Thursday, March 16, 2006

Purim and Elections in Belarus

Rembrandt's Haman and Mordechai
I had a great Purim. Purim as you might know is the early-spring-all-Jews-must-go-and-get-drunk holiday. And we did. And I did. Probably I was not as drunk as some of my temple friends- I took some time to go for a bike ride during the day and I kept my alcohol level at the minimum Talmudic requirements.

Those requirements by the way are real. The legend of Purim revolves around the biblical Book of Esther and in that story we have a bad guy, Haman, and a good guy, Mordichai. And on the feast day of Purim it actually says that one must or is obligated to drink sufficiently so that one cannot tell the difference between the two. Interesting, yea?

So a lot of my friends did their best to make for themselves a religious experience of proper magnitude as you can imagine. Our Rabbi has pointed out that a lot of locals like to practice Purim on a daily basis and at least from an unofficial poll of a few neighbors (Wow, that’s a coincidence, , I’m drunk too) this point seems to prove out. So as you can imagine there was a really festive atmosphere out here. Once we got past the prayers and the reading of the Megilla (the book of Esther) the bottles of vodka got opened and within a short period of time there was a lot of dancing and singing and some crying and some loud preaching and lots and lots of belligerent yelling and screaming. I had two people offer to fight with me (I declined) and several men needed to kiss me (ok, I accepted, but no tongues) and overall, had a really nice time of it. I actually didn’t get home until the next day, so if you were wondering why there was no news, well, you know… I was drunk.

But now Purim has come to an end and I am back at my desk for business as usual and the biggest story in Belarus at the moment is of course the elections this Sunday for the Presidency of the Republic of Belarus.

What do the elections mean to me personally?

Lukashenka and Milinkevich: It's your call
As this Sunday’s election draws nearer I got asked by a friend, who was having a hard time focusing his eyes, what I plan to do about it. During the conversation I had mentioned what I had thought of Milinkevich’s speech in Pinsk and the BHTimes and about some people I knew who had wanted to come to Belarus just to have a look and my friend just laughed and said Yea, Ok, but what are you going to do about it?

Now I know that I have been accused over the last few month of not having an opinion about the country I am writing about these days or at least that I have been vague, so when this question came about, it really had more to do with getting me to express an opinion than with any physical activities that I might be involved in.

But in any case the real answer is that physically what I will do will probably, is go for a bike ride and try and get some work done. Sunday is a work day for me these days and as I actually have no right to vote, there is not any real point in standing around the poling areas in Pinsk waiting to see people get arrested. Aside from ambivalence, there is the fact that Pinsk only makes up about 1.3 percent of the Belarusian population and, if last Saturday’s Milinkevich speech at the Dom Kultura was any real indication, Lukashenka doesn’t have a whole lot to worry about here.

In any case I am not going to Mink, I am not going to wave flags, speak through a bull horn, hand out leaflets or scream at people as they come in to or go out of the polling stations.

But as for my opinion, all I want to say is this: Lukashenka is going to win and the vote will actually reflect the will of the Belarusian people. I am sorry folks, I have lived here for several years now and frankly, Belarusians basically like things the way they are. Yes, yes, yes everyone here wants more money and yes they think that Belarus should be more open to money making potentials. But in any case they still actually, really and truly wish for there not to be any excessive difference between rich and poor and they still do not trust in general opening the door to European or American control. And as this is what the election is really all about, all of this pro-democracy and anti-dictator rhetoric really didn’t do anything but solidify the arguments against the people who were making this noise.

And if I had to make an argument as for why this is so, I would say that it is definitely because of effective local propaganda which reminded the locals of all they have been through, that they have been through it largely without western help, that in fact the west has never been there for them at all, and that after all of these years it is simply not time to lay down and die for some European Bank. And that’s all. It’s called just say no. And they are going to.

So I hate to make it sound boring, but this is what I think is going to happen. Now, this is not to say that Milinkevich and the Polish left are not going to try and have their day. They just might and I say this because I really can’t imagine that they will just sit and do nothing after taking all of that money from the west to finance their campaigns. I mean, I don’t know how many millions Milinkevich got from Europe by I am assuming that it was a lot and certainly those big businessmen are not going to take it lightly if their money went for nothing but speeches. No, my guess is that Germany and Poland (especially Poland) are going to want to see at least a little action for their money.

Anyway, this all happens on Sunday. And other than that, let’s see what else there is to look forward to… Beletela, the first national television channel has all four parts of Shit and Mech (Shield and Sword), an adventure movie about the second world war from something like 1980. And then afterward there is a French detective film called Neola Vimui (Uncatchable) and lots of news about how Lukashenka is receiving most of the votes as well. LAD has some coverage of the biathlon world cup at 2:00 and 3:30 and also has a D’Artanion movie from the USSR and a Belarusian historical movie called Anastacia Slutskaya from 2001. So you know, it’s going to be an interesting day and I am going to try and enjoy, peacefully and quietly, every moment of it.