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In Belarus, one woman longs for comfort and glory of Soviet days

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 30, 1997



MINSK, BELARUS

At the end of a cold and dark corridor, Anna Romanovna Furman sits at her desk in a cramped office with little to do, as the wet snow falls outside the window.

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"Maybe if we joined Russia, they would give us oil and gas, and we could have the heating on full," the Belarussian says with a wan smile.

Mrs. Furman works as a part-time accountant for a local charity that organizes holidays for children damaged by radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl power plant in 1986. The job pays about $25 a month, which is not much, but it's more than her state pension.

Struggling to get by, Furman calls her pension "an insult" after working for 24 years in the accounts department of a light-manufacturing plant in Minsk.

Furman looks every inch the babushka. Her care-worn face framed with silver hair, a brown woolen shawl pulled close around her shoulders, and thick, stockinged legs thrust into sensible boots, she insists that she should not have to be working.

When she retired 13 years ago, during Soviet times, her 97 ruble a month pension was "plenty," she says. But the economic chaos and inflation that followed on the heels of the collapse of the Soviet Union made her pension nearly worthless and wiped out her life savings.

"Mikhail Gorbachev united Germany, and the Germans are happy about that, but he divided us," Furman says bitterly. "I haven't had a decent life since then."

No wonder she looks back fondly to the old Soviet days of free education and medical care, annual family holidays on the sunny beaches of the Black Sea paid for by her trade union, and regular trips to see relatives in Moscow.

Even the fact that her her father was arrested in 1937 for being a Pole, and died as an "enemy of the people" during the reign of terror under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, does not dim the glow.

"I never felt a Soviet person, I was always Belarussian," she insists. "But our 'common home' was important to me. We were proud when the first rockets in space were Soviet rockets or when they launched the first Soviet atomic icebreaker. There was a sense of enthusiasm. There were rewards. Now there is nothing.

"We definitely have to reunite" with Russia, Furman says. "We always lived in perfect peace with the Russians, and we have always got on well with them."

Although she says she doesn't think much about the nature of that reunion - "I'm not a politician, just a simple person" - she is sure that "if the West has turned away from us, we have to look East. We are destroying our Army, and NATO is coming close to our borders.

"We lived together so long, life would be unthinkable without Russians," she says. "What would Belarus be if you took away the Russians? There is no way we can survive on our own."