Staunton, February 18 – In many countries around the world, people routinely laugh at governments which build “bridges to nowhere” that connect no one to anyone else except perhaps through the pockets of contractors. That is unfortunate, but there is a worse case, one in which infrastructure collapses cutting people apart and no one in the government cares.
That may strike many as a story too small to care about, but as W.H. Auden reminds us in his poem, “The Fall of Rome,” it is precisely the small things that drive the population mad and ultimately convince it that something is profoundly wrong with the regime they live under. They may not revolt immediately, but they have already decided that their government is revolting.
A bridge across the Pripet has collapsed making it impossible for residents on one side to reach their jobs on the other. The only alternative left to them is a 300 kilometer detour one-way, a route that takes so long that many can’t get to and from their jobs or medical appointments (news.tut.by/society/582904.html?f).
Residents have complained but officials who are responsible have done nothing. Earlier they promised repairs or even a boat to ferry people across but that hasn’t happened. And residents clearly don’t expect much: in December, a bridge nearby collapsed. Officials promised repairs, but it is still closed for cars and for pedestrians.
A local news agency reports that “the lack of automobile and pedestrian paths across the Pripet has paralyzed the life and economy in the region. True, local residents have been promised a pontoon bridge.” But since those promises were made, the temperature has plunged, the river has frozen and the proposed alternative route “can’t work.”
It would be bad enough if this were the only transportation problem Belarusians face. In fact, it isn’t. Not only are there more infrastructure problems that haven’t been fixed and that are impassable for even the most adventurous and desperate, but the regime has adopted a new transport law that means for Belarusians, you can’t get there from here.
To save money, the government has reduced the number of bus routes, making it impossible for many to get a seat and get to work, and it has required people to show up many kilometers from their homes to meet one rather than at the closest major street of highway (nn.by/?c=ar&i=205450&lang=ru and auto.tut.by/news/exclusive/582768.html).
As of this week, there are no tickets available on many lines – people can’t get to work or to school – a situation that residents say recalls being in “a besieged city.” Train service in many places has been non-existent for some time, and now there are no buses either even to the capital or other major cities.
Belarusian officials justify their actions by insisting that “there is no demand for bus routes,” something that sold out routes – one can reserve a seat online 30 days in advance – and the complaints of people who can no longer get to work to earn money to feed their children or visit them in university show are hollow.
And the bus drivers are now on the side of the population. Officials say that many buses are old and out of service. But the drivers insist and the news agencies show that many of them are new and quite capable of handling more passengers and more routes than the authorities suggest.
People waiting in line for bread in St. Petersburg in February 1917 grumbled and sparked a revolution in the Russian Empire. People waiting in line for buses or for some way around collapsed bridges could easily spark one in Belarus, something officials who think nothing will ever change would do well to remember.