Diana Elliott writes:
Will work for salary
If there is one thing that perplexes me most about Ukrainians, it is their willingness to work without pay. I am not talking about volunteerism. Getting Ukrainians to volunteer their time and effort for a good cause is a tough sell. I'm talking about working at a job 40 or more hours a week and not getting a salary. They earn a salary, but don't get it. Few professions are immune: Teachers. Doctors. Police. Miners. Farmers. Soldiers. Factory workers. And it's not just employees; add to the list those who are owed stipends, pensions or other government assistance, such as veterans, retirees, students, mothers on maternity leave, etc.
When I discuss this issue with my beleaguered friends, they usually spew my favorite Ukrainian phrase: "But what can we do? It is impossible." They explain that if they go on strike, they might lose their jobs. And therefore lose the opportunity to continue working for free? It doesn't sound like a huge risk to me. This is a nation of patriotic people.
I am sure that if Ukraine were suddenly threatened by a hostile enemy and on the brink of war, nearly everyone would support sending husbands, fathers, brothers and sons to fight. People will risk their lives for their country, but they won't put their unpaid jobs on the line for the sake of dignity. At this point in the conversation, I am usually reminded that because I am an American and grew up with such words and phrases as "law and order," "justice for all," and "lawsuit!" firmly entrenched in my vocabulary, I cannot possibly understand those raised with Soviet dogma swirling around in their brains.
Teachers work without pay because children need to learn. Doctors work for free because the injured and ailing need help. Farmers must feed the nation. They are all working for the good of the country. Fine. I'm all for teamwork, charity and loyalty. I believe in patriotism. But I do not think that tolerating worker exploitation and state-imposed poverty have anything to do with loving your country. If you really want to do something good for the nation, lead by example. Teachers, teach your students to stand up for their rights. DonХt go to work if you aren't paid.
The same goes for doctors, police, miners, farmers, factory workers, and the millions of others who diligently go to work knowing there will be no paycheck at the end of the month. Show the government -- and your children -- that a nation of under- or unpaid workers is in no position to develop economically, or otherwise. Diana Elliott
Olga Kryzhanovska writes:
There is no justice -- try revenge
When Maria Antoinette was told that the masses were rioting for bread, she exclaimed: "Let them eat cake!" It always reminds me of my Western friends when they talk about those sweet attributes of the civilized world: law, order and justice for all. Westerners want us to demand justice. Well, Ukrainians know too well the concept of justice for all. It was ingrained in us for 70 years. Justice for all is when all have jobs but everybody is equally poor. And no one can buy anything in the shops anyway because there's nothing in the shops to buy.
Ukraine can easily return to those good old days if we follow the advice of some of our Western friends who want us to go on a general strike, which will be a great way to bring communists back to power with their guaranteed chunks of cheap kolbasa. The fact is, Western people simply have no idea what real poverty is. It's easy to be bold and rebellious when you have a healthy bank account or a bunch of wealthy relatives to lend you a hand. In the worst case, the state is always ready to give out cash just to keep the poor from robbing supermarkets and shooting cops on the streets. It's impossible to talk about self-respect and solidarity to people who are actually hungry and can't buy basic things. Not that all Ukrainians are starving, but many of them see that prospect on the horizon. But the truth is, to go on strike only makes sense if an employer has money. It will do little good for doctors, teachers and miners who are paid by the state. Even kids know that the state is bankrupt. (It seems that only the IMF doesn't understand this.)
So if teachers in Kharkiv go on strike, they might get their salaries at the expense of the miners in Luhansk. It's a vicious circle, and there is no way out. By the way, it's not true that Ukrainians don't protest. Our protest takes the form of sabotage. Think about all those times you were treated badly at a state hospital or snarled at by a waitress at a cheap cafe. These people are not inherently rude. They are merely protesting, playing the only card they have. And it seems they at least have that right. After all, that is justice. Olga Kryzhanovska