Wednesday, March 31, 2010

500 BEING HAD Times…

So, the 500th newspaper. I wanted to take a moment and say a few words about this… event, if this is a good way to call it. 500 Newspapers. 500 Newspapers is a lot. To tell you the truth I had not really realized how long I have been doing this. I honestly thought that it was only three years. It was kind of shocking to notice that I have been doing it for almost five years now. The first number was on September 10th, 2005. Wow.

Quite a lot of these things have been, to tell you the truth, not fun and really, I am pretty sick of making them. The ritual, which I suppose might be closer to a religion right now, takes up about 2 hours or so on Wednesday and Sunday mornings. And the energy to make these newspapers doesn’t really come so easily any more. This is not to say that it isn’t an interesting process, because it is. It is just that the actual doing does take a lot out of you. These are not machine made and there is no program which turns these things out. There is a template which I built, and each and every story has got to be found, read, put in its place and have the picture added to it. Really, it’s a lot of work.

And there is another reason why the work has sort of lost its luster and this is that the state has really changed in the five years that I have been doing this. Certainly, in the first year, the biggest story or event was of course the elections. That was the president’s third election and so with the referendum, Milenkevich and the oppositions machinations, and Kazulin’s flipping out and subsequent arrest, there was quite a bit of press and attention given.

That was really a very interesting time to be in Belarus. I remember getting some attention from the press at that time and a lot of people writing to me and asking my opinion. And I am not ashamed that at the time my position, though always moderate, was that Belarus had the right to self determination even if their methods were questionable. It was their country.

And probably I still believe that anybody’s interest in Belarus is purely exploitative. Now, again of course, the answer to this is that this is how it should be. But for good or for bad and if they really like it or they don’t, there is something akin to a social economy here and people here do support this. At least theoretically, the profits (again theoretical) from state run enterprises, these enterprises which actually do make money, are paid back into the system. Now, I am not advocating yes or no, and really, it is difficult to say exactly how patriotic I actually am for the beautiful and interesting Republic of Belarus these days, but I did mean it when I said it then; it is their country to run.

But if there is a real problem these days with getting these newspapers out (or doing a blog, something I rarely do any more), it is that the deal really has changed. At the time when I started, there was a certain amount of pride which could be taken from living in a feisty little country with its middle finger extended towards Europe and America. And really, we all knew that it was a show and that the show was taking the place of a real economy, or at least an economy which wasn’t based directly on Russian subsidies. It’s just that this argument isn’t really valid any more. Obviously the main focus these days is honing the image that Belarus is interested in allowing potential investors to come here; the giving up of the golden share and toning down of red tape and government intervention in the tax and accountability process and offering free land and other incentives. Really, they are selling. They are selling as much as they can and are borrowing s much as they can. And I would be a bad economist if I didn’t understand the implications of borrowing a lot of money, whether or not the intention is to pay it back. But Belarus is mortgaging its future.

But isn’t it interesting that only a short time ago, no right thinking Belarusian would agree to be put in debt for any reason. But this is the world that has been given to Belarus. Russia, the sponsor of the economic miracle which was the main catalyst behind the president’s arguments for being re-re-elected, were as wonderful as they were in one moment (leading up to the elections) and equally as awful in the next (after the deal was done). And since that rude first New Years revelation, the Russians have given Belarus so many problems with meat, with milk, with sugar and gas and oil. We are all aware now that this is a unidirectional deal, which Belarus has no choice but to take. And also, these days it is also known that there is an obligation to keep the doors (and windows) open to the west and yes, they are, step by step and inch by inch, beginning to dictate policy; exactly what Belarus voted against five years ago. But I guess it is interesting to see what sorts of people are interested in giving some money and doing business here. Folks like the Europeans and Venezuelans and Iranians and Chinese- and now it seems even The Ukrainians and the Baltic states are interested in all sorts of potential projects. It is all very interesting.

But who really can say what is right and what is wrong? Who really and truly can honestly say that they really know what the world is about? Or could tell us which way the wind will blow. I only know that I came out here because my grandmother and grandfather were from here. And when I first came, there was a girl and some bicycle friends. And then I met some people I wanted to do business with, and then there was Tanya and then Anya. I guess it all just sort of evolved after Poland, and at the bottom line, life presented me with only a few sets of options and I guess I did the best that I could with what I had to work with.

And this Newspaper was one of those options. I started it in support of the Polish situation. I wanted to add something to what I was putting on the internet. I didn’t know it was going to be my most popular edition. About a half million people have tuned in. That’s not an enormous number, but it is not nothing either. I average about 400 people a day.

I think mostly though, about these five hundred editions, that it really has become a real archive of the history of this country during these most interesting and sometimes explosive times. I like that people can come to the archive, listed chronologically on the right side of the page, and they can just click on a date or in a certain period and I think that you can get a good feel for what has been going on. And I think that the 21 to 25 stories that get printed in every number are always a good cross section of what this country is about and what it is interested in. I guess it can get a bit repetitious, but why isn’t news from Russia, News from Europe, who is shaking whose hand, what we have to look forward to and what country will be our next big hope interesting? And really, if the doors ever really open, will there be another mass exit like there was n Poland? Or will people maybe have come by that time to accept their situation and find comfort in their home and their lives will not carry the necessity to run away. Again, who can say?
In any case, it is always an interesting cacophony of events here in the center of Europe and, most probably, the center of the world.

So all I can say for sure is that there is going to be a number 500 and this will come out Thursday morning April 1st. And, as usual, I offer my thank you to everyone for reading and to all of the people who have written and all of the new friends I have because of this. And even in spite of never having gotten through to Poland, I can also just say thank you for having allowed me the chance to make these things and to have them out for people to see, and of course to have had something to do on Wednesday and Sunday mornings, even if I haven’t really wanted to do it for a long time.

And oh, if you want to, go to In a google image search and you'll get a good idea about exactly how many newspapers five hundred is.

More soon…