Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What's Going on in Minsk These Days?

 (Photo courtesy Oleg Babinets)

Volume 1 of a new series concerning the various goings-on in Minsk, Belarus:

Sure we've all wanted to get lost in the new 22-story National Library built in 2006, attend a performance at the National Academic Big Opera and Ballet Theatre, explore the extensive trolleybus network, frolic in the vast primeval forest on a summer's day, and freeze our dicks/tits off in the winter while running naked in a vodka haze from discotheque to discotheque with a gang of troublesome local twentysomethings, but not all of us have the means or the stones to get to Belarus as often as we'd like.

Fortunately, Nothing Is Sacred correspondent Fabio Sandrelli generously volunteered to live in Minsk for a calendar year--on his own dime, naturally--in order to pen a weekly column that will bring the many-splendored highlights of living in Minsk to your bedroom when you need it most and where you won't be too far away from your favorite imperialist tidbits.

Please enjoy and keep reading!


Fabio (right) receives his travel order from high command

11.01.2011 - OPERATION MINSK - DISPATCH 0001

Finally got my computer station set up in the houseboat. The satellite access along the Svislach River is either one of the worst I've encountered in my travels lately or I drank more vodka on the plane than I realized. Either way, I'm on the hook for at least a three-month rental of this Soviet-era icebreaker so I'll just have to make it work.

If I don't get a fire going soon I just might freeze to death tonight. As I step onto the aft deck to search for something to burn, the air hits me and appears to be on the sweeter side, while still bearing a slight trace of Mongols, Stalin, and Nazis, which are aparently a few of the more difficult scents to remove.

From what little I have seen of it so far (lunch outside the train station and a long cab ride to the boat yard), the city seems very proud of itself, of having risen where once there was nothing, of rebuilding time and time again after being ravaged by war.

Stout buildings of stone with labor-intensive architectural ornaments; grand boulevards crowded with automobiles and trams; monolithic museums, churches, and universities; smoke and noise, fur hats, hardy folk that don't talk too much and wear a lot of brown...I definitely need to improve my conversational Russian if I plan to enjoy myself here.

Anyway, nothing much seems to happening here for the time-being...wait--

I just translated the front page of a foreign newspaper in my head and it seems the government of "Europe's Last Dictator," Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, is threatening to assume legal guardianship of a three-year-old child of one of the leading opposition candidates for President. Lukashenko had the child's father and mother (a journalist) arrested during a raid in which government agents threw 7 of 9 opposition candidates in prison on trumped-up charges relating to a police riot against peaceful protesters and it appears he would like to ensure the child does a good long stretch in a state orphanage so that his parents get the message.

Apparently, Aleksandr Lukashenko is not be fucked with and he has not been running Belarus with an iron fist for the last 16 years by accident. Maybe I should do more research before I agree to these things...

Highlights from the article:
[Sannikov and Khalip, the parents in question] are among about two dozen people facing up to 15 years in prison on charges of organizing and participating in the protest. Many are being held at the K.G.B. detention center in Minsk, where they have been denied access to lawyers and contact with family.

Lyutsina Khalip, the grandmother, said she had not heard from her daughter since the day after her arrest, when she received a letter instructing her to take care of [her three-year-old grandson] Danil.

“She wanted me to tell Danil she really loved him,” Ms. Khalip said, fighting back tears.

She said her daughter had received threats about the boy even before the elections. One e-mail from an unknown sender read: “Don’t think about yourself, think about your son.”

Ms. Khalip said she first had an inkling that the authorities were turning their attention to Danil shortly after his parents were arrested. She said she was at the K.G.B. detention center trying to deliver a parcel of food and clothes to them when she received an urgent phone call that made her rush to her grandson’s kindergarten.

There, she was confronted by two women from the government’s child welfare service. She said the women were friendly, though they delivered an implicit warning:

“If you don’t have the financial means or the physical means, don’t worry,” she said they told her. “The child won’t remain alone.”

 “We are required to respond if a child is left without the care of his parents,” Ms. Drugakova [the government social worker overseeing Danil’s case] said. She said she hoped Danil would be able to remain in the custody of his grandmother, but said the government had a responsibility to determine whether she was fit to care for him.

“God forbid that all is not well with the health of the grandmother,” she said.

Mr. Sannikov’s lawyer, Pavel Sapelko, said that the K.G.B. notified child welfare services on Dec. 23, six days before his client and Ms. Khalip were officially charged with a crime.
(Courtesy NYTimes.com)
God forbid the grandmother is "accidentally poisoned" this week by a Belarusian spy fulfilling one of the easiest tasks on his to-do list. That would be a horrible tragedy indeed, leaving the state with no choice but to throw little Danil Sannikov into a Soviet-era, state-run orphanage with a special note in his file that says "BE SURE TO TORTURE AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY OVER THE NEXT 15 YEARS."
Okay, well...you know what? I'm probably just going to stay inside today, read a book, look through my coat pocket for some Goldfish Cracker crumbs, do some push-ups on broken glass, etc. Tomorrow's mission is to find out what is edible around here while trying to avoid getting killed or (worse?) thrown in the gulag.

I hope the next column will be more cheerful--I'll try to snap a picture of a family of ducks on the river or something, maybe interview a pretty girl, eat some stew, go dancing.

Looking forward to an adventurous year,



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