The Attraction of Belarussian Politics (1)

Article published on June 28, 2008
Article published on June 28, 2008
© New Europe Journal author Mr. Nobody translation Eddie Alaszewski (mailto: ttealaszewski(at) And so the vast majority of us have again gathered together at the same time and place, the 9th of May in Minsk. A celebration.
veteran-2.jpgRed and green tulips in hand, blending smoothly with official banners, ribbons of dahlias looking like strings of medals, which have long been sold in markets as military memorabilia, “Victory” posters and badges, official flags hanging from all state structures, as if the capture of the city had taken place only yesterday – nothing but flags, put up to make the dull city colourful – children with balloons, veterans with their medals, a parade – in a word, a holiday on the streets and all around.

And further, people strolling about parks, looking at the attractions, the tempting smell of hot shashlik and the aroma of foaming beer. In turn, at the appointed place and time, finally, the evening salute. There are many of us, and we are all together. As everyone knows, we have had a troubled history (difficult last week even), but we stood our ground and prevailed. Happy Holiday!

people.jpgBut let us return briefly to the subject of us, who are many. Who are “we”? Who are the masses of whom we speak? Dare we claim, that we speak of that majority who are of no consequence when considered separately or as groups. i.e. they are equal in their insignificance in such a way, that, in particular, they provide evidence of their own existence. Put more simply, this group, the group of nobodys, is a mass of nobodys. Or, similarly, but in a more complex manner of speaking – a non-entity. Therefore, the nobodys are back in Minsk. We greet them. They are with us and there is no doubt that in some way we are with them. As well. (salutes, champagne corks popping, loud laughter).

But let us continue. The nobodys are not merely a material mass, grey and unworthy of consideration. No, the nobodys are those amongst us, who are many, and could be any of us. They accompany us like a shadow at midday, invisible in daylight hours because of the sun’s perpendicular rays, but becoming more visible towards sunset, or in the absence of direct sunlight. It is also impossible to say that nobodyism is just an imaginary concept – the product of an unhealthy or healthy individual imagination. No! nobodyism is a part of all of us to some degree, so that we are not isolated from others and can live in the company of others.

The problem consists of the fact that nobodyism, as an aspect of our existence, has a purpose, form and structure that is very easily swamped by ideology. As a result we have terms like “the masses”, the “face in the crowd”, the “small man” the “simple man”, the “madman”. As well, in the case of Belarus we have an additional type that is becoming more and more prevalent than all others (at least as far as we can see) – the excluded.

The equalisation and levelling of nobodys/nothings typically takes the following form: if you are not with us, you are simply nothing. If you are not like us, you are nothing, you are invisible and not recognisable. “We were victorious” means “You lost.” That is one of the slogans of official ideology. But more of this later.

Having made these preliminary observations, let us turn our attention to the events which took place and try to understand what kind of victory we celebrate on this day. 

“Victory” as an amusement for tourists and politicians

At this point we will concentrate on the obvious fact that the annual celebration of “Victory Day” has been turned into some kind of spectacle, a sham, a soap opera, the effect of which is to overwhelm the event itself. However, from year to year it is possible to pick out various nuances.

We would like to turn our attention, as they say, to look not at what was planned by the rank and file, an event for mass consumption and thus remained a matter of formal ritual, rhetoric etc. For example, it was worth noting that straight after the official part of the celebrations, when the latest “Heroes of the Day” finally left the stage and cleared the way for those wanting access to the square, the Victory Monument like a magnet began to attract all other attendees, whose actions began increasingly to resemble that of tourists. Endless photographs and videos were taken, posing with veterans or next to historical objects, crowd scenes and banners with pictures of Lenin and Stalin, which to the delight of the “tourists” displayed communists from Belarus. All of this gave Victory Day its distinctive style of entertainment, one more attraction not far from Gorky Park.

kommunists.jpgOne of the most interesting sights for the passing tourists was the gathering of foreign students in the square (mostly of Chinese or Vietnamese extraction, but we’re not too good at making the distinction). Firstly, it is the same because apparently for many of them the communist symbolism is a reminder of home. So apparently it made it a joyous event for them due to the fact that they, that is we, are also communists. But perhaps that isn’t healthy. Secondly, as regards clothing, symbols, awards, not to mention the veterans themselves – in fact anything exotic, anything authentic from this epoch, was swiftly identified as a valuable addition to a picture.

veterans_2.jpgIn the interests of justice, it is worth noting that in many respects the presence of these “student tourists” has given a certain authenticity to the gathering in the square and has provided today’s event with a global, international aspect, rather than transferring it into another piece of nostalgia for the Soviet past, like some museum piece. One can also say that their existed a certain international spirit (like the “Internationale” sung by the communists), with the proviso that in the square there were gathered not people from different countries, but rather a group of friends.

Victory after Dinner

Meanwhile, the evening part of the “Victory Day” holiday has been a great event for those in nearby Gorky Park. People have had to be turned away. Judging by the influx of people, you got the impression that access to all the festivities was free of charge. But no: there were as ever charges and it was necessary to stand in numerous queues.

park.jpgNevertheless, despite these small problems the holiday proceedings went smoothly: the atmosphere was sufficiently festive to allow people to relax and have fun. In a very European manner many holiday makers found themselves places to sit on the ground, almost as though some festival had taken place in the park or they were expecting to see a performance. However, as often happens with us in the era of cultural famine, all those relaxing became self-absorbed with their own understanding of the holiday and relaxation, as well as with quenching their thirst, satisfying their appetites, and other basic necessities.

tualet.jpgWe remain far from civilised: public consumption of alcohol of varying strengths, even by quite young people (we should note that the park is by definition meant to be for children). Here and there were the sounds of intoxicated people, many of whom made a permanent impression on the permanent fixtures in the Forest Park, who decided to take advantage of the holiday to move events closer to the centre, in the absence of any basic services. There were even queues at the male toilets. However, on the other side of the toilets an alternative queue formed for those who could stand the wait no longer.

orange.jpgAs regards the “cultural program” on this day, performances were offered by amateur groups, which were intended to be as unpretentious as possible (which is understandable in a park for children). However, in the absence of any alternatives there remained nothing else to do but clap your hands and sing along with the complicated songs. They sang a number of couplets about the “orange sky”, the “orange sea” and the “orange everything” with Soviet tanks in the background. In a way it was an appeal to the “Orange Revolution”. But children and tanks? It was too incredible a scenario by far.

Is it really intended that children can take it upon themselves to drive tanks and take care of television networks and their staff, who are located on the opposite side of the street? Or can it be that children are intended to be used to stop the enemy tanks? (How monstrous is this Belarussian opposition! They want our children.) 

No, this is simply a madness, a profanity, that is being put to you. In general you will understand, dear reader, that no revolution of any kind occurred on this day – neither a political nor a cultural one. The children sang as they well as they could and we give thanks for this.

In respect of the professional revolutionaries (Lenin and Stalin), of whom many different portraits were on show: this was quite strange, but they were deployed for quite a different purpose than demonstrating ideological support for the current regime. On the contrary: the communists complained that they were not included in the official part of the celebrations. Moreover, they even spoke out against the current regime, the BRYU (Belarussian Republican Youth Union). In other words, beneath the portraits of the leaders of socialism there was real “opposition”.

A word about the opposition. In Victory Square it was noticed that several of their valorous representatives decided to take part in this important event in order to subsequently be part of treasured photographs, acknowledging their presence and participation in the events of the day. Well, in that case, we respect their memories and our opposition “veterans”; they have earned this.

kommunism_2.jpg However, unlike the fathers and builders of communism, possessed with political flair and nous, as shown above ,the “Revolutionary Moment” has not been exploited by them (the opposition) in the first instance (the Orange Sky) or in the second (in the square). This has again demonstrated the utter inconsistency if our opposition, who have thus made yet another unforgivable mistake on this day. When “Victory” was so close!

Regretfully, or with satisfaction, it should be noted that politics in Belarus, to the extent that is real, becomes a farce and a subject for photography of different subjects, one in which it is necessary to be on one side or the other.

Let us hope, however, that our turn in this everlasting spectacle will come. If “we won” becomes a case of “we won” in our own language.

We believe! We can! We prevail!