Sunday, August 9, was election day in Belarus. The official result: 80.8 percent for the incumbent, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and 10.09 percent for his main challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Six percent of eligible Belarusians voted against all candidates (there is such an option), so the remaining three presidential hopefuls garnered only minuscule support. The turnout apparently exceeded 84 percent (Onliner.by, August 10). It may seem that Lukashenka, who ran for his sixth term, could paraphrase Mark Twain: “The reports of my defeat were greatly exaggerated.”Opposition-minded Belarusians do not believe the votes were fairly counted. In Minsk, clashes between the protesters and riot police lasted until 2 AM, on August 10; authorities used flash grenades, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds. Quite a few rioters were injured. Unlike in 2010, angry demonstrations took place in other Belarusian cities, too. About 3,000 people were apprehended (Onliner.by, August 9). On August 9, the Belarusian segment of the internet was completely shut off. Curiously, Lukashenka stated that the internet troubles were caused not by the authorities but by external hacking attacks meant to stir up public discontent (Svaboda.org, August 10),Despite urgent and repeated requests by Tikhanovskaya for her supporters to refrain from early voting, which began on August 4, 41.7 percent of eligible voters apparently chose to cast their ballots prior to last Sunday (Sputnik.by, August 10). The opposition has long suspected that votes cast before election day would be most vulnerable to falsifications by members of local electoral commissions (for the most part secondary school teachers, a group loyal to the incumbent) charged with stuffing ballot boxes. Because of multiple appeals by the opposition not to vote early, it is likely that most of the early vote favors the incumbent. It is no less important that, out of 6.9 million eligible voters, 2.7 million are retirees and more than 1 million are dependent on wages from the state. Additionally, according to neoliberal economist Yaroslav Romanchuk, 15–25 percent of the entire electorate shuns what might be considered Western liberal-democratic values or retains deep nostalgia for the Soviet past (Theworldnews.net, August 5). In all those categories—collectively, at least half of the electorate—most were likely to vote for the incumbent.On Friday, August 7, Lukashenka received a phone call from his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin. Much of their conversation was devoted to the 33 Russian Wagner Group mercenaries arrested in Belarus on August 1. Both heads of state shared a commitment to “substantively and thoroughly study each available fact in order to establish the true causes of the current situation, find the perpetrators and bring them to justice” (Belta, August 7). This formulation implied that, at a minimum, Lukashenka’s version of the events had some credibility. According to the abundantly publicized alternative version, the apprehended Wagner group was the umpteenth such team to travel to a third country via Minsk, but Lukashenka frivolously arrested these transiting fighters in order to proactively justify his harsh treatment of the would-be post-election protests (Deutsche Welle—Russian service, August 7). On the eve of Putin and Lukashenka’s last call, Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Moscow daily, published a lengthy piece claiming that the entire recruitment of the 33 mercenaries and their transfer to Belarus was an operation by Ukrainian intelligence, aiming at undermining the relations between Russia and Belarus (Komsomolskaya Pravda, August 6).Yet, a day before Komsomolskaya Pravda’s publication, Lukashenka gave a 2.5-hour-long, interview to Ukrainian journalist Dmitry Gordon, in which Belarus’s president suggested that certain Russian government officials at the level of deputy ministers stood behind the entire affair (YouTube, August 6). He tellingly revealed that some of those allegedly involved had previously worked in Belarus—a hint that almost certainly points to Deputy Minister of Economic Development Mikhail Babich, the former Russian ambassador to Minsk, whose mission was terminated in 2019 because of Lukashenka’s ultimatum to Putin. In speaking with Gordon, Lukashenka referred to the apprehended mercenaries as “gangsters.”In light of all these purported revelations, two major explanations of the entire gambit have come into focus. According to one, a Russian-Belarusian compromise is in the works: “Russia recognizes the facts about the mercenaries revealed by the Belarusian investigators, whereas Belarus is turning a blind eye to the sponsors of the entire operation. After the election results are recognized by Moscow […] those arrested will be extradited back to Russia” (Facebook.com/piotra.piatrouski, August 8). According to the second explanation, “the version of the Ukrainian intelligence’s role presupposes a lack of professionalism on the part of its Belarusian counterpart,” which strains credulity and thus insinuates the Belarusians may have actually cooperated with the Ukrainians (Russiancouncil.ru, August 8).In his interview to Gordon, Lukashenka spoke with the utmost respect about Putin and even acknowledged mutual friendliness between him and the Belarusian president’s youngest son, Nikolay. Lukashenka also revealed he “takes pity” on Tikhanovskaya because the electoral staffs of three would-be candidates (Victor Babariko, Valery Tsepkalo and her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky) “cornered her.”One day prior to the interview, in his state of the country address, Lukashenka reproached Russia for switching from genuinely brotherly to businesslike partner relations with Belarus. He accused his presidential rivals of the desire to return to the “dashing 1990s,” when criminals and industry privatizers reigned supreme. He acknowledged that his side lost the battle in the internet. But he declared that the country is safe as long as the power vertical remains consolidated, which it is. At the same time, he suggested that those wanting a different president should vote but not engage in disorderly conduct, because this would result in a crackdown. He specifically admonished parents to keep their children from behaving recklessly on election day and thereafter. He ended his speech on a high note: “Belarus is […] clean and beautiful, somewhat naïve and vulnerable, and, above all, beloved; and we cannot betray somebody we love so much” (YouTube, August 5). Three days later, in their video-recorded address to the citizens of Belarus, Tikhanovskaya, Veronica Tsepkalo (the wife of Valery Tsepkalo, who was denied registration as a presidential candidate) and Maria Kolesnikova (Babariko’s electoral director) responded, “The authorities say that Belarus is beloved, and they do not give away what they love. We tell them: you do not earn love by violence; if you love somebody, let go.” (Svaboda.org, August 7). On August 9, Veronica Tsepkalo left for Moscow (Svaboda.org, August 9).Time is certainly needed for the present emotions to settle. Currently, when talking about the events of August 9, both sides invoke their own mantras. On one side, these were “unfair elections,” “people in revolt,” “the birth of a nation,” “the departure of a dictator”; and on the other, “color revolutions,” “Maidan,” “George Soros,” and “conspiracy” (Facebook.com/sergey.markedonov, August 10). Depending on what is yet to come, August 9 could be remembered as a watershed date in Belarus’s modern history.
The last The Doors concert with Jim Morrison took place on December 12th, 1970, bringing a disappointing close to a dominant band in rock music. It’s hard to know when the music’s truly over, but the way lead singer and resident lunatic Jim Morrison finished this show at The Warehouse in New Orleans left little doubt in the rest of the bands’ minds that the end was here. Nothing in life lasts forever, and no one here gets out alive.When looking for bands to sum up not the spirit but the reality of the sixties, you need look no further than The Doors. They quite literally were the hottest band in the land—psychedelic rockers fronted by a dark poet who railed at the world from his pulpit. Jim Morrison didn’t sing to his audience, he preached sermons of indecipherable meanings with lyrical wordplay and a raw passion that kept listeners spellbound.The Doors – “The Crystal Ship”/”Light My Fire” – American Bandstand – 1967[Video: Diopriest2]Keyboardist Ray Manzarek and UCLA film school classmate Morrison shared a love of music and an ambitious creative spirit. In an all-too-perfect moment, the two famously formed the band on the beaches of Venice, CA, after Manzerek heard some lyrics Morrison had written. Recruiting John Densmore on drums and guitarist Robbie Krieger, The Doors were open for business in a matter of days. After writing music to Morrison’s words and coming up with a few fresh tunes together, the band took the Los Angeles music scene by storm and quickly earned a record deal with Columbia Records.The band went on to release eight studio albums in just five years, establishing their sound as a mixture of madness-tinged poetry, hushed lulls, and frenzied explosions of cacophony. Their name, The Doors, was taken from an Aldous Huxley book, The Doors Of Perception, written about a mescaline experience. Morrison was interested in writing and art since childhood and had headed to film school to try and find a way to express the roiling passions inside of him. He had long searched for a key to unlock the truth, and through his early use of psychotropic drugs, he found his release.Jim Morrison – “Shaman Dances” (Live)[Video: Faicchiocat]The rest of the band joined him at first, making their early shows wild affairs, almost pure hedonistic bacchanals. The staid and uptight atmosphere of the fifties and sixties had been covering up the fear of nuclear annihilation and constant war. The children of the baby boom were coming of age, rejecting the violence and inequality of the world as it was, and looking to change what they saw around them. The flower power generation exploded in the middle of the decade, wanting nothing more than to “Tune In, Turn On and Drop Out” of the roles society had waiting for them. And unto them came a voice telling them there was a way out.Songs like “Break On Through (To The Other Side)”, “People Are Strange”, and “Strange Days” showcased The Doors’ determination to get people to look at life through fresh eyes and see how it really was. The Free Love movement was also in full swing, and sexy songs like “Light My Fire”, “Love Me Two Times”, and “Twentieth Century Fox” helped create an air of hyper-charged sexuality that made Morrison an international sex symbol. Sadly, tunes like “The End”, “Five To One”, and “When The Music’s Over” also showcased Morrison’s near-obsession with death and finality.The Doors – “When The Music’s Over” – Hollywood Bowl 1968[Video: ROCK]The holy trinity of “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll” was joined in the music of The Doors by the ever-present specter of the Grim Reaper. As the sixties progressed, Morrison’s copious drug use greatly affected the band’s live shows. In concert, you were as likely to see a transformative meditation on the deepest subjects of life as you were to see Morrison mutter incomprehensibly into a microphone and howl in pain and confusion for reasons not even the band could truly understand.This unreliability took its toll on the friendships among the bandmates. Manzarek, Krieger, and Densmore were eager to play to the fans but were hamstrung by the unpredictability of their frontman. Though The Doors featured a stellar collection of instrumentalists, it was Morrison who was the lightning rod of attention. As the sixties wound down, the three found themselves dreading each performance, having no idea which Jim was coming out to play that night.The band was in Los Angeles finishing what would be their final studio album, L.A. Woman, when they were approached with the idea of doing a small promo tour for the upcoming release. Over the previous two years, Morrison had been arrested onstage during a performance, arrested again after a show for exposing himself, and exited the stage dozens of other times after he was unable or unwilling to continue performing. They reluctantly agreed to book two shows, with thoughts of extending the tour if things went well.The Doors – L.A. Woman – Full AlbumThe first night in Texas went off well enough, but the seeds of destruction had long ago been planted in Morrison, and they sprouted fully that fateful night in New Orleans on this date in 1970. Before the show, Morrison spent the day drinking and casually indulging in a cornucopia of drugs, including a strong dose of psychedelics. What was originally intended as a mind-opening religious rite had deteriorated into a way to stay awake long enough to perform.Cracks appeared early in the set, as Morrison was unhappy with the song selection and continually urged the band to play “St. James Infirmary Blues”, singing that song’s lyrics no matter what song was actually being played. The bearded, overweight, and out of his mind Morrison was prone to collapsing onstage, and their last show proved to be no exception. The band left the stage in disgust, with Manzarek later saying he felt as if he could “See Jim’s spirit leave his body, even though he was still standing right there” in his autobiography.Whether or not his spirit had left him, the will to perform certainly had. Lying on the stage, he urged concert-goers to cheer and call the band back out when he roused from his stupor. The band, not wanting to deny their fans a show, begrudgingly came back out. Their return was short-lived, however, as just a few songs later, Morrison, like a man possessed, began to hammer the base of his microphone stand into the stage itself. He rained blows down until the boards gave way, and the mic and stand disappeared from his hands for what would be the last time.Immediately afterward, the other three members voted unanimously to end their live performances, feeling that it was wrong to promise their fans a product that they could not produce. Morrison finished the overdubs for L.A. Woman and retreated to Paris to write and escape the temptations that so easily ensnared him. In a very real way, Morrison had closed the book on his live performance career by breaking on through to the other side, though not in a way his younger self would have imagined outside the worst of bad trips. Morrison was dead less than a year later, and any hopes of a reunion were gone along with him.America in the sixties rode a wave of budding idealism, breaking down social and sexual taboos in an attempt to be free. Unfortunately for many, that freedom was over-used and abused, and many of the brightest from that generation fell victim to the many forms of self-destruction that arise when limitations are discarded. The Doors had ridden the crest of that wave as well as any band, and like all waves, crashed into the shore and dispersed back to the sea.[Originally published 12/12/16]
Here’s the top transfer-related stories in Wednesday’s newspapers…Louis van Gaal will be given a £150million-plus transfer war chest to complete his overhaul of the Manchester United squad this summer. Southampton right back Nathaniel Clyne, Borussia Dortmund centre-half Mats Hummels, Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman, PSV Eindhoven winger Memphis Depay, West Brom striker Saido Berahino and Burnley free agent Danny Ings are all on his radar. (Daily Express)Liverpool are scouting Lazio’s Brazilian midfielder Felipe Anderson. The 21-year-old attacking midfielder is rated at more than £20million. (Daily Mirror)Newcastle are chasing Levante’s Spanish midfielder Victor Camarasa and plotting a £5million summer move. (Daily Mirror)Chelsea look set to miss out on Jese Rodriguez in the summer with Real Madrid ready to push him up the pecking order at the Bernabeu. (Daily Express)Middlesbrough have made a £12m offer for Blackburn striker Jordan Rhodes. They want the 25-year-old on loan to help fire them into the Premier League before turning it into a permanent deal in the summer. (The Sun)And here’s the latest talkSPORT.com headlines…Inter Milan to launch Toure bid? Mancini hints at summer approach for Man City starReal Madrid starlet reveals Chelsea star told him to join Atletico MadridWolfsburg boss rubbishes playmaker’s link to Manchester UnitedJust like Ruud Van Nistelrooy! PSV Eindhoven star Memphis Depay can become a Manchester United heroReports – Liverpool still hot on the trail of Roma starLokomotiv Moscow chief reveals talks with Tottenham duoTottenham reignite interest in Paris Saint-Germain midfielderReports – PSG failed in summer move for Chelsea defenderLiverpool target admits it would be ‘difficult’ to turn down Inter MilanReports – Atletico Madrid lead race for Tottenham and Manchester City targetInter Milan offer starlet £2m-a-year contract to ward off Arsenal and Man CityMan United and Arsenal to miss out on PSG star as striker eyes Napoli return?