A blog by an American expatriate living in the heart of New Europe

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Friday, July 29, 2005

A little perspective

Here is an instant-message conversation I just had with a Belarussian friend of mine. He’s intelligent, and extremely in touch with sentiments in his country. It offers a lot perspective into how Belarussians are reacting to the Warsaw-Minsk crisis, how they see international politics playing out, and how best to approach the situation from a Belarussian point of view. We’ll call him “Alexei”.

(I have made several editorial corrections for spelling, grammar, and coherence. Anything in brackets: [*] is mine, and did not take place during the conversation. I have also censored inappropriate language. Other than the above, everything is recorded without change.)

Gustav says: I'd love to know what you think about all this sh*t going down between Poland and Belarus. I bet everybody's asking you that, huh?

Alexei says: Not everybody, just my wife. So far you are second.

Gustav says: Well, what do you think?

Alexei says: I think the Polish are not very clever.

Gustav says: Why not?

Alexei says: Look, you are on the street, and suddenly there is a mad dog barking at you and trying to bite your foot. What do you do?

Gustav says: Beat him the hell off of my leg.

Alexei says: Ignore him, try to get away. And when you are safe - make him disappear. It is stupid to pick a fight with a mad dog (or person). By doing so, you do not look clever.

Gustav says: C'mon man. This can't be ignored. You can't let ethnic Poles get arrested for no reason and journalists harassed…

Alexei says: I agree - not in a democracy. But Belarus is not a democracy.

Gustav says: But what about when a democracy comes up against a non-democracy? That's what you have here. You're not a Lukashenko supporter, are you?

Alexei says: I am not. But I am not a Polish supporter in this conflict either. I do not like hypocrisy.

Gustav says: How are the Poles hypocritical?

Alexei says: Its' obvious.

Gustav says: Explain it to me.

Alexei says: A Polish journalist the other day put it in his report from Belarus. The real victims here are Belarussians. Why no one in Poland cares about them?

Gustav says: Really? I didn't see that report. What did it say? How are the Poles somehow hurting the Belarussians?

Alexei says: If you have Polish passport, you are safe, you'll land in Poland. If you are Polish by nationality and Belarussian by passport - you can hope to land to Poland (though I do not believe that that a Polish chick in Belarus has any chance to get to Poland – outside of Belarus she has no value for Polish politicians). But, if you are Belarussian - you have it F*CKED UP.

The most oppressed people in Belarus are Belarussians - poor and terrorized by the regime.

And about the Polish - Why don't they create an alternative organization in Belarus if they care so much? They also can help financially - at least to the Polish with Belarussian passports. Instead they prefer to speak, speak, speak, and make political careers before the elections.

Gustav says: But why create an alternative organization when this Polish Union was serving its purpose? It doesn't matter what organizations are set up, Lukashenko would persecute them. And why do you blame Poles for the plight of the Belarussians? I agree that ordinary Belarussians are the worst off - SO WHY NOT RISE UP? The Belarussians would receive all the international support there is - It's another Ukraine, Georgia, or Kyrgyzstan. It's not Poland's fault the Belarussians are chicken.

Alexei says: Whatever the Polish do in the conflict, Lukashenko will only benefit inside of Belarus. It is very easy to be anti-Polish in my country. Half of our folklore is based around fighting Polish oppression. (Centuries of living together.)

Gustav says: Surely the solution then, is to GET RID OF LUKASHENKO, and not "ignore" him. You say that whatever Poland does makes him more powerful. If they ignored him would he get weaker? Hardly. He would get stronger.

Alexei says: Not inside of the country. He needs an external enemy to support his popularity. The Polish offered themselves. Stupid. (Polish politicians are stupid).

My wife [who is Portuguese] also says Belarussians are chickens. You forget history. The majority of European nations went through dictatorships not so long ago. And in Belarus anyone who rose or spoke against him in the past 10 years disappeared. And people saw and see it on TV and in the newspapers. Who will do anything now?

Besides, for a lot of people he is a good president (now also for all Polish-haters).

Gustav says: Well, I must agree the chicken comment was out of line. But the observation about resounding international support still holds.

Alexei says: There is NO international support. It is all theater.

The revolution in Ukraine cost 500,000,000-1,000,000,000 USD.

Gustav says: How? What cost that much?

Alexei says: Keeping people on the streets. Buying support of the army and police, etc. Ask [our mutual Ukrainian friend]. But that’s not the point.

Gustav says: Ok, so everybody just leaves Belarus alone, lets Lukashenko do what he wants, and he somehow magically disappears? I don't buy that for a second. If Lukashenko didn't have any enemies, don't you think he'd be making them in order to support his popularity just as you said? In fact, isn't that what he's doing now? Isn't he picking a fight with Poland to do just that? Is your solution really to let him harass ethnic Poles and hope he goes away?

Alexei says: The first thing that the "international community" should have done is to isolate Lukashenko and cut his funds (he does not keep money under the mattress).

Gustav says: Well, we can agree on that. But Lukashenko is getting money from Russia isn't he? That's the biggest problem isn't it? Lukashenko won't go away until Russia wants him to.

Alexei says: No, he is not. The people of Belarus work for him. Ok, his son was (may be still is) in the USA. Lukashenko is not welcome to Europe as a president. But as a private person he freely goes to ski in Austria. Inside of the country everybody knows that he gets money out of Belarus via Austrian Reiffeisen Bank. Finally, the person who set up his whole financial system lives in the UK.

In reality nobody in the West wants to touch him. And all this "noise" is for the public - to keep their attention on Poland off real local problems.

By the way, do you know that Belarus does not have any international or national debt? It is one of his strong propaganda points.

Gustav says: But they don't have anything either! You can't have any debt if you're not buying anything!

Alexei says: Again, I agree with you on this one. To develop economy they will have to borrow.

Gustav says: That's not the point. Don't the Belarussians see that the reason they have no debt is because they have practically nothing?

Alexei says: They do. They also see that Russians and Ukrainians and so many other people also do not have anything and have huge debt.

Gustav says: Ok, I see your point.

So, let's say you were the President of the US, or Poland, or Russia. If you were a major world leader, what would you do to bring Belarus into the family of democratic nations as quickly as possible? How would you solve this crisis?

Alexei says: This crisis is on for 10 years already and will continue for another 30 easily. If anyone would be interested to change anything, first they would have to look at a 5- to 10-year time span.

Then, speak with the Russians. Guarantee them that whatever changes in Belarus, it will always stay their field of interest. Then put mass media all around it - satellite TV channels, radio stations in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Russia. Print newspapers. And work to change public opinion in Belarus though public opinion in Russia.

Gustav says: So Russia is the key...

Alexei says: I am afraid yes. Russia is the key here.

Gustav says: George Bush is very buddy-buddy with Putin. Do you think Putin would trust GWB if he told him that whatever happens in Belarus, it will still remain within their sphere of influence?

Alexei says: No.

By the way, I started to import beef jerky. Would you like to try some?

Gustav says: Sure! I love beef jerky. I hated that weird fish stuff you had before though...

Alexei says: Ok, next time we meet I will take some. And let’s discuss politics also then. Cheers, I have to go.


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