Lenin's Eggheads Fry Under Capitalist Heat
KIEV, UKRAINE — ALEXANDER PAVLOV'S small studio is slowly closing in on him. The piles of unsold paintings grow ever larger. ''I'm a Ukrainian pauper,'' says the well-known artist. ''This is the right time to run away to Tahiti or else to go back into the underground.''
That's a sentiment shared by much of the country's intelligentsia - a loose term that encompasses artists, researchers, and other professionals. Once well-fed by a Soviet regime that pampered them with subsidies and perks, many of them can no longer afford sausage. College professors make $100 a month, less than the youths who wash cars on the city's streets.
Ukraine's struggling economy is partly to blame. So is the open door to the West that these same intellectuals championed a few years ago. When the Iron Curtain came down, imported technology, culture, and entertainment poured across the new country's borders. Producers of home-grown substitutes could not compete.
Things have gotten so bad that even Leonid Kuchma, the country's president, had to acknowledge the ''catastrophic situation of the intelligentsia'' in a recent speech. But Mr. Kuchma's government faces rigid spending limits dictated by international lenders. He could offer the poverty-stricken thinkers nothing but free advice about the need to sell their talents on the open market.
The next day, thousands of intellectuals crammed a convention hall to demand more. Ivan Drach, a prominent writer and poet who organized the meeting, wants Ukraine to protect its culture by slapping tariffs on imported books and films.
''Before, you had this government-subsidized feed lot,'' Mr. Drach says. ''At least once every two years, you could publish a collection of poems, a novel, or some plays and more or less live off that. Hundreds of writers used to live that way. Now that has disappeared.''
The nation's leading film studio released only two pictures in the last year, and these are no threat to the dubbed Hollywood movies that dominate the TV listings. Sidewalk bookstands groan under Russian translations of Western bestsellers at a time when Ukrainian-language works account for only 3 percent of the market. Businesses are buying American-made personal computers, while the specialists who once designed Soviet versions go without salaries.
UKRAINE once filled nearly 40 percent of the orders from the Soviet military. Its high-tech engineers are now discovering that 40 percent of zero is zero. You can hire a specialist in high-definition imaging to install your door lock for a few dollars. Some of that specialist's underemployed colleagues sell jeans and sneakers in the city's bazaars. A few advertise physics tutoring in jobs-wanted classified ads, but that's a long shot at a time when colleges are short on science students.
Selim Yalkut is a senior scientist in one of Kiev's numerous research centers. He describes the institute as a bureaucratic monster that does little more than shuffle stacks of paper. Like other institutions, it survives by renting out much of its space for private offices. Many of his colleagues have moved over to the business world, yet remain on the institute's payroll to preserve its trickle of government subsidies.
''What hurts most, and what's most destructive, is that people are just leaving,'' Mr. Yalkut says. ''They go to work abroad and don't come back. Or they change professions and move on to private firms. Those who stay moonlight elsewhere.''
The artist Pavlov would be only too happy to moonlight. He once made a living as an architect by designing the interiors of government buildings. But the government isn't building much anymore, so that option is gone as well.
''It would be easier to make a living selling heating oil,'' he laments.
But some out-of-work violinist has probably beaten him to it.