The Belarussian candidate

By Nick Ian Emenhiser

Having rewritten this column many times, I could write about a million captivating subjects as revelations keep unraveling - none more compelling than the situation in Belarus, a nation that self-identifies as a Soviet hold-out.

So how could the situation in another former USSR satellite far removed from the states, and even my host nation of Estonia, possibly be so compelling for the subject of this column?

It's a long story, so sit tight, and keep reading.

On the flight across the pond, I was enjoying myself and my newfound liberation out into the world - indulging in copious amounts of wine and cheese provided by Scandinavian Airlines, and reading several newspapers with different takes on the current situation in Egypt and the situation in Belarus involving new European Union sanctions, previously unbeknownst to me.

Essentially, because the Belarussian government refuses to allow free elections to take place, the E.U. has frozen all E.U. accounts and barred entry for 157 Belarussian officials with ties to corrupt President Aleksandr Lukashenko.

So I read about the situation in newspapers, then moved on and forgot about it as I went about exploring Stockholm. My mind was preoccupied with hoping my passage across the Baltic went smoothly. About midweek, I got to Tartu, the university town in frigid Estonia.

My roommate arrived during the weekend, and I soon learned he spoke no English, which was going to make things interesting. Actually, it's perfect - I will finally be forced out of using English.

Getting to know each other, as I tried to keep up in broken Russian, it struck me how no American classroom setting, regardless of intensity or lack thereof, can prepare you to really speak Russian.

When he said he was a law student from Belarus, I immediately recalled the election situation. I asked where in Belarus.

"Minsk," he replied.

I just had to ask what he thought of the E.U. sanctions. When I did, my roommate smirked. He showed me an online article naming him as an opposition candidate in his town. I didn't know the words to convey how surprised, and impressed, I was.

Such is life. You never know who you will happen to run into, even share a flat with, and sometimes things can get interesting.

When I requested a Russian-speaking roommate in Tartu, I had no idea what to expect. I could have ended up with some cold and corrupt Russian mobster, or more likely someone jaded and uninterested in his own national politik; but instead, I wound up meeting a real-life freedom fighter.

The irony of it all is summed up with getting decent grades each semester in Russian by the sheer mercy of my professors. But one thing is perfectly evident: learning a foreign language can take you pretty far in life and lead to some interesting encounters.

This semester abroad is going to be a lot of fun.

Nick Ian Emenhiser is a political science, Russian language and literature junior. He is currently studying abroad in Estonia.


Partners: Social Network