Monday, March 26, 2007

Things to do and not to do on the weekends...

I have had a great couple of days. Oh, I can't tell you how good it has felt to just relax a bit.

I guess it all started Friday night with an excellent international football match over at the new stadium here in Pinsk. A junior team from Lithuania came down and the Belarus side took them apart 5-2. There is always a little bit of self doubt for Belarus, I think it is a part of the DNA makeup, but a three goal in five minute explosion had the standing room only crowd on dancing and screaming: Belarus! Belarus! Belarus! They carried on this way all the way home and the parties continued until well into the morning hours.

Saturday of course was Shabbos, so we had everything shut down for what I had intended to be the day of rest until the phone rang at about 1:00pm. Normally we would not have answered it, but of course Egor is in Minsk at the State Chess championships, so Tanya ran over hoping to hear the latest news. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a potential employer. Tanya is on her way back to work, but by way of at least testing alternative waters, she sent her resume to a book company who had advertised in the local gazette for what we thought was an auditor or counter.

She came back to the bedroom with an odd look on her face.

"What's the matter?"

"He wants me to come straight away for an interview."

"He just calls you up and says let's do the interview? That's odd."

"Yes. And it is at his house…"

In these sorts of situations, it is hard to make a clear cut decision. Of course, this request seemed both odd and rife for potential weirdness, but on the other hand, this is Belarus which means if you want a job, you move and don't ask too many questions. My preference would be not to do any sort of work, but all things considered, she didn't have to ask me twice to go.

So we all got up and got Anya dressed and took the bus across town. It turned out to be a, over-the-telephone book selling job. The deal was basically an extension of this psychiatrist's hobby of selling educational books to Belarusian schools and he and his wife ran it from their apartment. After sitting through the spiel, I kind of wished it would have been a pervert deal actually, it would have been more interesting.

For my American or European readers, I am sure that none of what we got to listen to over the next hour and a half would be anything you have never heard before from countless salesmen selling countless items but in Russian it was even more depressing. Both the book seller and his wife played the traditional Carnegie game with boundless energy and enthusiasm. They sold the company, they sold the books, they sold themselves and they sold money in general. And the deal? Well, the books they were selling looked like crap, there was a built in bribe for the administrators if they bought the books, there were all kinds of personal financial risks that Tanya would have to take on herself and normally there is a several month gap before you receive any percentage money from your sales. But hey, the guy is offering all of $150 a month as a guarantee for the first three months. I also should not forget that it is possible to make all of even $600 a month, if Tanya should match the company success story for brilliance in sales.

You see what you get for breaking the Shabbos?


I think it was a combination of the good feelings from the football match and the bad feelings for having to sit through the sales seminar that had me bad mouthing the Belarusian opposition in yesterday morning's BHTimes. I have already gotten several letters about my blurb, and I am wondering if I wasn't a bit too presumptuous in my stance.

I know I have probably been a bit hard on the opposition lately, but I really can't seem to help it. Probably my animosity has something to do with my desire for a bit more peace and calm in Belarus. In case you don't know, Belarus is not a seething cauldron of intrigue normally, but rather a very slow and agreeable place of tiny antagonisms; very Spartan is a good way to describe both the lifestyle and the conversation- not a broad stage, just a black box production with a minimum of time worn props. But the European backed opposition seems to think that banging drums and disturbing the peace is something that is wanted here, and I personally disagree with this. OK, I will agree that amongst young people there is a desire for a better lifestyle, a bit more in terms of opportunity, but it is nothing of any kind of powder keg as the western media would like you to believe.

So anyway, I am reading stories for the issue and right there in front of me is this story about this big protest rally and how the government was already suppressing freedoms and such. It was repeated maybe 12 times. Now normally, I would just pick one and let what is said be said, but in this case I simply couldn't do it. I personally knew that there was a big party going on in Minsk that day for "An Independent Belarus!" and I know that that was the real event as far as a huge percentage of Minskers was concerned. Now, over the last while, and especially since the time leading up to the last elections, the opposition has made it a habit of showing up at state parties and public gatherings and trying to draw the attention of the crowd towards their theme.

The various explanations as to why the opposition does this (other than it is paid for by European donations) are civil disobedience, fighting back at media suppressions, etc. But in this one occasion I really didn't think they have anything to say.

If the goal of the opposition was to bring Europe into Belarus, they got that after Russia took all of the profit out of the Belarusian Oil and gas business. If their goal was more privatization and entrepreneurialism, this has already begun. If their goal was to have discussions about" political prisoners" (intentional quotes), these discussions have also, already begun.

But yet, the opposition is still singing its same sad old tune despite their own massive problems as to who will be the face of their organization and also despite there being NO REAL INTERNAL SUPPORT for them. Milinkevich has obviously only been speaking to European audiences and this has really turned Belarusians completely off. Everyone knows that the six-party coalition is wanting to go a new direction and so staging these asinine for-the-media demonstrations has become simply an insult to the intelligence already.

A really great example of how lame and empty this propaganda is was yesterday's eventual Charter '97. Go ahead and have a look at the pictures these guys are just killing themselves to show you. What is it, 90 percent pictures of the Minsk police force keeping its calm as a bunch of people try throwing themselves into their lines in the hope of getting a good reaction photo? And this claim of 10,000 people… Can you see one real photo that clearly shows a crown of the size they claim? If it was me, the first place I would go would be up to a fifth story window to get the whole crowd. But at best, aside from the professional sign painters and the Europeans who came in to be a part of the scene, tell the truth, can you see more than say… 500 to 1000 people? I can't.

But what I can see is a staged-for-the-foreign-media event that would only detract from a fine spring festival day of music and dancing. And this is why I refused to print any of that stuff. It spoils some really, much needed fun and frankly, I just don't believe in it.

As far as politics are concerned, I do believe in lifting those stupid, extortionist, strong-armed trade restrictions. This is really what is to blame for a lot of the economic problems and it, along with all of th BS propaganda needs to stop. I also believe in allowing Belarus to govern itself and to manage their own affairs as they see fit. Exploiting the country for the amusement of the west is simply getting to be a sick exercise.

This latest media circus was an unnessasary thing. Much better for all would have been to take the day off, enjoy the show, and take a moment to remember that Belarus is really not such a bad place, especially on a crisp, new spring day. I think the opposition especially would have been better off taking a moment to remember where they are from and who their native people really are for a change rather than dancing their old Uncle Tom jig for Euro pennies.

Oh, and as for protests in good ol' Pinsk, there was not even one single red and white flag to be seen. Nope, here it was just a lot of people enjoying the nice weather; strolling through the park and walking along the river, children playing together, riding bikes, skating on rollerblades and families and young people enjoying a picnic or a beer or two under the rustling trees. Or of course, heading out to the dachas to get the gardening organized. That is Belarus in the spring time; that's what life is really all about out here at this time of the year.

  • Note: As of this moment, Egor has three points in four games. After winning his first two games up in Minsk (and no, he was not involved with the protest) he tied his next two, the first against a boy who is one step from his Candidate Master Sport designation. I am waiting for the Chess in Belarus website to update so I can know all the details, but in general, the boy is doing quite well.

    More soon…