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

Last Week In Syria

This week two particularly disheartening things happened in relation to Syria which don’t give me very much hope for the future. The first is, of course, the bomb in central Damascus at a checkpoint between the Russian embassy and the Ba’th Party headquarters. Over 50 people were killed, most of them civilians. The SNC, in a refreshing advance in their discourse, condemned the attack rather than claiming it was a government false-flag operation. SANA (Syrian official media) described it as a terrorist attack, which is technically true except that by ‘terrorists’, they mean the SNC, which is probably too disorganised … Continue reading Last Week In Syria

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

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

In which Nauru and Tuvalu are the most moral nations in the world

[17:30 This post has been edited slightly since a number of errors of fact and thought were pointed out to me.] Ever since the coup in Mali a few weeks ago I’ve been waiting for my thoughts to crystallise into something coherent that I could post.  As it is, things have changed a little and now I suddenly have far too much to say. The initial Communist President of Mali, Modibo Keïta, was overthrown in 1968 by a military coup headed by Moussa Traoré.  Traoré then stayed in charge, consolidating power around himself while the economy collapsed in slow motion.  … Continue reading In which Nauru and Tuvalu are the most moral nations in the world