Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Well, I am certainly glad we cleared all that up…

The president taking a meeting on cooperation with the Leviev Group
I saw something interesting while riding my bike yesterday morning. I was going around the block a couple of times, just my usual morning routine, but then as I was passing the synagogue, I saw that one of the ladies who cleans up was outside on the sidewalk cleaning something from the side of the building

"What happened here?" I asked.

"Someone threw eggs at the synagogue."

"Eggs? When did this happen?"

"Last night. Some kids I suppose." It was not quite sunrise yet and she kept smiling while she was working. Just one of those things I guess. The place she was cleaning was directly below the two broken windows which have yet to be fixed. This is also the general area where the synagogue, the only one in Pinsk by the way, received its Swastika last year.

"That was an expensive swastika." explained Moshe Fhima, the director of the Beis Aharon School. "Repainting that area was very expensive because we didn't have any of the original paint left over and an exact match of the color was not possible locally. So in addition to the cost of the paint, we also had to pay to have the new paint shipped over."

I am certainly glad that there is no anti-Semitism in Belarus. I know that there isn't because all of the big shots and politicians including the president of the beautiful and interesting Republic of Belarus have told me that there isn't any such thing here. I mean, if there was anti-Semitism here, things would be really difficult for the Jewish people who live here so really, it is a very good thing that things are so clean.

In fact now that I am thinking about it, all of those looks I got when I first started to go over to the synagogue really didn't mean anything either. Or all of the laughs and derision we would get when I went walking with one of the rabbis. Oh yea, and getting mugged out in front of the kilk store by those three guys who kept yelling "Yuden" at me or Egor getting beaten on his way home from school (twice) because a friend saw him walking to the synagogue one Friday night wearing a yarmulke wasn't anything real either. Certainly none of that had anything to do with anti-Semitism or any sort of negative feelings towards Jews here. It was just friendly jibing I am sure; it is all between friends.

I have been thinking about this subject again lately and yesterday's blog was along these lines. Probably the reason for putting yesterday's blog up came from Mike Averko. If you are not familiar, Mike is a writer who is covering issues of politics, religion and other interesting topics concerning Eastern Europe. He wrote to me last week with some comments concerning how I handled Lukashenko's remark about Jews and Babruisk. His take was like a lot of others in that he believed the whole thing was simply a misunderstanding or at least, only a misquote.

    I correctly challenged (your interpretation of the quote) because in point of fact and without having heard an unedited audio of what Lukashenko said, the above quoted isn't so clear cut. Distorting what a head of state said has been previously done. I noted Putin's comments about the Soviet breakup having been distorted from what he said. Milosevic's 1989 Kosovo Polje speech is another example of a grotesque twisting of what was said. Both examples are clear cut…

    Here was my reasoning: As per the above quoted, is there perhaps a misunderstanding in the translation? As is and without knowing anything else about Lukashenko's comments, the above quoted can be interpreted as the town in question used to be clean when Jews lived there. Does Lukashenko say that Israel is a dirty place? I seem to recall someone saying that Lukashenko spoke positively of Israel. In the above quoted, he's saying that the town in question is no longer largely inhabited with Jews and is now a pig sty.
Anyway, since then I have been talking to him and to some of the people on his mailing list and, with the prompting of several of his people, got to read several articles like the one I mentioned yesterday.

I guess how I really feel about things is that I am happy that the president of Belarus is willing to say that there isn't any such negative feelings towards Jews here. Or better, I am happy that he says that there shouldn't be this sort of thing going on and that people should feel free to practice their faiths without interruption. This makes me happy because it shows that at least the intended and fostered base philosophy is not one which favors this group or that and excludes another. I am happy for this even if all the president was thinking of was the money he might make off of Jews who might like to return to their former historical homelands. They also just dropped the visa for Israelis by the way, so can now the door is open to come to Belarus for free. Such a bargain!

But I don't think I would, even after a severe Manischewitz binge, ever go as far as to say that there is no anti-Semitism here because obviously there is. I am not saying this just because of the eggs and the broken windows and the swastikas and the cemetery desecrations and the neo-Nazi movements. I am also not saying this because of how uncomfortable I get when I am pegged as a Jew in th iddle of what i thought was a rational conversation or because the only queston I ever got asked by the local education board was: "Why I didn't stay with the "Jewish school"?". The real reason for this is because obviously anti-Semitism just simply still exists throughout the world. There is no rhetoric that hides it, there are no arguments about whether it is defined properly, it is a fact. And so becaise this is the case, as much as I would have loved to support them in all of ther endevors, there is simply no reason to believe that a place that so horribly treated Jews (all religious affiliations were treated like crap, but this was especially so for Jews) during the time of the Soviet Union could have found a way to completely re-educate their entire gentile population into not thinking there was an issue. I mean, they haven't even thrown away socialism so how could we say that they have progressed to total freedom for all individuals? This is not to say that Socialism is bad, or even that Socialism and Judaism are not mutually exclusive, I am just saying that there obviously is a holdover and so, you know, it is what it is.

It is funny also when you speak to the older Jews who lived here during the time of the Soviet Union. They all tell similar stories about how you could not pray openly and how clandestine services were raided by the KGB and fines handed out. But at the same time, they refuse to say that there was any problem. "We were not treated any differently than anybody else" is how they talk about their normal lives. People referred to them specifically as Jews above and beyond any other designation, occasionally they were disallowed chances in business or education specifically because they were Jews, but because everybody had to eat a little crap (I suppose) they tell you that they didn't feel particularly oppressed. Well nice of you for going with th crowd but obviously, you lived under the thumb and this was just the way it was.

And that is the point.

Anyway, just this last week the Belarusian press service made it a point to show that Belarus was doing serious business with Israel. A meeting with the Leviev Group gained front page merit on the president's web site and BelTA:

    "A lot has been done in Belarus to create an attractive investment climate, according to the President. Which is why there are many interesting propositions coming to Belarus from foreign investors. “It is with great attention that we have treated the propositions of the Israeli concern that is headed by Mr. Leviev,” the Head of State said."
I guess you can always say that business is business, but to me, I would like to feel as if it was just international business as usual and not a put up. I mean, the amount of money that LGC is talking about could not amount to more than a couple of million so to me, making this front page news is nothing more than making a show of it. Not that a show is not needed or wanted or apreciated, it is just that I can't help thinking that the truth of the deal was that the president decided it was necessary in order to prove a point that he personally take a meeting with a bunch of Jews and that this is how he thought about it. I am sorry but to me, this is simply not the same as simply "taking a meeting". I'm sorry, it's just not the same thing.

More soon…


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