Late on the eve of the Greek election, take 2, I find myself, as one can occasionally understand for a traditionalist born and raised in this most Left of little cities, sympathizing with the Far Left, in this case SYRIZA. The rational rationale for my fellow feeling, of course, is party leader Alexis Tsipras' promise to reject the EU bailout, potentially assuring Greece's exit from the eurozone, thereby threatening to unravel the entire European project, and striking an momentous blow for national sovereignty. While he doesn't favor a return to the drachma himself, he has called for an end to the "clientelism" of New Democracy and PASOK, and recently said Angela Merkel's Europe "belongs to the past". Tsipras is not a thoroughgoing euroskeptic, but beyond his politics, I feel for him. As a foil in the schemes of Brussels, he's getting a dose of the treatment usually reserved for patriots (I certainly don't consider him a patriot! Even as the pan-European immigration crisis afflicts his country, he wants to disarm the police). Reuters is just raving about Tsipras; from the tone you'd think they were discussing Nick Griffin. Hopefully SYRIZA shall triumph, and give the New World Order more trouble than the BNP ever could.
Of course, as long as representative democracy persists, I doubt any Western ruler will grow the backbone necessary to confront the existential threats that may well consign our once-noble, now liberal civilization to the same ash heap as the more overtly communist USSR.
[Now to mention those fantastically feminine paragons, Victorian dolls, in a segue. Shinku will always be my favorite.] Earlier this evening I entered a Northampton shop filled with disfigured, painfully bad modern scrawlings on canvas, and formless goddess sculptings; later, I noticed some lovely Victorian dolls stowed in a "children's room" in the back, and pitied the fools who had matured unto the ugly. That got me thinking about art and the elusive Beautiful once again.
For want of a monarchist, aristocratic option, if there was ever a good argument for the superiority of thug-in-a-suit dictatorship, it has to be Europe's last dictatorship, Belarus, and her coinage art, the most beautiful of any nation now extant. I haven't happened to purchase any of her sometimes pricy issues, but when I window shop eBay, "Belarus coins" is a standard stop, and my admiration grows with every offering I scan. Understand, Belarus has no circulating coins, only commemorative issues, many of which are colorized or feature embedded crystals. These are qualities I usually associate with gimmicks from decadent mints long run out of ideas (see here and here, courtesy Canada). But Belarusian coins, in fact, are in a class apart from the cases of planchet abuse I have come to expect from the Winnipeg minting facility). Take a look, and a second look at one of four 2009 20 ruble pieces struck in celebration of Dumas' The Three Musketeers:
The obverse features a scene among the best in realist art in relief. The reverse features those dread aforementioned accents, yet without effacing or attempting to replace the portrait of Athos. The image falls into the background and, as is proper for a printed-on picture, does not overlay or clash with the relief; the crystal serves to focus the eye. Two further favorites, 20 ruble commemoratives for Carroll's everlasting classics, Alices Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, depart from the standard Tenniel illustrations, and make use of modern art in a way that, for once (in contrast to Israel, which has made a science of appalingly bland modern design; Belarus bests Israel even on Jewish themes), does not make me ashamed to be a modern.
Tell me if you think the designs work too. The stones, if a bit superfluous, are easy on the eyes. I think Deacon Dodgson would be very proud. Other fine issues, that Anglican Christian would also have been happy to know, reflect the post-Soviet country's persistent Faith. See the reverse of this stunning piece portraying 'Christening':
A few alterations, and one may well find the like in a Medieval stained glass window. Though I don't like the art quite as much, another 20 ruble issue in the same series, 'Motherhood', reveals a vitalism and pride in family absent in suicidal Western Europe and North America. Belarus also strikes breathtaking coins with Eastern Christian art; this rectangular 'Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos of Minsk', reverently depicts a lovely icon. I am not too familiar with the iconography (though one of the Assumptionist fathers at Assumption College, my sometime confessor, was a master of the holy discipline), but am duly impressed by its translation into relief in silver:
Perhaps best of all, in a world of commercial hypocrisy, all of the commemoratives of Belarus, with the exception of the strictly obligatory Anniversary of the UN issue, the numismatist will not find any Harry Potter pieces or the like here. Check out the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus website. The National Bank is answerable, as the site says elsewhere, to the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, and as Europe's last dictator, he deserves credit for appointing the right mint bureaucrats. Moreover, I find my instinctive, numismatist's assessment of the man was accurate. As I was running the image search, the best picture just happened to come from an article offering a fresh perspective on the much-maligned benevolent strongman, a laudatory feature from the Occidental Observor! Read, my friend, be undeceived and enjoy!