17 January 2011

Belarus: Zimbabwe in Europe or socialist paradise?

I've just read two contradictory accounts of Belarus in blogs that I read. I've never been to Belarus, so have no firsthand experience of the place.

Neil Clark: Letter from Minsk: Belarus- a country unspoilt by capitalism:
This is a capital city where the streets are safe and clean, where ordinary people can still afford to buy medicine and basic foodstuffs and where the unemployment rate is less than 1 per cent. It’s the side of Belarus you won’t read much about.

And then there is this:

Clarissa's Blog: American Writers and Actors Helping Belarus:
As if that weren't enough suffering, since 1994 Belarus has been ruled by a fascist dictator Alexander Lukashenko. He has been condemned by the EU for horrible human rights violations on a variety of occasions and has been made notorious by his anti-semitic statements. Lukashenko can afford not to care about that, though, since his regime is supported by Russia. Russia isn't interested in being surrounded by strong nation-states and has been punishing its neighbors for daring to seek independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

And then in Russia last year renowned TV anchor Vladimir Pozner declared that that Orthodoxy is a reason for economic failures and the low living standards of Russians. Partiarch Kirill disagrees: Interfax-Religion:
'Today our life is worse not because we are Orthodox, but because we ruined our country and spiritual foundation of our life two times during one century. Protestant countries live better not because they are Protestant, but because these countries have not been at war, they developed their economy staying in rather favorable conditions,' the Patriarch summed up and wished so that God 'gives us reason to save our political, social stability and develop ourselves both spiritually and economically.'
My own observation is that in the early 1990s Russia was overrun by snake oil salesmen from the West, evangelising for the Western religion of the free market system, which had become the established church in the USA and UK under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. A lot of Russians bought this lie, and the new god didn't live up to the claims made for it.

Perhaps Belarus didn't buy into that to quite the same extent. but it also seems to have retained an authoritarian government.

In the 1990s both Russia and South Africa moved away from authoritarian government, and this was accompanied by a huge increase in the crime rate. A Russian geologist living in Johannesburg at the time told me, when I was about to visit Moscow, that the crime was far worse in Moscow than in Johannesburg. But it makes me wonder: is the Mafia the necessary price we have to pay for freedom? In Russia the Mafia operated in the private sector. In Zimbabwe for the last 20 years it has been the government. I can't make up my mind about Belarus.

And whatever the case may be, it seems to be a highly disingenuous effort of misdirection to try to blame it on Orthodoxy.

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