Thursday, December 15, 2005

An interview with Emiel Elgersma

I got a letter the other day from a Journalism student from the Netherlands named Emiel Elgersma. He wrote me in connection to an article he was writing for his school about the chance that there will be a revolution in Belarus, like in Ukraine and Georgia, after the upcoming elections this summer. The article would be called: "Belarus will be the next former Soviet state where there will be a revolution". He added that he knew talking about the subject is made quite hard by the government, but also believes that it's impotent to let the world know what is going on. He also gave his website address as:
which includes a lot of pretty cool photos of his, some of these are decorating today’s blog.

So, I wrote him back:

Dear Emiel,
I would be happy to speak to you about this. I would like to say at first though that I am not one who believes that there will be any particular “revolution” here nor am I someone who is anywhere near the forefront of starting one. It is my opinion that several of the regime’s policies are unfavorable, such as their quarrel with freedom of speech (and letting people know the truth about what is going on) and small independent business. But I am also one who believes that Belarus' antagonizing European access to the country is not such a bad thing as the west likes to think.

This being said, if you still wish to, I would be more than happy to back and forth via E-mail which I think would be most comfortable for me and would allow for the most concrete source for quotes.

Yours truly,
Adam Goodman
The Being Had Blog

And a couple of days later he sent me this:

Hello Adam,

First of all thanks you for helping me out!

1. So why do you think the west seeks an 'enemy' in Belarus?
2. Do you feel, as a citizen of Belarus, any tension growing awards the upcoming election?
3. Do you think the opposition has got any chance? Why or why not?
4. Don't you think all people deserve some kind of democracy?
5. What is your position, or group you represent?

And then he added a comment about his thinking that Lukashenka was not helping the country very much, even though the economy here might be a bit more stable than Georgia was in 2003.

So, my thinking was that for the purposes of avoiding being misquoted that I should make my point here as well, and so this is what today’s blog is about. Here’s my answer to his questions:

Dear Emiel,

Sorry for the delay on getting back to you. I have been simply overwhelmed lately trying to keep up with things, working all night several nights in a row and things like this, and this is the first chance I have had to do a conscientious job of answering your questions.

So let me get right to the point.

Q: Do you think the west seeks an 'enemy' in Belarus?

A: I think that originally, what the west was seeking from the USSR was a capitulation to west’s style of living so that:
a) There would be new available markets in which to sell its goods.
b) There would be a lessening of the tensions of potential nuclear war and
c) To avoid having to agree to being communists themselves.

“The fall of the wall” was seen by the west as this capitulation. However, though the politicians might have agreed to shut the USSR down, the people who lived under that system were not so fast to agree that the west had been right. They had ideals you see and a philosophical view that capitalism was a destructive force in the world, that it wastes resources and makes for a doubtful and offensive mode of living for its people- and we are not speaking of material wealth here, but rather individual character.

In this time Belarus was most serious in its opposition to the change and for the most part, happily took upon itself the task of retaining the values of the old system even though they were no longer under state control. And they did this though enduring really horrible poverty and inflation. And in fact they took a lot of pride in this and in their independence and it was during this time that they first elected Lukashenka as their president. He was at that time seen as a communist at heart and one who would be strong enough to preserve their values. However, in 1998, they had to endure another economic catastrophe when the Russian ruble collapsed again. Again everybody lost all of their money. And though for many people, this second hit was the end of their beliefs, Lukashenka held his ground that he was not going to let the west in. He was of course wildly criticized for this because it was during this time that Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania gave it up and ran to the then forming European Union and Ukraine started allowing for foreign investment. And, it was also during this time that Lukashenka started to be labeled a dictator and claims that there was no democracy here were made.

And so with this in mind, I would have to say that though I believe the west uses Belarus as a tool of distraction, keeping attention off of its own global policies, Belarus’ status as an enemy has more to do with its continued refusal to allow the west to dictate policy, economic or otherwise. I’ll talk a bit more about this in a minute.

Q: Do you feel, as a citizen of Belarus, any tension growing awards the upcoming election?

A: I am not a citizen of Belarus. I am an American who lives in Belarus. I have a family here and I have been here for either 3 or four years depending on how you count the ten months I was held in Poland and not allowed into Belarus. I do however fully live here and have no particular plans to go elsewhere at the moment.

But in any case, yes, there are great tensions here concerning the upcoming election. It is I believe the single greatest issue in this country and it colors every single thing that happens here. A lot of this tension does come from the west however and this has added to the discomfort; anyone put under pressure thinks differently and reacts differently and so this is part of it.

I should add that unfortunately because of all of the tension, people are being denied the only thing that they really want out of life, which is Peace. And ironically a lot of the support for Lukashenko here comes because he is perceived as someone who will allow for peace. He is a strong willed and understandable ideal to Belarus, in the same way that Putin is seen as such an ideal in Russia. And perhaps this is the thing that most westerners cannot ever seem to fathom: It is the agitation itself that is unwanted in Belarus. I have always believed that if Europe and the US had taken a more reasonable and fair approach to doing business in the former USSR, there would never have been 90% of the problems that there has been. But of course, the west likes making problems, believes that chaos is good, likes the noise and this is exactly what Belarus did not want.

Q: Do you think the opposition has got any chance? Why or why not?

A: No, they don’t. Milinkevich has said so himself. In the previous election this same “combined forces” party failed to win even a single seat in parliament. And no matter how much noise there is from Europe, or perhaps even because of this, Lukashenka will win the election. And I should add that he will actually receive more votes than all of his opposition combined. This will happen, and it will be a fact.

Now, I am not so stupid that I do not understand that denying oppositionists the right to speak on television or in newspapers makes that decision making process more likely. And I am in no way advocating how Lukashenka has acted towards oppositional views. I am however saying that what he has done, including all of the new stifling of the opposition laws will be popularly accepted here because it will be seen as the sign of a strong leader to Byelorussians and would be no different from how they have lived for all times. It will be seen here not as the eventual destruction of human rights, but rather as being connected to the maintenance of peace.

Q: Don't you think all people deserve some kind of democracy?

A: Of course. They also deserve free speech and some chance at small independent business. However, they also deserve the right not to be forced to accept unidirectional, profit siphoning deals which do nothing but take wealth from the country simply because they are poor. And so they also deserve the right not to be harassed by outside influences that have no real feeling or vested interest other than their trying to profit from Belarus.

Q; What is your position, or group you represent?

A: I am the editor of the Being Had Times. I make a point of writing about Belarus because as an American I do require freedom of speech in my life and believe it is a great thing and very important right, And I agree with you that people should know the truth, or at least as many sides of an argument as are reasonably possible.

As for my “group”, I am not independently wealthy so I work for outside interests but politically I am independent. I came to Belarus because I fell in love with something I saw here long ago and have stayed here because I have a family here and because it seems to be the best choice that could be made for my personal life. All of the opinions I have written are my own, though in a lot of cases they are popular opinions here. I have many, many friends here who absolutely stand behind Lukashenka and become angry when you ask them the questions that you have asked me. And I have friends who believe that he should go. Such is the case here in Belarus.

And as a closing point, Let me say this: All wars and revolutions, though from the outside may seem to be really exciting things, are actually pretty miserable affairs from the inside especially during the reconstruction period. There is much chaos and banditry and corruption and I really don’t think Belarusians want this. And this is not just Lukashenka speaking, I think that Belarus has suffered enough already and people simply do not want to do anything but to do their jobs and live their lives as quietly and comfortably as they can. I think they have had all of the excitement that they can handle actually.

The style of life that you grew up with in the Netherlands (all that European excitement) is not at all the same sort of life that people live in Belarus. They grew up thinking of things differently from you and have explored different areas of thought. It is a different culture. I really wish that the west understood this and in general had a bit more respect for the point.

I hope these pages will add something to your thesis. If you have any more questions, please feel free to write again.

Oh, and please send me a copy of the finished article. And I very much like your photographs.

Yours Truly,
Adam Goodman