Friday, February 4, 2011
This is one of the first things I wrote on Friday afternoon, when the internet had been out for about 12 hours:
It took me about thirty seconds to realize that the men in vans were the famous baltagiya, whose best translation would be 'thugs', or 'gangsters'. Leading up to the protests, I saw vans parked in side-streets. They were full of young men in plain clothes, sitting and staring, not talking to each other, not doing anything, just waiting. When given the word, these young men were ready to come out of the vans and beat, intimidate, vandalize, and do whatever was asked of them, while providing the government with a smokescreen of plausible deniability.
They never threatened me, those men in vans, or even seemed to notice I was there, but the sight of them silently waiting was the most ominous and chilling thing I saw, scarier than the actual clashes now going on down my street. There they were, right there in the open. The government wasn't even trying to pretend it didn't employ these people, though I'm sure that they're releasing public statements that the thugs are just concerned citizens. But if you so much as walk down any street, you could see what was really happening, and how brazen it was.
The men looked bored. Some of them were napping, a few munching on pumpkin or sunflower seeds. If I didn't know what those men were for, the sight would be quaint, like whenever I walk late at night and the streets are dotted with ministry guards who have fallen asleep. But I know what the baltagiya represent, and I think seeing them in repose, in a moment of quiet preparation, is going to give me bad dreams.