A man named L., we all know who we mean
Two departments of the European Humanist University
in Minsk have invited me to give a lecture. At the Institute
for German and European Studies one of the lecturers hands
me the latest directive of the President of the Republic of
This is what it says in the comments "on
urgent measures for the organisation of ideological work at
universities" of 1 April 2004:
"The propaganda of state symbolism, of the President
of the Republic of Belarus and his personal role in the solution
of general state tasks as well as the propaganda of the idea
that the President is the embodiment of the unity of the nation,
and the propaganda of the President as the guarantee for the
political and economic stability of the country should be
improved upon." There are regulations on the stricter
control of capital from foreign funds and foreign educational
programmes. The intrusion of foreigners into the university
building is to be prevented. It is to be made more difficult
for Belorussian students to accept internships abroad and
"the participation of students, lecturers and professors
in patriotic activities under the motto Heroic Deeds of
the Fathers Inherited by the Sons for the 60th anniversary
of the liberation of Belarus from fascist conquerors and the
victory of the Soviet people in the Great Fatherland War"
is to be ensured.
Someone says, "Only in the Soviet Union
was one so naive as to use the words ideology and propaganda
openly instead of just silently carrying them out". Ira
says: "Anyone who didn't experience the Soviet Union
and would like to catch up on the opportunity: Welcome to
I am told that a lot of anti-European and anti-American propaganda
is recently being spread. It has become fashionable again
to accuse undesirable foreigners of being spies. The university
rooms are supposedly bugged.
One student suggests I buy an official portrait of the President
for my presentation of Belarus in Leipzig. Theses portraits
are available cheaply and in good quality in bookshops. She
hands me a disc, "of other portrayals of the man named
L., we all know who we mean."
On Sunday we drove na chutterje. Chutter
is the word for an isolated farmstead. This farmstead has
been bought by an independent youth organisation for which
We pick Lena up at Wolodja's. Wolodja Weter
receives us in grandiose hospitable style in his worn green
towelling dressing gown. He is very charming and makes Turkish
coffee for us. We eat his cheese, Tanja and Ira look through
his books and then we leave. We race down the country roads
with open windows at 100 miles an hour, through the forests,
along blue fences, listening to Aquarium and DDT.
Every now and then Lena draws my attention to especially good
lines in the lyrics, for example: "If we want to learn
to live beautifully, we must learn to die beautifully".
We stop by a lake. Tanja, who is interested
in the art of the Japanese tea ceremony, makes green tea for
us in her nice china crockery. It's raining and we look out
onto the lake.
The children's holiday camp is in the middle
of the forest, at the end of long, muddy paths. It is pouring
with rain. It smells of campfires and wet coats. We go swimming
in a dark lake between the birches. Clouds are hanging in
the trees. Lutsche ni bewajet, there's nothing better,
we say. The mosquitoes are terrible. We meet Igor. He is wearing
camouflage and a cape and is leading a children's holiday
camp with lots of soldiers' games. He speaks to me in German,
which he tells me he has been teaching himself for the last
We have cabbage soup. One girl has written
a poem, and someone plays a tune to it on the guitar. We lie
around on beds and blankets in a wooden hut. Now Stephanich's
great moment has come. He picks someone to come into the middle,
switches on the CD player or gets someone to play the guitar
and the person in the middle starts to twist around and dance.
"Not to dance," says Stephanich, "to move,
to express themselves and thus to build the future."
The boy next to me is 13. He says Belorussian sentences for
me as I haven't heard the language yet. He is learning it
at school. Stephanich tells him to tell me why he is at the
holiday camp here and not at the comfortable camp on the Krim.
He is to tell me about the collective. The liberating expressive
dance goes on until late into the night.
It is half past two by the time we start our
drive back through the forests. We take the occasional break
and Ira sleeps for ten minutes. The sky is glowing white.
At half past five we buy coffee at the Minsk
McDonald's Drive In. Dressed up young people are doing the