Thursday, July 05, 2007

Oh, the BEING HAD Times…

Alexander Lukashenko giving an address at the Palace of the Republic on the occasion of Independence Day of the Republic of Belarus.
You know, I really like my little on-line gazzetta. When I started it I think all I wanted was to put together a view of Belarus that spoke to people of a different level than just the political stories you read.

Another interesting one just out today, I think. In it, we have, amongst many other things another presidential speech. This one was made the day before Independence Day. A lot of specifics about current events regarding Europe, Russia and America, but one small section to me really seems to sound good:

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, under difficult conditions, Belarus manages to attain economic growth that serves as a foundation for continuously improving the quality of life of the people. Belarus is expanding opportunities for free entrepreneurship and business activity and at the same is reinforcing social security of the ordinary people, preserving the principles of social justice in the society. As the Head of State said the country successfully develops socio-cultural sphere, strengthens the family and children support. Impressive results are achieved in arts and sports.

    Over a short period our young state has managed to enhance the international prestige, Alexander Lukashenko stressed. Through the well-coordinated work of the diplomatic missions abroad Belarus has established close cooperation with international organizations and various countries. The security of the country is ensured through the mechanisms of regional security.

    “All we have achieved is a result of joint efforts, is a result of love for the Fatherland and selfless work of the Belarusian people,” the President of Belarus stressed.
Elsewhere in the issue is another story concerning the Belarusian economy that sort of backs up this story:

    Over the five months this year, the Belarusian exports upped by 15% to make up $8.684 billion, imports – by 21.7% to make up $10.134 billion. Belarus posted a deficit in foreign trade to the tune of $1.45 billion.
Now both of these clips came from BelTA news stories. In case you don't know, BelTA is the state news service and is believed to be so controlled by the state that it is not even acknowledged by Google or Yahoo as being in existence. I cover them for the BHTimes though. I like it.

Here is another BelTA quote:

    The state will do everything possible so that the Belarusian people would not suffer from the consequences of the increase in the prices for the Russian energy carriers.

    “That was a gonzo price hike, with no such precedent in history,” the Head of State said.

    According to him, the talks started to emerge in the society that the government would have to curtail the social program. “A half a year has passed and nothing terrible has happened or will in the future. In fact, the price spike passed unnoticed for the population,” Alexander Lukashenko said, “It is not easy to overcome. But this is not a catastrophe. We should hold out and reach the parameters and goals we have set for ourselves,” the President added.
Now, I live here and I must tell you that this is almost true. I don't mean this in the sense of sarcasm, like I am implying it is a lie, I just mean that it is pretty close to the truth. They did raise the price of the gas and, it was a little more than they told us it would be. But at the same time, for some odd and ironic reason, we seem to be getting more gas in the tanks. I am not accusing GorGaz of siphoning or anything, I am just saying that we seem to be getting twice as much mileage from each balloon they bring us than we used to. And they still will never give you a gauge so that you can see how much gas is in the tank, but the gas seems to be lasting longer now.

They also raised the price of the basic food stuffs at least 10 to 20%. When speaking of Bread, it is close to an 80% hike over the last two years or so from 30 cents to about 50 cents. You might argue that this is insubstantial, but it becomes part of it. The payments for the houses also became larger. At least 20% in the winter and about that here in the summer without the payment for hot water. They are also counting the hot water now. The phone bill is also up. Actually, everything but the internet is up. We finally got a pretty good deal as far as that is concerned.

And of course they took a lot of the extras away from students and pensioners.

But look at what Belta is telling us. It's not lies. They are letting the president speak to the people of Belarus about things that everyone here understands to be the truth. Belarus had a trade deficit of $1.5 Billion dollars! What the hell can you do about a shortfall of $1.5 Billion dollars?

(By the way, the Belarusian translation is "Гэта было шалёнае павышэнне цэн"; that word 'шалёнае' means crazy but I love the word 'gonzo' that the translator found to use. Don't tell me Belarusians have no sense of humor.)

Obviously there are problems and obviously everyone knows about it. Don't tell me they lie to the people or hold back information because it is all here, straight from the horse's mouth!

Now, a huge chunk of this is from the gas. I don't know how much profit there would have been at last year's prices, but this year, with the president shaking every hand who will take it and nickel and dime cuts every place any fat can be found, there was still a shortfall of 1.5 billion dollars!

But yet, life did sort of continue pretty much as before. Sort of. People still went to work. People still got their pensions. The bus is still full for that trip out to the village. The markets still seem to be full, there are still cars on the road, the students still had schools to go to and most of the landscaping still made it to the flower pots. And 200,000 people showed up at the party in Minsk as well as countless others at the other 70 public parties around Belarus. Not 5000 saying no, 200,000 saying yes!

Now I have lots of opposition friends and they love to yell that the problem is a lack of democracy and the answer is that Lukashenka has to go. But to me, I don't believe there are any easy answers. I was in Europe a couple of years ago and I didn't see a whole lot of open hands. I did see a lot of freighted people desperately trying to make enough money to stay afloat. My man Steve from Pensees sur les USA calls this the effect of economic fascism and says that people are enslaved by the economic systems they populate. I think that there is a whole lot of truth to this. Inevitably there is no satisfying way out of the gonzo, shaloniye quagmire Belarus is in other than to remain disciplined and keep fighting on. Capitulation to something you don't believe in is not the answer. Selling out your friends and family does not lead to happiness.

So I am just asking people to just listen to the man speak.

    “We have not succumbed to the pressure of the energy price hike and will not die from losing $20-30 million as a result of these (American and European)sanctions,” the Head of State said.

    He stressed that by revoking the preferences the European Union “showed its face". "They hold negotiations by one hand and try to choke us by the other. Not Lukashenko but the Belarusian people and our state,” the President said.

    According to him, they are doing this “not because we lack democracy as they say.” “They had better deal with the democracy in their own countries. We have not forced any nation to its knees; we have not sent troops to kill children and mothers. We mind our business in our own country. The reason of the pressure is that no one wants to see on the map of the world a calm, civilized, fast-growing and economically advancing state which bows to no one. They have failed to force us to our knees as they wanted to,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
Tell me, is this really a lie? Is this really just empty propaganda?

And what about Belarus? Gazprom's New Year's gift did not break the country and the impending bad times, and next year and then the year after will be even harder, has not torn Belarus apart. In fact, to me it seems as though the country just pulled even tighter to stay together.

I think one reason that this is true is simply that character has always been what it is about here. Well, character and building good people. This was always what it was about back in the good old days. Then, and this was during the days when it was not about money, it was about trying to live up to the model of the soviet man; to be the most disciplined, the most refined, to be the best people. Being presented with an astronomical debt such as the equivalent of two month's salary for every single working person in the country might seem rather daunting but the real question is "Can Belarus handle it?" Or perhaps a better question might be, "If it would be possible for the country to handle it, how exactly would they go about it?"

And this is where I think Lukashenka wins the people over. He isn't bullshitting, he is simply asking them to do what people know to be the right thing. And Belarus seems to continue to agree with him. I think they do this because hard times or no hard times, tBelarusians understand that what he is saying is the truth: It's not about theft, it is not about imperialism and it is not about accepting lies: It is about getting up and going to work in the morning with your head up and your eyes open; everyday, rain or shine.

I only have one more thing to say. Today was Egor's 12th birthday. Despite living only on her pension, grandma managed to send over $100 for the kid's savings account. His mom and I also came up with a few dollars for the bank and a few more to get him to the movies and to feed a bunch of his friends (who came up with a new fishing pole for him as a gift!).

But when the evening was over and the friends went home, I had a chance to talk with him about growing up and life and the future. I told him life was hard but that doing what needs to be done is the only real road. I told him that a man's responsibilities do no end just because he is tired or it hurts. I told him it is about pride and knowing who you are. I told him that he needs to remember to believe in what is true and do what needs to be done, to do it well and to remember that there will be more to do the next day.

And you know, these are basically the same sorts of things that Lukashenka says in his speeches. Is that so bad? I heard Milinkevich speak. I heard Kazoulin. And I have heard George W speak many times. I think we need to decide what sorts of lessons we really want to teach the next generation. To me, as a responsible adult, this pretty much seems to be what it is all about.

More soon…