Friday, June 22, 2007

Another meaningless Friday evening…

Pinsk, Belarus
Slow news and slower bloggers. I just read that one of the most hated words on the internet was the word blogs. Now there's a quote that sets your soul on fire.

Had an interesting couple of meetings today. I was getting on the bus over to Sonitchnia renok when I saw Kosti Seminuk waiting for the same #6 bus with his grandfather. Kosti as you might remember was one of the great junior chess players here in Pinsk, the veritable golden boy of the Pinsk chess club before he and family immigrated to Toronto, where he promptly won the under 12 championship of Ontario. Kosti and family have come back to Pinsk for a visit and I caught him on the way to chess camp.

Kosti is a good looking kid; blond hair, a nice smile. I asked him a lot of questions about Canada and Canadian chess. He said that there is no question that Belarusian chess is better. "Canadians are all over the place," he said, "Belarus knows what it is doing." On the other hand, Belarus does not offer $500, such as he received from the provincial championship. I asked about the national championships but he said he would not be going because they will be in July and he will still be here in Belarus for this.

"OK," I finally had to ask, "Which is better, here or Canada?"

"I don't know which is better. Maybe here, maybe there. But this is home. Absolutely, this is home."

We were silent for a minute and I realized that a lot of the people on the jam-packed bus had been listening to our English language conversation with some mixed emotions. I looked around and said in Russian:

"This boy sitting next to me is a great chess player who had immigrated from Belarus to Canada. Since he has been gone, he has already one a Canadian championship. He is from here."

The bus grew dead silent as the people thought about what I had said and then a great swell of pride could be felt and seen on people's faces. Pinsk had produced a champion. And then he went away.

*****

A couple of stops after Kosti got off is the market. After getting what I had come for, I stopped in to say hi to my friend Michael. Michael is a critical man and he is not afraid to express his opinions. Usually, we like to bang on each other about the relative merits of living in Belarus. Today we got caught up in the lack of culture we have here in Pinsk and its direct effect on the city. Both of us agreed that such things are necessary for the soul. I reminded him that the concert hall near the new Polessie State University has many music programs.

"It's not enough" he said, "it doesn't reach enough people."

After this we went off on our usual banter: Me, advocating that things aren't so bad and he trying to tell me that they were. After a bit he really got going and as I had my MP3 player with me (Paco Di Luchia) and asked him if I could record what he had to say. He agreed and basically, this is what he said:

"OK, I will agree that everything is not categorically terrible, so I can't really say that there is nothing here. But certainly this thing we call "The Life" here has a lot of facets to it.

I personally am not planning do go out of here anymore but I think that the majority of Belarusians have been thrown to the arbitrary nature of the fates. A huge percentage of the working population find that they must go abroad to find work in Russia and other countries. But when they return with the money they made, they then must pay it in taxes back to the government and this money then supplements the false budget of the state. I suppose they in turn then add into the small incomes of pensioners and working people. It is very little. This from the workers.

But there are a lot of things that do not please me about our Belarus: First of all is the lack of freedom: Many people fear to speak their mind openly. There is no political opposition- there is almost nothing that allows for any kind of democracy, at least not on a practical basis. We have a lot of political people came here telling us what to do and then after, the opposition came in screaming "FREEDOM!", but truly we can't feel this freedom deep down. Other than this, I am sick of how we brag. Belarus' always brags, brags. This I am sure we do not need. This is one of the things that depresses our people because we know that the majority are forced into going abroad for trade in order to survive. We have many specialists who are forced into simple trade in order to feed themselves.

But I think the main thing is self expression. It is possible that we could have this in our country. This is the first thing. There is an excellent expression from the writer Nekrasov: "A country loves not the one who it praises, but the one who it criticizes." And so for Belarus, those who stand in authority are supposed to be praised even though they have no understanding of what goes on in our country. But if one should become a critic, they would then fall under repression. I know many people who live under this "single word". Which do you think qualifies as patriotism in our country: Those, who blindly praise or those, which do criticize and condemn this country?

Today in this country we do not have normal economy; we don't have this. Why must we have such a "suspended" economy? This is because it is a false economy that does not provide for our future."

"Well," I said, "they are trying. They lost a lot of money on the gas and oil, but they are trying to make friends abroad and to do what they can do…"

"Yes, but our own productivity has fallen to impossible levels. If you were to look at any production, take for example any factory in our city, we are working! But the reality we are working at only 10, 15, 20- maximum 50% of our capabilities. This is the truth of how we work.

And where are our real workers supposed to be? There are forced to drive anywhere and everywhere, trying to search for another place of work. Among them are many great specialists. They have gone to Russia, into other countries. And all of this just to feed the family.

So this is an incorrect policy of state. Perhaps on the outside it seems as though all is well, but really we have no prosperity here."

Enough said. Time to shut down for the evening. Be back on Sunday.

More soon…

16 Comments:

Blogger Mary Ellen said...

Hi Adam

As usual, great post.

Here ya go: chess joke

My computer beat me at chess.

Unfortunately my computer is not as good at kickboxing.

I think my computer will have to forfeit the tiebreak round.


Sorry, that's all I've got for ya today...have a nice weekend. BTW, you missed a lot of good pics in my comments yesterday. I don't know why I bother writing posts, I should just post pictures of naked women. :-)

Friday, June 22, 2007  
Blogger James said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Friday, June 22, 2007  
Blogger Mary Ellen said...

Wow James, you can be such a downer sometimes. Land covered in caesium-137? You're going to be giving me nightmares, for crying out loud!

To tell the truth, in every government and every land in the world, someone is being had. Some more than others.

Saturday, June 23, 2007  
Anonymous Jenna said...

I agree with Mary Ellen. I think the point is to try and be pro-Belarus for the sake of making a lasting peace. What has been said here is that we really need to accept the fact that Belarus has a right to vote for who they want and this is what they wanted.

Saturday, June 23, 2007  
Blogger Mary Ellen said...

Adam

Forgot to tell you...the pics are in the comment section of the post Bush vs. Carter. Greg did come back, btw, he couldn't resist the enticement. :-)

Saturday, June 23, 2007  
Blogger James said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Saturday, June 23, 2007  
Anonymous Linda said...

James, I'm curious as to what the ability to speak Belarusian (or the lack thereof) proves about anyone or anything.

What does my inability to speak Belarusian say about me? (I mean, other than that my mother was discouraged by her immigrant parents from speaking anything besides English, a not-uncommon phenomenon in those times.)

Most of my family who were born and raised in what is these days Respublika Belarus, and who live there now, don't speak Belarusian. Some studied it in school and are only slightly more fluent in Belarusian than the average American is in Spanish or French after two to four years of study at the high school level. What can we conclude about their politics?

Mary Ellen, you think the image of "millions of acres of once-rich agricultural land [...] covered in caesium-137" is nightmarish? Surely the aftermath is far worse, whether it's a dramatic increase in cancer rates or having the mushrooms you gathered in the woods checked for radiation before you take them home.

All right, as you were, smoke 'em if you got em, and so on.

Sunday, June 24, 2007  
Blogger James said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Sunday, June 24, 2007  
Blogger BEING HAD said...

ME, you blog is cool and you get twice as many comments as I do. Quitcherbitchin. Becoming master of all you survey at least takes a couple of months. And I am happy things worked out with Greg. Must have been having his period I guess.

James, glad you liked the post. Thought you would. My friend Michael is simply exactly like this. DO NOT think though that this is the universal opinion or the whole story because it is not. It is an element and people do understand that this is true but it is not the whole picture. People understand this too which is why Milinkevich is now living in france or whatever. Maybe he'll run for president there.

What Jenna says is more along the point of what I am saying and I think that the better future for everyone, east and west comes from this more positive approach. I mean, I understand that there is less money in the gun business when people stop hating each other, but still, we ought to give it a try anyway.

And Linda, my love, dead on as usual and thanks for joining the debate. But they really don't even speak a dialect in your folk's town. Ya batcho oni robit prosto na dialcta v moi darevni. Ours is mildly different from Minskaya Belaruski, More Polish, Ukrainish, Russki but you still understand what it is. Only in town do all people speak straight Russian. Actually Pinsk is known for that because in Brest they have a much different dialect and tend to use it more.

Sunday, June 24, 2007  
Anonymous Linda said...

Adam, what they speak in my folks' town varies from "Russki-standart" (fake Moscow accent) to Russian spoken with soft western pronunciation to trasianka. I've rarely heard pure Belarusian spoken anywhere, other than a few words uttered disparagingly by people who think Belarusian is an "unattractive" dialect of Russian.

But there's my friend Tolik, who lives up near Naroch but who was born in my grandfather's village. A school director, Tolik is also a staunch proponent and defender of the Belarusian language. One night we sat out in his garden for hours talking and drinking. I was amazed to learn the next day that Tolik had been speaking entirely in Belarusian, because I had understood everything he said and yet other than a few words from childhood I absolutely don't know the language. Perhaps all that vodka helped.

Belarusian politics is fascinating stuff. Other than the Zubrs, who seem to have dropped off the face of the earth, the only people I've ever seen publicly expressing any strong anti-Lukashenko sentiment are those in large cities, mostly Minsk. Well, those are the "haves" in Belarus, and they are not in touch with the daily experiences of the "have-nots," who seem to be busy just surviving.

These are just some thoughts about my view of this particular elephant. I don't have any answers here.

Sunday, June 24, 2007  
Anonymous Jenna said...

Hi James. Fuck you!

The point of this blog is to try and think around the propaganda and understand that there are people in Belarus and a culture and that they deserve to be respected. I for one completely believe in that philosophy. You can go anywhere on the web to talk trash. In fact, why don't you.

Sunday, June 24, 2007  
Blogger BEING HAD said...

Hey Linda,
You know I also have found that a sto gram absolutely helps my Russian along. Actually, I think that as a social lubricant, vodka may have been the greatest invention of all mankind.

I guess I should also say something about that in terms of this discussion as well. It is very easy to say that there is an alcohol problem in the FSU and even easier to point fingers at the drunks and low-lifes. However, during the time when everyone was equal and trying to live together well, the fact that one of the attributes is that it increases one's ability to communicate and with another person, made it an essential component of everyone's social life.

It is very normal to find yourself with friends in their homes and have four or five toasts in which even 70 and 80- year old women will down a shot glass of straight vodka. This is not an act of drunkenness as you might see it in America, this is an act of being social.

I don't want to make this my full argument for James, but it is simple point that not everything you may see is how you think it is. It is a different world.

Sunday, June 24, 2007  
Blogger James said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Sunday, June 24, 2007  
Blogger BEING HAD said...

Now just a second: Samahon, or home-made spirit or vodka belongs in three classes:

1. Super smooth, super clean; a veritable gift from G-d in how it touches you and awakens your heart to the subtleties and warmth of mankind.
2. Something to get drunk on that can be bought after hours and for a slightly cheaper cost than factory vodka, which, when we are talking here is pretty damned cheap.
3. Ugly, nasty, undrinkable tank fuel that should never be imbibed by anyone who values their own body. My theory that this stuff is only drunk by depression, for depression and because of depression. I have come across some of this backwoods brass cleaner in my time and say that only successful Russian Roulette players she even bother with it.

I'll take your word for it that what you have is at least from grade two. But in any case, don't ever even bother mixing it with anything. Samahon is the truth, not for cocktails.

Monday, June 25, 2007  
Anonymous Linda said...

Keep the samogon and make mine vodka, please. (Kristal, I'll buy.)

Monday, June 25, 2007  
Blogger BEING HAD said...

Ok, you must be speaking of some Minskaya brand. Firstly I must tell you that Polnaya Medved from Brest region is as good a vodka as anything thing in the world up to and including Absolut or Russian Import Stoli. We also get Stolichniaya here for $2 a bottle just like everything else. But let me tell you about the real stuff some time. You don't know how good good is until you try some handmade, genius variety. Makes for profundity, at the least.

And by the way, I never did find Mary Ellen's naked lady pictures. I think she is just a tease at heart.

Come out Virginia, don't make me wait, you Catholic girls start much too late…

Tuesday, June 26, 2007  

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