Thursday, July 15, 2010

Civic Attitudes in Ukraine and Poland

During my recent trips to Poland I've had a chance to compare the attitudes of Poles and Ukrainians to their society and government, as well as how society is governed in general. These attitudes pervade people's public behavior and public interaction in addition to their interaction with government structures.

Poles' attitudes towards government is much more like those of Americans and western Europeans. Many people I've met are basically policy wonks with opinions on how things could be run better in their neighborhood, city, and country. They believe that there is a chance of making these changes for the better, though they are often critical of how some things are managed.

Contrast that to Ukraine. Here, most people are fatalistic about government and society and, though they have general opinions on the state of affairs, believe that nothing can be done about it because all decisions are made by distant political and business leaders who they have no connection to. Most people are convinced that their government is corrupt, inept, and interested only in personal gain.

These attitudes are related to public behavior. In Poland people on the street are more polite, calm, and approachable. They do not have a pervasive fear of power structures like so many Ukrainians have. Why then fear one another?

Most Ukrainians avoid police officers and interaction with official government offices, where they tend to feel helpless and mistreated. To keep as far away from the government is most Ukrainians' strategy. In Ukraine, the more one tries to do things by the book, the more problems one has.

Poles generally feel a certain loyalty to their government. Most mourned over the loss of top national leaders in a recent plane crash. Many Ukrainians joke that if the same thing had happened in Ukraine, the people would have rejoiced.

The "Solidarity" movement arose in Poland, and Polish towns today have a tangible sense of community that is lacking in most of Ukraine, where there is a sense that people generally look out for themselves and their kin and ignore strangers.

This is felt everywhere, even in trivial acts of politeness or rudeness towards other such as walking your dog on a leash and muzzle. In Ukrainian cities dog owners are quick to unleash their dogs and almost never muzzle them. In Poland you don't see people toss trash out of the windows of moving buses or drop their plastic beer cups on the ground wherever they happen to finish them.

Poles feel more freedom to take initiative in creating community projects in events. In Ukraine organized projects and events often run into bureaucratic obstacles, so people tend to do things together only informally -- again, to avoid interaction with government.

Poland is essentially governed by the rule of law, whereas Ukraine is a semi-anarchic remnant of a collapsed state.

1 comment:

  1. The same could be said about Russians, word for word, as you likely already know, despite general, though tepid, approval of United Russia and its figureheads. Funny, how similar the collective consciences are despite the condescension on the one hand and the resentment on the other.