults, and tending to persons who performed forced labour under National Socialism (in cooperation with the inmates association “Dolja”).
The history of the National Socialist war of aggression against the Soviet Union is still visible in Belarus. Scholars now believe that a third of the former Soviet republic’s population was murdered during the German occupation; hundreds of villages were destroyed by the German Army Group Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte) – and never reconstructed. In Belarus – known as the “partisan republic” in Soviet times – the official discourse of remembrance continues to be strongly shaped by the Soviet tradition. This means that hardly any reference is made to such events as the Stalinist purges.
ARSP was already organising study trips to Minsk, Leningrad and Wolgograd during the early 1970s. However, building contacts remained difficult until the early 1990s, due to the Cold War.
Many former ARSP volunteers return regularly to “their” projects in Minsk. They organise summer camps for disabled children in cooperation with local partners and support the Minsk History Workshop, which has documented the history of the Minsk Ghetto and made it accessible to an international audience.
Belarus is part of ARSP’s international programme for volunteers from Germany.