Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sheeple are as Sheeple do.

So, I spent most of the day yesterday massaging cabbage.

Dictators are ba-a-a-a-a-a-ad!

You have to do this massaging business if you want to make sauerkraut and needless to say, something like 200 heads of cabbage lying around our apartment, we wanted- needed to make sauerkraut. The reason for the massage is that you have to get the juice from the cabbage to become sort of a soup which, mixed with salt because the curing brine. This activity is of course a staple of Belarusian life and everybody does it and people always argue back and forth as to whether or not they have done it on the right day or not. For us, it was the right day.

But that was yesterday and early this morning while web-hunting for news stories about Belarus, I saw that the Sheeple blog had responded to my having posted a comment. The reason for my having done this was that I had become suddenly interested, probably since that the Boston based “Walk for Freedom in Belarus”, in knowing who else was out there writing about Belarus. And this I might as well say is a bit embarrassing because that I have been doing this blog thing for as long as I have without really looking around to see who was doing the same seems to be pretty low. But anyway, what I found was that there aren’t a whole lot of people interested in writing about their experiences or opinions related to our little country but amongst those who occasionally do, are the Sheeple people.

According to the Blog: “sheeple” are people that blindly follow their leaders like sheep to a shepherd. Hence the term sheeple. Sheeple are people too stupid or lazy to see beyond the pack. People that would rather follow doctrine or their political party than think for themselves.

So, feeling that this sort of thinking was right up my alley I wrote a comment for their blog that more or less went like this: I am an American who is currently living in Belarus which, I guess is generally considered to be a museum for the former USSR. After living here for a couple of years, you know, I wouldn’t disagree. And amongst other things, I for the life of me cannot figure out why America so needs to hate this little country. I myself am very much in agreement that alternative thinking is an essential part of both individualism and an eventually healthy society. I also believe that there is a lot to be said for a culture that lives together well and conserves resources (read- why must the US waist as much as they do).

Anyway, they were nice enough to not only plug my blog but also use my comments as scratch post for other commentators. “Does America hate Belarus?” And, “What do you make of the conservation/waste argument?” are the questions of the day out there. So I thought I would do the same back. I also thought it might be worth while to add a bit more to my original comments here as well. I am only going to deal with the first one though because the second seems a bit too obvious.

Does America Hate Belarus?

The way I have been talking about the subject of hatred between the two countries for years is to say that Belarus hates America and America has never heard of Belarus. This is funny when said in Russian. But my thinking is that over the course of the last year or so, specifically since Lukashenka made for himself that “referendum vote” which enabled him the right to run for a third term, the Americans and Europeans have been besides themselves trying to oppose the man, and consequently the country. You can find this in the sheer volume of anti-dictator journalism and you can also find it in the economic sanctions that the US and Europe has passed against the country. The US has even gone so far as to employ an IRS type audit on the man’s finances, a thought that would strike fear into any American. I have even read “opinion” pieces which demean the people of Belarus themselves (brainless, eradiated sheep). And finally, I am under the impression, though it is hard to get a real picture of it, that when Lukashenka spoke at the UNITED NATIONS, and gave a pretty good speech by the way, he was pretty much shunned by clicky diplomats, socially and politically.

Why so much attention on such a little country?

Well, the answer to me has a lot more to do with opening markets and dictating policy than it does with any pro-democracy ranting and raving. When the Soviet Union collapsed finally in 1991 a vote was made in Belarus as to whether or not to continue in the old, communist style, or whether to switch directly to a European mode of living. The answer that came back that everybody, and I mean everybody (90-95%) wanted things to continue as they were. Nobody wanted western corruption and carpet-bagging, and nobody wanted the immorality or the usury.

And they were willing to back up what they were talking about. For six years after the fall of the banks when everybody lost their savings, they still practiced their personal brand of socialism, working to find economic sources as a group and continuing on in the fashion that every person had a right to speak, to receive respect, to be heard and to share in the wealth. And you should have seen it: No money, working for free basically at their jobs, no new clothes and no new material for anybody’s gig; but nevertheless they kept it going. And not only did they keep it going, they did so with a smile on their collective faces, good humor and most of all, togetherness. How do I know this? Well, I was here during this time and also I have Lukashenka’s first election result from 1996: 80% agreement. Why was he so popular? Because his platform was exactly what it is now: No, the west may not come in and dictate policy, no, the west may not come in and make one sided, resource depleting deals, no, Belarus will not let criminals run the country and enslave everybody. The guy was to be the protector of the old ways, the tough guy and the guy who was to stand up to the mad rush. And this is what he did and of course, this did not make him popular in the west.

Now, Belarus is not without its businessmen, and especially after the second Russian ruble collapse in 1998, yet another case of everybody losing their money, the man had his detractors on the inside as well. But even so, and the numbers make sense when you consider the actual demographics about age, 75% voted for Lukashenka to continue in 2001. And this was when the cries of “Dictator” and “Fascism” started, when the criticisms about the voting started and when the screams of dirty dealings, political disappearances and totalitarianism started. Bill Clinton himself (supposedly), personally snubbed Lukashenka at the UN Summit that year and amongst all of the bad press and border problems, also began economic sanctions and limitations on travel.

How do I know about this? Well, firstly, the information is all out there but also I know this from personal experience: I was held in Poland without a passport for 10 months during my little Polish Police corruption deal (See most probably because of the simple fact that my intended destination was Belarus.

So now, within the last few weeks we have had an international “March for Freedom” in Belarus and the country has sort of gained some status amongst the MTVers as a fashionable cause. Now, at this moment Belarus is popular because one of the leading candidates was from the “Polish” UCPB Party and therefore, the opposition party’s coalition got the attention of the European press. Now, at this moment, as the country prepares to re-elect for a constitution altering third term a guy who has always held the popular support of his own people (again, I say this knowing full well that there are terrific arguments against what I have just said and that I am also in full agreement with most of them), despite half a decade of economic and political attack, we say that Belarus is cool and all right.

Well, I stand by my point. Yea, the US hates Belarus because Belarus refuses and always has refused to BE LIKE AMERICA, simple as that. And what is more, America hates Belarus because Belarus is trying to do the job that the former Soviet Union did insofar as concerns keeping political balance for human life on our planet: They are the opposing argument to unchecked capitalism, to thoughtless greed and the wasting of resources. They are minimalists in a world of full throttle spending, fast money, lax morals and societal indifference. Belarus is the opposition party in the world.

And so if you want to know how people get by on $100 a month, the answer is simply that that have pride in that they can. Oh yes, they want more money. Don’t ever think that they don’t. It is just that they would like to have a little human respect and dignity and to not feel as though they must prostitute themselves to get paid. Of course not every Belarusian wants to do this, but insofar as concerns democracy, and again this is from personal experience, it is my opinion that though the numbers are very much less than they once were, there is still very much a majority here that does agree with Lukashenka and wishes to continue with him.

And these are words that Americans simply do not want to hear.