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…