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Klikkaa tästä March 31, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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No, not Finnish for clicktastic. But close. It’s for click here.

Just when I was thinking there was no saving a Friday evening fraught with worries about tomorrow’s guests, work, an absence of fun and perhaps even the prospect of no alcohol, the BBC and Finland have come to the rescue. I was studiously ignoring my work, blog-zapping and half-heartedly being irritated by the World Service’s Europe Today programme and wondering if the Danish gent talking about rebranding Denmark after the cartoon drama was as handsome as he sounded when all of a sudden, my ears pricked at a hail of rolled rs and, otherwise, a shortage of consonants. Finns? “Thank you, world, for creating Finland,” I would have cried out, if I’d thought of it at the time. And not just a story about Finns drinking or being good at school or having the longest palindrome but Finns and humour!

“Elokuva ihmiskunnan keisarista maailmankaikkeuden rajamailla,” belted out a gruff, manly voice, gagging for a drink. Without any prompting, I can précis that this piece of humour is, then, “An epic film about the emperor of the world in the far reaches of the galaxy.” Yep, the Finns – chiefly, five unemployed folk and students – have gone and made Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, a Star-Trek piss-take, which, if I know my Finns, should be full of wonderful, self-deprecating humour and sonorous utterances. And all for an apple and two eggs, or whatever that German expression is. Go and download it for free. And fall in love with Finland, if you haven’t already. You certainly ought to have.

Hell, there’s even a blog

UPDATE: Moral of the story: watch film before recommending it further. Perhaps don’t bother after all.

I need advice, I need advice… March 31, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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…nobody ever looks at me twice. Well, actually, not that type of advice. Not this time round. I’ll save that for another time.

Right, I’m gradually forgetting the art of being a human here, tucked in my little translating box and living in a selection of foreign languages. I was horrified when my mobile telephone rang today and a name flashed up that I actually recognised. (Though this wasn’t out of the blue, but it was still a shock.) So, anyway, an old friend’s in town. With the missus. And a child, whom I’ve never met, aged between 1 and not-more-than-3. We arrange to meet. But through the entanglement of cultures, foreign languages, my lack of social skills and caving into any suggestion made by anyone else ever, I’ve ended up inviting aforementioned nuclear family here tomorrow. HERE! To this flat. Which is probably allergic to extraneous DNA by now.

But there are complications. Apart from the linguistic hoo-hah that the whole event’s going to be, a very odd time has been set for the social event and they’ll be coming from lunch chez someone else. And they’ll have to go home to put the infant to bed at, say, 7-something. So what does one provide for a nuclear family, at home, who won’t be hungry, between 4 and 7? What do we do? Just gush over the child? Do I need to go and buy 20 Kinder eggs, or is chocolate bad form these days? Do I need to go and buy him a piece of fruit instead? Or a carrot?

I did hear the word ‘coffee’ uttered from my less-flustered-than-I old friend. So, what, coffee and fondant fancies? Can you get those in Berlin?

Oh, and I forgot to mention, old friend is allergic to EVERYTHING. Bread, fruit, vegetables, eggs, booze. And I’ll have to pretend I’m not smoking for the sake of appearances as I’d given up last time we met.

But this is it. After this social occasion, I’m moving to Leamington Spa.

But until I do, please, tips. What do you do with a nuclear family? What do you do with a nuclear family? What do you do with a nuclear family, early in the evening? Grown-up heterosexuals’ answers greatly appreciated. (I don’t have any videos suitable for children.)

Happy accident March 29, 2006

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There’s not often much to write home – or here – about when it comes to the daily events that occur either in this flat or within a 500m radius, i.e. the shops. But yesterday, the Russian’s and my world was temporarily shaken by a supermarketing mishap.

I should have known the trip was going to go pear-shaped. I had to linger at the bottle-machine as there was a gaggle – well, OK, two – of children, I think siblings, struggling to cope with the insert-bottle-wait-a-sec-put-in-next-bottle-press-green-knob-get-voucher process. They were aggressively unprepossessing children. One, of indeterminate sex, was at an especially annoying age – 13, say – where it understood that it was annoying and it had become its life mission to annoy as much as possible. I’m not sure if this is an apocryphal embellishment on my part, but I’ve got a feeling there was even deliberate and unnecessary burping. There was definitely – no denying it – an unnatural hair colour. The younger child, and putative younger brother, was showing signs of preparing to display equal unprepossessingness within a matter of months.

“Nee-naw, nee-naw,” all of a sudden went the bottle-machine. The youngsters had managed to make the alarm go off. The alarm! The tannoy rang out for a member of staff to get to the machine ASAP. A harassed and annoyed-looking young lady appeared with an unnaturally large bunch of keys, did some fiddling, and made the siren stop. I shifted closer to the machine, showing the youngsters I was slightly bored of their display, all the time trying to transmit, with disparaging looks, that they shouldn’t be imbibing so much liquid sugar. They resumed their insertions. All seemed to be going to plan, but one bottle was being evasive. It kept popping back out. The unprepossessing child of indeterminate sex tried everything to get those last 15 cents. He/she turned the bottle over so that the barcode would be easier for the barcode-reader to read. But back out it popped. He/she then kissed the bottle, as a gambler might kiss his betting ticket, and tried again. “Nee-naw, nee-naw.” The youngish personified scowl reappeared. We all clearly blamed the youth of today for making the machine nee-naw twice. I could see disapproving looks from various German pensioners. I lingered further. The Russian looked on impatiently.

The younger of the unprepossessing children ushered me forwards for me to have a go instead. I grunted gratitude. Inserted my bottle. “Nee-naw, nee-naw.” The shame! The shame! The clanking scowl appeared again, looking daggers at the youngsters, but softened slightly when she realised it was me doing the hooliganising. She repaired the error, I got my voucher, and the Russian and I could at last get on our shopping way.

It was a major shoppery. Everything needed to be stocked up on. Our fridge looked as if it was part of a news report from some war-torn nation where the residents of a house had had to make a hasty escape. Not a sausage. The fates had conspired to make all the cleaning items end simultaneously. We needed the works. I even had the fun of grinding coffee-beans at the coffee-grinding machine (thankfully in full working order). We trawled our way heroically round, trolley groaning under the weight of comestibles. But the supermarket-design god rewarded us with the temptation of the wine-counter just before the checkout. What a good bit of design. We lingered here longer than elsewhere, wondering whether to go New World or stick with the frogs. Or what about the Italians or Spaniards? (I’m secretly always gagging for Spanish, but rarely get my way.) Out of Slavic solidarity, we cast a glance at the Bulgarians. The Hungarians, Greeks and Romanians were, it goes without saying, dismissed out of hand. “Hm, there seems to be a new lot of Chianti. Shall we go for it?” The Russian decisively put a bottle of the new Chianti in the trolley – having glanced at the price tag (which isn’t on the bottle, like in some suburban off-licence, but slid into that plasticky thing on the front of the shelf) – and rolled onwards. (He was paying. I caved into authority.)

We got to the till. “Fuck, only the horrible old bag’s on duty,” we exclaimed. “We can’t afford her thieving tactics AGAIN. And the unprepossessing children have got a year’s worth of Fanta to go on the conveyer. Fuck…” Thankfully, the nice, early middle-aged cashier dashed to her till at just that moment and we avoided the old bag with happy alacrity. The nice, early middle-aged cashier chatted away to us. Neither of us understood a word of her Berlin dialect, obv, but we played along and tittered here and there and articulated very clear hellos and goodbyes. We trundled on to the final stage of the shoppery. The Russian packed. I scanned the receipt, looking for signs of theft. “Milen’kii (darling), the wine cost * euros!” Twice as much as we’d thought, and twice as much as we’d normally pay. My internal organs leapt for joy, both that the Russian had been made to part with more money than he intended and at the thought of us having accidentally posh wine. The Russian resigned himself to defeat at the hands of incorrectly placed bits of plastic and, I’m guessing, noted the occasion in his shopping-incident arsenal for when I next dared raise the issue of how much something cost on a shoppery.

So, anyway, how was the twice-as-expensive-as-usual wine? Twice as good? Dunno. But certainly not bad. But the thing is, whatever it’s got in it has hit a spot. Both the Russian and I are OBSCENELY inundated with work and haven’t done anything festive for about 3 millennia. At least. And all of a sudden, at 8-something pm, the Russian pipes up, “Let’s go to the cinema.” I dashed to see what was on at the local Russian cinema. Some Georgian pants from the 80s. “Let’s go and see the film about the gay cowboys.” So we will. The second I’ve finished this post, and polished off the remainder of the twice-as-expensive-as-usual Chianti, it’s off to Bareback Mountain, as Berlin queens (or at least the ones I know, all hailing from the former Soviet Union) are so hilariously calling it. Anyway, I’m anticipating the film will be utter pus but GOING OUT ON THE TOWN. Imagine.

Purchase beyond your means, boys and girls. It’s the way forward.

Missed blopportunities – or tits and ass March 29, 2006

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Earning a living is an awful pain in the arse. Not so much for the actual doing of the work – although that is, admittedly, utterly loathsome – but it means, when times are busy, deadlines short, and workloads high, that I miss a million wonderful blopportunities. Anyway, I’ve snuck myself a spare, nocturnal second, agreed a non-nag clause with the Russian if he comes in and sees me doing this, shut myself away in my blogarium… aber, what to write about?

I had had half a mind to blog about the joys of spring, but spring’s already old hat. I’m long since used to the people from the 100% long-term unemployment house across the road – with Südbalkons, the sods – sitting lazily and soaking up the sun as I type away at my computer, all the while looking forward to the twelve seconds of sunlight this side of the flat gets between 6 and five past. Wankers. And it’s too late to write about how spring put my cleaning gene in overdrive or how I’m so, like, over the novelty of the long evenings. No, missed that boat.

And I know I should keep up my commitment to Belarus and the disgrace of its elections, but then all sorts of real Belarusians are doing it so much better. I’ll have to leave saving the planet to them for now. Time just won’t allow my undoubtedly almost vital contribution.

And I should so be guest-blogging.

Flipping bills.

So what else is there? Well, work. Actually, although work is, I repeat, a loathsome occupation, the current text I’ve got to manipulate isn’t overly despicable. I found myself needing to translate a sentence into Russian involving the words ‘bottom’ and ‘wipe’. (I’d better not give the game away too much for confidentiality – puke – reasons.) I realised, after a hundred years of studying Russian, living in the country for another hundred and living with a Russian for a further hundred, arse-wiping hadn’t that much come up in conversation. I mentally flicked through my anal vocabulary. I knew the rude word for arse. And I knew a more bum-like word. And I knew buttocks. Then there was this other rear-like word lurking. I wondered would that do. I dashed to the Russian. “I’ve come up with this expression for bottom-wiping. Is it right?” A look of horror. “What do you want to write that for?” “Because it’s in the text. Is that the right bum-word?” “You can’t write that. Leave it out.” “Um, no, so should I use zad, or zadnitsa, or popa, or zhopa?” I quizzed, racing through my lexis of the derrière. At which point the Russian had a laughing fit at the mention of so much arse-vocab – I think my four-year-old nephew might have coped better – that we had to leave it there and I am, strictly speaking, still none the wiser on how best to wipe Russian bums, at least in writing.

They’re a bit prudish on the old word front, the Russkies. I can’t think how the hell this happened, but for some reason, when I worked in Russia, and my colleagues were three ladies, I found myself having to translate something about the Vagina Monologues to them. I started, not surprisingly, with the title. “OJ! BiiiiiiiB! How you know such vörd? Oj!” Which was not to say that these same colleagues had anything prudish as far as thoughts on the same area of the anatomy were concerned. Indeed, they were at pains to understand that I didn’t seem to be having far more – anything, in fact – to do with my female flat-mate’s genitalia. How was this possible? Unfortunately, I didn’t have the guts to say, in Mr. Fry’s words, that, “I’m not really in the vagina business.” I shoulda. I shoulda. I think at least one of those three ladies was hanging out for a marriage proposal, and then I went and eloped with one of her countrymen. Imagine the shame! Jilted for a man.

Anyway. Work beckons. I wish I was a proper smoker…

(Speaking of prudish, need the blogger spell-check function be quite so babyish?)

What next, Minsk? March 26, 2006

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My god but the internet has been the place to follow events in Minsk in recent days. I mean, the (TV) BBC’s been OK, but a little gaggle of Belablogs and various Belasites have really provided a great stream of information and comment on everything that’s happened. Once the permanent protest on the square of contentious name was broken up in the middle of Thursday night/Friday morning, I’d worried that the whole protest thing had fizzled. That that was it. That Belarus would get back to the normality of subservience to and (perhaps frustrated) patience with Lukashenka’s rule. Opposition-supporting Belarusians in Minsk seemed to be complaining that the opposition’s protest tactics were not well organised enough, lacked coordination and direction. So I was doubly worried, especially now the police had form, that the call to come out and protest in numbers yesterday, on the anniversary of Belarus’s declaration of independence in 1918, would be met with resigned indifference. So how wonderful that people came out in such numbers. And what a reaction they provoked. Shield-thumping riot police gagging to kick ass. A show of strength. And one which genuinely seems to have evoked some outrage, if not exactly shock.

But what next? OK, so Belarusians have protested in reasonably large numbers and in scenes that Lukashenka’s Belarus had not previously seen. But without a next step in the ‘plan’ being in place, what happens now? The annual event to mark Chernobyl will take place in a month’s time, but what about between now and then?

In any case, you’ve got to hope this is all the seed of something that will grow and grow. Lukashenka obviously has power on his side, but he must have been shaken by such outward and open displays of defiance, the like of which he’d never seen. As has been the case throughout its history, Belarus is now the scene for another East-West tussle. It’s clear where Luka’s own loyalties lie (and they’re certainly not at home. He dimly sees a bigger picture). And even if Putin might think Lukashenka’s a bastard, at least he’s his bastard. And on the western side, the Poles and the Lithuanians, logically, are those speaking out most vociferously for the polar opposite world view. But, most importantly, of course, you’ve got to hope that such shows of strength by Lukashenka against his own people will rouse rancour among more and more Belarusians. As important as outside influences clearly are, their fate ultimately remains theirs to shape.

And elections in Ukraine later today. My pseudo-Slavic soul can’t take much more of this…

Kalashnikovs in schools March 24, 2006

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Films can be too queer. Because my Deutsch is so stunningly crap, I am provided with an extra excuse to almost never watch the TV. But after a working week that any dog – dog? – would be proud of, it was still nice to flick the TV on this evening as the computer beckoned teasingly from across the room to see if there was anything that could match the joys of work and the net. The TV in this humble abode had died recently. Or rather, not the TV, but its black box. You don’t seem to be able to have TV reception in Berlin without a box, rather than just the twisted coat-hanger that did for us when I was a lad. (Excuse the slip into Yorkshiredom. I’ve never been north of Watford in my life.) Anyway, the purchase of a new box – chrome, not black – ushered in a (short) era of televisual excitement in the BiB household as, mysteriously, this box gives us a whole different set of channels. I am stalinistically loyal to the BBC so almost puked with joy when some international version of it popped up before my eyes. But it only seems to play the in-betweeny jingly bit all the time and then provide a countdown to the next jingle. Which is no good to man or beast. Anyway, this evening, wine polished off, I flicked languidly from one channel to the next. Mostly just total puke, of course, and quiz shows with tough anagram questions along the lines of, “…the clue: German city – B-R-E-L-I-N,” and that drag queen – sorry, drag queens are the theme of the day – who reads the horoscope. And then Dolph Lundgren appeared. I languorously called out to the Russian. “Dolph.” He dashed in. “Has he got his kit off?” (Rough translation.) But, to our great surprise, Dolph seemed to have gone mature. He appeared to be playing a school-teacher. “There’s no way he’ll get his kit off in this,” we (probably) both thought, bilingually, and the Russian slunk back off to the mystery of the next room and I flicked onwards. “Odd,” I thought. “You’d think Dolph had been typecast by now. But maybe at 50, or however old he is, he’s just not rippling enough to play the get-your-kit-off roles anymore.” My thoughts turned to the computer, purring ignoredly in the corner, and maybe even the chance for a bit of sneaky blogging. “One last flick,” I thought, and by the time I got back round to Dolph, his shirt was ripped, the gleam on his pecs would have had any bootblack breathless with admiration, and he was brandishing a Kalashnikov and crawling through lift-shafts trying to beat the clock in a tense will-it-or-won’t-it-explode thriller. Too odd. He really should grow up. Still, he’s looking in fine fettle.
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С днём рождения! March 24, 2006

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Ищу уже три часа примерно клип песни Крокодила Гены. Хотел так поздравить Русскую службу Би-Би-Си со днём рождения. 60 лет уже Би-Би-Си вещает на русском языке. Служба была мне дорога тогда, когда жил в Питере. До сих пор является хорошим источником нейтральных новостей и интересных передач. Молодцы. Поздравляю.

Too good not to share March 24, 2006

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…in a temporary hiatus from events in Minsk. What a shame HRH Regina Fong,
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last of the Romanoffs, is no longer with us. She could have taken this, which I’ve pilfered from fellow Berlin blogger Radio Free Mike and incorporated it into her show without reworking it in the slightest. Marvellous.

Done and dusted… March 24, 2006

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And now Svaboda tells us all of the 460 people who were on the square at the time have been taken away. The tents are being inspected and removed. And all that’s left is the detritus of the protests…

Spring cleaning? March 24, 2006

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Radio Svaboda is reporting that the police have moved onto October Square in Minsk to round up, or clear away, the remaining protesters. Foreign media interest has already waned and the middle of the night is when there are fewest people and least attention, of course. And there’s probably a desire on the part of the authorities for there not to be a continuous display of defiance up until Saturday when it is hoped there’ll be a slightly larger turnout of protesters on the anniversary of Belarus’s declaration of independence back in 1918…

Skulduggery before bedtime March 23, 2006

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A nice round-up of the results from Belarusian voting in Prague from Belarusian star-blogger br23. I’ve looked frantically for equally precise figures from Berlin but can’t find them. Berlin exit-polls, as I’ve stated before, showed 72.5% in favour of Milinkevich. I know exit-polls are an imprecise science, but Prague events seem to be a succinct microcosm of these elections as a whole. Which is not to say that Milinkevich would be as popular in Belarus as he would be among Belarusians in the Czech Republic or that Lukashenka would be as disliked in Belarus as he is amongst the diaspora, of course, but the skulduggery does rather leap out at you.

The blogger who’s been reporting from the renamed (at least by the opposition) Kastuś Kalinoŭski Square reflects on his days there. It’s a mix of despondency – because numbers have dwindled – and hope for the future, seeing this as the start of something new in Belarus. I share that hope. This type of protest is new for Belarus. It’s being compared to the ‘Ukraine without Kuchma’ protests in some quarters (and by the blogger himself) which ultimately failed to bring Kuchma down but laid the groundwork for the big push later on. Hopefully there won’t be a paltry turnout on Saturday for the protest to coincide with the declaration of independence of the Belarusian National Republic in 1918, the first ‘modern’ Belarusian state. We live in hope. Жыве Беларусь!

Cuban Belarusian friendship March 22, 2006

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cuba.jpgbelarus.jpg

The unbearably dry Interfaks cheers us all up with news of Fidel’s hearty congratulations to Sasha on his resounding victory in the Belarusian presidential election – no need for capitals – and invites him to Havana for a bit of a jaunt and a good old smoke.

Update: in further good news, that beacon of democratic values and ultimate loser of Ukraine’s, shall we say, revised Presidential Election, Viktor Yanukovich, has also given Sasha a telegrammic pat on the back. More good news eagerly awaited. As soon as the euphoria surrounding the latest tractor harvest in Pyongyang is out of the way, we should be able to expect rousing words, and maybe even a bit of a slogan, from Kim Jong-il.

Update 2: Sasha could be away for some time if he takes up all the invitations he’s getting from the world’s outposts of parallel reality. Turns out cuddly old Mahmoud wants him to pop over too. They could have fun drawing new maps of their parallel universes. Mahmoud could have one without Israel, and Sasha could nicely erase the border between Russia and his own new Russian province. Damn, if only those pesky bits of Poland and Lithuania didn’t block a clear path to Kaliningrad…

Belablogs March 21, 2006

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More blogs to follow for newswire style updates on events in Belarus. My hopes soar and flounder at regular intervals, depending on every blogged word. Whatever happens, these protests are the biggest of their kind in Belarus for years, which can only be a good thing. And in Milinkevich, the opposition has found an honourable and noble figurehead. Anyway, I’m going to go bankrupt if I don’t tear myself away from events in Minsk, but in the meantime: Lipski (on October Square in Minsk – Russian and Belarusian), Rush Mush (another Belarusian in the States – English) and Neeka, (an Orange Revolutionary – English).

It’s the economy, stupid! March 20, 2006

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Democracy just costs too much. If these elections had gone to a second round, it would have cost another 20 billion Belarusian bunnies
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($10 million), and how could Lukashenka otherwise ensure that the people lived in such stability and prosperity? Hail the great leader! Hail his abstemiousness! Hip, hip! (Pass the prozac.)

Berlin Belarusians show the way… March 20, 2006

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The last Belarus link before bed, and guaranteeing sweet dreams. In spite of the massive farce of the elections themselves, I shall drift off to sleep with a glimmer of hope. The protests were encouraging. And… According to an exit-poll at the Belarusian Embassy in Berlin, where voting also took place today, 72.5% were for Milinkevich. (Interesting to get a look at the official results when they come out.)

A good turnout March 20, 2006

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And I don’t mean to the elections themselves. The large crowds that turned up in central Minsk in support of the opposition were the first piece of good news of the day. The elements were against the protesters, though, and let’s hope they don’t fall at the first hurdle and DO come back and protest further tomorrow evening. This feed coming right from the square kept us bang up to date and, although my heart sank when people moving away from the square was announced, it ends on a high note. If they can grab the imagination of more and more of their countrymen, this could grow and grow. And you’ve got to hope preliminary figures of almost 90% of votes for Lukashenka will spur a few more disgusted folk into action.

Elections shmelections March 19, 2006

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Well, they’re over. Sterling (and ongoing) updates from Акавiта, БелаПан and from blogger Andrei Khrapavitski. Exit-poll figures have been as fanciful as you’d expect them to be, with Lukashenka’s share of the vote hovering consistently around the 83% mark. One alternative exit-poll, quoted on Радыё Свабода, which I’m listening to like mad (and getting free Belarusian lessons into the bargain), on the aforementioned blog and on Хартыя’97 (hacked like nobody’s business all day long, they say), carried out by Russian NGO Levada Centre, give Lukashenka about 47% and Milinkevich (whose site has allegedly also been hacked) (seemingly to death) about 25%, which, if true, would mean a second round of voting were necessary.

So dirty tricks have been the order of the day. Sites hacked. Scare tactics including sending SMSes warning people not to protest this evening (some thousands have already gathered). And the figures speak for themselves. Milinkevich has behaved in an exemplary fashion throughout this campaign. Let’s see how he’ll be as a leader of the opposition now that the (initial) vote is over. As he pointed out when he voted – nice to compare press footage of him and Lukashenka voting. They cut such different figures – the call to protest is not with revolution in mind, but to discuss the way these elections have been conducted. Electoral Commission stooge Yarmoshyna is already quoting voting figures of above 90% for Lukashenka, which is an egregious snub to truth.

But we live in hope…

99.59% March 19, 2006

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Results from polling station no. 70 in Homiel give Lukashenka 240 out of the 241 possible votes. The one vote he didn’t get was invalidated. Sabotage by the opposition, no doubt.

Lukashenka cries foul! March 19, 2006

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With results of the first exit-poll stating that Lukashenka has received 83% of the vote and that none of the others has more than 3%, it’s nice to see that the incumbent is a stickler for the rules (sorry, link dead) all the same. Look at all those violations the opposition candidates have committed! They need their botties spanked. Or, perhaps, to be charged with terrorism and threatened with the death penalty.

For rolling updates, in a selection of languages, I’m clicking on Акавiта, BelaPan and Белорусские Новости (по-русски, and unrestricted access). And there’s Taking Aim for a blogging round-up of events.

Культура March 18, 2006

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Another tip for those of you in London needing a taste of the east. I can personally attest to the quite magnificent acting skills of the leading lady.