Saturday, January 15, 2011

Philosophy of Belarusian Dictatorship Explained

I have been involved in the opposition movement in Belarus for over 10 years now. I know how Lukashenka's regime uses fear, intimidation, and lies to keep a tight grip on the people. I have read my share of political science analyses of similarities with other regimes and whatnot. However, I have never seen a straightforward explanation of the philosophy, a model so to say, that would provide an simple framework to predict at least some of the actions.

That was until yesterday when I came across a blog post by an ethnic Belarusian who lives in Israel and who visited Belarus for the first time in 15 years last summer. Just like Lukashenka, that man grew up in a village is well-aware of the order of life there. His idea is that the former state farm (sovkhoz) director Lukashenka is running the country in the only way he knows – the way he ran that state farm.

I was so amazed with this cross-discipline knowledge transfer that I translated it to English and present in a slightly abridged form (I cut out some of the sarcasm & satire).

Note: the text talks about collective farms (kolkhozes) and Lukashenka's last place of employment before politics was a state farm (sovkhoz). There are certain structural & economic differences between the two forms of enterprise. However, they have been interchangeable colloquially and the management techniques are considered to be similar if not the same.

  1. A collective farmer (kolkhoznik) must be fed but not be rich. When he is hungry he is dangerous. A rich one will not want to work for the pennies the kolkhoz pays; he won't join it. What for is the chairman then? There's no way this will work. We don't need any kulaks. They are too independent and uncontrollable. Thus, they are dangerous.
    That's Lukashenka's infamous "a shot and pork rind"1. It's clean but modest.
  2. All kolkhozniks must live the same way. Villas and mansions are not allowed just in case. One cannot make enough money for a villa in a kolkhoz. So if you are not a kolkhoznik then you are a thief and a bastard. What will happen to the kolkhoz if everyone wants a mansion? Unkempt huts are also undesirable but not critical.
  3. Good loyal workers must be stroked on the head and be rewarded sometimes. This doesn't mean they should earn more. No way! That's the direct road to kulaks with mansions (points 1-2). The chairman must personally toss them bonuses or vacation vouchers. So that they would know whose hands feed them, whom they should serve, and who can take away those bonuses.
  4. The bad, the lazy, and the disloyal must be punished illustratively. Again, the chairman should do this personally so that they know who holds the power.

  5. Foremen and other inferior rabble must be constantly bothered, picked on, and blamed on for as much as possible. They should also be punished illustratively and preferably for other kolkhozniks to see. This accomplishes a few goals:

    • First, foremen will be afraid and will know who is the master of the kolkhoz. As a result, they will be obedient and more importantly will not try to plot to overthrow the chairman.
    • Second, everyone around understands that the chairman is not guilty of anything. He gave the orders, right? And the foreman didn't fulfill them. The foreman is guilty, not the chairman.
    • Third, the kolkhozniks understand the chairman is strict but fair. He can not only whack a tractor driver in the face but also raise some ruckus with livestock specialists. And the show is entertaining. Yesterday, the foreman was yelling at me, and today THE MAN is yelling at him. Applause is guaranteed.
    By the way, not every foreman can tolerate such behavior. They either need to be chosen for the occasion or trained.
    Overall, what is an ideal foreman? The correct answer is run-of-the-mill. He should be gray and unnoticeable so that he doesn't eclipse or dared to attempt to do so.
  6. Every kolkhoznik is dumb, helpless, and infantile by definition. (The one who is not infantile is a kulak, an enemy, and there is no place for him in the kolkhoz. See point 1.) Because of this inferiority he cannot decide anything for himself. If he tries to decide anything, he will make a mess.
    Thus, all decisions must be taken by the smart chairman. He knows the right way and the better way. Sometimes he will even consult with the people in pretense. And if things don't improve, the foreman is there to be blamed. See point 5.
  7. A kolkhoznik must be present at work regularly, have a shot and pork rind, and must not think about abstract matters. For example, how they fit a pencil with lead or why the chairman decides everything. Nobody knows where this thinking can take them, like to independent trade unions, or to separation of powers, or to some other abomination like a parliament.
    Do you have your shot and pork rind? So be happy. Generally, they are happy. And any troublemaking thinkers should be punished illustratively (see point 4). It's also good to explain that these thinkers don't care for the people and wrote anonymous letters only to gain personal power, or that they were plotting to poison the chairman.
  8. The kolkhoz should not necessarily be profitable. What for are the district manager and other superiors? That's right: to distribute subsidies. As a good friend you entertain them on Saturdays and they bring you financing and other pleasantries2.
  9. The chairman must always demonstrate his intellectual superiority to the ignorant peasants who don't see beyond their own noses. He must have thorough insight and think three steps ahead. To do this, he must squint wisely, look at the horizon, and come up with the Great Project3. The completion of the Great Project brings immediate and irreversible Great Happiness. Well, not necessarily immediate but in the future the Project will pay off with unimaginable perks. Absolutely.

    Project requirements:
    1. The Project must be as much unwieldy, labor-intensive, and mind-boggling as possible.
    2. The Project must imply the participation of the greatest number of collective farm workers. The Project is preferably called "people's" or "national". Since the narrow-minded peasants do not understand the benefits of the Project and do not see beyond their noses forcing them into earthwork is allowed. They will appreciate it and thank the chairman later.
    3. The benefits from the Project should be absolutely unobvious. There's the chairman to explain all benefits of the Project.
    4. At the end of the Great Construction Project a new one must be started immediately. It must be even greater.

    It might look like the manager is doing unnecessary and secondary nonsense. That's not true. Firstly, the feeling of a great goal brings the collective farm together. Secondly, a drill sergeant does approximately the same when he orders everyone to march around. Everyone is together and everyone is doing something.

This ideology is very round, limited, and simple like boiled potatoes. The majority of the people eat it and seem to be happy with it. There is no need to think and a house, a shot, and some pork rind are allowed without it. What else is necessary?

Thus, I think that Lukashenka is not any kind of a blood-thirsty monster who is plotting to enslave Belarusians and feed on them. It really looks like he wants to make the country flourishing but in his kolkhoz understanding of the meaning.

1 – “A shot and pork rind” («чарка і шкварка» in Belarusian) describes the minimal satisfaction of commoners for fried pork rind (or crackling) is a common snack during drinking.

2 – Lukashenka's economy has been relying on lower crude oil prices from Russia and loans from the World Bank & IMF.

3 – Lukashenka’s rule has been marked with grandiose construction projects like an ice arena in as many towns as possible, a new audacious National Library of Belarus building, and an annual harvest festival hosted at a new town every year (the host undergoes massive renovations).

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