Lukashenka’s Second Chance

The Ukrainian crisis is still unfurling like some hideous blood-soaked flag, but as Poroshenko switches from chocolates to international diplomacy and the Union of New Russia lays claim to half of Ukraine’s territory, discussion rages about the lessons for other Eastern European nations.  Mikheil Saakashvili’s efforts to remain relevant after losing the Georgian presidency by haranguing Western leaders smack a bit too much of ‘I told you so’ to be appealing.  Viktor Orbán, who rose to prominence standing in front of Soviet tanks and telling them to get out of Hungary in 1989, has in the past few months changed … Continue reading Lukashenka’s Second Chance

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…

Lit-Bel 3: In Soviet Belarus… everything was pretty much the same

[I know I’ve been dreadful about posting about Belarus, and unfortunately even this isn’t going to be a conclusive report of our travels there.  It’s more a collection of Belarus-related thoughts that have seized me, as a sort of atmospheric prelude to the detailed stuff that I might, one day, get around to posting.] The whole point of travelling overland is to witness the joy of seeing landscapes, both geographical and cultural, blend into one another gradually, of crossing a political border and having a brief, anarchic moment of delight at the thought that a nation is a fiction! We’ve … Continue reading Lit-Bel 3: In Soviet Belarus… everything was pretty much the same

The Itinerant Psephologist: Hungary

THE HUNGARIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, 2012  This is probably an odd way to start off what I’m hoping will become a series of articles on elections, as the election that I’m writing about is anything but standard.  It’s also something of an odd choice, given most commentators have been driven to the verge of spasm by the Egyptian presidential elections and I might very sensibly be supposed to deal with that first.  However, the Hungarian presidential election neatly encapsulates the problems the country faces at the moment, and since it’s a somewhat obscure part of the world, nobody’s talking about it.  … Continue reading The Itinerant Psephologist: Hungary