By Paige Carswell
Some can pinpoint the source of the beginning of their beliefs with an exceptional speaker. Some have a startling experience or a wild professor.
Aliaksandr Paharely, visiting scholar from Belarus, remembers watching “Smurfs.”
Growing up in Hrodna, on the west edge of Belarus, Paharely was able to watch the little blue people, and then “Ducktales,” and other western shows. He listened to The Cure, and other music unavailable in other areas.
Unlike children and adults from further east in the country, Paharely had access to many non-Soviet ideas, which changed the path he took in life. “Poland was a window to the West,” Paharely said. “Poland was more open to western ideas.”
Paharely, now 29, thrived on those ideas, and used the help of his father, a Soviet militarian, to give them a background. “He always had an interest in history,” Paharely said. “I always shared that interest, too.”
His father was sent to Afghanistan when Paharely was only two years old, for subversive ideas. In the Soviet era, Paharely said, “Everything was perceived as suspicious. Everything can be turned into something politically subversive.”
He remembers his father coming back, disgusted by the methods of the Soviets, and he remembers seeing photos of what happened to the victims of torture.
“America had journalist to tell about misconduct, but the Soviets had nothing like that,” he said. “It was horrible. For a five-year-old boy, it was horrible.”
It was television that created the link to the outside world for him. “Polish television worked pretty well to cleanse the minds of ideological cobwebs,” said Paharely. “I’ve always been interested in the politics of the outside world.”
Though he spent a lot of time in barracks, with a military father, Paharely said that was one of the biggest reasons he decided to attend the university in Minsk, the capitol city of Belarus. Once he got there, he decided to focus on anthropology and ethnology.
“I really had a cynical attitude toward the curriculum,” he said, “So I read a lot of things that I liked. I was quite dissatisfied with the level of education. When you have professors who bring Soviet textbooks and read them aloud while students take votes, that’s outrageous.”
One professor helped change that for him. “Because he spent a lot of time in the west, he had a completely different attitude toward academic standards. He was very good at foreign languages. There was a lot of theory in his lectures. It was kind of a shock.”
After college, Paharely began visits to the United States, first in Maryland in 2003, where he was around many different cultures and learning to adapt.
“I never met so many persons from the United Kingdom,” he said, laughing. “You actually learn how to compare, how to have some other cultural background.”
He went for the second time in 2004, and then heard about the Center for Belarusian Studies in 2006. “These guys are interested in furthering the cause through education,” he said. He was, too, and arrived at Southwestern this school year.
Paharely chooses to use his education to educate others on his country, the struggles they’re going through with their current president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has been called the “Europe’s last dictator,” and what people are trying to do about it.
Paharely said that there were many from his school who became nationalists, and many people from his hometown area. “We were experiencing change,” he said. “What we expected was a change for the better, in every respect. Our generation of the early 1980s is a remarkable one. We are struggling for a better Belarus.”
Paige Carswell is a senior majoring in journalism. You may e-mail her at email@example.com.