Thursday, August 18, 2005

A bit more about that Lukashenka article

You know, I am not sure I was prepared for the response I got to that essay about Alexander Gregorovich Lukashenka, the current president of Belarus and his bid for a potential third term in office. Really. I think that when I was writing the thing, that what was on my mind was a sort of fair, reasonable and non-partisan opinion piece about the current political situation. And I am serious about this; I really simply wanted to speak my mind on the subject and to do so in a manner that would be…oh… satisfying. Or if not satisfying, maybe what I wanted was just to be able to make a few things public that while definitely in my opinion the truth, were also perhaps something that was not in the main stream, in the normal vocabulary for the subject- at least as far as the western media might be concerned.

But I did get some really good opposition to my opinion. I mean, some serious antagonism. Which I think is great, but it was really unexpected. And, I think I was misunderstood so I think that I need to say again that I am not, nor was I trying to be provocative in my sentiments. I was not trying to stir up a buzz, either about myself or about Belarus, Lukashenka or Belarusians in general. In fact, and I think I said this, I don’t even really think I was honestly espousing any particular opinion about Lukashenka one way or another. I mean I did come up with a small negative point total, and I did agree to go along with this and advocate that perhaps rewriting the constitution might not be in the best interest of the country. But basically all this was simply putting in writing my thoughts and trying to be reasonable about the subject. Do you understand? It was supposed to be nothing but reasonable. Reason, do you understand? Not propaganda, REASON.

But apparently I pissed some people off. I mean really pissed them off. Specifically I seem to have put myself on the bad side of some friends who are political here in Belarus. I think what happened is that they disagreed with my position that Belarus did indeed vote for Lukashenka originally and five years ago in connection with his willingness to keep out the west and keep things, in a Belarusian manner of saying things, normal.

These friends represent alternative political parties who have been trying to cultivate both a public image that can be trusted and at the same time, representing themselves, their group as being of the opposite opinion, and very much in favor of foreign investment, and against Lukashenka’s totalitarian image. And by way of trying to understand the vociferousness of the comments, I think that basically they did not appreciate my saying that Lukashenka did in fact represent Belarus’ desires. To them, Lukashenka is purely a devil and if you were to ask them, the only reason people actually vote for Lukashenka is that he scares the crap out of them. Or that h allows no alternative voices and he basically controls the media. I think it was that first paragraph sort of put them off me.

Now to be fair, yes, I agree, here in Belarus people do love very much to argue about politics. People like to voice their opinions about things and yes, you do very, very much and very often hear that people do not like their president and that he is basically to blame for everything. No, I did not say that as well as I could. A better way to say it is to say that people are absolutely filled to the brim with animosity towards Lukashenka, it is like a running joke how little people like him, you can’t make a disparaging statement about the place without referring to the president and how it is all his fault.

However, (and this is purely my opinion) this is what might be called their public face. This is something that is only about words spoken between friends and something that does not require any responsibility from the speaker or the speakee. But when the chips are down, when there is pressure, accountability, or specifically WHEN THERE IS A CHANCE OF SOMEONE BEING GUILTY, Belarus goes from lion to mouse faster than you can say 5 MORE YEARS.

So just the same, yea, Lukashenka controls things, and it would be better if there was some round table discussion and all, but basically, I think that what I did say about Belarus and Belarusians is very much the truth: They are going to vote for him and I would be shocked if they didn’t. And the main reason that this will happen is that when the time comes to make the vote, they will look at the names for whom they would be voting, they will not know a damned thing about any of them other than Lukashenka, they will realize that they have no chance of making any single reasonable or rational choice, and they will become so depressed at how badly they have been had, that they will simply vote for the guy again. Did you catch that? They absolutely will keep this thing going for no other reason than inertia and the desire to save face for decisions past. And because they are scared of change and responsibility. Big emphasis on that last remark.

Now where do I come off saying something like this? Well, I like to think I have some experience here. I like to think that I have come to know people here and what they are like. And I think that more than anything, am speaking from personal experience that people here do not like to be told that they do not know what they are doing.

I remember when I went about trying to get my play produced here at the Dom Kultura theatre. Now, at the time, I was of the mind that the play had been accepted by the theatre and was being schedualed to be performed. But when I showed up here, fresh from my Polish debacle, the first thing I saw was that the theatre was not only not doing a damned thing about my play, but were basically not doing anything about any plays in general. Well, save for a personal project, an Uncle Vanya for Ivan Ivanovich, the theatre’s director. And what was more. Their work habits, their dedication, their willingness to even pretend that they had any pride of craft or artistic aspirations simply did not exist. They thought of the world as a joke, their theatre as a joke, their lives, their jobs; everything, simply a big fat joke. And here I was trying to drop a heart-felt project on them, give them some notoriety and something new and interesting to work on. That was what the intent was when I wrote it and I had never wavered from following through with the project, regardless of what was happening to me in Poland.

But you know what they did? They quit on the project after starting over the stupidest excuses. I mean, they asked for new material, they accepted the play I sent them (It won a contest), they began to produce this new, cool, interesting and honest work and then simply fell on the floor and died. What does this mean? It means that they could not control their desire to be depressed long enough to make any rational and progressive decisions. They couldn’t work. They could not produce any shows, they could not function reasonable as a theatre. And, as they were all paid by the state to be there, though obviously their contracts must not have called for any particular performance obligations, they were, as we say in the states, stealing the money.

And you have to know, it was a big deal for a moment. I mean it. In this town, I had actually stirred up a little bit of interest. We were getting calls from the press, from the town politicians…

And this was not the only time it was like this. This was also the absolute standard for pretty much every single possible deal I ever got involved with here. If a delay was possible, it was made. If procrastination was available, it was taken. Heels dragged, bags of sand utilized to their fullest extent and the slow motion, instant replay employed for every single solitary play of the game, every day.

And of course they laugh while they are doing it.

So what am I getting at? Well, and this is exactly like what Ivan Ivanovich told me at one of those early meetings with the theatre: It’s a dead end. What are you going to do, are you going to yell at them? Reason with them? Insult them? Insinuate, explain, make remarks, offer suggestions… How do you think you are gong to get through to them?

So the story here is that Lukashenka speaks the language. Yes folks, he understands the deal. And what is more, he is simply going to do what he wants because that is exactly what h has been doing since the beginning and there is no one who can stop him. Why? Because no one can or will do the work (Or take the necessary chances) to get in front of him. He is the man. He wrote the book. He renames the streets, takes you money, tells you you lose and does it again the next day. Belarus not only let him build the boat he sails in, they gave him all the boards and the fiberglass. They let him solidify his power, again and again and again. And then, even after all of those words about how bad it is and he is, they all walked over to the poling place and voted, 70% of them, that he could just go right ahead and continue on.

So, again, what I had tried to do was simply to do a reasonable accounting of how Lukashenka actually is as a leader. I tried to tell the truth about him as best as I could, or at least as far as what I have heard and seen and dealt with in my time here. It was not my intention to be a provocateur or to be a propagandist. I only wanted to say what I thought was the truth, and to maybe make a point that things are not as easy as that may be portrayed in the foreign media. That’s all.

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