Friday, February 13, 2004


The courts did send me a notification about their decision. I however, have not gotten it yet. I should be informed about this by tomorrow. The request for the transcripts of the courts minutes will be a while in coming apparently, though I am doing what I can to get them as fast as I can.

For today though I have part two of my essay about life in Belarus today. But first I need to clear up a little business: I am listing here some websites to go to check out some of the information I was talking about yesterday. This is not exactly the form that I wanted but I am again really short on time again. The reason for this lack of time is that three of the computers here are down, and I have only a small and strict amount of time to prepare. I will try and make a more permanent place for these and other “links” over the next few days because I think what I am speaking of is important. For today though, you can go to websites concerning things I mentioned yesterday by clicking on the links below.

The Viasna Organisation, a Belarusian NGO dedicated to human rights abuses in Belarus. (English language page)
The Assembly of Democratic Non-Governmental Organizations of Belarus, an association of non-governmental organizations supporting the independence of Belarus, democracy, human rights, and the integration of Belarus into the European community.
Some stories about Jacob Gutman and the home page for the UCSG
And a listing of Belarussian NGO’s

And now here is Part two of my essay about life in Belarus.

Life in the decompression chamber.

Yes, it is true that there was a time when the people of Belarus and the whole of the former USSR were not permitted to vote for their “official” leaders. Yes indeed, they were communists here. But I hope it was no great shock to people to hear from me that Aleksander Gregorovich Lukashenko (I used a Norwiegen spelling yesterday. He is addressed here by people respectfully by his Russian “Imya viuchistva” –the name of the father- as Aleksander Gregorovich) was elected and re-elected by a democratic process that very much reflected the views of the population that elected him. He was, and that his election very much was the will of the people he now governs, is my opinion. It’s democracy. No more, no less.

And, I think it should be known by the west that he is very much being a good politician right now in his bid for re-election to a third term. We in Pinsk have heard plans for a “Hockey Center” that would be built on the site of an old stadium, and we have heard promises for the raising of the standard of living to as much as two times the current situation. I personally see no difference, and this includes behind the scenes tomfoolery, between the local democratic process and what we do in the states. I remember what happened in Florida in the last American election. And I am currently reading about Bush’s military record. I am sorry folks, Belarus is a democratic state in exactly the same sense as the United States in a democratic state. And this is what was wanted by everyone- west and east.

But this is not Europe and it is not the States and the profound difference is not the political structure but the money. These people don’t have any. I have written several times about what the actual reality of a $75 a month income is and what it does to life. I wrote yesterday of how people are running from here, and how they do not feel as though this is their home. This is the truth.

Perhaps I could say that the simple answer to the question as to why there is no money is quite simple: People here have not been free to pillage recourses from the world for the last hundred years as we have done in the west. Now before you jump on my “Marxist” phraseology, let me make it clear that I am going to try to fairly explain my point about some of the basic cultural differences that are at play in Belarus right now.

The Soviet system, from which Belarus came from, all arguments considered, was really not actually so horrible. No, I am not going to advocate fascism, but I do think that there is something to be said for Russian culture. And I am not the only one who thinks so. The demand for the democratic right to choose ones governors was exactly the political argument at the time of the “referendum”, the time when the USSR officially ended. But the “vote” taken at the time of the referendum as to whether or not to continue as a communist country was pro- communist to the tune of some 80% in favor. This was from a vote taken three years prior to Lukeshenko’s first election and he was voted in by about the same percentage.

So what was so great about “the life”?

I am going to start with the economics, but this in the end will not make the point if for no other reason than that is exactly what the idea was. However, economically speaking, I think it would be safe to say that the former USSR was a welfare state. There was money each month from the state, who was for the most part the sole employer and distributor of goods and services. The “contract” between the government and the governed was simply that the money would be there every month, it would be about the same for everybody, and this situation would be true for basically everybody regardless of what you did for a living. And, in return for being able to live in a “classless” society and to be “free” from the burden of worrying about the money, what was asked in return was that people would work for both themselves and their country. Simple: Do the best as you can because what you do is for the good of all. And at least economically, because this was basically the only game; contraband, direct from farm agricultural sales and/or very, very small private procuring and distribution deals the exception, the philosophy in general became such that keeping that money, that “check”, grew to enormous proportions in the consciousness of the people here. “Don’t mess with the check!” would be a really good way to describe the ideology of how to live. Don’t make problems. Don’t stir the waters. Don’t play big, play small: Don’t mess with the check!

If there is a complaint about the east from the west in regards to this style of living, it usually is aimed at the outward lethargy of the workers because of this “don’t mess with the check” attitude. We like to say that it is because they were deprived of their “freedom” they therefore sank into a depression and went about their slave like jobs slowly and without interest. The lack of freedom was stifling people from their ability to “grow” as individuals, there was no “self actualization”; our own people by comparison were much more free to go and live life to its fullest.

This vision of life here reinforced by our perception of the east from the times after the war; the purges, the “disappearing” of journalists and professors and idealists. And all of that did happen. I have heard from people here that the general idea is that people felt that they were bred like we bread horses and dogs, the bad weeded out from the good. And of course, this “don’t mess with the check” ideology was exactly what was wanted.

And it may surprise you to hear that I do not disagree with these assertions, though I do not accept the argument as the beginning and the end of the discussion. Why? Because the actual life that was available to the average person here was absolutely not so bad at all.

During the time of the USSR, the income level for pretty much everybody could be translated to having maybe three to four hundred modern American dollars a month live on. Possibly five hundred. I get this number from the buying capacity of the normal 100 to 120 Ruble a month income that pretty much everybody received. The Russians liked to think that the ruble traded for better than five dollars, but I think that this number was a little high. Probably three to four would have been about right. And this income came a long with basically free rent and with food being about half the cost of what we pay for it.

People were by no means rich, but could be reasonably comfortable if they went about their business in a particular way. This “particular way” was their culture. How did they do it? Well, to start with, what they did was to minimize social friction. People were asked not to harass each other, and to be more forgiving of each other failures. The reason for this was simple: If people were excited and upset, recourses would be needed to “cure” the complaint. And as recourses were always dear, it was better to practice a more holistic attitude for life. Give each other what they want, and the problems are settled.

Of course this is not easy to do. It does not take a genius to ask what would happen if someone stepped out of line and got selfish and wanted more. And this is always the first thing that the west points out as the flaw. But the answer is so obviously simple, that it seems to escape the consciousness of the west completely: People simply went on and tried anyway. And there is a little irony in that this is exactly what is asked of westerners for their own pursuit of money and riches. The difference is that the Russian system was much, much easier on available recourses. They fought not to acquire more, but to use less. They took pride in minimalism and the results of that were astounding! The town I am now living in was EMACULATE compared to a similar sized city in the west. And people were positively charming to each other. Do you want to know why 80% wanted to continue? Because they could see that in the end they would be right because the practice of self-moderation was in the best interest of the society as a whole. And also that that thought could also easily translate for the whole planet with much more clarity and preservative powers than a perpetual “fight” for status and resources. See the point?

Just juxtapose this thought against what we do in the six-billion-man battle royal we now practice. Protracted out a few years, it should be reasonably easy and understandable that we will eventually pillage and/or poison away from the planet its ability to feed us. We do not seem to making any real strides as to how to deal with this issue because the argument must take a back seat industry and economy and war, which are the facets of human life that our leadership deems far more compelling. I mean, if we can’t even talk to each other, I would think that this rather morose and depressing thought of a poisoned and barren world would actually will be out future. If we can’t get together, this will happen.

So keeping in mid the “idealistic” world from which they came, this above-mentioned struggle is the world that Belarus was “starved” into. I like to think that the general depression that exists here in the east is not simply for the despair for their own lives, but for us all.

I am going to go on a little further about this tomorrow.