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A nuanced view of Ukraine from the ground

I suppose the question is what course of action causes the least suffering for the ordinary Urkrainian. I don't have an answer for that. I suppose another question is who's going to make Obama look good this time? Putin did that for Obama in Syria, but that's not likely to happen in this crisis; Angela Merkel? Tactless of Obama to bug her, then. Oh well. Then there's the question of realpolitik, the sort of discussion that citizen of great empires can have, and take seriously.

Anyhow, this is an excellent article from the London Review of Books; I'll pick out this paragraph about corruption, because that's part of life in Thailand, too, and although the fish rots from the head, is not (yet) the issue in the State that it might be. (We have education budgets so lousy that teachers have to buy supplies for the kids from their own salaries; but we don't yet have teacher so ill-paid they take "tea money" to place students or give them better grades. But there's always hope!) From the LRB (London Review of Books), which is the must-read the NYRB used to be, 30 years ago anyhow:

James Meek: Putin’s Counter-Revolution
Corruption is everywhere, high and low, in Ukraine as in Russia. Yanukovich’s son Olexandr, a dentist by training, quickly became one of the richest men in the country after his father became president. Just before the regime fell Olexandr Yanukovich’s companies were winning half of all state contracts. Dima told me about a friend who worked as a customs officer. His official salary was 250 euros; bribes took it up to 3000. Perhaps he was exaggerating. But people boasting about the size of the bribes they receive when they’re working for the state doesn’t bode well. In Donetsk I heard about the coal scam. Ukraine pours millions into subsidising deep-mined Donbass coal. It is subsidised by weight and so rogue strip-miners carve open-cast coal cheaply out of unlicensed sites, add that coal to a load of expensive coal, and collect a deep-mine subsidy for the lot. A miner’s daughter told how her father had been injured at work and needed an operation on his arm. The operation should have been free, but before the surgeon carried it out, he strongly suggested the girl’s father demonstrate blagodarnost – gratitude – in advance, to the tune of ten thousand Ukrainian hryvnia, about a thousand US dollars.

Alexei Inozemtsev, a student in his sixth and final year at KNMU, told me the trouble was that patients understood that doctors were so poorly paid – $170 a month is typical – they couldn’t live without taking backhanders. And because the politicians and senior bureaucrats who have the power to change the system assume that doctors, teachers, police, judges and so on are on the take, they feel no urgency about finding ways to pay them decently. Ukraine’s population has shrunk by more than a tenth since independence, yet it’s easier for governments to pay civil servants starvation wages and let them get by on bribes than pay them properly by cutting their numbers, or increasing taxes on the rich, or both. The quality of medical education, Inozemtsev said, was high, and a student would not be allowed to graduate without adequate practical training. But many teachers in the first three years – the theoretical part of the course – were corrupt. You could pay them to have work that was merely adequate marked up to ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. Some KNMU students have their tuition paid by the state; others, like Inozemtsev, pay fees. ‘I already pay to study,’ he said. ‘Why should I pay extra so as not to study?’

KNMU wanted to take on more students, and was allowed to on condition it built an eighth hall of residence. On paper, there is an eighth hall, and student numbers have increased sharply, but the eighth hall was never finished. In 2012, with the government budget under strain because Ukraine and Poland were co-hosting the European football championship, word came that costs had to be cut. Students on state living allowance can have it stopped if their marks fall below a certain level, so staff went through the records, retrospectively marking students down and ending their stipends.

Inozemtsev himself has only paid a bribe once. Medical students have to take a certain number of PT classes and he missed some. He could have caught up with the classes, but the teacher encouraged him to pay instead. ‘I paid ten dollars,’ Inozemtsev said. ‘I gave it to him personally, in his office. The teacher kept saying: “Why go to those classes?”’

As they say: Read the whole thing.

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quixote's picture
Submitted by quixote on

I gather the residence hall was started? That reminds me of an old joke about corruption in some country, pick any country. The local functionary is showing the foreign visitor around and winking about how good the take was from various projects. "Twenty percent" he says pointing at a downtown skyscraper. "Forty percent" for the football stadium. "But let me show you the best one," he says, showing the visitor a view of a valley with some cows in it.

"There's nothing there," says the visitor.

"Yes," says the local with a big smile. "One hundred percent."

(Anyway. To be a bit more on-topic: yes, the US seems to have to clue about the complexity of the Ukrainian situation.)