Our trainees cover a wide cross-section of people. The jewel of the Soviet Union was education, and most of these people are extremely educated. We have PhDs, people with Bachelors (referred to as a diploma here) and field people such as foreman, mechanic etc. They unionized very quickly! The reasons were extremely good. There is no doubt that false promises have been made to these people, as to the length of the program. Also, they as yet do not know what the pay is. They have attended a weeks worth of training, and some of them are on unpaid leave from their current jobs. They DO NOT know what the pay is here!!! Already, they are aware that the program is short-lived, and from the conversation in the corridor (as explained to me by our driver Shasha) the pay situation is not comforting to them either. From reports, they were testing the waters, but come Monday they may give the whole thing a miss. Today is Sunday, and I am in Minsk. When I walk back onto the site at Costyini tomorrow, we may be sans trainees. I shall then take another walk through the missile launching pad and the silos.
The interpreter Vladimyr talks to us all the time about the infernal political situation in Belarus. Prior to our departure, we had received a memo concerning do's and don'ts here. We have already broken them all, except perhaps the one about attending a political rally, but then we have not seen one yet. One major item was that we were to avoid discussing politics and Lukashenko. However, the drivers and the interpreters thrive on this topic. Vladimyr has been telling me about the charter that will be signed between Moscow and Minsk, and Belarus may once again be part of Russia. However, the agenda was too far left and definitely not a Yeltsin choice. The communists are very much for it, Lukashenko also being very much inclined in that direction. This country is still ruled by an iron hand with red rust all over it. A draft charter has been drawn up and was signed yesterday. Is Belarus a part of Russia. No one knows as yet, because the charter was secret, the contents not revealed to anyone. The people of Belarus woke up to a Saturday morning and may have turned Russian, but they do not know yet. When will they know? It is like our trainees. They come to work, not knowing what the pay is. Come pay-day and the mystery will be solved. When is pay day for the Belorussians. I do not know, may be when they file taxes next. I have a theory. Premier Lukashenko is scheduled to visit our site on June 11. If he is absent and Yeltsin is there, then we will know that Belarus is now just another state! We could then spread the word around.
We have become regulars at the bar in Naroch. Every time one of our group walks in, the rest of us yell "Norm!!!". The locals sit at our table, and vice versa. The other day, we came to the brink of causing an international shipping incident.... To prepare for the unknown (in the form of a visit by the customs officer the next day) we had a party. It started at the bar, and finally moved up to my room. There must have been thirty odd people, Russian, Belarusian, American (and of course, I).
Our main joke now is to identify the KGB agent in our group. After the Soviet Union collapsed, all the countries had their agencies re-named. Even Moscow has a different secret service. Only in Belarus is the agency still called the KGB (perhaps they were too lazy to think of a new name). Our driver Igor is a prime candidate. He is tall, lean, speaks decent English, and has almost no hair with an aquiline nose. We tease him about it all the time, so much so that he has accepted his pseudo-status and joined the joke. Hey, where were you Igor ? Oh, I just went up to my room to transmit information to Moscow !!
It got rather cold here, almost in the forties. Not really like the end of May. No more short skirts in Minsk, and my friend Don is heart-broken. His wish was to find a nice girl here who he could marry. He still has 7 more weeks to manage it, but the other day we went out to dinner with Igor's wife. Don bared his heart to her and said that he wants to marry someone who a) is not very big; b) does not smoke and c) is Catholic.. Irina (the wife) exhaled a considerable amount of cigarette smoke and said "I think you should go to Poland".