Saturday, September 24, 2005

Bothered by it all

I can’t read any of the commentary anymore. I am sitting here just disgusted with it all. If all the Orange Revolution meant to people here was a shot at taking down those on the opposite side, then it was no better than the revolution of 1917. “I get my people in and deal with the people who opposed me.” Then they get their people in by coup or by "legitimate" means and deal with your side. Then you get yours in and do it again and it goes on and on and nauseatingly on. And Ukraine remains some backwater, third world, basket case, with a few people controlling the wealth, the land, and everything else. But the people will have their pound of flesh, while the structures around them crumble to the dust. With the people distracted this way to what are small matters in the end, the oligarchs can just sit and grin as they watch their portfolios get fatter and fatter and fatter.

What should have been bought on Maidan was getting off that kind of ride. Rule of law, discussions held and decisions taken in the open, solid institutions which cannot be bought by someone with the most money or influence. In other words, what should have been bought on Maidan was the ability for what has happened over and over again in Ukraine to never happen again. Ever. If that is not what was paid for, then Ukrainians got nothing. But that is what it looks like. People want someone to pay and they will have it and stagnation, poverty and corruption will remain.

I will put this plainly and it will tick off a lot of Ukrainians (most of whom long ago abandoned this site): Tymoshenko was a disaster for Ukraine. She is a capable woman and gets things done and was instrumental in the Orange Revolution, but she was a disaster for Ukraine. Why is this? Prices are rising steeply on most everything and a lot of investment, investment that should be Ukrainian by right, is passing over this country for places like Romania. Let that sink in for a minute. Romania. If there is a country worse off than Ukraine it has got to be Romania (and the rump state Moldova) but they are getting more investment than Ukraine right now.

A lot of goodwill was generated by the Orange Revolution and companies and investors that couldn’t have told you where Ukraine was in the world before, suddenly found it. And all were charmed, I repeat this, all were charmed by the sight of people out in the streets trying to reclaim their rights. Investment would have come in from that fact alone but Tymoshenko immediately began to talk about revising all privatization deals and only settled on 3000 when pushed. You tell me what a company or investor is going to do when faced with the prospect that any company they might join forces with or any building they might buy or any asset they might purchase here could be swept up in a revision of privatizations from years back. They held back and in honor of the revolution, they waited to see what would happen. But these things don’t wait long. Doors open but they also shut.

There is no way around this. Ukraine needs investment to grow and for the people to better their lives. People don’t leave Ukraine for Europe because of the politics or the way of life or for the European social safety net. They leave Ukraine because they see more opportunities there to provide for their families than are present in Ukraine. And regardless of the troubles that Europe faces right now, there are more opportunities there than there are here for Ukrainians. And that is true in economically stagnant places like Germany. (0.6% growth last year.) There are more opportunities in Germany with its economic stagnation and high unemployment rate, than there are here in Ukraine. That is scandalous.

If Ukraine is going to reverse that, it can only be done with outside investment. And there needs to be a lot of it.

And you can spare me the “resources belong to the people and should be used for their benefit” crap. Those resources are in the hands of a very few right now, much as the resources in any Latin American back water are in the hands of a very few. That is the way it has always been here. These very few now hold them in the name of capitalism. Those same resources were once held in the name of the people. But the results were very much the same. A small group of people enjoyed (enjoy) the benefits of those resources and the rest of the people be damned, or killed, or exiled, whichever is the flavor of the day. Exile is now out and killing is not on the scale it once was, not anywhere near, but I am not so sure that people here are eating like they should—they can’t afford to. So suffering and death may still be very real.

Some blame the oligarchs and argue that the government needs to retain the power to fight these oligarchs who control the resources. They argue that Tymoshenko was the one to do it and she was on her way to doing it until dismissed by Yuschenko.

That she was doing things is true. That she was confronting some of the oligarchs is also true. But what she was really doing economically was redistributing wealth using state power. And the result was greater inflation, rising prices and a people who cannot afford to live.

In her television interview, Tymoshenko said that any rise in prices was offset by the increases her government made in wages and pensions. That was disingenuous. The wage increases don’t track with the price increases and not all are tied to the government—there is commerce and industry here that hasn’t seen much of any wage increase.

We know of people who are living on 300 hryvna a month. That is $60 to live on for the month and these are government employees. A lot of the prices for food are at US levels right now. To buy a chicken, a single, whole chicken, for instance, costs one-tenth that salary. (The increase on chicken has been about 30% in the past 6 months.) And the same thing is true on other items. My wife and I think there are a lot of people who can’t be eating all that well right now. They don’t have the money to.

I’ve got news for everyone, it is not the power of the government that will deal with entrenched oligarchic power. It will be the reforms of government, dealing with corruption and opening things up to competition that will do it.

One thing here is a real type of the attitude of the people in government and most everywhere else. It is the closed door. If you go to any building here, any hospital or government agency or store, you will find a full set of doors across the front to get in just like in any entranceway in any building in the US. The difference here is that only one of those doors will be open. (You will find some exceptions to this--usually Western companies like a McDonalds--but very few.)

If people want to know what is wrong and how to set it right I will just say, “Open up the doors!” Open up for investment and competition--open everything up-- and see the oligarchs wither away and die. And see the people better off than they have been, ever.

I do have something to say about the “Yuschenko is as much responsible for this as Tymoshenko” argument but I have other things I need to do right now.


Anonymous said...

"Open up the doors"!
is totally true and I am personally dismayed and disgusted by the reactions of UAnians who are so turned off by recent events and T. being dismissed (though she was a disaster) as - more of the same, nothing changed, grip, whine, etc. that they act like - we did Maidan and did not succeed. Que? What? did they REALLY think it would be so "easy"? and with such a PM as Lady T.? the Presidential election was just the beginning not the end.
Keep up your spirit, Scott, you are on the right path.
and BTW, I for one, am an Ukrainian who has not abandoned your site. Nor will do so in the forseeable future, though I do miss your commentary on the Russian political/economic but right now the priority is on Ukraine. These people need prozac or "Don't Worry be Happy" singalong or something, because they are way too doom and gloom. And they need to get to work on nation building.

ash said...

Hey Scott, the "closed door" allusion was strikingly insightful. And to continue your string of thought a closed door means a closed mind or self-restricted comprehension of the world around. And that indicates presence of fear and inherent reluctance to change. You see it is the subconscious (and not so subconscious) conservative fear of different people, essentially new "environmental conditions", etc. that does the damage to Ukrainians and makes them close the doors. By the way pani Yulia fits here just fine: she plays the role of fighter on behalf of common people well enough for many to simply think to themselves "ok we'll live like always and will easily allow ourselves being as backwards and unchanging as we please because she will fight for us and be a kind fairy to us and the Orleans Virgin to our enemies". Not gonna happen of course :). But Ukraine is going to go ahead anyway and in time the fear will evaporate from peoples' consciousness. The beauty will stay :).

Anonymous said...

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