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Drinking and blogging December 8, 2005

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

…are not to be combined. What was that chuff I was spouting on about 89mm being a blessing in disguise? Well, going to see it and discovering that there is a Russian cinema just down the road from me – those things were indeed blessings. The spontaneous drinking binge which ensued was not. I so can’t take my ale. And it took me all day yesterday to recover, writhing in misery and weakness.

But back to the film. I can’t find a decent link to it, but it was made by a group of 20-something Germans who decided to go to Belarus and interview people of their own age to see what life is like in Europe’s last dictatorship. The 89mm in the title is the width difference in railway gauge between Belarus (and the rest of the former USSR) (and Finland) and Poland (and the rest of Western Europe) (and world?). There’s a Russian joke about a tsar and the gauge being a cock-width wider than in the West, which I can’t be bothered to remember. And I don’t know if this is an urban myth, but allegedly the gauge is different because the Russians feared invasion. Invasion by train? How civilised! In any case, it makes for lovely, nice, wide trains, a helluva long wait at the Polish-Belarusian border and a perfect symbol to demonstrate that Belarus is the start of another world.

The film follows six young Belarusians around Minsk – a journalism student, a wannabe dancer (I’ve got a feeling her chances of success are about as good as mine), an émigré living in Berlin, a young political activist, a soldier and an ex-con. The picture it paints is mixed. Apart from the political activist, most seemed fairly unconcerned with Lukashenka and the political climate in the country, which must have Lukaphobes (like me) despairing. The journalist student understood the subject was best left alone, the soldier actually thought all was wonderful, the émigré’s family had left for political reasons (he claimed because his father was being stitched up for the disappearance of opposition figures. Yikes!), the wannabe dancer was in cloud cuckoo land and the ex-con – my favourite – just wanted to get on.

The film’s a nice portrayal of life in Belarus. There are lots of nice everyday moments that anyone who’s spent time in Russia will recognise. A bit of drunkenness here. A bit of (Bela)rus(s)ian soul there. But plenty of thoughtfulness and homespun philosophising too. Hardly a word of Belarusian to be heard, to my chagrin. And plenty of resignation to fate.

I can’t imagine this film will make it far beyond Germany’s borders, but it’s well worth keeping an eye out for. And bloody good for a group of young students for going off to Belarus and making a documentary.



1. P. - December 8, 2005

I heard the rumour about the gauge and invasion as well. I think it was more to do with transport of supplies or something like that. A friend of mine did the journey from Warsaw to Minsk, and they just jack up the train and change the wheels. Well, I say just…it takes about 4 hours…

2. Broke in Berlin - December 8, 2005

I’ve crossed the border by train once (well, there and back) too and it’s quite an experience, as much for the paranoia of the Belarusian officials as for the train being lifted into the air. On the way back into Belarus, the soldier passport-checkers pile on and in order to get an immediate picture of whether there are going to be any rich pickings on the being-able-to-annoy-foreigners front, they ask the conductor, “Иностранцы есть?” (“Any foreigners?”) I was then grilled as to whether I was a spy and I heard hearts sink as they realised both that I wasn’t and that I even had the transit visa which had become a legal requirement for chugging through the country that very week. Other unwitting foreigners were marched off the train to pay a fine. Going into Poland, the soldiers get on at the last town before the border, Hrodna, and stand guard at the end of each carriage lest anyone make a leap for freedom (I suppose that’s what they feared) until the train reaches Poland. Train journeys in the former USSR are lovely though, and always an adventure…

3. P. - December 8, 2005

Sounds a little nerve-wracking (sp?). The only experience I had at a border that made me really nervous was going into the Serbia part of Bosnia on a bus full of Croats from Zagreb. This meathead borderguard came on and was basically abusive to everyone (he couldn’t stop anyone coming in but he made the crossing unpleasant). We were at the back of the bus, and it was not long after the US and UK had been bombing Belgrade. We knew we couldn’t be refused entry but still, we were not looking forward to the moment he got to us…

Turned out, when he reached us, he was so surprised (and happy) to find a couple of backpackers visiting Bosnia, that he spent ten minutes writing recommendations in my diary of where we should go and what we should see, and left us with handshakes and a big smile.

Hehe, the rest of the bus hated us though because of the delay we caused…

4. Blonde at Heart - August 30, 2006

It reminds me of a great film I watched lately. It is called “A Sense of Loss” and it is about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The film (I watched it in the cinematheque, since it is on celluloid(sp?)) is a series of interviews with people from the whole political spectrum in Northern Ireland. Apart from the different points of view you see, it makes you thank whoever it is we do not live in the 70s. Bad fashion. I know the 80s were worse, but those huge glasses…yikes.

5. BiB - August 30, 2006

BAH, thank you for teaching me manners. By coming back to some of these old posts, I see I often just rudely used to not react to people’s comments. Awful of me. I don’t do that any more.

I think I’m going to a wedding in Northern Ireland in a month-or-so’s time, which might be interesting. In a way, though, I’m dreading it. I like living in a place where identity doesn’t matter, even if, as a foreigner, you have a little extra something in Berlin. But I’m sure that in Northern Ireland, people will be asking coded questions immediately, trying to work out whether you’re Catholic or Protestant etc. etc. It makes me glad to be a big city boy, where we’re all mongrels anyway.

(There’s a joke about this, except I think it’s in Scotland, where, in some spots, the sectarianism is as bad as in Northern Ireland. A Jew goes on holiday to Glasgow. A local asks him, “Are you Catholic or Protestant?” The Jew answers, “Neither, I am a Jew.” “Yes,” his impatient inquisitor replies. “But are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?” I thank you…)

(Yes, celluloid.)

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