Friday, February 24, 2006

The true nature of nostalgia

Travis Bickle: Are you talkin' to me?
Boy. Two weeks without a blog. You would think I was trying to loose my audience.

But this is not the case. Actually I have been doing many things, just not this one. I have been doing the news for one thing. For some reason I have not missed an issue of the BEINGHAD Times. I actually am amazed at how much is going on in Belarus. I have friends ask me if it was even possible to put out a newspaper about Belarus three times a week. Obviously there couldn’t be anything interesting from there. Well, the answer is that in fact there really is a lot of interesting things going on here. And what is more, putting out a newspaper three times a week is a real lesson politics in both international and local politics. But hey, I signed up for it. Nobody to blame by myself.

Probably the biggest local issue are the elections coming up. Because Lukashenko is such a big figure, sort of like a bad guy in Big Time Wrestling, there is alwasy something interesting going on. All of the registered candidates are taking their free 30:00 minute airtimes to make speeches and mostly they are all simply using this time hostile to Lukashenka. There is a lot of mud slinging and comments about the man’s character and honestly. Not much about platform or ideas for the betterment of Belarus, which is bad. But then again, the president has pretty much made it clear that Belarus will be a member of the new Russian Union State within the year. This news probably as much or more than any other has sort of made things rather muddy for the would bepresidents. It is interesting how Lukashenka has set this up for himself actually. In one move (the decision to move into a real economic tie with Russia), he made lame ducks of all of his opponents because none of them is at all prepared to take up a position under Russia. Lukashenka is of course. Again, he is the only guy with experience. Actually, that last staement seems to sum up the whole deal pretty well. He is the only one with any real experience period.

But lately I have been caught up in the whole Iran/Russia scandal and for the moment this has completely replaced the upcoming elections for a creator of angst. In case you don’t know about this, this is the issue of Russia giving Iran a nuclear power plant and with it, access to uranium which, as you know, is the essence of nuclear arms. This has been going on for a while but the alleged talks between the countries is getting to a head and for all intents and purposes, it looks as if the Iraqis are really going to get some toys that they can really play with for a change.

The title of this picture of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is: Iran-s-New-President-Doesn-t-Want-to-Make-Friends-with-the-US"
The general breakdown is that Russia a few months back decided to build (for money) a nuclear reactor for Iran. However, Russia is not allowing the secrets of fuel enriching (at least publicly) to go along with the plant. Fuel enriching is the process that makes the uranium volatile enough to give off heat, which of course is the whole idea of using it and a power source. However, this enriched uranium is also the stuff that makes A-bombs and H-Bombs go boom, so of course there are issues here. Iran of course wants the whole package and the rights to manufacture the enriched (read: bomb grade) uranium themselves. Russia is basically (again, at least publicly) refusing on both a business level as well as an implied moral level ie: They are not interested in giving Iran The Bomb.

I do not remember there being too much protest at the time, but there are quite a few going now. In fact other than the roof of the Moscow market coming down under a load of snow and wiping out a few tens of shoppers, this is really the biggest news coming from Russia.

But I have a question: why is Russia doing business with Iran? If you were to ask anyone from here, and this means anyone who has gone through the last 15 years of acute poverty, you get the simple answer of money. And this means that Russia really don’t care who they do business with or what kind of business they are into, as long as there is a price on it, they’ll do it. Obviously Iran is still oil rich and has the billions of dollars to pay for the service of using Russia’s techs and engineers and knowledge of things nuclear. And on Russia’s part, for all intents and purposes they are still a very poor country in terms of per capita income. So really anything that would generate billions would have to be taken with a smile, Chernobyl and other such major ecological warning notwithstanding. And of course that Iraq would love to test out its new toys on Israel goes without saying.

But is money the real answer?

A couple of months ago Alexander Lukashenko spoke to the United Nations. At that time, he didn’t bother to hold back much of his contempt for the United States and its threats of economic sanctions and such. And right there in the middle of the speech was a direct question about whether or not America really wanted to try and dictate policy in Belarus.

Well, my thinking is that we are looking at the real threat that was behind Lukashenka’s words: How about the return of the terror of nuclear war?

When I was a boy, I was haunted by visions of the wastelands created by a nuclear holocaust. I couldn’t sleep nights thinking about what would happen should someone get angry enough to “push the button.”. Perhaps many of my readers aren’t old enough to remember what life was like before Michael Gorbachov gave us the greatest gift of the twentieth century by removing the threat of nuclear war from our lives.

But this gift was given in the times of glasnost and perestroika, at a time when under great financial pressure, the east opened its doors and parted the curtain in the hopes of extending the hand of friendship. Unfortunately though, there simply was not anything for the people of the former Soviet Union, at least in terms of real financial help on the way after they “sold out”. And as big a joke as westerners might think of this sort of naiveté was, having only the destruction of their culture and the creation of banditism to take its place was quite a shock to the people of the former USSR. And not all of them took this revelation well.

A pretty good example of someone who took things the hard way is the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. Over the years, he has made it quite clear that he has no desire whatsoever to deal with the west. I think people who are screaming dictator, dictator all the time should really have a thought about this; The man comes from a corner of the old system where tough was the word regardless of any end-of-the-world consequences. And in his 12 years of service, he really hasn’t changed very much at all. And also, saying to him that Belarus is a memorial to the Soviet Union is not an insult to him. All of this might just be finding a way to get back at all of those broken promises.

So if this is true, we really need to start thinking about what sort of fear we are going to having in the coming months and years. If Russian and Belarus are really going to make friends with Iran up to the point of giving them the goods required to build their own A-bombs, I think it is high time for the west to understand that this is a really serious issue. Everyone these days is on the edge of their seat worrying over potential terrorist attacks. Well to me, a guy who is willing to get on a crowded bus and blow himself up, probably doesn’t care about the size of the bomb attached to him. And a culture who embraces this sort of game really ought to be taken very seriously. And this is who we are talking about here.

So here is the real question: Do you think that they would really do it?

I remember when the question of whether or not an American candidate for president had the chutzpah to pull the trigger was a major issue come election time. In this case though, we don’t have to wonder if Putin or Lukashenko would have the nerve to send off a couple of Big Berthas because they have a psycho former terrorist who also has a grudge against the red, white and blue to do it for them. And I don’t think anybody would doubt for a moment that he would. So it seems as if it is payback time.

Bigger toys for bigger boys; poverty does some pretty strnge things to people
“Do you really want to hurt Belarus?” That was the translation of Lukashenka’s statement to the UN. I remember thinking at first that the statement was one requesting pity and stating that any harsh realities would only cause more pain to the 10 million or so $100 a mothers who live here. I am sure a lot of Americans, if any of them was listening thought so too. But now I see that what he was saying was: Belarus is in with Russia and all of the CIS countries and they might have some teeth that the US hadn’t bargained for.

I have a picture in my mind of Putin petting the head of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Said former terrorist, saying “be calm boy, be calm. You’ll get your chance soon enough…”

Well folks, I don’t know if you are scared, but I am. And if your not, well, have a look at this week’s BEINGHAD Times and have a look around.

Of course in the end, all of this might be nothing more than a simple extortion game being played out at a really high level. I mean, again, it could all just be about money. This thought doesn’t really make things any easier to live with, but it does put them into perspective. Fear, money; these are things that seem to be universal to us these days.

But those who live by the sword will die by the sword, or so it says. Or maybe a better phrase should come from Robert DiNero who was just awarded a Russian “Oscar” for career achievements. Maybe a better phrase comes from Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle looking in the mirror while practicing his lines for the next time someone should try and disrespect him or the world: “Are you talking to me? Are you talking to me? I know you must be talking to me because there is nobody but me here. Are you talking to me?”

Did you really need to put economic sanctions on Belarus?