A registration guide for tourists in Belarus

In this post I will explain most of what you need to know about registration when you travel to Belarus as a tourist on a visa valid for no longer than ninety days. The information comes from my personal experience, acquired along the several trips I’ve taken to that country. Along these lines I will mention Russia several times, since both states are direct inheritors of the same system, and their registration rules are pretty much the same, varying mainly in the deadlines and ways to register, but the particular details I will provide down below apply only to Belarus. Continue reading

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On friendship, and maybe also love

Hardly an adult man is to be found, at least in the Western culture, who has never been told, by a woman he courted and who rejected him, something like this: “…but we can be just friends!”

Just friends? These words usually make me wonder what does friendship mean for women who thus speak. Surely they would not agree with Chekhov, the Russian playwriter, when in “Uncle Vanya” wrote:

MIKHAIL. Are you in love with her?
VANYA. She is my friend.
MIKHAIL. Already?
VANYA. What do you mean by “already”?
MIKHAIL. A woman can only become a man’s friend after having first been his acquaintance and then his beloved—then she becomes his friend.
VANYA. What a vulgar philosophy!

But was Chekhov’s really a vulgar philosophy? I reckon the answer depends on every person’s idea of friendship, on how each of us interprets and understands this word. Unfortunately, our languages are quite helpless in naming the several degrees and types of friendship between two people. In the English vocabulary, we jump from simple “acquaintance” all the way up to “friend”, and that’s basically it. The same goes for Spanish, French, Russian… I always miss some intermediate word for naming those who are more than acquaintances but not as much as friends; or, alternatively, for those friends who are specially close and loyal: those in whose hands you can trust your secrets, property and even your life. On the other hand, and given the fact that languages are usually very good at words for concepts and ideas important for the cultures who speak them, perhaps most people do not care much for distinguishing among different kinds of friendship, and only a few of us are concerned about this. Continue reading

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On nuclear porn

Most people would  agree with the idea that the world is basically governed by Big Money. There are exceptions, but I think we may assume as a fact that this is the general rule. Better informed ones would be able to go a bit further, and point to a few instances of individuals or institutions who are at the top of the Big Money pyramid. Surnames like Rockefeller, Rothschild, Du Pont, Bush, Morgan, or investment funds like Black Rock, State Street and Vanguard, to name only a few, are very familiar to most politically aware and knowledgeable citizens. These families and their funds own big chunks of (when not totally) the most important corporations in the world, in key sectors like energy (Big Oil), media and entertainment, banking, weapons industry, computing, mining, pharmacy (Big Pharma), fertilizers, etc. Thus, multinationals like Exxon, Shell, Texaco, JP Morgan, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, BNP, Monsanto, Ratheon, Pfizer, Bayer, and many other banks, oil companies and all sorts of firms yield astronomical amouns of money to a few dozen trilllionaire households. In turn, such wealth allows them to control, when not directly own, the most important film productors, social networks, media platforms, newspapers and even all kinds of official and unofficial institutions all over the planet, mostly in the so-called Western world: Neflix, Disney, the Hollywood propaganda industry, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, The New York times, the WHO, the WEF, and on and on (forgive me if I did not mention your favourite one). With these amounts of money, power and influence, they are in the position of basically control the world, with perhaps the exception of China, arguably Russia, and a bunch of countries economically and politically irrelevant.

* * * *

Since Russia launched its special military operation in Ukraine, there has begun a tendency, widespread on virtually all the media, plus independent reporters, analysts, bloggers, vloggers, writers, influencers and whatnot, towards publicly mentioning a potential (or impending!) WWIII 3 and/or a thermonuclear war. I am sure many of these people are honestly and really afraid that such events, specially the second, may eventually come about. But, on the other hand, it is well known that no headtitle gets an article more clics than those containing either “WWIII” or “nuclear war” in it. And even readers who “simply” clic on those contents usually do not hesitate in sharing them, thus decissively contributing to their popularity and making them “viral”. Continue reading

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Will cultural colonization ultimately defeat Russia?

The reflection I mean to set forth here stems from a casual — you may say funny observation: when I visited Georgia this summer, I realized that many women did not wear a bra. At first, and having recently been in three other European countries where I did not see anything like that, I attributed it to some local more, however unlikely. Being myself clueless about what kind of society Georgia was, I had come mentally prepared for anything; and I must admit that, given the diversified Georgian ethnicities and the varied tourism this country receives, which made quite difficult for me to tell among naturals and foreigners, by the time I left (five weeks later) I had not make much progress on that matter: the assorted origins of Caucasian people mix up, in Tbilisi, with a jumble of Turks, Muslims, Asiatics, Slavs, Jewish and Western European visitors to the point that, were it not for Georgia’s characteristic alphabet on signs, notices and billboards, by only watching some footage of people walking up and down the streets it would be very hard to guess which country it is.

(As a side note, there is however a very particular phenotype about Georgian females, some kin likeness among many of them, something on their countenances–nose, eyes, ears and mouth–that, once identified, turns out an unmistakable sign of their common ancestors. There must have been, at a given moment in Georgia’s history, one very successful womanizer, vigorous stud or implacable raper who seeded his genes in hundreds of wombs.)

Coming back to my point, some days after noticing this braless dressing style (or rather non-dressing) I began wondering whether it was a fashion instead of a habit, albeit fashions are usually exported from the West to everywhere else and, as said, so far I had not seen the like of that in Europe. It could still be a local mode, but — after all, going braless did not sound to me like the kind of use to emerge in a small Orthodox/Muslim society in the heart of the Caucasus. Although, on the other hand, this sort of countries–I thought–are sometimes the first which, in their craving for being accepted as up to date, modern and liberal ones, catch and adopt whatever crazy ideas may come from the top-fashion catwalks in New York, Paris or what have you, even before the very West fully assimilates them. And we all know how crazy are the Georgians for being considered “full Europeans”. Continue reading

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Overcoming defeatism

I confess that at the beginning of September, after the Ukrainian “Kharkov counter offensive”, and influenced by the heavy criticism for Vladimir Putin and his “way of doing things”, for a couple of days I somewhat lost my faith in him. I swallowed all the critics, analysis and reports on several “friendly” channels, I processed the information and concluded that the allies might indeed, after all, lose this war. Also I thought that an “upgrade” from SMO (special military operation) to ATO (anti terrorist operation) was desirable, inevitable and imminent, because it was “so obvious” that Moscow had committed too few troops to the said SMO.

But then I came again to my senses and realised my misjudgement. Or so I think. There are several reasons why.

I believe I understood, like an epiphany, that Russia is fighting one single war on two totally different fronts: one is the conventional, military struggle against NATO on Donbass soil; the other is the economical and geopolitical wrestle against the US hegemony. But I insist: despite these two extremely disparate fronts, this is only one war, and therefore the respective battles must -or should- be fought in coordination.

Yes, it is true that Moscow made a blunder on the Kherzon area; a mistake of which I am confident they have learnt the lesson. It should not be repeated; although of course another blunders will ensue: probably the Russian high command and intelligence services are not performing as they should.

And, yes, it is also true that Moscow has too few troops involved in the SMO. The Kremlin perhaps ought to upgrade to ATO or even formal war, commit more troops and weapons, and finish Kiev off in one week, thus sparing thousands of civilians, soldiers and militias, plus goods, constructions, infrastructure, assets — in the short term. Continue reading

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Trading places

Almost four decades ago Hollywood released a comedy titled Trading places. In the plot, two filthy rich old billionaires discuss on whether people, once modeled by their upbringing, can be changed by the environment. One sustains that we basically remain the same throughout all our lives, whereas the other argues that the surrounding circumstances can result in dramatic personal changes. In order to settle the debate, they agree, even at the cost of significant personal expenses, on carrying out an experiment on two subjects by drastically altering their personal lives.

The billionaires make a bet on the result. At the end of the experiment, it turns out that, indeed, a beggar is turned into an educated, well-off and successful broker whereas a very rich businessman will see his life ruined and wrecked. In view of this outcome, the billionaire who loses the wager pays his debt to the other: one American dollar. The bottom line of this comedy is to show how third person’s lives can be changed by the mere caprice of the powerful, just like that, simply for fun.

For the past two decades we have been witnessing how the global elites, by use of their extraordinary influence and control of the finance and media, are imposing their agendas, via social engineering, on a good half of the planet’s population; and there are incessant -and incensed- debates on whether they do it in order to preserve and increase their wealth, or because they genuinely believe that “The great reset” will ultimately result in a better world. Personally, I cannot help but constatly recall Trading places. The way I see it, the global elites are like those billionaires in the comedy: they do not need more money; they have much more than they -and their descendants- will ever be able to spend in the rest of their lives, and can even afford a good deal of losses. They may or may not believe in their own social agendas, but mostly promote them for fun.

I can -and do- perfectly envisage the Soroses and Rockefellers of this world enjoying their yatchs in paradise-like islands while having a good laugh at watching how their social experiments turn out. No particular goal is necessarily involved in such games except that of amusing themselves and enjoying their power. As far as there is no atomic Armageddon at a planetary scale -and they will take good care this does not happen- all there is to it is pure entertainment. Eventually, one of them will say to some other: “Well, I was right. Now you owe me one dollar”.

I am convinced that, unless we seriously consider this plausible scenario, we will not be able to fully understand and apprehend the apparently crazy social changes and political turmoil we are being the victims of.

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Foreign toponyms

When we allude to foreign proper nouns and toponyms we bump into a couple of linguistic obstacles, translation and transliteration, which present two different sides of the same issue.

Transliteration (which for us westerners is synonym with romanization) deals with the phonetic aspect, and basically consists in trying to write with a language’s alphabet the original word so that it reads as similar as possible. It is a purely linguistic matter and has its own rules (though often there is more than one set of rules for a given language). For instance, the toponym Харьков is romanized as Kharkov, the Chinese city 深圳市 as Shenzhen, and the Russian name Богдан may be romanized either as Bogdan or Bohdan.

Translation, on the contrary, deals with the “semantic” side — provided, that is, we can properly talk about semantics when it comes to names and toponyms. Quite often, rather than translation we mean “version” or “equivalence”; and in the overwhelming majority of cases there is no such possibility. Just think of the million placenames on the planet, or names and surnames in all societies, which have no “translation” whatsoever to our own. In all those cases, we can only resort to transliteration for referring to them. Languages only have their own versions for those names that for historical, cultural or political reasons are in some way or other relevant to the respective society. For instance, the Spanish Juan equals to the English “John”, since they share roots and very likely take origin in the very same historical character, whereas the Finnish Pirkko has no “English version”. (With surnames this is a bit different, since many of them do have a precise meaning, although to my knowledge they never get “translated”. Think, for instance, of Herrero in Spanish and Seppanen in Finnish, which both mean “Smith” but nobody would refer to Pedro Herrero as Peter Smith.) Same goes for toponyms; and although many original placenames may not have, from an etymology viewpoint, anything to do with any given word in another tongue, this one very often has its version of those. There is, for instance, no English word akin to the Portuguese toponym Lisboa, but throughout the centuries it has become Lisbon in Shakespeare’s tongue. On the other hand, the original name of Japan, which is 日本 (romanized Nihon), does have a literal translation into English: “sun origin”; which is why sometimes it is poetically referred as “Land of the Rising Sun”.

For what is left, I will focus on placenames, which is the point of this article. Continue reading

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A thesis on visa restrictions to Russians

Visa isuing policies can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical. Whereas the first type is, I assume, a matter of bilateral agreements between two given countries (or blocks), the second type is more likely a result of “the market”, meaning that the most “demanded” or “valued” country sets harder conditions for isuing visas to foreigners from the less demanded ones. We in the west are used to profiting from asymmetrical visa policies: because most emigration streams come to the west from less developed parts of the world, we can afford restricting entrance to foreigners from those regions and enjoy the more laxed visa requirements (often none at all) when we travel there.

Well, I have said “we can afford” but perhaps, to be fair, it would be more precise to say “we must”, because otherwise our countries would be flooded with illegal aliens (or in the best case cheap tourists who do not spend any money here) and risk a deterioration of our own economies and welfare. On the part of those “poorer” countries, however, such caution is not needed because — well, we are richer, spend more money and anyway what kind of westerner is interested in staying illegally in–say–Ethiopia?

For this reason, whenever there is an asymmetrical visa policy between two countries, it is assumed that that which has the lesser restrictions is the poorer and/or weaker, economically and/or politically. This is not always true, but is a common and unavoidable implication.

As an avid traveller, for many years I struggled with the “bizarre” fact that it was so difficult to get a visa to Russia. Being an undeniable reality that there are (or were) many more Russians willing to gatecrash into the west than viceversa, I got even indignant at Russia’s stubborn insistence on a symmetrical visa policy. Why on earth–thought I–they do not just let us in visa-free same as Ukraine, Ethiopia or Georgia does? They would certainly profit from a lot more income from tourism and, gee!, who on earth wants to sneak into Russia? Continue reading

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