READ AGAIN the comments to the fist photo below, if you already have read this post: I added more text about corruption, nepotism, and meritocracy today, Oct. 23, 2005:
These are all stills taken from some of my video footage. If they turn out well here, I am going to have a new obsession. These are stills on the road to becoming part of a documentary. .
This photo is from the local mill in Pidhajtsi. The mill was part of a factory complex in Soviet times that also included a preservatives section and bakery. In the early 90s, the managers ran the preservatives and bakery sections into the ground while enriching themselves, and when it they closed, the managers sold most of the equipment. More than a 100 people were put out of work. Lesja Kolodnytska, wife of my father's fist cousin Hryts, worked there and has not held a job since then.
There is an overabundance of such stories in rural Ukraine. The mill survived the closure, and the bakery has been re-opened, but the preservatives section never re-opened. The mill and bakery are privately run and the management would not let me in to film.
There also is a dairy factory in Pidhajtsi that was also run into the ground, after which it was bought by a private interest that would NOT let me film. I had an argument with the plant manager, a woman who I asked if she was not ashamed to be defending the plant's secrecy after the Orange Revolution was a push for transparency in government and business practices. . .Of course, the woman has a boss, too, but she would not even try asking her boss to let me in and do an interview. . .
I told one fellow I know in Pidhajtsi about this, and he said to me, "Hey, no worries, I have got a contact there. . ." Such statements are of huge significance in Ukraine (as it is in all poor countries with hugely corrupt governments and business practices): "I have a contact, a friend, a colleague. . .
MUCH MORE than they are in the West, contacts are very important here. Far more people get positions in business or government based on contacts here rather than their competence or meritbthan in the so-called West. The OR in part was the expression of a desire to change this system of nepotism into a system that is more soundly based on principles of a meritocracy.
IF YOU ARE NOT A FAN OF POLEMICIZING (i.e., of ranting about politics), SKIP AHEAD FROM HERE TO THE NEXT PHOTO.
Imagine a continuum of how one gets jobs or positions of power or influence, with contacts on the one side and merit on the other. The people of every country in the world, whether the West or otherwise, rely upon a combination of contact and merit. The question is which takes precedence. In the West, one can say in general that merit has an advantage over connections/contacts, especially ideologically if not in actual practice. However, there are those places in the West that the need for contacts is especially strong, such as in the journalists' and academics' world.
In Ukraine, the obvious emphasis is on connections/contacts. You often can't even get an interview without a contact, and people in the past (i.e., pre-OR), and I am sure that they still do, often pay just to get an interview. Sometimes there is no interview. You will get a job somewhere just because some family member or colleague works where you want to and has influence. I have family who have jobs purely through these means, through connections. They did not have any experience with their profession before they took their specialized jobs. But they were family and they needed work. Unemployment, scarcity, poverty all lead precisely to nepotistic and kleptocratic systems, no matter how democratic they appear in form. (And unemployment, poverty and scarcity are the creations or symptoms of a political-economic system sick with corruption and abuse of power, since scarcity and poverty are human-made problems, human-made constructs, especially in a country as rich in labor and natural resources and tourist/historical destinations as Ukraine).
The OR is making a difference in all this, however, in the following way: People can invoke it (depending on region, I am sure) in tough situations when dealing with police, or secutiry, or officials, or in seeking an interview, or getting medical care, or in just correcting people's brutish and annoying public behavior, etc. If you run into a problem, you can say, "What was the OR about?" etc. I was waiting in line to buy a train ticket in Kyiv when someone cut into the front of the line and someone confronted her by saying, "Do you remember how we all behaved during the revolution?" I had a problem getting into the Ivan Franko University in Lviv to do an interview (with the renowned Prof. Yaroslav Hrytsak). They have security guards who check IDs as you enter the school. This is a good thing in general, but I told the guard that I needed to get in to do an interview with Prof. Hrytsak, and that I didn't know that I would need a pass, and that I could not call him as I only had his home number, so could you please either escort me to his office or just let me? The guard sent me to the security desk where the other guards sat on their asses and told me, "We don't know him, we won't let you in, we can't help." I was so mad. I said, "What, is Ukraine still a wild country or did it become a more friendly place after the Revolution? Either let me in to go find his office, or walk with me, and if you don't want to do any of the asking to find, I'll hold your hand through the building and do the asking myself. . ." To which the captain stood up startled and told the guard at the gate to let me in!
There are more of such stories from others, but anyway, this would make the subject of a great anthropological study: How mere invocation of the memory of the OR is making a difference, however small.
Of course, one encounters plenty of such unhelpfulness in the US as well, but there is much more of it here. And once again, in connection to all of this I can talk about why I am so against the Bush administration. In addition to systematically eliminating hard won guarantees for transparency in government and in business through the Patriot Acts and the phony excuse of terrorism, it is one hell of a nepotistic and clannish (business clannish, mind you) administration. For example, was it mere coincidence that during the first Bush administration that the son of Collin Powel was made Chair of the FCC, at the very moment that Clear Channel, a Texas-based multimedia GIANT and Bush campaign supporter was pushing for further media deregulation along with Rupert Murdoch, the arch conservative media mogul, all against a massive grassroots campaign against further deregulation? Or how about Halliburton, whose CEO was VP Dick Cheney, being one of a number of Bush-friendly companies and campaign supporters to get no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq, and which is a company that has overcharged the federal government, i.e., which has overcharged US taxpayers.
Didn't Ukrainians just begin a fight against politician-tycoons getting rich on public revenues? Didn't they just begin a fight for more transparency? Did they not just begin a fight against nepotism? And the US is going in the opposite direction. . .
And oh, once again, a message to all those activists in the West who think the OR (and the rebellions in Georgia and Yugoslavia) was a slick, postmodern coup led by the US: Perhaps activists should either pay more attention to what is going on in the US, or if they want to talk about Eastern Europe or the post Soviet world, they should get out of their armchairs and come here and talk to people on the ground, as they do in relation to people's struggles in Latin America!
I would be very happy to be any fellow progressive activist's guide if one should decide to come here and become more personally familiar with people's struggles on the ground in Eurasia!
Now, here's a thought: Observation or study of the countries of the post Soviet world, whose peoples are in the main nowhere near to as immiserated or impoverished as are the masses in countries such a India or those of subsaharan Africa, may just suggest what the critical mass of poverty and scarcity is for nepotism to take the advantage over merit. No doubt, there is a huge social sciences dealing with such questions in the abstract if not dealing specifically with the post-Soviet world, actually. . .surrounding such terms as collective action, game-theory, tragedy of the commons, etc.
As for Ukraine, after the OR and after expression of a great will to creat a more meritocratous system, we still wait to see how competent the people who have made into government after the OR will be. This comment includes Yushchenko, who still has yet to prove himself as a competent politician, to my mind and that of many others in Ukraine. I have always felt, before the OR and then during, that he is "zamajkyj (too weak)," which is a comment I have heard quite a few people make about him; check out this link to something I wrote to my list-serve last year about him during the Orange Revolution. He began his administration by relying too much on Soviet/post-Soviet practices of widely rewarding those connected to him, and insofar his appointment of a supposedly "technocratic government" is an attempt to reverse a policy of pleasing allies who did something for him and an attempt to create an effective government based on skill and competency, it is indeed praiseworthy. But only time will tell if these technocrats are competent at much more than betraying OR promises. . .
Also, one more complaint about Yushchenko: his attitude toward the press has been too similar to that of post-Soviet executives by virtue of his condescending attitude. It is of course a relief that he does not issue official orders--i.e., temnyky. But he does give unofficial ones when he scolds the press and tells them what they should be taking seriously, as he has in realtion to his son, to the charges of corruption among his cohorts, and in relation to his memorandom with Yanukovych and the Regions party. More on this matter of Yushchenko's problematic attitude toward the press later. . .
The rest of the photographs in this post are a continuation of the story of the sugar beet harvest discussed in the previous post. . .
Before the beets can be brought to the burjakpunkt, all the stems have to be chopped off.
The Vladimirets being weighed in at the burjakpunkt. The tractor and trailor are standing on top of a large scale. You weigh-in with the trailor full of beets, then you dump the beets, and then you weigh-in again. Thus you know how many beets you dropped off, and you will be paid in sacks of processed sugar accordingly, with the factory taking a cut of your sugar as payment for processing your beets.
This fellow is from the tiny village of Muzhyliv, about 7km from the Pidhajtsi limits. He brought his sugar beets to the burjakpunkt by horse-drawn wagon, which is pictured below. Notice the pile of sugar beets behind him. A quarter of his day was spent getting there, another quarter getting home. He might have had enough in that wagon for half a sack. While talking to him, I learned that he was quite poor. I asked him why, to his mind, so many Ukrainians have remained poor while Pinchuk and Akhmetov (Ukrainian oligarchs) are billionaires. He said, "Because we don't have any good leaders. They always think about themselves. . .
About such wagons: One day during my first ever week in Ukraine I was with my father's cousin and his daughter, Oksana, who turned to me and said, in perfect English, "Stefan, look. . .our national mode of transportation for centuries, which, still has not died. . ." The last clause of what she said was an allusion to the Ukrainian national anthem, whose opening line is "Shche ne vmerla Ukrajina (Ukraine still has not died). . ."
To the left of this photo is the start of a huge pile of sugar beets.
All those sugar beets piled up outside get processed, and people get paid in sacks of sugar.
Bringin' the Sugar Home
In these three photos, Taras Kolodnytskyj and his mother Lesja unload the sacks of sugar, which are 25k each. I did put down my camera to carry in two sacks as well. I am no stranger to physical labor, as I grew up in a family of woodworkers and as the son of a good immigrant father who tried to teach me the value of hard work. While friends slept-in on weekends I went to work at his shop. While friends goofed around for the summer, I went to work at his shop. It's probably why I became such a hippie (I am not serious; there are real reasons of protest against the #1 American sickness of workaholism that one becomes a hippie). But now I like to thank him for the fact that, through his guidance and effort, I can work with both my hands and my head. When I work in the US, I drive a truck and do contract gigs, and am damn proud of it. . .
Bringin' the Sugar Home
They have a Ukrainian flag flying because this was UPA day, last Oct. 14. . .read the previous post for more. . .