Thursday, March 18, 2004


Such a life we live… such a life we live…

Too many things going on right now. I signed a petition for Tatyana Menaker today and passed it on to quite a few people on my mailing list. And I have been at a really interesting point for a few days now. I am not exactly sure what I am supposed to do.

Alexander Lukeshenka was on TV the other day, this just after the airing of the results of the Russian elections. He seemed a bit gray and faded to me. His hair is not so dark any more and though his tone was as direct and strong as he always is, I detected a note of… lacking perhaps is a good word.

But in terms of content, the best way I can describe the speech is to say that he was really speaking Belarussian. He was talking about being strong and disciplined. He waxed poetic about the cleanliness and greatness of Belarus and the way of life. He was asking the people of Belarus to keep on going, to keep going forward together and to keep the line of the ideals that have been at the cornerstone of Belarusian life since the end of the second world war.

It was a very political speech and I would say that its connection to Putin’s landslide re-election in Russia was exactly the point.

Lukeshenka has been advocating a political economic system which has its roots firmly in the communist days. This is no secret. But the cornerstone of that system was agreement and togetherness. My assumption is that this is what was really the point that Lukeshenka was trying t make to the Belarusian people.

However, I am not sure that the 68% garnered by Putin in the last election was not a demonstration of support for the man rather than for abstract unity. Mr. Putin as far as I can glean from people is extremely well thought of in Russian and in Belarus. He is seen as a man who does indeed to the job, is very, very smart and is therefore really quite well received.

But I do not think that Belarus feels the same way any more about Lukeshenko. What people want right now in Belarus is to have a chance to have some money and the system that is currently in place, though not as impossible to negotiate as has been reported, does indeed leave a remarkable amount of control over things in the hands of the government, and this, along with the actual real lack of ability to make money through export, means that there is no money coming down through the system for people to use to eat.

Now, the preservation of recourses and the well maintaining of what recourses there actually are I a vital, vital point. And I should like to point out that to a very, very large extent, the prevention of irrational and deleterious exploitation of Belarus’ natural recourses is one of the absolute plusses on the side of stronger government control. But to my mind there is simply not enough for the people to live on, and too great a division of wealth between the haves and the have nots. This is quite obvious to anyone who hangs around in Belarus for any length of time, and it is the main point of argument against continuing on in the manor that they have been since 1994.

Now, Mr. Lukeshenko is allowed by the Belarusian constitution only two terms and his second is up in two years. He has said publicly that he will try to extend his time an extra two years by invoking some loopholes that would allow for such a thing, but basically, he is drawing to the end of his time. But I don’t know who is to be the next leader of this fragile little country. I am sure we will hear quite a few names, but I don’t think that will be the most appropriate answer to the problem.

I think it is really time to air out the problems and ask the people what they really want. I am completely in favor of explaining the plusses and mimeses of the ideologies at play; this would be very much in the way of the old school.

And I myself do not have the concrete answer. I would advocate (and it would be foolish to assume any other way) that there must be a strong socialist foundation in Belarus. There is not a governmental system in the world that allows its citizens to simply “do what they want”. That thought is oxymoronic to the word government. But there will be and must be a loosening of the strings. There has to be and every body knows it.

In the old days, airing one’s opinion was thought of as the most natural thing in the world and the discussion of issues was another cornerstone of communistic life. This of course has been reduced to the discussion of how little money one has or how miserable everyone is. It is perhaps one of the greatest ironies that this should be one of the real great losses of the last 13 years.

But I think it would be foolish people on either side of the fence to see the end of Lukeshenka’s time as a panacea or a moment of freedom to be celebrated like the dancing on the wall in 1989. Any new president or change of system will be a gradual one. But it must not be thought of as a gift and people must not think that they are powerless to have a voice in it. A stepping forward of real personal expression on the issues by individual citizens of Belarus is perhaps the single most important part of any changing of the guard. Not to do this will be a greater crime than anything ever attributed to Lukeshenka’s political style.

And more so, I would think that the best time to start this conversation would be right now. And though it would not seem to have a direct connection to the money and there fore be seen by Belarusians as trivial, this in the end would be of greater importance to peoples lives than any one economic statement. People simply must begin again to believe they have a stake in their word. This must be demanded and at the heart of any political order.

So perhaps better then simply restating values and goals like a hockey coach trying to inspire his team at a crucial point in the game, it is simply time to really start talking again and bring the people of Belarus back to the table.

Reviving that aspect of the old days would be one of the greatest contributions to the new days.