Friday, November 30, 2007

Ok, let's talk about Belarus...

The McD's on Francisco Skarera prospect; doing the job it was intended for since since the wall came down
I had planned to go on with the story about the cake this morning, but I spent my morning writing a response to a letter I got from Mike Averko so I decided to print it instead. By the way, please take the trouble to read Mr Almond's article as well. I think doing so would be a real eye opener for those interested in the beautiful and interesting Republic of Belarus

    Hi Adam:

    What's your view of this Belarus report at Note the "Next" prompt at the bottom of each page. It's easy to overlook and think the page is finished.

    The involved org. is second guessed by a good number of Western establishment types and others who have a tendency of willingly accepting Western mass media perceptions on former Communist bloc issues. I'm sure one can find fault with some of the BHHRG reviews (ditto Freedom House and arguably even more so). Others besides myself find its one on Moldova/Transnistria to be refreshingly reasonable.



This is what I wrote this morning:

In responding to Mark Almond's article for the BRITISH HELSINKI HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP: "Belarus: Brokeback Revolution", I guess the first thing I want to say is that in general this article is actually pretty much an accurate view of the situation. I don't say that it is perfect however and probably one of the main reasons for this is that I doubt that Mr. Almond has actually spent very much time in Belarus, instead relying on third party information which, when we're talking about Belarus, is always tainted by emotion, patriotism (from the west) or simply pro-European expansionist politics. I guess I should also say that the entrance to the McD's is on Francisco Skarera prospect, the main drag in town, and that it has been there since at least 1997 and probably as early as 1991. At one time it seemed to me that it was the only functioning restaurant in Belarus by the way, this during the black times around the second economic collapse.

But a bigger point to be made is that I don't think that this article was written recently. Most probably it is from 18 month's ago, from the time just after the elections and therefore disregards last New Year's Gasprom debacle and the resulting "Alright, we'll open the doors a little" attitude change. Before 2005, when Russia's raising the prices of natural gas to Europeans (and eventually to all the former USSR) led to some semblance of prosperity or at least that there was finally a little something to reinvest with, there really was no serious investment money available and therefore literally zero growth. Presenting Belarus as ever having had any kind of thriving or even stable economy is a misnomer because it is and has always been extremely difficult to get by. And while it is true that there has lately been a lot of building and painting and road maintenance going on, there is a local attitude that this is all for show and that contrary to any socialist philosophies, the beatification isn’t even connected in any way to individuals (It is no longer our fence as it was in the old days, it is only their fence). It is also felt that the continued rise in gas prices is eventually going to foster crisis and possibly collapse. Belarus is in fact playing so close to the bone these days that a recent presidential order demanded that lights be turned off or not used when not absolutely necessary. This is not only a throwback to the very blackest of times, it is a demonstration that there is no comfort for anyone on the way any time soon.

The article also ignores the fact that Belarus does have an extremely controlled economy which does not allow for an extended entrepreneurial class. That open Nemiga Market that Mr. Almond loves so much is available and thriving, but it is also a lone entity for independents to use and is also well controlled by the state. I mean, there are a lot of restaurants and small bars available in Minsk, but the capital needed to open this sort of establishment is far out of the reach of the common, middle-income Belarusian worker who still receives perhaps only $200 a month, if he is lucky. The vast majority of workers can only find employment with state controlled and administered factories or larger institutions; second chances with an alternative firm is generally never available because competition in any area where state has an interest is generally quashed. So really, there is not a great deal of hope for ay sort of middle class sensibilities here; minimalism is the rule and will remain so for a long, long time. And what is more, though publicly opening the doors to western investment has happened, those doors are in general only to very wealthy concerns and not to individual entrepreneurs wishing to make their mark in the republic. Probably this last though is a good thing as we have seen that they have not enjoyed the results of allowing anyone with a dollar to pay their way into Ukraine; the end of the "Orange" revolution being spelled e-x-p-l-o-i-t-a-t-i-o-n.

Therefore, in general what Mr. Almond states really is the truth especially as it concerns Belarus' understanding and unwillingness to bend to the will of a West which has not been a savior but rather overwhelmingly an exploiter. All of the rhetoric about democratization and freedoms really did fall on deaf ears here and it was NOT only because voters feared government reprisals but rater because Belarus (correctly) saw that Europe was to blame for their economic woes in the first place. Again, this is not to say that there isn't an overwhelmingly controlled situation internally, because there is. But the truth is that people here really did understand the bottom line which was and is that an outside company which sets up a profit making enterprise in Belarus is only taking money out of the economy and exploiting an underpaid work force. Or in other words, the government may be controlling the media and the workers, but it is doing so with their permission and under an ideology that what they are doing is wanted and appreciated despite the hardship.

More soon...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait, Europe's to blame for the fact that Belarus was caught in one of the most brutal and economically mismanaged empires for over 70 years?

Friday, November 30, 2007  

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