Jan 3, 2007

SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR: Olga Karatch

(This fantastic article was contributed by Olga Karatch, a deputy of the Vitebsk City Council, Belarus. Thanks ERN.)

"THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS, or about the Belarusian Policy and Politicians?"

'I declare it's marked out just like a large chessboard!" Alice said at last. "There ought to be some men moving about somewhere – and so there are!" she added in a tone of delight, and her heart began to beat quick with excitement as she went on. "It's a great game of chess that's being played -- all over the world – if this is the world at all, you know. Oh, what fun it is!How I WISH I was one of them! I wouldn't mind being a Pawn, if only I might join--though of course I should LIKE to be a Queen, best.' --Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

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1. Everyone in Belarus considers himself to be a professional politician and expert. In Belarus, there exist two deep-rooted stereotypes: everyone can become a teacher and a politician: as they say, a wrong deed — is a simply one. I am doubly unlucky: I am both a teacher and a politician. Therefore, I have experienced all the "charms" of this opinion. In this sphere, the first step of any "infant" politician begins with those around him, who having found out his involvement in such a specific field of activity, start remembering that they have grown up in the country of Soviets — and they immediately start advising what is necessary to be done (none of them is going to follow his own advice at that). When you listen to such a clever man — you begin to wonder: why he is not president of the Republic of Belarus: he knows all answers to all questions, all recipes for happiness for ordinary people. Once a politician confessed to me during a conversation: "It's difficult to live in the country where there are 10 million presidents".

This is the worst thing that Alexander Lukashenko has made, true unintentionally, for the regress of the development of political relations: his victory seems so easy that more than one generation has been breaking a lance trying to repeat his feat. Every new politician in no way agrees at least on the presidential post: if Alexander Lukashenko managed, then I can't fail. Am I worse than he is?

As a matter of fact, I love the sphere of politics: it is the concentrate of the whole life of society, it is his summit. Not everyone can drink 90 percent vodka, but it does not mean that it is worse than that of 40 percent. It is merely stronger, more concentrated, saturated, flavoured. One cannot pretend in politics; politics "x-ray" who is who in reality. That is why it seems sometimes that there are so many bad people there. In fact, there are not more bad people there than, for example, at a factory or school, they just cannot hide from the bright rays of the dazzling public attention — it is impossible to conceal one's inner essence in politics for a long time. It is possible in everyday life to have lived with a person for 20 years side by side and only afterwards find out that he has had another family at the same time or he has been killing other women all that time.

2. If a person has reached heights in some other sphere in Belarus, it will be difficult for him to become a good politician: his high social status will hamper him in accumulating political experience and getting rid of common stereotypes in politics, and society will notice all his mistakes and not forgive him these mistakes, again, because of his status.

What is wrong with Alexander Lukashenko? What is wrong with many other politicians in Belarus? As a rule, they enter politics having reached success in other sphere, they do not realize that they get into a very specific environment — like Alice found herself through the Looking-Glass: everything seemed to be familiar, but still, it was somewhat different. It is the same as to get from business into officials — it is very difficult since there are other people, rules, mechanisms and stereotypes there. In addition, the man believes that his previous life experience will help him in politics. The higher his status was, the higher position he had, the more difficult for him to get used to new conditions, the more difficult for him to say: "Now let's start from the beginning". It does not relate to the fact that he is duller, or he attracts more public attention and he is short of time for an analysis of his mistakes and miscalculations. If the status of a person quite high, he soars on the political Olympus and he is supposed to beat a running record whereas he even cannot walk properly. He has a plenty of evil-wishers, no experience of selecting his team, no strategic reasoning as well, he himself does not realize what he wants to get in the upshot, but his mistakes are striking. He cannot yet tell windbags and demagogues from those who are really able to do something, he is not ready to work out any ideas and strategies, but he is given some papers with complex graphs he knows nothing about. That is why everything proceeds along the well-known scheme: all rush to a news leader, hang on him, but then, after drowning him under the pressure of both his and their mistakes, they exclaim sadly: "It is the wrong one again!"

It is difficult for a person who has gone into politics from the position of, say, director of a plant to start from the beginning: to start spreading leaflets, to gather signatures, ring round people, that is, to do all the rough, technical work. The director of a plant will not be able to go to people, knock at every door and talk to people for the life of him — he got used to people coming to him. He will find it difficult to change himself. But without experiencing it yourself, you will plan no campaign well, and you will not be able to appreciate how well it is planned and carried out by others. And it turns out that having declared himself another "chess King" — a saviour of the nation from an evil tyrant, a politician who has not been a pawn and gained rudiments of political experience is checkmated at once. He quits the game. He starts hissing in the direction of either the "King" of the other chess-colour: "he is insane", or his former adherents because they are "somewhat different", it is high time they were thrown out on the "garbage heap of history". And given a chance, he would do everything in other way. But alas, the King has died, long live the King! — the society launches a feverish search of a new "King".

3. Alexander Lukashenko, as well as other politicians, is a predictable one . Personally, I do not believe in the insanity of Alexander Lukashenko. If someone does not understand somebody else's actions, it does not mean that this person is a madman. Most likely, he has other life experience, values and patterns of behaviour. Alexander Lukashenko is quite a predictable politician. In 2004, only a lazy one did not make any prognoses about the referendum on the third term of Alexander Lukashenko. Was the referendum held? It was. If we look into all his deeds carefully, we will find out that they are quite logical and predictable.

Quite another matter is that this man is unlucky. I think, only having become president, he realized the extent he had not been prepared for this post. He had to learn for a short period of time what other politicians in other countries had been cultivating in themselves for years — capital gloss, genteel manners and education. But where could he find them in the small village Alexandria in the Shklovsky district? He had to show a deep knowledge of history, politics, culture, and art. Where could the boy brought up on the fables of soviet ideologists and on the basis of a village school find all that knowledge? Whatever expensive suits Alexander Lukashenko wears, whatever perfume he pours himself with, whatever he does — he will not get rid of the smell of a collective farm. This smell will remain with him forever — just as the smell of dark Vitebsk streets with opened hatches will stay with me for keeps.

It is the very reason Alexander Lukashenko will never become a member of the Club of Madrid— a most influential organization uniting "has-beens" — the former presidents and prime ministers, i.e. the former great ones of this world. He will not become a its member because he has been unaware of its existence. I think it seemed once to Alexander Lukashenko that the president of Belarus would be somewhere near the God. It turned out that it is a small step not at the very top of the world. That is why he clings to his presidency — in the same way as the leaders of political parties hold on to their posts: either he or they have nowhere to go.

4. A politician himself has to construct the environment around him in Belarus . In Belarus there is a peculiarity that strikes you immediately: our society is extremely ill-structured. The absence of any structure leads to the following: a person has got a nice position, he has worked on it and gone all out, next — there is a dead end, neither this position will give him anything, nor can he give it anything. Seemingly, somebody else with fresh strength and energy should come. But this person clings to his position because there is a void around him, he has no energy to start from the beginning and to build a newer space around him again.

If somebody dreams of becoming an actor in Europe, he goes to an agency and tests his strength. If somebody wants to become an actor in Belarus, it is not so easy as it looks at first sight. He himself has to organize a surrounding environment around him. He has to find a good scenario writer to write a scenario or he himself has to write his scenario. Then he has to find money for financing his picture. Next, he has to find other actors, organize the whole process of production, he has to be a manager, make-up man, stylist, secretary, and inspector simultaneously. Afterwards, he himself has to organize the demonstration of this picture, that is, its selling. So many duties for a humble man, who merely wants to become an actor.

But if he fails to show his worth only in one duty, for example, that one of a stylist, he will never be able to prove in Belarus that he is a great actor. Things look even worse in politics — people have no idea what politicians should engage themselves in: a politician should be a brilliant ideologist, director, speaker, psychologist, organizer, manager, financier, entrepreneur, bookkeeper, promotional agent, historian, art critic, philosopher, doctor, teacher, stylist, make-up man, designer, writer, secretary, inspector, critic, personnel department head, lawyer and human rights activist with a perfect knowledge of laws, journalist, administrator, translator, linguist, political scientist, sociologist, programmer, intelligence officer, analyst, and God knows what else. And what is more, it is supposed is on default and it is expected from a politician by the society as well that he should fulfil all these functions conscientiously and absolutely gratis. That is, he should be an all-round genius.

Is it surprising that after all these feats, professions this poor fellow has to master to become a Belarusian politician he is not in his right mind? As a matter of fact, if a politician wants to take a further step of his career staircase in Belarus, at first, he has to build this step with his own hands, and only afterwards, he can step on it. Let's not forget that politics is a team game. If a politician takes care of the team he moves forward with he ought to bring cement for the steps of their career staircase, he should occupy himself with developing his team members' abilities and talents, and where they can use these talents. Otherwise, all will trample on one step, make a crush —there are rows, conflicts, misunderstandings in overcrowded places...

5. The foundation of the future Belarusian political system is being laid now . On the other hand, I am glad that it happens to be our responsibility to mould and structure the Belarusian society, lay all those elements we want into it. The durability and cosiness of home begins not with the roof, but with the foundation, doesn't it?..

Olga Karatch is a deputy of Vitebsk City Council

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