Yevhen Holovakha, Natalia Panina
A social portrait of contemporary Ukraine
© Yevhen Holovakha, Natalia Panina, 2001
According to official data, the majority of Ukrainians are living at the edge of starvation. According to other sources, the well-being of our citizens has grown in the nineties. There are plenty of such paradoxes in the Ukrainian society.
According to most indices accepted in the world, since independence Ukraine has been one of the poor countries of the Third world. In recent years we have come very close to crossing the line separating poor countries from the poorest ones. Nevertheless, considering certain features, Ukraine is still far from the Third world because it is industrial and urban and because it possesses a relatively high intellectual potential due to a developed system of high school, college and university education. But according to official data, the income per capita is quite comparable to that of developing countries. Is it possible to maintain a more or less decent existence, even considering our fertile black earth, with yearly incomes amounting to several hundred dollars, and with prices approaching those in the West?
Common sense suggests that it is impossible. The results of sociological surveys suggest that every year the indices of the living standards become lower, while the attitudes associated with the possibility of satisfying social needs become more pessimistic. Every year (beginning from the survey of 1994) nearly half of Ukrainian citizens assert that the material situation in their families has worsened, 20-25 per cent – worse to some extent, 18-22 per cent – everything remains as before, and only 5-7 per cent declare improvement. Youth up to 30 years is less nostalgic about ‘the social gains’ as their elders are. Nevertheless when asked: ‘What in particular have you received due to the transition to a market economy?’ they indicate most often ‘the loss of social guarantees and support’ (40 per cent participating in nation-wide quests), ‘the decline of living standards’ (36 per cent), ‘the possibility to become jobless’ (29 per cent). By contrast, ‘the possibility to earn without limits’ and ‘the prospects for enterprise’ are mentioned by a smaller number (24 per cent per statement).
Therefore, in the last 10-15h years the majority of people grew poorer and less well fed. And now it remains to explain how car jams can happen in such a poor country, how numerous supermarkets and boutiques can find buyers for their expensive goods, and how impoverished collective farm workers can sell their food at prices which startle even overseas guests. It is obvious that additional sources exist which compensate diminutive wages, pensions, and stipends.
This is confirmed by sociological investigations. For example, a study of Ukrainian households carried out in 1995 by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology revealed that considerable contradictions exist between the entries in the diaries of incomes and expenditures: the expenditures exceed the incomes by nearly two times.
But this contradiction explains little because the sums with which the sociologists operated did not exceed several dozen dollars a month. It is impossible to maintain a more or less decent existence on such sums.
Such indices as average wages or family income calculated on the basis of estimates made by Ukrainians themselves are absolutely invalid for obtaining objective conclusions. First of all, because the principal income of citizens comes from the sources they would not disclose due to the so-called shadow economy. How much money people get from the shadow sector is not known. Most experts believe that the total volume from the shadow sector is not less than that from the ‘sunny’ sector.
Most reliable is an analysis of family material conditions based on an index of the attainability of durable goods necessary for having a civilized way of life. Their presence in a household testifies to a certain level of well-being. In 1991-1992 sociologists carried out representative surveys among the inhabitants of Ukraine. Therefore, it is possible to compare some indices of material well-being during the final years of so-called ‘advanced Socialism’ and the first years of independence (see Table 1).
It can be seen that, compared to the indices of 1992, the number of people possessing rural sites and summer residences increased several times. The number of the car owners doubled. People possess more refrigerators, color TV sets, washing and sewing machines, which constitute the base for contemporary civilized daily life.
Note. The table incorporates an abridged version of the social goods list. The complete list consists of 44 items.
Therefore, according to composite data, a contemporary family lives better now than in the last years of the ‘advanced Socialism’. Moreover, unlike the nostalgic past when only 40 per cent of families possessed the main communal conveniences, now the majority has them. To be sure, official statistics suggest that all these conveniences were compiled back in the Socialist times. But the facts revealed in these data raises doubts concerning the accuracy of this data. Indeed, if all that had been acquired in the years of the ‘advanced Socialism’ and the Reconstruction period, then why did the number of cars, TV sets, refrigerators, stereo and video equipment not decrease in the period from 1994 to 2000? (It should be considered also that the average amortization of the goods purchased before has achieved by then the utmost tolerable periods of 17 – 22 years.)
Compared to 1994, in 2000 the people possess fewer country sites, sewing machines, equipment for tourism, hunting, and fishing. That is, people still continue purchasing everything necessary for use, and abandon what could bring them additional income (working on a country site, sewing).
Social disposition of the Ukrainians
Naturally, it is important to know what people think of the society and how they evaluate it. The main point is how they perceive the existing social situation. The first questions asked both in medical and social diagnostics are: “How do you feel yourself? Is anything wrong with you?”
When you put a direct question you get usually an exact answer that leaves no room for nuances. In the monitoring we asked people to what extent they were satisfied with their position in society (see Table 2).
Even by the second year of independence nearly half of the population expressed dissatisfaction with their position, and in 1998 the number of the unsatisfied was more than three quarters. Accordingly, the portion of the satisfied diminished. Positive changes have become noticeable only in the last two years, but that does not change the situation of the mass social alienation. Besides, the dissatisfaction is dominating practically among entire population, in all demographical and professional groups.
In spite of such attitudes, in Ukraine relative social stability exists. Is that not a paradox? Why do people not hurry to abandon such uncomfortable social positions and fight for the scarce ‘rooms in the sun’? Is it really a case of endless patience of the people? Are there any social features that would compensate this dissatisfaction? One of them is everyday life provision. In the last decade, they have become more fundamental and civilized. There is no doubt they restrain effusive manifestations of dissatisfaction. But there are other social benefits valued by the people better than life comforts.
It is the level of social disposition that is considered the ultimate aggregate of people’s satisfaction (or dissatisfaction). It is based on material, and social, and spiritual values. Beginning in1995, every year in 11 main spheres of life are measured to determine what social commodities are missing. The examinations are based on presumption that the more social commodities a person lacks, the worse are his or her feelings.
Among the majority of aspects associated with everyday material troubles, job, leisure, and maintaining health, the lack of social commodities is dominating (see Table 3).
According to some estimates, between 1995 and 2000 the deficit of social commodities increased, while other data suggest the opposite. The portion of people lacking proper jobs or possibilities to work overtime and to use their entire potential increased. On the one hand, this attests for the labour tension for the aggravated employment problem. On the other hand, unlike in the past, people have become better oriented towards the intensification of their labour. This can become an important psychological prerequisite of overcoming the social-economical crisis. The tendency of diminishing the deficit of the dwelling premises, furniture, everyday clothes, is very important. If this trait continues there will appear preconditions for improvement of structure and quality of nutrition, and then for an increase of savings which will finally signify a real success of the declared market reforms.
In recent years, among the people with insufficient education, low skills, and the unemployed, the social disposition deteriorated, while among qualified workers and the people with a university background it has improved. The worst indices have been registered among the agriculture workers, salaried persons of low social standing, unskilled workers, housewives, and non-working pensioners.
That is natural, because support from the state is extremely scarce while these people lack resources due to old age, low skills, loss of job, etc.
Less natural is that the level of social disposition among those employed in the private sector is not improving. As they do not experience positive changes, the economic reforms do not bring explicit results. The social disposition among the employed in the state owned sector is at the same level as among the jobless part of the population. The latter feature indicates deep crisis in the state productive sector that becomes a heavier burden for the national economy.
In 1995 middle-aged people who bore the main responsibility for the survival of the society felt a bit worse than young and aged people.
In 2000 social disposition somewhat improved among the young people, and deteriorated among the middle-aged group, and the elderly people. It is obvious that the problem of social adaptation proved to be less problematic for the young people (see Table 4).
Young people more need proper jobs, fashionable clothes, comfortable dwellings, and contemporary knowledge of the economics. Middle-aged people often lack possibilities to have comfortable vacations and to spend their free time, to work with maximum results, and to purchase the clothes they need. The elderly people first of all point to health problems, quality of medical aid, the impossibility to buy the necessary foods, and to get the necessary nutrition.
Each age group endures deficits of social commodities in spheres, which are most important to them: the youth – in the sphere of professional self-identification and appearance, the middle-aged people – in the provisions for work and recreation,
And the elderly people – in restoring health, getting normal nutrition and maintaining a positive outlook in the midst of the current social and economic transformation.
On the other hand, factors of social stability cause tension across all age groups: “state protection from the decrease of living standards”, “stability in the state and in society”, “ecological security”, and “assurance that the situation in the country will improve”.
Notably for each age group “state protection from the decrease of living standards” is the most missed commodity. Everybody expects more protection from the state than is available.
Under such circumstances social stability is maintained through such compensatory factors as family well-being and personal relations.
Who we trust, what we believe, and what we hope for. Trust, beliefs, hope – these are the three fundamental notions on which social order and social organization are founded. Without trust, consolidation is impossible, without beliefs –progress wanes, and without hope -t he ability to endure all adversities on the way to one’s goals collapses.
So, does Ukraine possess the necessary social-psychological resources to overcome the social-economic crisis in the near future?
Let us begin with trust. Over the last decade Ukrainians elected a president and parliamentarians several times. As the elections were free, and in the majority of cases democratic, it is possible to consider that in the newest history of Ukraine its citizens manifested their trust of political leaders and state structures more than once. On the other hand, the electorate entrusted the power to politicians whom they do not trust while they perform their duties (see Table 5).
The growth of trust of the President of Ukraine is greatly explained by the fact that in 1994 the quest was carried out before the presidential elections, while in 2000 – soon after the elections. But the lack of trust dominates even the newly elected President.
A paradoxical situation exists: people entrust power to those whom they do not trust. To comprehend the reasons for the phenomenon, it is necessary to take into consideration the emotional state of people in circumstances of prolonged social-economic crisis. Trust (or the lack of trust) is an emotional state that is able to enlighten or spoil people’s lives, but it cannot compel them to abstain from solving life’s problems. If people do not trust any aspirant for power, they vote for those whom they mistrust less. Indeed, they trust only in themselves, their kin, and God. But it is impossible to elect God president, or one’s relatives – parliamentarians, or oneself – the head of government.
To chose the lesser evil never brings ‘a sense of deep satisfaction’, as the Communist leaders used to say. But it corresponds to the moral ambience that dominates the years of the post-Communist transformations. Its characteristic feature is mass demoralization, total disappointment in social ideals, and a solid portion of social cynicism. The last assertion is illustrated with the data obtained during still one more quest carried out in 2000 (see Table 6.)
The aggregate moral-psychological atmosphere dominating our society is gloomy. But it cannot be otherwise these days because the old norms and values have lost their power while the new ones have not yet been formed. In such a situation provisional norms exists which cater to the need to survive ‘here’ and ‘now”, and which to a great extent are grounded on primitive, protective, and grasping mechanisms. It is the ad hoc, provisional, and changing nature of their social position that deprives people of trust in society and in social justice.
But the absence of trust by itself is unsteady to the same extent as the transition society that gave to it. In the times when three quarters of Ukrainians assert that “people felt better because everybody knew how to behave rightly”, only a few believed that everything was done in a right way. But everybody knew what the totalitarian system would decorate or punish him for. An atmosphere of ‘immoral distinction’ existed in which it was enough to adopt once and forever the rules of behavior and not to solve Hamlet’s problems every day. In other words, the people completely trusted in the power’s ability to punish everyone who would demonstrate a lack of trust or publicly relinquish his beliefs in the Communist ideals. It was exactly because of the immorality of this kind of trust that the majority of citizens of the ‘unbroken Union’ abandoned the state, its ideology, and its morals. The contemporary nostalgia is explained by the fact that the majority of people cannot live without social assurance, trust, and beliefs.
There are two determinants that help to preserve a certain psychological balance and sense of perspective in such circumstances. The first one includes good relations with close people necessary to overcome social and life troubles. It is in themselves and in their closest encirclement that the majority of Ukrainian citizens find the social and psychological resources necessary for physical, spiritual, and moral survival. The other feature is a well preserved aspiration for the future. It is not the near future that is regarded with hope by the majority of Ukrainians. For instance, in the survey conducted out in the Fall 1998 by the firm ‘Sotsis’, only 17 per cent of Ukrainian citizens expressed the expectation that “the existing problems in economics and social life” would last less than 5 years.
On the other hand, the people evaluate more distant prospects more hopefully: 45 per cent of Ukrainians believe in gradual improvement of social situations, and only 22 per cent are sure that the situation will deteriorate.
Expectations of improvement are connected with the belief that Ukraine will advance in the same direction as the developed democratic countries do. The majority of Ukrainians consider that it is the Western social-economic model that should be the archetype for the further development of the state and society. Ukrainians differ on the prospects of development of human civilization and their state in the XXI century. But in several aspects the optimistic estimations are expressed more often concerning Ukraine than the rest world at large (see Table 7). That involves such situations as terrorism, armed conflicts, ecological disasters, and national intolerance. According to some positions, pessimistic estimates prevail (nearly equally for Ukraine and the world) for problems such as health-care, economic crisis, and corruption.
Optimistic attitudes dominate only prominent scientific discoveries both in Ukraine and in the world. In general, the expectations concerning progress in Ukraine are close to those concerning the development of human civilization.
Remark. The Table does not include data corresponding to answers “It’s difficult to say”.
Remark. The Table does not include the date relating to answers “Will remain the same”.
Ukraine’s future is greatly affected by the success and/or failure in overcoming the air of mistrust and disappointment existing in society. The present mistrust of government, employers, and public organizations is a reflection of the feeling of helplessness before the state, of complete dependence on the employers, of a reluctance to defend one’s rights and interests in voluntary organizations. In western societies where the level of trust in social institutions is much higher than in our country, fear of repression from the state does not exist as in our case with our Communist past.
Public control is the most important foundation of social trust. Public control is embodied in part through public organizations to which a large number of citizens belong. In our country only a small portion of citizens participate in the activities of public organizations. A person who is alone is able to defend only very special goals. That is why the only means for strengthening trust in society is a consistent transition from total control of the society by the state to total control of the state bureaucrats and their ways by the civic society.
New values, tendencies, and orientations
Many social problems in Ukraine are the consequence of Soviet ideology, which eradicated individual initiative. People were converted into dumb wage earners incapable of solving problems beyond their private life. During the dissolution of the Soviet Union it seemed that the barracks-like spirit and the values it had brought forth would disappear along with the barracks-like social organization. Indeed, something has gone. For instance, due to the vanishing of consumers goods and services deficits, the value of many professions connected with the possibility of getting the missing commodities have disappeared.
A new dominating value appeared – money as a universal measure of success in life and society. This value is more ancient than those we abandoned along with the Communist ideology. However, for the contemporary generation of ‘post-Soviet people’ it appeared to be a novelty which has become for the many a personal and social catastrophe. It should be noted that the role of the deceiver has been played by the state. First of all, through the hyperinflation it annihilated savings, then it was busy with the enrichment of bureaucrats at the expense of pseudo-privatization, and of corruption, and by introducing additional privileges for the leading staff of power structures of all branches at all levels.
It should be noted that this deception is absolutely natural. Because states and societies are always lead by the smartest and most viable individuals, it is be vain to expect that they would act with no return from the backs of inactive and disoriented common citizens.
On the other hand, there exists a mass self-deception as well. Most of us expect that when times are tough the state will defend and console us. It is the state which we associate with our economic problems and even with many personal and family ones. But such a defense would be feasible only if we believe that a rational bureaucracy would miraculously arise from the ashes of the post-Soviet administrative labyrinth.
Unfortunately, people do not distinguish between state and society: they remain wedded in Soviet-like fashion to formerly familiar notions of the union of state and people. When sociologists ask people if the state has to provide all citizens with average living standards, the majority of respondents agree with such a senseless formulation. At the same time, 80 per cent of Ukrainians consider that living standards of their families are lower than average (18 per cent consider it as average, 2 per cent as being higher than average). In such circumstances the attitude to the state becomes still more negative. Along with that the value of society is also perceived negatively: there grows an attitude of detachment and social contingency.
If an idol is not perceived any more as the guarantor of survival then the idolaters attempt at first to influence it, then find another one. Such a role could be played by money. But in the environment of symbiosis of wild capitalism and state monopolies in profitable spheres of economic activities, the money distribution is very uneven and depends on state patronage. Therefore, any income exceeding the ‘average’ level is not a measure of personal initiative or abilities, but rather of the possibility of corruption.. Therefore, money remains a negative value for many people.
A question arises: if the values of the past and of today are perceived predominantly in negative emotional and moral terms, then how can a relative stability of social life be retained? Indeed, usually when social values are non-existent, there is no social order. The reason is that when we do not trust in any other social institutions, the values of family and the relations with the people whom we trust remain the source of stability for the majority of Ukrainians.
In the survey carried out in 1998 by the firm Sotsis among the staff of the Sociology Institute of the National Academy of the Sciences, the issue of forming new values was examined in the context of perceived new possibilities that could become a base for social changes in the XXI century. For the results of the investigation, see Table 8.
As a whole, the attitude of the Ukrainians to new social possibilities is either sceptical or not defined. More than half of them are unaware what benefits these possibilities can bring to them personally. But such results were obtained first of all concerning the position of elderly people. As for young people, they associate their prospects first of all with personal freedom, high earnings, private business, getting new information, trips abroad, and a good education for their children.
The most cardinal social and economic transformation is advocated by young people with the highest education and students. According to that, they designate their electoral position (see Table 9). At the elections young people vote predominantly for the parties of democratic orientation. According to the survey carried out on the very day of 1998 parliamentary elections, the parties of right and centrist orientation would have won a decisive majority if only the people aged under 30 participated in voting.
As for the common values of everyday life for all ages, the well-being of families and the future of children remain the principal consolidating values. The value of individualism is accepted more reluctantly. It succeeds in competition with the collectivist ideology only among some groups: the intellectual elite, the young people, and the inhabitants of big cities. For Ukrainians, the issue of the intrinsic value of a personality remains problematic. It’s not a coincidence that the heroes of our society are the people who created powerful military-administrative machines: Bogdan Khmelnytskyj in the East and Stepan Bandera in the West. In developed democratic societies, other types of heroes are esteemed: Makhatma Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Albert Schweitzer, to whom the fundamental values are life and dignity of every person irrespective of his or her position in social hierarchy. If we choose to enter the third Millennium choosing the way of Western societies, it is necessary to drastically change the system of our social values.
* The analysis in this work incorporates the data obtained during sociological surveys carried out yearly since 1992 by the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine employing the program developed by the authors of the work. The 1.800 respondents represent inhabitants of all oblasts, the city of Kyiv, and the Crimean Autonomous Republic (proportionally to the population of each region). Each oblast is represented with the corresponding administrative center of one city, and one rural settlement (in corresponding proportions).