Monday, August 21, 2006

Robert Mayer

An urgent Publius Pundit politica
Rober Mayer came to visit us in Pinsk this last week. In case you don't know, Robert Mayer is the writer/directing manager of Publius Pundit, an internet website with over 2000 daily readers. Publius Pundit, after only a year and a half of existence is already an icon of democratization, the process of moving governments from autocratic rule to a more personal involvement by its citizens. As of the moment, Publius Pundit has grown so large that it is rare that Robert Mayer even has to write for his own site; his constituents fill the gaps with articles and opinions about political situations around the globe and a legion of commentators follow with emotional and cynical hyperbole. He has been written up in the press, been tagged for big time television and Publius Pundit has been acknowledged by the US Government as being a model resource for democratization. Publius Pundit is more than just an interesting read, it is a genuine recourse for human ideology, opinion and socio/economic policies.

A lot of Publius Pundit's success might be attributed to Robert Mayer's writing style, which is quite authoritative without ever being abusive. Rather than overwhelming the reader with facts, he tends to leave a lot of holes in his thought process so that the readers can figure out conclusions for themselves. The effect of this is that one feels he is intimately involved with whatever issue is being discussed and that that involvement is essential. Certainly this seems to be true for his commentators who write with emotional verve about political situations all over the world. If anything, this perfect fit of form and style has to be secret of Publius Pundit's success.

Robert Mayer came out here as a part of traveling expedition in which he hoped to get to talk to people about democratization and to see first hand how the politics of their lives was affecting quality of life. The money for this trip came from contributions to the website he received following a simple letter written to a segment of his readership. I was one of those who received one of these letters and offered an invitation to come out to Belarus. When he announced he would be with us for a few days, my readership doubled.

I met Robert Mayer and his and his Wellesley educated companion Courtney at the train station in Pinsk last Thursday. He was just coming back from two days in Minsk. He looked a bit tired and weary and admitted that at first coming to Belarus was a bit of a trying experience.

"We were worrying if we were going to be taken by the KGB. We were worrying about our clothes and if we stood out too much. We were at first afraid to make eye contact with people and that anything we might say or do would be taken as an offence against the state. But once we were here and started walking around, we could see that everyone was just going about their business and that there was nothing of the sort of turmoil we were led to believe was here. People were quiet and polite, there were no signs of anything unusual. Minsk was just this normal big city, it was clean and seemed to have a plan and after a while we sort of felt kind of a let down because there was no intrigue at all. We had to readjust our thinking; OK, it is just a town."

One of the tenants of Russian/Belarusian culture is lavish appreciation of guests, so we made a fuss over the arrival breakfast and set a big table and invited friends to come and meet him. I guess he was lucky in choosing the time of year to come because as we are right in the middle of harvest, we were able to deck out the table almost exclusively with our own homegrown things. We also tippled a bit with both the best Brestskaya vodka and some old Russian vodka from the Soviet Union.

Our guests got a bit emotional in talking about their lives. Most Belarusian people are passionate about the difficulties of living on such short economic possibilities. Robert Mayer mostly gave ear and allowed everybody to speak. Our guests ranged in age from twenty to sixty, and almost everybody I invited spoke English but the conversation drifted back and forth between languages, the more emotional the thought, the more Russian there was. Between us though, I think we did a good enough job of translating.

After breakfast we took a slow, walking tour around Pinsk and then after heading home for some dinner, we spent a few hours playing billiards at a Lenin Street club. The next morning we all went out to the farm and Robert and Courtney helped with apple gathering and pickle picking and after, helped with the juicing.

Out in the village, after the work was finished we had a few minutes to talk about "The Life" with one of my neighbors. Robert asked him whether or not life has changed for him over the last 10 or twenty years to which he answered with a wry smile: "It’s the same, the same. It is always the same. You dig and dig and dig in the field, and then they dig one more hole put you in the field."

When I asked him about this later, Robert was rather emotional about it. "The man's answers were so real. He wasn't just talking with his mouth; he was talking about something real in life. They don't just sit around wasting their time here, they talk about things that they need, things that are important. I can see that people here are very genuine, very real; they are not foolish and they are not playing games."

And then we drank. We drank several types of vodka, admiring the differences in tastes and effects. We drank in the style of the culture always drinking together, always with toasts and always only after finding agreement for what we were toasting. Courtney is very smart and very beautiful and to her credit, she tried to keep up with us and probably would not have gotten sick if she had been allowed to come with us to the synagogue for Friday night services. Women are not allowed to pray with the men and after a mild, feminist rebuke, she and Tatyana stayed behind. Robert Mayer is not Jewish but happily donned a yarmulke for davening with the hasid's at Beis Aharon.

After synagogue, I got to sit and talk with Robert Mayer about politics and presidents and his experiences in Chili when he was sixteen. A lot of his philosophy comes from this time and the changeover there in the 70's and how the nation changed because of it. As the night went on, we talked about his education and about how Publius Pundit got started and how he manages it and what he wants to do with it. We talked about political theory and what sorts of guidelines could be used to determine the true strength of leadership. We talked about the connections between nations and how those relationships may or may not have effected current events. We talked about Lukashenka, Hugo Chaves, Putin, Bush, Augusto Pinochet Ugarte and Castro. We talked about Belarus in general and its relationship with the US and the EU and how if John McCain would come out to Pinsk (without the official hoopla) and walk around with me, he might come to a far different conclusion about Belarus and its people. And we agreed that Condoleezza Rice would probably be a harder sell.

We talked political theory and he explained to me an index regarding leaders who ride natural resources as the basis of their power verses those leaders who are supported by collecting taxes from its people. We talked about how some people become so locked up by their egos and fears that they cannot even perform the jobs which they are paid for. We talked about family and responsibility and the future and Poland and BEING HAD and Belarusian culture and Russian Brides and marriage in general. And then we agreed, over one last apple juice at 3:30 or so that it was time to get to bed.

Not without problems we had Robert and Courtney at the train station Saturday morning and we said our goodbyes. We sent them off with some homemade plum jam, a bottle of vodka, pickles and apples and some tears. I am assuming that they got through ok as I have not heard from them, nor has he published since. I don't think there is any cause for worry about this as I know that there were several days of traveling ahead of them to get to where they were going.

In my opinion, Robert Mayer could very easily become a congressman or a Senator. In fact, I think that Robert Mayer would be successful in anything he set out to do. As of the moment, though he is concentrating more on what he is doing right now. "I like thinking of ways to make money" is basically how he describes his current ambitions. Robert Mayer does understand that he has great talent, yet he also seems to be open to new information and, at least with the help of a shot or two, can be touched by new ideas. To me this makes him an entirely human individual and it was a pleasure to make his aquaintence. Perhaps that last statement is a bit Slavic, but I think that Robert would understand what I am getting at and that Belarus, for all of the noise that surrounds it these days, is such a "human" place as well. Or at least more "human" than he had anticipated. And all things considered, I don't think I could have asked for more.

More soon…