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Re: [Slovak-World] Re: May I vent?

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  • LongJohn Wayne
    Thank you, Paul, for a thoughtful, concise, insightful post, as you always do. ...
    Message 1 of 12 , Apr 26, 2008
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      Thank you, Paul, for a thoughtful, concise, insightful
      post, as you always do.


      --- Paul Guzowski <guzowskip@...> wrote:

      > Well put, Martin. I'd like to add a bit of my own
      > perspective and apologize
      > in advance for a rather long post.
      >
      > The human psyche is a wonderful thing that helps us
      > forget the trials,
      > tribulations, and pains of the past and remember the
      > good things. That
      > said, in the transition from communism to democracy,
      > some people were bound
      > to be disenfranchised. In my years living and
      > working in former communist
      > countries, it seemed the most affected people were
      > the pensioners and the
      > older workers who did not have a skill that was
      > useful in a market economy
      > or had no initiative after years of working in a
      > system where it was enough
      > to simply do what you were told (no more, no less),
      > and keep your nose clean
      > in order to be paid. This was particularly true for
      > former military
      > officers who had "degrees" in tank, fighter
      > aircraft, air defense artillery,
      > etc. and found themselves on the street with very
      > short notice when the
      > defense structure was drastically downsized.
      >
      > My first taste of these transitional problems came
      > when I was last stationed
      > in Germany with the Air Force in the mid-90s. I was
      > on a tour of the former
      > eastern Germany about five years after the wall
      > fell. Because the tour was
      > sponsored by the German government, we had the good
      > fortune to watch the
      > county government in session in Dresden and later
      > meet with the city council
      > in Leipzig.
      >
      > In that latter session, the chairman (who
      > incidentally was the young man who
      > led the peaceful protest marches around Leipzig's
      > ring road) was telling us
      > about how things were tough but still people were
      > better off
      > post-communism. Then a woman who was the
      > representative from the communist
      > party chimed in. She said she felt lucky because
      > she was a teacher and
      > teachers were always required but that so many of
      > her women friends lost
      > their jobs immediately when the system changed. The
      > chairman countered
      > that, yes, everyone had a job but what kind of jobs
      > were they? For example,
      > he noted, a small elementary school employed five or
      > six women to peel
      > potatoes for the school lunch... a job that one
      > person working diligently
      > could perform in a few hours. A market economy
      > could not and would not pay
      > for one more worker hour than was necessary to get
      > that work done.
      >
      > Years later as I worked in Hungary, Lithuania, and
      > Slovakia I saw many other
      > good examples. For example, the apartment I lived
      > in in Budapest was in a
      > beautiful old Art Deco building but the floorplan
      > was really strange. I
      > found out later that it had been part of a luxury
      > flat that was carved up
      > after WWII to make room for multiple families. In
      > fact, the government
      > there determined that 5 square meters (50 square
      > feet) per person was enough
      > to live in so the one bedroom apartment I had was
      > originally occupied by two
      > families who shared the one bathroom and kitchen
      > sink.
      >
      > Even today, it's amazing how small the
      > accomodations are in that part of
      > Europe and I'm sure it goes back to those communist
      > policies because the
      > government had to provide accomodation for everyone
      > and they built these
      > huge panel houses with very small apartments. In
      > addition, since the state
      > paid for the heat, it was turned on at a certain
      > date in the fall and off on
      > a certain date in the spring. When visiting a
      > friend in Budapest, one
      > winter he proudly showed me around his apartment. I
      > noted that the place
      > was quite warm but the window was open so I asked
      > him about that. He
      > remarked that since he had no way to turn the
      > radiators off, if it got too
      > warm inside they had to open the windows. He wasn't
      > very happy about it,
      > though, because after the change in system, he was
      > now assessed his share of
      > the heating cost based on the size of his apartment
      > and not on what he
      > actually used. I saw the same thing in Lithuania
      > and Slovakia and I always
      > made sure I had separately controllable and metered
      > utilities.
      >
      > On another note, during the communist years everyone
      > in Hungary was entitled
      > to eight years of education but you only went to
      > college/university if the
      > state decided you should go. Even at that, the
      > state determined what you
      > would study and what line of work you would go into
      > based on the needs of
      > the state and not your desires. I had a friend who
      > wasn't good enough to
      > get to college so they sent him to work in the
      > telephone factory. He was
      > not interested in the work and not good at it so the
      > authorities branded him
      > a trouble maker and he was sent to jail for four
      > months to get his attitude
      > adjusted.
      >
      > Yes, everyone got a state-funded vacation every year
      > and there was so much
      > surplus labor that women could be given a year's
      > maternity leave and the
      > work place would continue to function with no
      > problems until they came
      > back. Some of these policies still exist in the
      > labor laws today and it
      > makes life difficult for employers in a market
      > economy and that ultimately
      > translates to higher prices for the consumer.
      > France and Germany with
      > their well developed economies are struggling with
      > similar labor laws
      > including short work weeks and I fear the same will
      > hinder real productivity
      > in the newly independent states of eastern and
      > central Europe.
      >
      > Now, given all that, there are some things that have
      > faded as an unintended
      > consequence of the change in regime. For example,
      > people don't seem to
      > enjoy the small things in life that cost little but
      > were so much a part of
      > the culture like family picnics, hikes in the
      > parks/forests, homemade gifts
      > at birthday/christmas, weekends tending the garden
      > at the country cottage,
      > the winter pig slaughtering party, etc. I saw some
      > of these during my six
      > years in Hungary, Lithuania, and Slovakia but they
      > were the exception rather
      > than the rule and obviously (at least to me) dying
      > traditions.
      >
      > Well, I'll close this rather long post with the
      > caveat that these are my
      > personal opinions based on my personal observations,
      > experiences, and
      > conversations with friends and colleagues in the
      > countries where I worked.
      > I would be happy to share more including photos with
      > anyone who would like
      > to contact me via back channel email.
      >
      > Paul in NW Florida
      >
      >
      > [Non-text portions of this message have been
      > removed]
      >
      >



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