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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Iron grip on EU neighbour Belarus
Police and protesters in Minsk
Open criticism of the government meets a tough response
Ahead of Turkey starting accession talks with the European Union on 3 October, the BBC's Nick Thorpe is travelling towards Istanbul down the EU's eastern border to find out how people live and what they think on either side of the present divide.

The fortress of Brest in Belarus came under attack from Hitler's armies in June 1941.

It held out for a month of constant bombardment. Stalin awarded the city the title of one of 11 hero cities of the Soviet Union.

Inside the fortress is a huge grey stone sculpture of a soldier's face and, nearby, the ruins of the 19th Century walls reduced to rubble by the assault.

Belarus today still sits uncomfortably between Russia and the West, a buffer-state run with an iron hand by President Alexander Lukashenko.

Just across the River Bug from here is Poland, a new and influential member of the European Union. But President Lukashenko looks firmly to Moscow for inspiration.

Subversive neighbours

In Brest, there is an independent non-governmental organisation called Partnership, which monitors elections.

Its founder, Inna Apanasenka, is not optimistic about the immediate future of her country.

"The situation is terrible," she told me. "People are thrown out of their workplaces if they are critical of the government. The police apparatus is repressive and the opposition disorganised and leaderless."

Two countries on Belarus' borders, Poland and Ukraine, have a strong and sometimes subversive influence here, partly through their minorities.

Last year's Orange Revolution in Ukraine is seen by some as a model by which Belarus might follow after the elections next year.

But here, in the fortress in Brest, as soldiers march past, recordings of patriotic songs are played, all eyes are focused on the past and on the sacrifice of soldiers and civilians in World War II.

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