A communist soviet nation, where unemployment did not exist, officially. Everyone had a job created for them by the state, and was put in positions of un-productivity. Living conditions were appalling, and state rationed living quarters were available after several years of waiting in queue. Food was scarce, and quality of goods produced by the unproductive workers was quite below any existing standard. Yet, life went on, as it always does. It creates in the minds of people an idea of the world, shaped by their existence described above.
A former soviet nation rid of the communist yoke. The shackles of unemployment are now broken, and it is out on the street. Kids beg at local street corners, and many people have had no income for a while. Previously, no one was fired from a job, even if their blood vodka level exceeded red blood cells. Now, they can be. Living conditions are appalling, and state rationed living quarters available after several years of waiting in queue. Food is somewhat scarce, and quality of goods produced is quite below any existing standard. It has been 11 long years since perestroika, but ideas shaped by their old existence cannot be shattered by revolutionary processes heralded by Gorbachev. Many people are confused at the absence of the jobs that were previously created for them, the rest either struggle to get by through innovative means, or are part of the rampant corrupt Mafia (the Neo-Russians). The dynamics of change is met with different responses in different countries. Belarus is on the wrong end of this spectrum. Yet life goes, simply because it always does. And they even have McDonalds, complete with McDrive-throughs..
The tragicomedy: The United States of America is now the big brother of the new world order. Committed to the success of it's Nunn Lugar program, it is determined to make good with all these newly formed nation and offer them aid, as perceived by it's own ideas. And to also internalize some of the benefits of this program, after all, elections are never that far off... The Former Soviet republics are offered a chance to redeem themselves of their bad days, by cleaning up their old mess, by development and re-building (many more McDonalds - 3 in Minsk, and many more to come). Help is offered through transfer of technology. "What do you want" they asked. "Some good old fashioned heavy equipment, of course many more times sophisticated than the ones you have, bigger, more powerful and comfortable? Or how about some state of the earth environmental remediation equipment, words that you probably have never heard before: bio-rememdiation, chemical stabilization, thermal desorbtion. Equipment big huge and complicated which you will not have a clue as to what to do with, and when you do , you realize that there is no cash potential, unless you strip them off parts and components and use them elsewhere. The rest will be moss covered in years, maybe months, of non-use. But remember, the equipment IS state of the earth, exactly the sort that we use in the US." The young free republic wants to wallow in the muck of high technology, to be one of the big guys. And the deed is done. US companies are contracted to build and supply equipment to Belarus, and offer a training program to the best in the nation.
All the above is not necessarily true. The Americans did not perceive that the equipment would be worthless in Belarus. It is all a question of perception, of ideas formed by people through their own existence. There is no world view, and will probably never be one. The unfortunates are "helped" by they who can, but the process of helping is clouded by political and individual opinions. We have a few million tractors in the country, and a few more would not help us any. How could it help any old Belarusian farmer? So the remediation technology is offered, which if nothing, helped one old Belarusian farmer : Premier Lukashenko.
Comedy without too much cost: A group of Americans (and one Indian) meet at the Mayors office in Postavy, a few kilometers from the Kosteniye base where the training program is to be. The dilemma is obvious. The shipment is stuck at customs in St. Petersburg, where Russian officials will make the most of the moment. It is a minor hurdle. But the underlying problem is now coming through. The Byelorussians have now realized that their part of the Nunn Lugar program involves significant money (at least significant for them.) It is a hard bargain to keep, who cares anyway about the Nunn Lugar program. Salary for twenty trainees for two months is big bucks, and the cost of support equipment and supplies, though subsidized, is still money down the polluted waters. The Americans have already complained about conditions at the Naroch Hotel, the nations "hot" resort. No hot water, no phones in rooms, no laundry service, no seats in the toilet, the food is way Un-American. Breakfast today was rice and chicken broth. Actually, that is better than the cabbage and mayo we were served yesterday. Yeah, but it sucked still. The roads are bumpy, and our mini-van feels like a schooner during a tsunami. The ride is about 2 hours one way, which we have done four times in a week. The other ride is 45 minutes, which we do twice daily. How can we teach these people and retain our sanity? And to top it all there is but little co-operation from the other side..
The Mayor of Postavy is a communist from the old days. His questions and wants are pretty direct: What happens after you leave. When do you leave? Oh no, stay longer. No, we have no overhead projector here, you have to get it from Minsk, but when you do, make sure that you leave it behind in my office. Will our people be trained? Oh sure, they will work as many hours as you want them to... What, of course I will pay them for the extra hours, but if they work less, they get paid less. We are no longer a communist nation, you know. I welcome you all here, and you are honored guests at our festival on May 29 - 31. No work for three days, only vodka.
Tragicomedy # 2: A meeting at a hall, somewhere in Postavy. We meet the trainees, possibly very qualified. Their questions are equally direct. How long is the training program, what happens next. (The equipment will be used till at least Sept. '98 - American Proj. Mngr/ Ah, no guarantees after the 17th of July this year - Belorussian official..) What are the hours, how is the pay. Can I leave now, or I may lose the job that I have....
Yet, life goes on. We play tennis at a court without a net, and talk about what breakfast will be tomorrow. I'm psyched.