Spectacle without spectators: on the brink

3 July is Independence Day – in Belarus. It was heralded in the capital, Minsk, by intensive military activity. Policemen and soldiers posted every 50 metres along some streets, tanks keeping us awake as they rolled by at night for ’rehearsals’.

The actual celebrations came as a surprise. Yes, the first part was traditional Soviet-style military stuff. But later it was more cultural than military: lots of singing, dancing, athletics; thousands of performers parading in a brilliantly well-organized spectacle. The president, in marshal’s uniform, his little son in miniature copy of the uniform, and a handful of other uniforms on a podium clapping politely every few minutes.

But no other spectators. Well, hardly any. Belarusian press said there were ‘thousands’. A Dutch visitor found only a handful of pensioners in front of him. On TV the same handful of pensioners recurred from time to time. Where was everybody?

From experience I know many of the Belarusian people are doing wonderful things. I’ve met teachers passionate about their pupils, and about sustainable development; avant-garde journalists; officials doggedly working for improvements; youth leaders any child would LOVE to go to summer camp with, in landscape beautiful with lakes, rivers, trees.

On the one hand, spectacle with no contact with reality. On the other, passionate people doggedly working for what they believe in. Meanwhile the entire society heading towards the twin precipices of economic and political bankruptcy.

Madness? Well yes. But is it so different from the rest of us?

For spectacle without contact with reality, see almost any major international conference – it seems, sadly, that Rio+20 could be heading down that route. For passionate people, just look around. Meanwhile human civilization teeters on the brink of the ‘unsustainability’ precipice.

Fred Branfman writes in a recent newsletter: “What seems obvious, starting with myself, is that we are in emotional denial of the implications of climate change for our lives… I feel certain that if I could break through my own emotional denial about our present path to species-suicide, that I would live very differently than I do right now.”

Do you agree? What changes would you make, for yourself?