Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Subtle Side Effects of Communisms

Heretofore I heralded socialism as the superior political policy. To the unknowing observer, this could be considered odd, given my concurrent and seemingly contradictory ambition to earn myself the worthiest of livings and my ambitious desires to stack massive amounts of Euros.

At the end of the day though, I'm Canadian and I quite like the idea of everyone being well fed, housed, medicated (when appropriate) and generally taken care of, however naive that may be. I also just graduated from a fairly liberal University (aren't most post secondary institutions?). At first glance, state involvement seems like a good idea, when one is looking to ensure the welfare of the greater population.

1989 marked the end of communism in Slovakia, and obvious scars still linger in ways unfathomable to me less than a week ago.

On a generational level, the country seems confused. There is a great divide between the attitude maintained by older Slovaks and the youth, who are growing up under extremely different circumstances than their parents did. It seems to me, in my so far extremely limited observations, that the youth really aren't too sure what to do with themselves. Furthermore, they don't really have anywhere to look for support, inspiration or direction. I cannot imagine how distressing that would be. I can't help but hope that globalization and exposure to other ways of life have provided some guidance. Much respect to the youth of the city who seem to be meandering along quite well, all things considered.

The infrastructure is interesting. Trams and busses are still Soviet in their era and 90% of them feel and look like they will fall apart at any moment. Beautiful statues churches and palaces are abundant in the old city centre and throughout other public areas of town. It seems though, that a great proportion of the statues dedicated to people are ones with a dark, if not violent tone. Kings and soldiers toting guns and swords, I'm told that this theme is even more prevalent in Russia. Quite the opposite of the Terry Fox monument in front of the Canadian Parliament. In contrast, an excessively large majority of the population reside in massive, filthy, concrete apartment buildings that look ready to turn themselves to rubble at any moment. Most of them are arranged at staggered angles to avoid a domino effect in the event of a feared American bombing that never came.

Even more telling though, is the most photographed statue in Slovakia, which is only a stone's throw from my new office. The irony behind the "Man at Work" statue of course, is that he is just hanging out in a manhole watching the fairer sex stroll by, not working at all. While light-hearted in nature and amusing to the tourists, the insight it provides into the attitude of society is of a significant magnitude. In the modern day, this mindset is put on exhibit when one steps into one of the many bars or restaurants in the city. While my service experiences have been limited, they have been equally atrocious.

Customer service is a notion that literally does not exist here. The customer is seen as a burden. Which makes sense, when one takes circumstances into account. If you were getting paid the same amount as everyone else, regardless of the work you do, why bother working at all? God forbid someone come in and demand a drink.

Maybe I'm crazy. Probably I'm crazy, but in my day to day jaunts around town, I don't see people smiling. I've really tried to look for it.

The immaculate (countless teams of workers sweep and clean the streets) and beautiful downtown tries in the most extreme of ways to convey a sense of pride and accomplishment. Unfortunately, the attitude of the people and the crumbling infrastructure convey something entirely different.

So Naomi Klein, while your ideas may be well intentioned, I fear they lack practicality. Let me show you around Bratislava before you espouse any more of your views. To Milton Freidman, well played, good sir. At the end of the day, I can probably spend my own money better than anyone else can, with regards to maximizing my utility.

I know that extremes, one way or the other are something to be wary of, but this experience has certainly helped me to re-calibrate and objectively question my political leanings.

NOTE: This is by no means a complete post and I'm sure as I allow myself to further permeate into society I will stumble upon more and more evidence, one way or the other. I could be completely wrong, just some initial observations...

NOTE II: I am really afraid I haven't conveyed the full feelings I have here. You need to experience it.

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