Fulbright Travels in Eastern Europe*
Professor, Humanities Master of Arts Degree external program
California State University, Dominguez Hills
So satisfied have I been with life in Ashland, Oregon that I felt no inclination to travel until I was fortunate to be selected for a second Fulbright. I left 12 July, 2005 for the orientation meeting, arriving in time to spend the best part of a characteristically hot, sticky Washington summer day as a tourist. I started at the new World War II Memorial. It is nicely conceived and low enough to preserve the view of the mall, but FDR's reference to God in his Pearl Harbor speech was deleted in the name of political correctness. The new American Indian Museum was disappointing excepting for the food court based on regional American Indian foods (for the extent of our debt see Jack Weatherford's Indian Giver). The exhibits are behind glass on the walls and in drawers so everything displayed must be small or flat. Where are the houses, costumes, languages, boats, tools, and weapons characteristic of each region? There is nothing like the display at the American Museum of Natural History of an actual Northwestern sea canoe with traditionally garbed manikins paddling in the direction indicated by the standing chief.
hundred Fulbright professors and students heading to Eastern Europe
and Central Asia began with a reception. Your tax dollars were well
spent. There were two stations for standing ribs of beef, four with
beautifully garnished salmon, one for turkey, one for vegetarians
and two for desserts. We did pay for drinks. The orientation was
well thought out, covering practical and professional topics. There
were general meetings, meetings by country, and meetings by academic
I drove to Snow Hill, MD (population 2700) where two high school friends run a B&B. Susanne was part of my little clique in high school. Larry and I were together from Kindergarten through high school, Boy Scouts, and with no planning went through infantry officer training in the same company then to the same post and even trained together at Fort Wayne to become adjutants of our respective regiments. With his daughter and her daughter, we went to the midnight launch of the newest Harry Potter. The next day, we boated up the Pocomoke River, seeing such wildlife as soaring eagles, wading herons, and basking turtles while we generally caught up with one another. On Sunday I drove to Dulles for the flight to Budapest.
Eastern Europe by Train
Budapest was vaguely familiar from one day there in 1989. The city is an amalgam of three, Buda and Obuda on the hilly left bank of the Danube dominated by the castle and Pest on the flat commercial and political side. Having focused on Buda in 1989, I focused on Pest, doing the usual museums, Hunyadi Castle, the city park, and Danube shore but messing up the timing and missing the circus.
|Tourist Bratislava comes down to a hilltop castle and adjacent walking district. The former includes several buildings including a museum with an impressive section on metalwork and coins. Here and there throughout the walking district fanciful cows and bronze statues such as Napoleon leaning on a park bench or|
|a worker smiling from the edge of his manhole (do you expect me to call it a personhole?) surprise. In the main square, Roland turns around once a year but only virgins can see him move. Cracow, where I attended a conference, features a well-preserved medieval center. Souvenir|
shops and outdoor restaurants dominate Market Square, the largest in medieval Europe at 200 meters on each side. An hourly bugle call reminds of the Mongol invasion of 1241. The "planting"-a park from the Barbican to the Vistula, replaces the old city walls and passes the Bishop's Palace and Jagellonian University (both associated with John Paul II and the latter with Copernicus). The medieval salt mine is 30 minutes away at Wieliczka. Worked from about 5000 BC until 1996, it now is an underground museum on mining technology, history, governance, and geology in some 15-20 separate rooms on three of the nine levels. The miners carved statues, reproductions of paintings such as the Last Supper and even chapels into the rock hard salt-most of it black-climaxed by a cathedral that must be the size of Notre Dame in Paris in which even the chandeliers are of salt. Not for the claustrophobic-especially the ride to the top in the blacked out crowded elevator-but well worth the three or four hours spent seeing it all.
|Belarus allows tourists only on the old Soviet model, visas issued only on proof of having booked hotels, transportation, city tours and guide with an approved tourist agency. It was the only country in Europe I had not visited so I was determined to go. It proved a lot more pleasant, welcoming and friendly than I expected, although living there might be a different matter. I enjoyed the smaller city of Brest more than the capital of Minsk and regret missing Vitbesk to see the Chagal Museum. The first of three highlights in and near Brest was the Museum of Confiscated Art, largely medieval icons, military paraphernalia, paintings and (in the changing exhibit) Chinese art. The second highlight was Brest Fortress where the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ending World War I on the Eastern Front was signed in 1917. Just outside its walls is an archaeological museum built over and around an excavated 12th century village, mostly single room log cabins connected by log roads. Displays give an excellent picture of life in the village: tools, weapons, jewelry, farm tools, weaving, trade goods, a child's writing slate, grinding stones, etc. The final highlight was Belavezhkaja Pushaha National Forest, 1300|
Staid, gray, humorless communist Europe has changed much since 1989, some in Belarus. Graffiti abounds. The stupor of the past is gone. People are on the streets in numbers, they smile, and are better dressed. Men's suits are not much improved and shoes still are bad but most men wear American sports shirts, jeans and athletic shoes. Women are highly style and label conscious. Micro-minis are common and worn tight, tight, tight. Traffic now is heavy (except in Belarus) and the few clunky Russian cars are largely gone. New and recent Audis, Mercedes, VWs, Toyotas and BMWs dominate. American fast food has arrived, Macdonald's dominates and going there is a memorable event documented by photographs. Cell phones and digital and video cameras in the latest models are ubiquitous, as are computer shops, which can only be accounted for by a large underground economy varying I would guess from a fraction of the official economy in Hungary to nine times the official one in Belarus. Citizens of the USSR and its satellites were taught that if communism did not produce it, they didn't need it (e.g., you can cure poor eyesight with exercise and diet). Now, people have glasses. The train from Minsk to Kiev was three hours late, a good thing as it was not on the announced track and took some finding given that everything was written in Cyrillic.
Ukraine has had a hard history. Greeks established trading ports along the Black Sea Coast from about the 6th century BC, encountering Scythian nomads who had arrived around 750 BC and produced some of the finest gold work ever seen. The Sarmatians dominated from about 250 BC to about 250 AD. A Slavic tribe founded Kiev around 550 AD. Beginning in the 800s, Varangians (Vikings) established a trade or raid route via the Lovat and Dnepr Rivers and the Black Sea to Constantinople and combined with the local Slavs to found the sometimes well run, sometimes anarchic, state of Kievan Rus. Much of their profit came from selling captive Slavs in Constantinople, giving us the word slave. In the tenth century, Volodomyr adopted Orthodox Christianity, had the Dnepr blessed, ordered everyone in, and pronounced them baptized. His successor, Yaroslav the Wise, built St. Sophia and married himself and his children strategically to rulers of Byzantium, France, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Poland and Sweden; his successor married the last Saxon princess of England. .
The Mongols destroyed the state in 1240 and ruled loosely for a century before being defeated by Lithuania, which thereby stretched from the Baltic to Kiev. Poland gained control of what now is western Ukraine and feudalized the peasants. Many fled to the largely unoccupied "borderland," the U-kray-na, between Poland, Lithuania, Russia and the Tartars in Crimea. These free serfs became known as Cossacks. One among them, Khmelnytsky, denied justice for the murder of his family in a Polish court, attacked, turning to Russia for help in 1654. The tsar drove a hard bargain, becoming the "Autocrat of Big and Little Russia," an unequal relationship that lasted until 1991.
Peter I and Catherine II, both known as "great," consolidated Russia's hold on Ukraine during the 18th century and extended it into Crimea. Catherine ordered the founding and building of Odessa but in characteristically Russian fashion ordered more done than was possible. When she went on inspection tours, her minister lined the route with building fronts where villages were supposed to be, "Potemkin Villages," an apt metaphor for much Russian and Soviet history. For example, when serfdom was abolished in 1861, taxes, labor obligations, restrictions on travel, and other laws still pinned the peasants to the land. Industrialization began in earnest in the 1890s, by which time revolutionary fervor was ubiquitous, with anarchists, agrarian socialists, and Marxists competing for predominance. 1917 brought the Bolsheviks to power in Russia and three years of civil war to Ukraine, with six armies fighting one another and peasant bands attacking them all. The Bolsheviks finally won at a cost of 1.5 million dead. When Lenin nationalized, collectivized, or requisitioned everything of value, the peasants stopped planting what would only be seized and Ukraine suffered its first famine, forcing Lenin to announce the New Economic Program-otherwise known as capitalism-in 1924.
|Stalin resumed nationalization of industries and collectivization of farms, aiming to feed industrial workers at the expense of farm workers. When the farmers resisted, Stalin liquidated or exiled them to Siberian gulags. The result was the second and even more disastrous famine of 1932-1933 that killed another 3-6 million in Ukraine. The late thirties brought the Great Terror, show trials in which Stalin killed or sent to the gulags anyone|
exhibiting real and imagined opposition to his rule. During the Great Patriotic War that began in 1941 (which everyone else thinks began in 1939 with the German/Soviet division of Poland and calls World War II), Stalin ordered a scorched earth retreat and the Germans, who had a chance to pose as liberators, stupidly chose brutalization and exploitation. Millions more died. To this day, teen honor guards are posted at monuments throughout the FSU.
Stalin began and Khrushchev completed the post-war rebuilding, including those identical concrete slab apartments that got people housed but now blight the land from Lviv to Vladivistok. Stagnation set in under Brezhnev. By the mid-1980s the decline was too serious to ignore: Gorbachev was brought in to save communism and the empire. He failed. This was no surprise to Kennan who realized as early as 1948 that it was communism, not capitalism that would collapse of its internal contradictions. Marx's assumptions about private property, the malleability of the human spirit, and the subordination of ethnic, religious and territorial loyalties to class, all proved wrong. Most fundamental was enforcing equality through bureaucrats who demanded perks that in Orwell's famous phrase made them more equal than others. With no rewards for success but severe penalties for failure, bureaucrats took no risks, squelching all innovation in a system whose technology largely remained mired in the 1950s. Bureaucrats became petty tyrants who rationed needed products and services including health care on the basis of bribes that became a way of life and soon completed the corruption of the system. In those circumstances, the moral challenges mounted by Lech Walesa, Vaclev Havel and Ronald Reagan were fatal. By summer 1989, when I did my grand tour of the FSU, decline was giving way to collapse and protests were common.
A Ukrainian nationalist party was founded in 1989; in 1990 Gorbachev permitted multi-party election, and in 1991 Ukraine declared independence. Krachuk became president. Industries were "privatized," former apparatchiks "buying" them from the state with funds that disappeared into places like Cyprus (I saw plenty of evidence when I was there 1999-2000 on a previous Fulbright). Organized crime took over drugs, and gambling and now is moving in on small businesses. Kuchma was elected president as a reformer in 1994 but little changed and there was fear of the country splitting east-west along the Russian-Ukrainian language boundary. Kuchma was re-elected in 1999 despite scandals but in 2004 the election abuses were so apparent and international attention so intense that a new election was forced-the Orange Revolution. Now, a year later, many are again losing hope of reform under President Yuschenko. Corruption remains the norm at every level of society. Yuschenko fired his charismatic Prime Minister and allied with the man he defeated a year earlier, and who just may have tried to poison him. Five political parties account for fewer than 50% of the voters, so the situation is highly volatile.
Before Ukraine gained independence, nothing but shoddy, basic goods were available-sometimes. The only restaurants were in state-run hotels open only to inmates, where despite extensive menus one learned to ask for the "special" to identify the one dish actually available. The few cars on the streets were the notorious Ladas. With independence, even this basic economy collapsed. For about three years people survived on the produce grown in small private plots outside the cities.
|The comeback has been remarkable. In 2005, department stores are well stocked with local and expensive Western brands, and true supermarkets have made their appearance. Both the legal and underground economies are booming. Authentic rather than counterfeit luxury goods abound. There are as many Ladas as ever but now they account for only about 20% of the cars on the road, most of which are recent BMWs, Mercedes, and Toyotas in sufficient numbers to create the occasional traffic jam. Ukrainian emigrants are returning or buying second homes, fueling a building boom and restoration of many wonderful old buildings such as this one in Odessa on which work is yet to begin. The major steel firm was "re-privatized" and a foreign consortium won the bidding: other investors presumably will watch carefully to see whether and how the government accounts for the proceeds to determine whether they too might invest. Pensions have been increased but the elderly still lead lives of quiet desperation, and survival is a daily struggle for most Ukrainians. Russia continues to sell natural|
gas at a large discount from market, though for how long is another source of uncertainty. The currency is stable (between 5 and 5.1 to the dollar) and perhaps undervalued. The growth rate has stabilized at a respectable 4%. Major issues facing the country are the slowing of the Orange Revolution, the Russian-Ukrainian language divide, and whether or not to join NATO.
Ukraine is the largest country in Europe (about the size of Texas), with a population of about 50 million and declining, 15% Russian, 80% Ukrainian and 5% other. Official GDP is about $5000 per person. Unemployment (officially 9%), over-regulation, apathy, lack of initiative, uncertainty, and corruption remain major problems. Casinos abound. Intellectual property is poorly protected, and ATM, credit card, and Internet crime is rife. I met an American who was mugged, his femur broken, at 10 AM next to the Opera House in the very center of Odessa, but violent crime is rare. Scams and cons are not. A favorite (tried unsuccessfully on two Fulbright scholars including myself within a month of arrival) is to pretend to find an (apparent) roll of money and get you to take it in hand at which point a confederate appears screaming that you stole it-but he will not press charges for a payment. Taxi drivers overcharge foreigners-in one case by a factor of ten but I just sat there saying "Call the Police" till he came down sufficiently. Still another was selling apartments, convincing the buyer to register a low price to cheat the taxman, then to exercise the prerogative in Ukrainian law of revoking the sale within 90 days, refunding only the registered price. Some of the apparent increase in real estate values, and thus in GDP due to the amount of sales, undoubtedly reflects changes in the law that make the scam less workable. Six weeks after I moved into an apartment someone called claiming to be the owner. The person I rented from had rented the apartment, listed it with an agent, and rented it to me for four months rent in advance. Any combination of agent, real owner and phony owner might be involved in the scam as they seem to know one another and the description of their relationship kept changing, so I moved out, met the owner at the police station to file the complaint, then found a new but much more expensive apartment for the last two months. Ukrainian police do not seriously investigate anything without payment (and may already have collected one not to investigate). Depending on how you count, I am out somewhere between $1900 and $2300 including three nights in a hotel.
The four-star Dnipro Hotel that might rate three stars in the public areas if they had not been under renovation and two-stars in the rooms had lost my reservation, which meant a night in an over-priced suite before moving to an over-priced room. The hotel was a mere hundred meters from both the Fulbright Office and in a slightly different direction the same to Independence Square. My books had arrived at the embassy and the Fulbright people picked them up for me, arranged my train to Odessa, and helped me cash $1000 in traveler's checks-no mean feat in Ukraine, where the hotel and one bank said no, a second said yes but after a laborious inspection of 10 checks and my passport decided that the signatures were insufficiently alike. A third (German bank) cashed them but it took forty minutes and twelve signatures by three people in addition to mine on the checks.
|With the mundane details settled, I became a tourist. Flowering trees shade the streets-I can't tell a pine tree from a palm tree but someone tells me they are chestnuts. The blue, green, or gold church domes-round Byzantine or onion-shaped Slavic-poke up from the trees to add to its attractiveness. Granite slabs in|
Soviet Gothic dominate the city center. I crossed the street from the hotel east to the park that stretched along the Dnepr, and climbed to the rainbow-shaped monument of [not so] eternal friendship between Russia and Ukraine overlooking the Dnepr River. It probably dates to Khrushchev's 1954 visit to celebrate the union 300 years earlier. I followed the zigzag path down the cliff about 300 feet and across the pedestrian bridge, wishing I had checked the possibility of getting to Odessa by river cruise boat. North and west from the hotel two churches and a monastery form an isosceles triangle about 300 yards on the long arms and 100 on the short one. The view from the apex of St. Sophia (Kiev's first cathederal, in 1037, since rebuilt) and the Khmelnytsky Monument is to St. Michael's of the Golden Domes. alphabet) and St. Methodius, the political, spiritual, and literary forebears of Ukraine. The monastery is the seat of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarch), which has been excommunicated by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarch) that is headquartered at the Monastery of the Caves. There also is a Uniate Church centered in western Ukraine that is Orthodox in ritual but recognizes the Pope (a compromise from the period of Polish domination also seen in Belarus) and a Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church that is the most nationalistic of the four.
|The third day I went south and up another hill by bus (ten cents) to the Monastery of the Caves, Kiev's most famous and popular attraction. It is an enormous complex of religious buildings, museums, and souvenir shops built in four main levels on the side of the cliff above the Dnepr over the "Far" and "Near" caves dug out by St. Andrew and the monks who followed him to meditate, pray, write, and paint icons. The buildings themselves, originally Byzantine, were rebuilt|
in the 18th century in Baroque style. One pays general admission then separate admissions for each building (like Disneyland used to operate). Five museums are devoted to books and printing, cinema, music, and theater, folk art, micro-miniatures such as portraits painted on poppy seeds, names written on human hairs, and a chessboard painted on a pinhead and the one to choose if you have time for only one, a museum of the truly magnificent metalwork of the Scythians mentioned above. The "far" caves are the earliest, dark, smelling of incense and candle wax, with hard-to-see icons blackened by time and bodies or skulls of saints mercifully wrapped in layers of cloth, leading to the Varangian cave where the Varangians hid their loot. Silence is demanded and one must carry a candle-a monk corrected the way I was holding mine. St. Anthony built the "near" caves to escape his burgeoning community of troglodytes. As I was leaving, I got a photo of a monk blessing a new BMW, but unfortunately was changing rolls when he sprinkled holy water on the engine and driver's seat.
|In between all this unaccustomed church going, I went people watching in Independence Square, the heart of last winter's "Orange Revolution." The square itself must be 300 meters long, with buildings in the usual Soviet Gothic down the long sides and built over a two-story shopping mall with a fast food court and shops devoted to luxury goods and western designer brands. There are monuments at each end, one built in 2001 to celebrate a decade of independence behind which a hill rises from which the Hotel Ukraine-in the ubiquitous Soviet Gothic style-dominates the city, perhaps a reminder of Putin's current efforts at intimidation. Independence Square is a happening place, guys picking up girls (or is it the other way round?), kids playing in fountains, a free speech area, pony rides, outdoor coffee shops, beer gardens and a McDonalds, photographers (they now have digital cameras and a battery-driven photo printer for immediate delivery of the result) who work with exotic animal handlers, and rock concerts and political rallies.|
|I bought out both beds in a first class compartment for $100 (on advice of Fulbright office) so slept well on the way to Odessa. Vlodomyr was in my compartment almost as soon as the train stopped, and between us we carried my bag,|
briefcase, and two boxes of books four blocks to the hotel that would be home till I found an apartment. Then we had a quick walking tour of the downtown including breakfast and a first visit to the university. It occupies three large neoclassical buildings near downtown, and a fourth of no architectural pretension a twenty-minute mini-bus ride away that housed the department I would work in. While Kiev is dark granite and Soviet gothic (despite the Baroque churches), Odessa (1.2 million) is mostly Baroque in various states of disrepair, renovation, or repair, often in blue or green or pink or yellow with white balconies and a profusion of statues in classical Greek style stuck onto the walls. A grand nephew of Cardinal Richelieu laid the modern city out on appointment by Catherine the Great before he went on to become prime minister of France. The city is atop a cliff that overlooks the port and the beaches. The port is joined to the city by the Potemkin Steps, 192 of them with ten landings. From the bottom, you cannot see the landings and from the top you cannot see the steps, a neat visual trick that makes them the city's most famous feature. At the top, one can turn left along a promenade that ends at the town hall, or continue straight ahead into the heart of town, an area about 8 blocks by 12. I lived here in this area, twenty minutes by mini-bus to the university but an easy walk to everything else, including the opera house, the Philharmonic and restaurant row. The latter is under the direction of an American who came here just after independence to find the hall in disrepair and the musicians in despair. He raised the money to refurbish the hall, beautifully one must add, restored morale and justifiably is something of a local hero.
Restaurants are abundant, varied, and for the most part moderately priced. They are a major component of Odessa's economy, the city being rich with them compared with other Ukrainian and Russian cities. Rejects include the Japanese restaurant in the Black Sea Hotel (TV so loud conversation is impossible), Steak House (prices too high for quality provided), Turkish Antalya and Japanese Kobe (both just a bit too far to walk but otherwise fine), Italian (huge menu but nothing on it), and the supposedly class act at Londonskaya Hotel (boring menu and boorish Mafioso clientele).
One regular is an eclectic restaurant named after the fictional German prankster Till Eulenspiegel, where one waitress always greeted me like a long-lost relative and once refused my order on the grounds that it was too big for me to finish. Mick O'Neill's is another, not for the extensive not-so-Irish menu or the 24-hour service but as a place to meet ex-pats, many living in Odessa. Buffalo 99, a sports bar, has huge servings of salads, pastas and good meat including buffalo (OK, bison). Also in the "rotation" are a fairly expensive Japanese restaurant (two others remain to be tried if I get back-one offers Kobe beef so is bound to be exorbitant), a Lebanese one despite sometimes erratic service, a Spanish one that does not seem very Spanish, and a couple of Ukrainian restaurants, one of which features a small troupe of entertainers and complimentary homemade pepper vodka (quite good, actually) with every meal. The overall favorite in the category, the place I went twice a week once I discovered it, is Friends and Beer, which has good meat and a substantial discount on food and drinks ordered before 6 and waiters and waitresses who were both friendly and diffident. It is another hangout for ex pats, where I met among others an American Peace Corps volunteer and former soap opera actor now teaching economics and an ex-army sergeant working in "communications" who has been knocking about the world for years and is a teller of colorful stories, some perhaps true.
Places for special occasions include Greenwich: described in one guide as a Ukrainian restaurant looking English and pretending to be French, the most expensive place in town (I knew it was trouble when I saw the doorman, and there is a $1000 bottle of wine on offer). An Uzbek one is a nice balance of food, service, and decor that will, with a day's notice, cook up some quite spectacular dishes such as a whole lamb, with the best prices in the category but a little further from the apartment than the others. The restaurant at the Mozart Hotel gets my top vote as the room is elegant, the service is attentive, the menu excellent, and the prices reasonable. I took my Ukrainian colleagues to dinner here, where six of us put away three bottles of wine and a two-course meal plus deserts and other odds and ends including fresh foie gras for $260 including tip; other times the tab was about $100 for two.
The challenge outside restaurant row is finding one with a menu in English. Menus and all else here are in Russian--not Ukrainian. Both use Cyrillic, which is to say that A = A, M = M and T = T but P = R and backwards R is YA. B is V but b is B. S is a C, N backwards is I, 3 is Z in Russian and EH in Ukrainian assuming you can tell the difference. An upside down L is G if the sign is in Ukrainian and H if it is in Russian, an upside down V is L in both and an upside down h is CH. Much of this is borrowed from Greek so I knew the letters that show up in mathematical and statistical formulas such as the triangle that represents D. The new national currency is the hrivna, a name supposedly selected because the Russians have trouble pronouncing the soft h rolled r diphthong. Some words are taken from English or French so sounding out words sometimes leads to something recognizable: for example, PECTOPAH. Beyond that, I look into every shop to see what it is. Doing almost everything else the first time is a challenge, be it getting a haircut or getting clothes to a laundry where the custom as with many things is to pay in advance and the day to come back requires a bit of sign language.
It is easy to get around by 18-21 seat mini-bus at $.25 a ride once you figure out which one you need of the myriad ones that follow fixed but meandering routes at about five-minute intervals. Electric busses and trolleys are even cheaper, at $.05 a ride, but jammed so reputedly pickpocket heaven, and cabs are available if you don't mind being ripped off because you are a foreigner. Finally, assuming a modicum of Russian I don't have, one always can flag down a car going in your direction and negotiate a fee-it is always the people with Ladas who stop, and never the ones with Mercedes or BMWs.
There is a four-story climb to the (first) apartment after going through the security coded entry gate. On my landing there are two doors, each of which leads to a vestibule serving two apartments. My neighbor keeps fishing equipment and toys in ours. Everything in the common areas is run down and everything inside the apartment nicely maintained in 1940s-1950s style. It has an entry that is too big, bedroom with room air conditioner, glassed in balcony (people dry clothes and grow food and flowers in them), kitchen/dining area that is too small and poorly equipped (e.g., forks and spoons but no knives, a frying pan without a handle, lots of plates and miniature teacups I use as eggcups, and a refrigerator-freezer with a third compartment between that I cannot figure out. There is a bath with a European washing machine (long cycle, small capacity) and one of those on-demand gas water heaters that makes getting temperatures right long enough for a shower a challenge. Heating is central so beyond my control. Electricity goes out frequently and I had no water for three days on two occasions first because pipes were leaking into the apartment below, then because the city had the street torn up. The apartment has cable TB (remember your Cyrillic), which I translate as Television Boring. Other than BBC World (my only source of news) and the Turner Classic Movie feed from 10 PM till it reverts to Cartoon Network in Russian, nothing is in English. TB (TeleBoring?) programming seems to be stuck somewhere in the early sixties, with vaudeville shows, game shows, and a few British (Mr. Bean, Benny Hill) and American comedies (Married with Children). Only about half of each is shown at a time, and usually repeated six times in three days. Even worse, a single translator does all the parts in Russian without eliminating the original soundtrack, so that nothing can be understood. With no computer at home, I am getting a lot of reading done. The second apartment, owned by an American ex-pat, was even more disastrous in the public areas, and more sterile but much more luxurious once inside, everything new, with dependable heat and water, no waste space, the kitchen fully and newly equipped, and CNN International on cable.
Teaching in Ukraine
|I came to Ukraine to teach a single class in conflict theory to 20 advanced, English speaking, undergraduate|
students in international relations at the Odessa campus of the National University. The term started but the class did not: apparently, the students were at a conference in Kiev and a room had not yet been assigned. I agreed to teach "Newspaper English" and an extra section of conflict theory at the neighboring National Law Academy. Classes finally got under way on the third week of the term. Attendance was, shall we say, spotty, students appearing and disappearing seemingly at random, sometimes showing up once as if it were a lecture series rather than a class. In defense of the erratic attendance, the students are volunteers taking a course that does not count toward their degree, as they are outside the completely prescribed curriculum, electives being unknown in Ukraine.
Students stand when professors enter a room but this show of respect normally does not prevent talking constantly or worse using cell phones during class. I eliminated the first by being early to class, my normal habit anyway. I reduced the second to tolerable levels by the old gimmick of stopping the class and staring silently at the culprits. I eliminated the third with a first week five-minute rant about how I hated phones in general and cell phones in particular that got the point across with sufficient humor not to drive the students away. Instead of entering as unobtrusively as possible if late to class as American students do, Ukrainian students knock on the door, open it, ask permission to enter, and wait for an answer-a distracting custom. Now, where was I?
|Unlike Americans, Ukrainian students seem to actually like theory; like Americans they have little idea how to think about it critically and objectively. One component of the class relies on simulations to develop practical skills and demonstrate the connection between theory and practice. The method-a combination of role-playing and game theory in the form of problems soluble in 30 minutes, each designed to raise a specific concept, is rare in Ukrainian|
American students are more competitive, producing more deadlocks but more mutually advantageous solutions than the Ukrainians, who reached agreements that were relatively obvious and unimaginative. American students who realized from the scores that they had been snookered quickly learned to toughen up, while those who did the snookering developed reputations that forced them to moderate their behavior. The Ukrainians seemed not to learn either lesson, and continued to produce middle-of-the-road compromises. I never saw a Ukrainian lose his temper in a simulation, either for real or as a negotiating tactic described in the textbook, as Americans will do. This triumph of competition over cooperation is just the opposite of what advocates of "win-win" negotiation claim, and perhaps explains why it is so rare in practice and so common outside the fantasy world of the university where there are no real stakes.
The collectivist mentality extends to test taking. I saw much more of it among the law students than among the international relations students-draw what conclusion you want from that. The classes did not count for anything more than a certificate of participation (there are no electives in Ukrainian university degree programs) that required completion of five of seven tasks, so I chose to instruct rather than discipline. The students seem to have no sense that there is anything wrong in this-they certainly make no effort to hide what they are doing and were genuinely surprised to be admonished or to hear that the difficulty they have in gaining admission to non-Ukrainian universities is related to the problem. For the first multiple-choice examination, I sat students one to a row, and proctored them carefully. I pre-numbered the answer sheets with seat locations and searched for strings of identical wrong answers shared by people who had been observed apparently cheating. I analyzed answer sheets using a spreadsheet and found some "strings" of ten wrong answers on tests with only 40 questions! The device of explaining the analysis both amazed the students and led to a significant decline in cheating on the second test.
|My long-time colleague David Nasatir once joked that he "could teach ANY class in ANY subject-badly," and that is what I did in Newspaper English. It does not help that I|
could not find an English-language paper in Odessa. The solution of course was the Internet. Also distressing was learning a bare two hours before the last class of an "American Culture Center" in the building that was stocked with materials I could have used in the course. I badly underestimated the knowledge of the students, so had to readjust and experiment to find something that did not insult them. Had I been warned before leaving the US, I could have brought appropriate materials; had I been a bit more imaginative, I could have hooked each student up with a member of my writers' group in Ashland.
|I gave a public lecture on "Hard Choices and Grand Ideas in an Era of Terrorism and Rogue States." I attended a meeting of the current American Fulbright Scholars in Kiev, a meeting of the Ukrainian Fulbright alumni in Lviv and participated in three meetings to recruit Ukrainian Fulbright applicants, stressing the need for applications to be specific, feasible, and to provide a good reason for studying in the United States. I was interviewed for an article about "conflictology" and distance learning (and am waiting for a promised copy in translation), wrote an article for the Law Academy newsletter for which the picture with students|
shown above was taken. I was interviewed for local television and participated in the opening ceremonies of a NATO resource center attended by ten ambassadors. I rewrote an article for a colleague that had been rejected by the U.S. editor (co-authorship was offered but I declined; the revised article has since been accepted). I reviewed the applications by Ukrainians for Fulbright Fellowships to the US and was invited to participate in the interviews, but I will have been home a month by the time they begin. I was asked to give lectures in three cities I had not visited but unfortunately the requests came to late to accept.
|Other than dinner out each night, I had only two regular activities. Each Saturday afternoon I joined a group at the American Library to discuss aspects of American life based on documentaries such as Ken Burns's film on the Statue of Liberty. The resulting debates were sometimes lively and always fun although more people just listened than participated. One attendee took to bringing crackpot inventors to my office at the university looking for US funding.|
Another (pictured with me and the Fulbright student grantee) is looking for a US publisher of poetry dubiously translated into English, hammer written as hummer to rhyme with summer, for example.
|Each Friday evening I joined about a dozen Ukrainians who have a long running English Club, each of whom left with some souvenir such as the hat from my zoo the club president is wearing (everybody had to try it on!). Normally, there is a topic to which they loosely adhere, but at the last meeting they were planning a potluck Christmas party. The American approach would be "bring something" or|
maybe "you folks on that side of the room bring drinks, you on that side bring food, and I will bring the plates and such." The Ukrainian approach was to spend the evening making assignments. Who volunteers to bring wine? Then the number of bottles, the number of reds and whites, the degree of sweetness of each, and the price per bottle was settled and the money given to the volunteer from that collected over the past several weeks. The possibility of electrical failure must be taken into account: the number of candles, the type, their holders and the price must be settled. There is the problem of furniture (someone suggests a board between two chairs as a table) and finally there is the matter of making sure everyone can find the place, addresses alone being insufficient. Finally, the party itself must be planned. Everyone must bring a gift, must present it as a riddle, and must do a predetermined "entertainment." There must be no surprises, no spontaneity, nothing left to chance: after all, it will be a party!
The trip home
There is a $1000 limit on taking undeclared cash out and I had about $9000 in traveler's checks (I could not get the declaration form when I entered by train). I had seen two reports of people having funds confiscated. Regular check in meant standing in three different lines for hours and a high likelihood of a thorough search of bags and self. My solution began by packing my checked bag to the gills with all sorts of loose "stuff" making it a pain to search including half a dozen books including one 9" x 12" cut to precisely accommodate the travelers checks and the pages glued down the middle to prevent detection during a casual flip through. Second, I paid $45 for VIP service so that airport staff would handle the checked bag without asking me any questions. Third, I took only a carryon and just under $800 in cash distributed among a trouser wallet, a jacket wallet, and a money belt. The idea was to have enough but not too much, and if asked to have it in enough different places that they would think they had identified it all for sure. The precautions were well taken: they did insist on seeing and counting my money.
|I flew home with a layover at the art nouveau Spa Hotel Gellert in Budapest. The Ukraine was a good experience but it was great to be back for Christmas and the year-end party of the Ashland Writers Group. Where else is there a picturesque town of 20,000 with a university, 95 restaurants but no McDonalds, listed by AARP as the 15th best retirement towns in America, by Time for the second best repertoire|
theater in America, by Schultz in 1000 Places to See Before you Die, where people lock neither houses or cars? I'll be volunteering at the Shakespeare Festival, writing the second edition of Why We Fight: Theories of Human Aggression and Conflict, taking short vacation trips, punching paper at 200 and 600 yards, playing some chess, making the occasional soufflé, and of course teaching Ancient, Arab, and Byzantine history for HUX.
*(c) 2006 David Churchman