Friday, March 05, 2004


Some Bad News.

Well, I suppose it was bound to happen, but it seems that I have lost my “Polish Address”. I have been enjoying up to now both a mailing address in Poland as well as a friend who was willing to translate papers for me both going and coming form the courts. Unfortunately, this will no longer be the case in the future. Given as reasons that they are afraid of reprisals from the Police, my friends have now backed off from future involvement. I have no idea about the legal implications of this, and it is not something that can not be handled logistically, but in terms of moral, I take this as a major defeat. To me, my entire involvement with the country of Poland has been nothing but a course in extortion and manipulation by power and another ever seems to happen to anything but confirm this.

I am so astounded that for all I read about human rights abuses in Belarus and Russia, that no one wants to speak any more about Poland. Yesterday was “Police” day here in Belarus, a national Holiday dedicated to the local militias. And I had a sit down with one of the local “blues” and talked about many things. In all of the time I have ever been here in Belarus I have never been treated unfairly even once by any uniformed person and there has been one occasion in which they responded to a call to remove someone from the corridor of our house, and they did so promptly and cleanly. I have nothing but good things to say about them.

IN Poland on the other hand, I found the police to be a joke on every possible occasion to see them act and the attitude of my friends toward them is as if they are spoiled children with guns who need to be placated. I find this reprehensible and sick. The household of people that was helping me in this was made up of a young girl and an old woman. If you tell me that this combination of people must live in fear of the POLICE, I say we are looking at a country that has no ability to govern itself whatsoever.

So, I guess we are going to have to wait even a little longer to hear what the court said almost a month ago on the 10th of February. Thanks for nothing again Poland.

Some stuff about the bike school

I have been spending a bit more time at the bike school lately. There is still snow on the ground so there is still not all that much riding going on but for time spent on the rollers. Yesterday I started on a project of fixing the “glue-on” tires that had developed flats. This is a really terrible job because the tires themselves were simply not built to be easily fixed. There are two types of bike tires. Clinchers are what almost everybody has on their bikes and this where you have a separate inner tube and tire and the rims have a little wall that the tire and tube fit into. With “glue-ons” though, the tire and tube come in one complete package which is, as the name implies, glued onto the rim itself. There are advantages to both- clinchers are more fixable and therefore more cost effective, and glue-ons ride better during races when they go flat. But as I have said about a million times, there is no money at the bike school, or in all of Belarus for that matter, so if there is going to be enough tires for the kids to ride on during the season, somebody has to do the job of trying to fix the glue-ons.

So what you have to do is find basically where the flat is, cut open the outer lining with a razor and a scissor, pull out the inner tube, patch the flat, and then sew up the tire with thread. Long winded job and many times more difficult than fixing a clincher inner-tube. I also fixed a pump, did a handlebar wrap out of an old tire and helped to get the bikes up and onto the rollers. The work felt good, and I was happy to have the dirty hands.

But I could not help thinking about what a real bike club would be doing at this time of the year. First of all, we would spend a month to six weeks overhauling all of the bikes. We would open all of the wheels and change all of the ball bearings and the worn cones and races clean everything, re-grease and close them up. . We then would and straighten and re-tension all of the spokes and file away any abrasions on the rims. We would do the same for the bottom-brackets and head sets, changing out the worn or bad balls and setting up the bikes fresh and new. Then we would move to the chains, gears and brakes, and in the end, the bikes would be as fresh and new as possible, and ready for another years work.

But we simply can’t do these things. We don’t have anything. I mean nothing. Almost all of the bikes need completely new bottom bracket sets, but we have none. This problem is compounded by the problem that nobody is making direct replacement parts for made in the USSR bikes. We don’t even know the thread pattern so we can’t even buy from abroad.

So what I am saying is that it is simply impossible to do what we are doing. I think that the school has perhaps 8 frames now that have been stripped for parts to service other bikes. Of the bikes that remain, all of them need quite a bit of service but there is simply no money to do anything. So what can I do?

I put in a call to Pedal Pushers in New York. I used to work there when I lived in New York and Roger Bergman, the owner, was fairly a genius about old school bike esoteria. I am taking a guess that the thread patters for the screw on parts might have been made on the Italian model. The Soviet Union, recognizing the skill of Campagnolo, purchased quite a few moving parts from them in the sixties for the USSR cycling teams. This is just a guess, and my hope is that old Roger can confirm this for me. If it turns out to be the correct thread pattern, we are in luck at least as far as some replacement parts are concerned.

But then again, there is the money. I mentioned that I called Coka-Cola asking them for some sponsorship money. They wrote me back yesterday, but only said that the correct people to talk to are the Coke People in Hungary as they are the ones who handle distribution in Belarus. I tried to fax and call them yesterday, but neither I, the internet, not the phone company seem to be able to put the correct series of numbers together to make contact. I have to write to coke again today and ask them to give me an e-mail or to refer my letter to them for me.

So this is basically the story here: we need money. It is so easy to blame this person or that money for the economic conditions in Belarus. And I am not sure that assessment of blame is really what is called for. I have written before that Alexander Lukeshenka and his plan of retaining strong governmental control of the markets and disallowing for the rape and pillage by the west was what was voted for. That they have continued with a sixty dollar a month income because of this though has people rather crazy here.
I did call Coka Cola and ask them for money. I did this because I believe that foreign investment here in Belarus is possible and necessary. There is, to the best of my knowledge, only one American firm in all of Belarus right now, a computer board manufacturer started by one Mark Homnick here in Pinsk about eight years ago.

There are two problems restricting foreign investment here as far as I can see. On the part of the Belarussians, the laws here are very strict as to the percentage of profit that is allowed to leave Belarus. This is a legitimate worry because Belarus does not wish to be pressed into a situation where they work for virtually nothing while the added profits from having labor done at low costs goes to fill the coffers of someplace far away. This is a legitimate concern because the situation only leads to future enslavement and not to independence for any foreseeable period. On the other side of the coin, foreign investors are afraid to do business here because of claims of Human rights violations and because they fear the level of involvement the government requires fall all enterprises, as well as theft. So it is a standoff. What to do?

Well, I would think that it is possible to strike a deal to do business in Belarus. We could certainly use the jobs and the income. But what would be called for is more a partnership than a one way deal. Making a one way, profit siphoning deal would absolutely seem to me to be its own form of human rights abuse. My friend Uladsimir has said though that the thinking from inside Belarus is that Belarus simply does not have the people here to run large firms, but I do not really believe that this is true either. I think manufacturing and distribution from Belarus is very possible and I do not feel that there is any problem with innate intelligence here, only with available funding and materials and the ability to make a good solid two-way deal.

So who knows? The elections are coming again here in Belarus and everybody is predicting a change. I am sad to think that this change has been solely precipitated by a starving away of the original rational that refused the west’s intervention a decade ago, but it simply might have come to that. But without Coka-Cola or some wealthy foreign investor, the bike school is simply dying a slow death and with it the hopes and dreams of the young riders who work for us here. The same of course applies to the rest of the people here and all of the young people just now finishing their educations and starting out in the world. Yea, I still think an independent, socialist and agrarian Belarus is possible. Hell, it has been possible for Belarus to feed, cloth and house itself all along. But it is not possible to do so and join the computer/telecommunications age and this is the problem.

Anyway, I asked. Now I am just waiting for my reply.