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Hello, world! Almost feels like the first post, as I was absent from this blog for ages. Alas, I have little time for blogging these days. However, I do hope to return here once in a while to express my thoughts on important matters concerning Belarus. The last year in my home country could be summed up with one word “crisis.” It was the year of unprecedented weakness of Lukashenka. It was the year of awakening for many people who had previously kept silent . It was the year when many of us hoped the regime would fall by the end of the year.
It’s 2012, and Lukashenka is still in power. According to the study by the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies, Lukashenka’s rating has fallen to appalling 24,9 percent. In fact, 44,6 percent would support an alternative candidate if the presidential election were held now. Just 21,7 percent would vote for the incumbent. Alas, presidential elections are nowhere near.
The next election to be held is parliamentary. The opposition is divided, as always, whether to participate or boycott the race. The most stupid thing that can, and most probably will, happen is that some opposition structures would choose one thing, while other factions would choose something else. Again there will be different approaches, conflicting interests and a very small impact as a result.
For about two weeks, Belarusian segment of the Internet went nuts over Nekliaev’s revelation that he had brutally killed a cat. During an online Q&A conference, an aspiring presidential candidate was asked whether an episode of a brutal murder of a cat, described in his book “Armaggedon. Dramatic Poem,” was real.
Here’s a direct quotation from the book:
I was ten when I caught and killed a cat. She lived in a barn, homeless. I killed her by holding her hind legs and hitting her against a concrete column. Swinging her to and fro, I was hitting the feline body against the concrete. The cat already had no head, but I was still hitting.
And here’s what Nekliaev said during the conference:
It’s a real fact. Many of the childhood memories are enigma. For example, fits of childish brutality… I had one of those just once, but still I had it. How, why? I couldn’t explain it even to myself. That is why I tried to analyze it in a dramatic poem.
The effect was explosive. Belarusian Greens called for removal of Nekliaev from the race. The Belarusian blogging community blasted with zillions of posts and comments. It’s not surprising this childish act of brutality became probably the most widely discussed politically-related topic on the Belarusian Internet.
Internet art: By voting for Nekliaev, you will kill a kitten
Surprisingly, it even provoked the candidate’s aides and Nekliaev himself to respond to all this craziness. Nekliaev even did photoshoots with his cat Basia. But I guess the most amusing clumsy effort to hush down the fuss was when Nekliaev signed a peace memorandum with cat Barsik.
I don’t know what’s gonna be the result of all this madness, but it’s fun to watch.
Last week Milinkevich officially announced that he would not run for president this time around. However, he would actively support pro-Belarusian candidates. He did not reveal any specific names, but it is quite clear he will support either Ryhor Kastusiou, Ales Michalevic or Jury Hlushakou. I think Kastusiou has more chances to collect the necessary 100,000 signatures since he has support of the Belarusian Popular Front, or rather what is left of it after splits and disagreements.
It is sad to see Milinkevich going AWOL, but I fully understand this move. The opposition is much more divided now than in 2006. The leaders of various opposition factions, which had supported Milinkevich in 2006, did everything they could to undermine his leadership position after the loss. Milinkevich had also put forward demands for changes to electoral code. Otherwise, he warned, participating in the election would be like being a statist in someone else’s game. The electoral code was left practically unchanged. The election can be as easily stolen as the previous ones. One more serious factor which might have influenced his decision is the lack of financial support for this election campaign from donors. The opposition is practically penniless, and it can only blame itself for this situation since it is somewhat of a punishment for being so divided.
Anyway, I am sad about Milinkevich’s nonparticipation because he crafted his speaking skills and generally improved as a politician over the past years. Comparing Milinkevich 2006 with Milinkevich 2010, he today looks more professional and wise. Maybe it was his political wisdom that told him to keep out of the flame this time. Alas, it leaves me guessing who to vote for when I come to the voting booth. At this early stage of the campaign, I am quite clueless.
A new political season has started with an unprecedented number of oppositional politicians willing to participate in the election. Some of them are really aiming to collect 100,000 signatures necessary to be eligible to run for president; others are just splashing the water. To the best of my knowledge, very few of them are actually capable of collecting the necessary number.
Resource wise, just one candidate stands out as the most probable contender to the throne in the Belarusian kingdom. After months and months of ambiguous and shady replies to questions about his presidential ambitions, this oppositional frontrunner has finally revealed he would run for president. As if we didn’t know it . The candidate I am talking about is Vladimir Nekliaev. Why is he the one? Well, I don’t know. Frankly. All I know about him is that he’s a poet whose poetry is not of my taste. But for some reason, this man is making the biggest waves in the Belarusian pond.
Last year Nekliaev has come forward as the initiator of a rather vocal campaign “Tell the Truth,” which is allegedly financed by some rich folks in Russia feeling sympathetic toward Belarus. In contrast to the rest of the Belarusian opposition, it really feels like Nekliaev does have resources and manpower to get through the initial stages of the race and get the registration certificate, of course, unless Lukashenka freaks out and takes him down (figuratively or literarily).
However, I do have a lot of skepticism about his chances to win. It will be damn hard to rally enough opposition activists behind him due to the shadiness of his campaign background. He badly lacks professional image-makers since his gesticulation and manners in which he replies to serious questions are appalling (just watch the video below). And man, who on earth votes for a poet? Not lawyer or economist, but poet. He’s written lyrics for songs, nothing much else. Should Lukashenka be afraid of him? I don’t think so.
During the previous Belarusian presidential elections, I was live-blogging in English, reporting on any political developments which I thought were of value. The new elections will be held on December 19th, 2010. This date means one thing - authorities don’t even consider having a runoff. Who would participate in the second round on January 2? Come on…
I promise to write once in a while about the upcoming election, too. However, I wouldn’t expect much from it, regardless of all the Russian media hype. Check back to learn why.
Last weekend the police brutally dispersed an unsanctioned gay parade in Minsk. A week prior to that, a gay-pride event had been held in Vilnius, Lithuania. In Lithuanian capital, it went without much trouble, although the police had to keep an eye on a considerably large crowd of homophobes who gathered simultaneously to protest the first-ever gay parade in Vilnius. It was a strange mixture of Christian believers with large crosses, offensive placards and skinheads masked in headscarves. It took a lot of effort for Vilnius police to keep this group away from a peaceful gay manifestation. Some rednecks have even been detained, including two weird members of parliament who outperformed themselves in demonstrating their traditionalist views.
Just like in Vilnius, a far less numerous group of right-wingers gathered in Minsk, but not exactly to protest but to beat those fa**ots up unless the police do it. Well, those skinheads didn’t have to do it. The police did all the dirty work for them. The gays were beaten and taken into custody.
By talking to many Belarusians, reading forums and blogs, I need to tell you a very unfortunate thing, we, as a nation, are nothing like our image of “tolerant people.” Tolerance is often named as a national trait of Belarusians. We even have it in the current Belarusian official anthem “We are peaceful people.” But are we?
Luckily, there are many people who really are. I personally do not like stereotypes. “Slow Estonians,” “Hard-drinking Finns,” “Fat Americans,” “Tolerant Belarusians,” etc. This is all crap. Each and every one of us is an individual with his or her own psyche, life experiences, prejudices, believes. As for tolerance, I think we all need to learn what it really means to be tolerant, not just place a label “Peaceful People” on ourselves, because it’s pretentious.
The local election season ended with no visible impact on the Belarusian politics. The official turnout was high just as usual, but from what I can gather neither Belarusian opposition activists nor the society in general paid much attention to this campaign. I find it unfortunate since local election is a very good way to reach out to local electorates, an apt opportunity to prepare ground for the upcoming presidential race. The opportunity was mostly lost.
I am now completing my research into the role of independent regional online media in the coverage of this election. I have been analyzing statistical data from an array of regional online media outlets to see how the election was covered, how active politicians turned out to be online, and how Internet users responded to election coverage. As a sneak preview, I can say that the general interest of Internet audiences in local elections was very low. Elections-related articles were rarely among the most popular pages on any of the sites subjected to analysis. And I did analyze quite a bunch of them.
As part of my academic work for the Institute of Political Studies “Political Sphere” on one part and my studies at EHU on the other, I am writing a research paper on the role of the regional online media in the coverage of the current local election in Belarus.
Damn it! I must say this election campaign sucks big time. In most constituencies, there’s just one candidate running (of course, the one bolstered by the state). Many regional opposition politicians have decided to ignore the campaign as nonessential; few have chosen to run. I am still waiting for the data to see how this election will affect the statistics of local online media and also how much the media will cover the election, but I must say it’s hard for the media to produce some significant gains in numbers or even to spread the word about the election, given the interest in the election is so low both among the local politicians and the populace. Heh, even OSCE seems to have very little interest in it.
I’d compare this election to the soviet times. Yes, then we also had “elections.” But the essence was quite similar to what we are having now.
There’s recently been a lot of hype in the Belarusian blogosphere around a new undertaking nicknamed the Göttingen process. Last February, a group of the Belarusian intellectuals gathered in Göttingen, Germany, to discuss the problems of the Belarusian culture. They came up with a document entitled “The Unity of Culture Declaration.” (Belarusian version here)
The key message of the text is in the following:
We, active participants of the cultural process in our Homeland, are not divided or alienated by anything produced within the Belarusian culture, tradition, language, or mentality.
We perceive the highest goal of the modern cultural policy is to form the Belarusian nation as part of the global world. All divisions between us come from other spheres of civil and public life.
The document is quite positive and tries to urge the Belarusian culture figures to be more united, less aggressive towards one another (as it happens once in a while). But it seems to me, this declaration is just words, no real value. In culture, it is very hard, maybe even impossible, to motivate creative people to align themselves under one banner, to form up in one rank, etc. As it comes to culture, such things do not work. And guess what, they shouldn’t. Had they worked, the books we read, music we listen to, movies we watch wouldn’t have been so diverse, so intriguing, so inspiring.
Yes, I understand, Belarusian opposition needs more unity, our democratic leaders should quarrel less for the sake of all. But art is not politics. Art never happens in unison. Moreover, it crosses borders and is not supposed to serve some particular political goals. Belarusian authors, artists, musicians have quite different worldviews. Many of them live abroad, some write in foreign languages, some openly hate each other. The same is true about Polish, German or American culture. The unity of culture is quite a myth even if all creative Belarusians subscribe to that declaration.