27 August 2016

Belarus honours its mothers

I confess that I have a special liking for the yearly recognition, the Order of Mothers, that the President of Belarus, Aliaksandr Lukašenka, gives to working mothers and mothers who have raised five or more children in his country. If it seems quaint or has a whiff of the ‘Soviet’ about it, that is probably to be expected. Though I wonder if that is not more the crassness of a fame- and fortune-obsessed Western culture – given to worshipping the great, the successful, the rich and the famous Somebodies – that we do not see the sense in publicly honouring the everyday, ordinary goodness of the ‘small folk’ – or perhaps see it as some kind of consolation prize. But that clearly isn’t what President Lukašenka is doing here.

He does indeed acknowledge women’s professional advances and achievements, as is only right and just. But it’s clear that such accomplishments are not the only thing of importance in this award. Note what Lukašenka himself says to the women who have been awarded this honour:
Thank you for the fact that with your work, talent and kindness, you make our world a better place. But whatever your professional success, please don't forget the most important – family, health and welfare of your loved ones. You are keep the keys to every home and you are the guardians of warmth and cosiness there.

For your beauty. I know that regardless of the number of children a woman still strives to be beautiful and lovely. I want you to become even more beautiful every day after the new birth of a child. I want both men and women look at you with envy. I wish you happiness, all the best and, most importantly, I wish the same to your babies.
If this is ‘quaint’, it can only be in a good way. If, in Lukašenka’s address, there’s something of the old interwar Eastern European populist cult of womanhood in this acknowledgement of the goodness and beauty of working-class mothers of large families, so much, so much the better. But it actually strikes me at once as pure Tolkien. ‘Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check,’ Tolkien writes through Gandalf, ‘but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.’ Such an award as this, is but one example of a small thing, a small but creative and meaningful thing, that the somebodies can do to acknowledge the everyday ordinary goodness of people who aren’t celebrities, who aren’t sports stars, who aren’t cultural icons. The little achievements that are the main thing holding the darkness at bay.

Belarus’s Order of Mothers is, in a very Eastern European kind of way, Gandalf acknowledging the importance of Bilbo. Or Aragorn kneeling to Frodo.

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