Sunday, July 5, 2009

Independence Day

What an amazing weekend! Our weekend started on Thursday evening, with a party hosted by a fellow student. At his party we met a couple of kids who apparently work for some sort of pro-democracy movement. I had a hard time getting one girl to tell me about her job and she finally told me enough that I understood why she didn’t want to say much to a stranger. Nor did I feel comfortable asking anything more.

On Saturday at the Independence Day parade we got a taste of “opposition.” (I use quotes because I have no idea whether they represent any kind of an organized movement.) The kids around us at the parade felt free to ridicule the patriotic demonstrations and pretty much everything else about the parade. Unfortunately, all these kids expressed was negativity. One of the government’s complaints about the opposition groups they suppress is that said groups only want to tear down and that they don’t have any positive ideas. I didn’t believe those official views, but I think they accurately described what we overheard at the parade.

I can understand how folks pretty much anywhere would like to make adjustments or improvements in their government. Any government is likely to do things inconvenient for various segments of their population at certain times, and any government is likely to be imperfect. I can also understand that governing a country-sized group of people is hard work, takes a lot of training and cooperation among people smart in different ways, and is not something everybody is qualified to do. I really hope that anybody wishing to change a working status-quo has a really good plan in mind before they start messing around, and I fervently hope that changes should be evolutionary and by consensus rather than forced down by a group of new elites without a solid foundation of public support and rational thought.

Perhaps I’ll say more about this at another time. I happen to find a lot of appealing aspects of life here and I am saddened to imagine that negative thinkers like I overheard at the parade might destroy these appealing things. I’ve been thinking a lot about this and could write many more paragraphs, but I really want to tell you about the rest of the weekend.

I really liked the look of the light utility vehicles that led the parade. These reminded me of American Studebaker automobiles, and I didn’t know if they were historic or current vehicles. It turns out that they’re current. I saw another one at the air show we visited yesterday and the car’s occupant told me that his was two or three years old. I’ll post some pictures soon.

At both the parade and the air show, the Belarusian Air Force showed off their fighter aircraft with performances reminiscent of The Blue Angels and other elite flying groups I’ve seen at home. My favorite part was when four or five planes with huge engines came in low, lit the afterburners, and shot straight into the sky. The engines made a HUGE noise.

Today I went with a couple of friends to see a historic reenactment of battles between Soviet and German forces over a Belarusian village. This took place at a camp called “The Stalin Line,” and the camp itself is a marvelous museum of World War II history.
(Pictures) My favorite thing there was going into a bunker at the forward edge of the camp. The guns and communication gear are all still in place and well maintained. It was nothing like the “imagine what this looked like before it deteriorated” stuff I’ve seen around home. Everything was real, quarters were tight, and you could just imagine the chaos of trying to fight a war in such a cramped and dangerous place.

After the historic reenactment, which involved a lot of explosions and explained the war much better than many movies, we went back to catch the bus we’d taken to get there. This trip was really the inspiration of my friends Kari and Irina, so I deferred to their preference of waiting for a bus rather than ask anybody for a ride. Cars poured out of the parking lots. We waited. The parking lots began to look rather empty. Irina assured me things would be OK. I wanted to go do homework. The bus came. People were standing in the bus and there was no way for even one of us to jam into the doorway to stand for the 40-minute ride to the train station.

I said goodbye to Kari and Irina and walked back to the parking lot. I flagged down the second car to emerge and made two new friends, who drove me all the way to my door and wouldn’t even accept money for gas. They like Minsk and they like Belarus. So do I.

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