The New Struggle For Power

I’ve almost finished Nikolaos van Dam’s stunning book The Struggle for Power in Syria, which was first published in 1979 as a doctoral dissertation but proved so popular and informative that it has since been updated and re-published a further three times, most recently in 2010.  The first six chapters explore the political and sectarian machinations behind the coming to power of the Ba’th party and of Hafiz al-Assad, along with an exhaustive analysis of the fluctuating representation of each of Syria’s national minorities in government from 1948 to 1976.  The last four chapters discuss the ramifications of the information … Continue reading The New Struggle For Power

Lit-Bel 6: Into the Government’s Arms

There is absolutely no reason to go to Borisov.  It is the Guildford of Belarus: about an hour from the capital, has a nice cathedral, but it has nothing else to recommend it.  It is plainly not a tourist destination; even the normally unflappable lady at the train station looked a little perplexed when we asked for tickets there.   It appears in precisely zero guide books.  This is exactly why we wanted to go – to get a glimpse of real Belarus. It all sounds like the most dreadful clichéd pretension.  But this is not ‘off-the-beaten-path’ mania.  In a place … Continue reading Lit-Bel 6: Into the Government’s Arms

Lit-Bel 5: By Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR…

The day after our whirlwind tour of Minsk, my two travelling companions and I somewhat inveigled ourselves into a berth on a train bound for Brest (train station, left).  It was one of these luxurious Soviet affairs with large bunk beds and an attendant who brought tea and was otherwise lusciously uncooperative.  That four-hour journey cost the princely sum of £2.27. A word about the tickets: An odd feature of ticketing in Belarus is that it seems to be impossible to get hold of a return.  Instead, you have to buy another ticket when you arrive.  Of course, there are … Continue reading Lit-Bel 5: By Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR…

Mapping ‘Lobachevsky’

We interrupt our irregularly-scheduled programme of Belarus blogposts to ramble vaguely on about something incredibly pointless, namely Tom Lehrer’s song “Lobachevsky”.  If you don’t know it, have a quick listen here (the song itself starts at 1:05).  In it, Lehrer – in the guise of a struggling Soviet mathematician – is given advice by Lobachevsky that plagiarisation is the only way of succeeding in his field.  Thus, when he is tasked with a paper on ‘”Analytic and algebraic topology of locally Euclidean parameterization of infinitely differentiable Riemannian manifold”, he goes to great lengths to obtain someone else’s research on the … Continue reading Mapping ‘Lobachevsky’

Lit-Bel 4: I have a friend in Minsk, who has a friend in Pinsk…

And at last, we are in Lukashenkistan itself.  What really set the tone for the entire trip – the point when I realised that I had unwittingly managed to get myself into Belarus – was the discovery that our apartment was located on Lenin Street.  As soon as we arrived and unpacked slightly, I dragged one of my travelling companions outside (although it was 11:30 at night and windy) and we went on a wander around Minsk to get our bearings. Going south on Lenin Street, you quickly reach Nezalezhnosti (Independence) Street, Minsk’s central avenue [right].  Turning left, you reach … Continue reading Lit-Bel 4: I have a friend in Minsk, who has a friend in Pinsk…