Magazine article New Internationalist

Bread, Not Circuses

Magazine article New Internationalist

Bread, Not Circuses

Article excerpt

Bread, not circuses

Olivia Ward visits the village of Mir and finds its citizens full of the President's bounty and refusing to brook any criticism.

THE tigers were sitting quietly in their cages, staring at the pastoral scene around them. Trained circus animals, they were used to enduring the boredom and short rations of endless tours and unimpressed with the novelty of each new whistle - stop.

But the residents of this uneventful Belarussian village - appropriately named Mir or 'Peace' - ignored them as though they were no more than part of the everyday landscape of the market place.

The villagers' thoughts were on bread, not circuses. And more specifically on the price of potatoes, onions, carrots and beef.

It makes me absolutely wild when people from Outside say we're living in a dictatorship,' said Yana, hissing through gapped teeth. 'I suppose they think they know a better way to live.'

Yana, a widow, lives a contented life in this poor country that has been devastated by centuries of invasion, war, occupation and, more recently, contamination from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Adding to the litany of misfortune was the more recent political turmoil caused by the bid of Belarus's Mussolini - like President, Alexander Lukashenko, to become a supreme ruler, over - riding the Parliament and the courts.

But while the chattering classes of the capital Minsk gathered in the central square with placards to protest against Lukashenko, the good folk of Mir left the squabbling to the chickens that ran amongst their wooden cottages.

Those town people think they are so clever, but they don't know the simple facts,' said Yana. 'We get money every month from the President and people leave us alone. We raise our animals and bake bread. We're never hungry.'

Mir, and other villages like it, live in a time - warp which, five years after the fall of communism, has preserved the communist system. And it illustrates par excellence why communism is not dead but able to mutate in adaptable new forms.

Before Lukashenko we had a taste of democracy, but we could hardly make ends meet. Now everything's fine because he understands us.'

Belarussian peasants know better than any theorist that a political system exists as an unspoken bargain between the people and the state. …

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