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242218.  Mon Dec 10, 2007 3:26 am Reply with quote

Welcome back Suze.

Does the use of the word 'interesting' mean that it wasn't enjoyable?

Would you recommend Minsk to others as a short city break holiday?

242548.  Mon Dec 10, 2007 11:10 am Reply with quote

No actually, it doesn't mean that at all. It wasn't enjoyable in the way that a weekend on a tropical beach would be enjoyable, obviously, but for sure I had a good time.

As whether I could recommend Minsk as a venue for city breaks, that's trickier. There are easier tasks than getting a Belarusian visa, so that doesn't help their case. Neither does the fact that - whatever travel insurance you may already have taken out - they won't let you in the country until you buy Belarusian medical insurance. (It's officially USD 1 per 2 days of visit; for my visit of marginally over 48 hours the guy decided it was 10 Polish złotych which is rather more than $4, but there seemed no point in arguing.)

Yes, the city is interesting and I'm glad I've ticked it off my "places to visit" list. But with the best will in the world it doesn't offer everything that a major world city offers, and I'd expect the city of choice for short breaks in this region to continue to be St Peterburg.

242956.  Tue Dec 11, 2007 5:26 am Reply with quote

As a matter of interest - and a bit of balance - here are some excerpts from an unashamedly pro-Belarus article in the Morning Star (11 Nov 07):

“The Belarussian capital Minsk hosted the first conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1898, while Moscow became the post-revolutionary capital.
Today, the two cities stand in stark conrast. Minsk represents both the past and, in a way, the future. Belarus has defended its socialist heritage and retains its publicly owned industries, housing, land and utilities. Its economy is growing strongly.
Moscow is the heart of capitalist Russia, of its plutocracy and mafia. Every beggar on the street and each garish advertising hoarding symbolises the loss of past achievements and the political challenge of the present.
The difference between the two countries could not have been clearer during celebrations to mark the revolution.
In Belarus, where the anniversary of remains a public holiday, delegates laid wreaths at the statue of Lenin in the main square of the capital.
Two days before, delegates had visited four state-owned workplaces.
One was the new and ultra-modern Minsk horticultural complex, which enables Belarus to be self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit as well as being an exporter of grain to the rest of Europe.
The others were industrial workplaces producing heavy lorries, buses, diesel engines and fridges.
Looking at the hundreds of young men and women working on the Maz assembly lines, Polish comrades marked the contrast with their own country.
"In capitalist Poland, all the young people have emigrated," observed one.
"Our government claims state production is impossible in a globalised economy. Yet Belarus, with no energy or mineral resources of its own, is able to export buses and lorries to the rest of Europe."
The Maz workers were clearly proud of their workplace.
"The nazis levelled everything," we were told. "Belarus was the partisan republic. One in four of our people were killed. Yet our plant was reassembled and started production within a month of liberation in 1944. Everything you see here, the factory, the housing and welfare and sports amenities, we have built since."
Today, income per head in Belarus is more than three times that in capitalist Ukraine. The differential between the top and bottom 10 per cent of incomes is one to five, a statistic that has changed little from the one to four in Soviet days.
In capitalist Russia the income of the top 10 per cent is now 60 times that of the poorest tenth.>>

243231.  Tue Dec 11, 2007 11:10 am Reply with quote

I'm not going to dispute that the continuation of a Soviet-style system in Belarus has had some benefits for the "ordinary" Belarusian. And yes, income per head in Belarus is higher than it is in Ukraine - although not three times as high. (USD 2760 as against USD 1520, according to the World Bank (2005) (here).)

But at the same time, that mythical "ordinary" man or woman there has all the delights of living under a dictator, and of becoming dead if he chooses to express his distaste for that. Who knows what may happen extrajudicially, but even judicially the death penalty - long since abolished in civilised countries - is still in regular use in Belarus. (It's often stated that Belarus is the only country in Europe still to have it; this is actually not correct - both Latvia and Russia still have it on the statute books, although in practice it's in abeyance.)

In the 2006 Presidental election, Mr Lukaszenko apparently got 83% of the vote. No politician gets that proportion even if he is incredibly popular, so one has to assume that the election was rigged. And anyways, if he's so popular why is it that the party he endorsed (Biełaruskaja Sacijalisticznaja Spartijunaja Partija) won not one seat in the parliamentary elections of 2004?

Just to give an idea of what Mr Lukaszenko is like:

"German order evolved over the centuries and attained its peak under Hitler." (1995; Godwin's law does not apply to quotations.)

"This is a Jewish city, and the Jews are not concerned for the place they live in. They have turned Babrujsk into a pigsty." (October 2007; incidentally, less than 1% of the population of Babrusjk - an industrial city in Belarus - is Jewish.)

Or then there was his wonderful comment on what would happen to anyone who was unwise enough to protest against his regime: "We will wring their necks, as one might a duck".

243429.  Tue Dec 11, 2007 3:42 pm Reply with quote

Sources, please, Suze.

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting book review (from Morning Star, 3 Dec 07):

<<The Last Soviet Republic: Alexander Lukashenko's Belarus by Stewart Parker
(Trafford Publishing, £9.99) ONCE ignored and now much maligned, the ex-Soviet republic of Belarus looks set to become a key site of conflict that socialists and communists need to find out about sooner rather than later.
When Condoleezza Rice labels Belarus an "outpost of tyranny," and when opposition parties have already begun to receive overseas aid in preparation for some type of "orange revolution," it's clear that certain forces are baying for change in a right-wing direction.
Stewart Parker has a different take on things altogether and, for someone interested in the political battles now taking place in the "partisan republic," his book is a unique and fascinating account that manages to set Belarus in its historical context over the past few centuries, chart the rise to power of Lukashenko and analyse in finer detail changes in more recent years.
He makes a convincing argument that opposition to Lukashenko's policies is based less on concern with anti-democratic practises than the fact that the hard-working, rather ascetic and generally popular president has pursued policies totally at odds with the worldwide neoliberal agenda.
A fierce critic of US foreign policy, he's courted other members of the "axis of evil," such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and leans more towards Russia than the EU nations, much to their obvious anger.
Economically, Belarus defines itself as having a socially managed market. Agriculture is still 80 per cent collectivised and some of the larger industrial concerns remain in the hands of the state.
Expelling the IMF on the grounds that they were nothing more than thieves, Belarus has retained many of the social welfare provisions established in the Soviet era.
Health and education feature highly in terms of overall government expenditure, wages are paid on time, pensions are honoured and the price of basic commodities and foodstuffs remains low, income differentials having only slightly increased since the fall of socialism.
Flying in the face of what Western "advisors" argued was necessary, Belarus is also something of an economic success. Growth levels have continued at a healthy rate, incomes have risen and unemployment is minimal, so much so that more people are now actually moving to Belarus than leaving it.
Holidays such as May Day and International Women's Day continue to be observed, many of the statues to Lenin and others are still displayed and Lukashenko defends the October Revolution as a historic advance, being a key speaker at a recent international conference of communist parties held in Minsk.
Parker meets head-on allegations of human rights abuses, lists the inconsistencies and outright contradictions to many of these charges and points out that many of the most vocal critics have murky backgrounds to say the least.
No doubt, much more could be written and the book leaves unclear where Lukashenko's power starts and ends. It would have been useful to have extra information about different political groups in Belarus and the question as to how best to defend and develop the gains discussed remains unanswered. As a leftist introduction to the last Soviet republic, though, it's quite simply in a league of its own. >>

243445.  Tue Dec 11, 2007 5:28 pm Reply with quote

Sources, as requested.

Re per capita income in Belarus as against Ukraine, the source was the World Bank Development Indicators 2006. The figures are tabulated on the link cited previously; they are on the World Bank's website as well but not in an easily linkable format.

Re the fact that Belarus still has the death penalty, apparently at the desire of its people:

The death penalty is in abeyance in Russia; this is a necessary consequence of Russian membership of the Council of Europe which forbids the death penalty in member states.

Source for 2006 Presidential election result in which Mr Lukaszenko allegedly got 83% of the vote. That figure came via Google, but in fact Psephos gives it as 87.5% and cites BelaPAN (a leading Belarusian news agency) as its source.

Now, those Lukaszenko quotes. Both the Hitler one and the Jews one are mentioned in this article from the Jerusalem Post. Not the most unbiased of sources for sure, but one which is generally considered reputable. For wringing necks, the BBC.

That second article is an interesting one though, and at no point did I ever deny that living conditions for the "ordinary" Belarusian are better than they are for less well off "ordinary" Russians and Ukrainians.

262332.  Sun Jan 20, 2008 3:02 pm Reply with quote

Did you see any K.G.B. operatives, Suze? They still exist in name.

262344.  Sun Jan 20, 2008 3:22 pm Reply with quote

I know nothing whatever about Belarus so I won't detain you unduly, but this:
the worldwide neoliberal agenda

does make one wonder how the word 'liberal' (which, on the face of it, couldn't be less troublesome) has managed to acquire so many negative connotations. In America it's practically a term of abuse; if you call a politician 'liberal' he is compelled to deny it lest he become unelectable. And, from the opposite end of the spectrum, I was researching anti-capitalism recently and found an anarchist website which referred contemptuously to 'the worst excesses of ultra-liberalism'.

So everybody hates a liberal, it seems. Which is odd.

262355.  Sun Jan 20, 2008 4:00 pm Reply with quote

Something else about Belarus, run by a former farm manager.

A fierce critic of US foreign policy, he's courted other members of the "axis of evil," such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela,

Oh, Hugo Chavez wishes. He wishes he was seen on a par with North Korea or Iran or Syria, as the Dubya's brain-fart mentioned, and not as a buffoonish Peron-wannabe who gets his wristies smacked by the King Carlos.

As for the one about liberalism. It is used as a catch-all insult, from liberal, as in free-willed or not strict, social attitudes and Liberal, as in not under central government control, politics and/or economic policies. The reluctant of some to refer to neo-conservatism by its original name, neo-liberalism, strikes as similar to the sentiment which prevailed in Soviet-influenced left-wing politics which reflexively called the Nazis "fascists" and not "national _socialists_", and using the term as simply to refer to all those monsters, real or imaginary, which live under their beds.

Re the site Flash mentioned - which, I wouldn't mind seeing - there have always been reactionary anti-capitalists: just now they have the Internet to communicate with. Much of the most ardent loathing of "liberals", in the U.S.A. at least, goes with paeloconservatism or outright paranoia which cares little about foreign wars but imagines big government bearing down. The Oklahoma bomb was an extreme example, of course, but see the marvellous double-think someone displayed to me I.t.R.W. by citing Pat Buchanan as an example of the fruityness in American politics, not realizing what he thinks of the W.T.C. attacks and the Iraq War. See this same someone who looks forward to China "challenging the U.S.A. as a superpower" because of her complete lack of neo-liberal policies.

262373.  Sun Jan 20, 2008 4:39 pm Reply with quote

General_Woundwort wrote:
Did you see any K.G.B. operatives, Suze? They still exist in name.

I didn't see any General; that is usually supposed to be the idea. That people of much that sort were there, I am in little doubt.

Meanwhile, I'll stand up and be counted as a liberal - with a small l at least. As far as I'm concerned, the fact that it's almost a dirty word in American politics says more about the USA than it does about the word itself.

(I'll spare you all the diatribe, but I'm a little bit cross at Canada's about turn the other day when it became clear that we'd upset Mr Bush. Bloody government that only bloody Alberta elected ...)

262377.  Sun Jan 20, 2008 4:58 pm Reply with quote

Oh, just imagine Dubya being locked in a room with Lissette le Blanc, Suze. Fell free to rant away, as I haven't heard about this one.

365130.  Fri Jun 20, 2008 3:31 am Reply with quote

Well, I have been three times in Belarus, exactly in Minsk. Certainly, a standard of living not too high in this country, but not looking at it people there are cheerful, friendly and not violent.

Ian Dunn
936903.  Mon Sep 03, 2012 9:53 am Reply with quote

There is a big fuss in Belarus at the moments, thanks to some teddy bears.

In July 2012 A Swedish marketing executive called Tomas Mazetti flew into Belarusian airspace and dropped hundreds of teddy bears displaying pro-democracy messages on them.

The dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, is not exactly keen on the stunt. The journalist who spread the story was imprisoned, has had his camera, laptop and mobile phone taken by the KGB, and he has been banned from leaving the small town of Slutsk, where his parents live. He cannot do his work because he cannot go into Minsk.

Also Lukashenko has fired the chief of his air force and border guard patrol, has closed the Swedish Embassy in the country, removed it's the ambassador, and last week fired his long-serving foreign minister.

Source: The Independent

976554.  Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:49 am Reply with quote

The outcome of Teddygate was........


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