Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Chaizan i Chaizaika...

There is a word here in Belarus that translates into perhaps owner, or master. The word is chaizan, with the 'ch' having that back of the throat hard 'h' and the accent on the second syllable. This word most definitely comes from the Hebrew word Chazzen- which means leader or perhaps even bride groom (Chatten)- the chazzen is the person who recites the prayers in synagogue. Perhaps leader then is the best translation.

In Belarus this word is used concerning land first of all. We have our little farm and if I have managed my land reasonably, this means I am a good chaizan. The word for a woman who is either the chaizan's wife or is the sole property owner is chazaika by the way and the same traits of knowing what needs to be known and doing what needs to be done apply to her as well. We had a moment on the bus a few days ago when a woman asked us about how our harvest was going and Tanya admitted that there was something that she didn't know and actually didn't care much about. The woman simply asked "Why not? You’re the chazaika are you not?" I think that this is not a western concept, though perhaps it should be.

Being a proper chaizan is a really big deal here in Belarus and the attributes involved in being a 'nastoyeshy chaizan' (a real leader) are very clearly defined. Being a chaizan means that one knows completely one's chaizanstva- one's business, one's property, one's people- basically everything that might fall under his control, or perhaps better said, everything that he is responsible for.

Lukashenka is chaizan here in Belarus and this is why he was re-elected with such a huge majority. Within the boundaries of this little country, he is known to be a great chaizan because he knows everything that happens and the meanings of these events. When Lukashenka made those long speeches during the elections, it was not necessarily that he was acting the blowhard; he was demonstrating that he was in complete control of his faculties, both in his personal ability to see and understand things and for the actual work taking place in the country. The speeches were not rambling monologues, they were the facts of his responsibility. He even directly asked the question at one point: "Is there anywhere where I am not accountable for my actions?" or "Did I say something that was not the truth?" The west calls him a dictator, but Belarus sees him as the chaizan and re-elected him simply because he was the best man for the job.

Conversely, Belarusians did not see either Milinkevich or Kozulin as having these sorts of traits. Milinkevich stood on the stage in Pinsk and said "I have a 'narodnaya platform'", a people's platform that came from asking people what they think. This might be a democratic way of doing things, at least in words, but it was absolutely not a demonstration of his being a real master of his domain. He didn't stand up and say "This must be!" and therefore people refused to take him seriously. Perhaps he was thinking thatif he had, Lukashenka might have agreed with a good idea and taken it over as one of his own- adaptability is not at all a poor trait to have nor is helping others with one's thoughts and opinions- and in the end this might have benefited Belarus. And there were some thoughts about finding a place in the government for Milinkevich. But by not saying anything from his personal point of view, people only shook their heads and asked why he was wasting their time. And as for Kozulin's antics, all of that only showed him as being a hysteric, and this is absolutely not the trait of a real chaizan. Everybody saw this on television even before his blow-ups during the elections. Asking people at the polls whether or not they thought of voting for Kozulin only drew laughs. They don't have Jessie Ventura's or porn stars in Belarusian government- people don't work from that perspective here. Here they take their chaizanstva seriously.

And by the way, the opposite of a chaizan is a kozol, a goat specifically but the name more directly implies that one is a cuckold or simply doesn't understand what is going on around him. It was actually a joke during the elections that both Kozulin's name and Milinkevich's original family name of Baran (a ram, and it means the same thing) implied who they were in the argument of who was the boss and who was at a loss.

So I am having a problem these days over the issue of who exactly is the boss on a project I took on some time ago. I believe I did a more than credible job but after some time of completely ignoring the work, the fellow who paid for the job came back in screaming and ranting and raving about a single point in the work saying that the whole project was at stake and that changes needed to be made immediately. The decision by the way to re-involve himself in the project did not come from his own eyes or from the results of the endeavor, which proved out my side, but rather was in reaction to a comment made by someone else. In reaction, I argued that what I had done was in fact not only proper but had in fact been a benefit to the project and that I was standing by my choices. He of course went directly to the argument that this issue was a matter of who was in authority and that he was the boss because it was his money. I really needed to understand this more than anything: None of this had anything to do with the quality of the work, that was almost completely inconsequential next to the enormous fact that he had the money and therefore he is the boss.

Now, I fully understand that those of you in west who are reading this right now are saying that this money business is a fact of life and that I am being naïve about things- again. But I am saying that this is Belarus and here we have the concept of being a real chaizan or being a kozol- To me, that the guy was off in never-never land for months at a time only meant that he was not the boss of the project. This is not an egotistical statement, it is a simple fact that the work went on without his presence and in fact was arguably better for his not having been there. Getting an after the fact hysterical explosion and being confronted in such a way only proves this further.

This situation has set up a showdown which I really want no part of because there is no possibility of anyone winning and putting me on the spot and threatening me with the loss of money is purely an insult to the work I have put in. I told him directly that I would be happy to sit down and speak with him but I made the stipulation that he needed to clean himself up a bit first. This request also went over his head. I say he is on crack and evidence of his not knowing what he is doing is all over his chaizanstva. His complete lack of thought for anyone other than himself, his flaunting his power and insulting the people around him, dismissing them as insignificant- all just rudeness really, is such an un-Belarusian trait that his people often feel as though they are losing their minds trying to deal with him. And I should add that it was only during this time when I was being completely ignored that I really enjoyed the work. I was free to make changes and improve the quality of the project as a whole, something I was never allowed the time for under supervision. I had come to the belief that I was trusted with the project by this point and of course, I took my responsibilities seriously, a fact that he has refused to acknowledge as being significant.

The key you see to this argument is that in Belarus, it is not only about the money, here making the correct and most useful choices are what it is all about. Belarus is about the truth, it exists entirely in the material world and this business of being the role model for the 'New Soviet Man' is taken very, very seriously. It is exactly not about who has the money, it is about the money being used in the most efficient and useful manner so that it benefits all and because of this, everybody takes their responsibilities seriously. That money is supposed to be for everyone you see and therefore judgment and clarity of judgment are more important. Or to say it another way, everyone here takes on the responsibility of whatever chaizanstva they are a part of; each must do his job serving the betterment of the whole and of course this is the basis of the necessity of having respect for all participants.

You want to call this communist doctrine, go ahead. But to me it makes a lot more sense than pissing away funds one cannot afford to lose.

There are two movies I have seen that come to mind that have something to do with this situation. One is a Chinese movie, the title escapes, but it concerns a messenger who meets and has a brief affair with the girlfriend of a big shot businessman. Cuckolding the boss is an outrage because, and this is a direct quote, "No one is allowed to have a bigger penis then the boss." In the concluding scene, the messenger is made to come and eat a plate of the boss's shit as a way of demonstrating who in fact does have the biggest penis. Taking a second spoonful, the messenger remarks: "Mmm.. this is some good shit."

And then there is the last scene in the movie "The Godfather" Kay Adams comes into Michael Corleone's office and demands to know the truth as to whether or not Michael had his sister's husband Pauli executed because of his involvement in Sonny Corleone's death. Michael screams at her not to involve herself in his business and then agrees that 'just this once' she can ask. He lies and says it is not true and she believes him and as the door is closing, the oters in the room kiss his ring and call him Godfather. That's what it means to be chaizan. Maybe scolding her for not being aware of the situation herself, or maybe it was simply for not being Sicilian, simply meant that she didn't belong, that she wasn't the chazaika. They love Francis Copula out here for having made that film and it is only partly from the gangster point of view, the other part of it is that he explains clearly what it means to be master of one's realm.

I am sorry that I have been a bit slow in offering this blog. I had in mind to write on a different theme but I simply could not get it out. Perhaps it was because the subject matter, religion, was one that I really did not want to play with just now, or perhaps it was because the people I was going to write about are friends- or even perhaps because the theme itself was so muddy that I didn't feel I had a compete handle on things. I started out several times but every time I sat down to write what I wanted it felt like wading through a swamp, then all my energy would go away and then I would start rethinking everything from the perspective to the content to even the point I was trying to make. I guess this happens. Nobody is perfect. I don't particularly feel as if I am a failure for not having gotten this out, but in any case I did not write anything for several days and this was the real reason why.

But then this morning I had this new idea of what to write about and it fit so well into what all is going on with me right now that the words just flowed. I hope this turned out ok.

More soon...