22.12.2008 | Halya Coynash

Whose crisis?


I don’t know if dentists consider their profession to be dangerous however the instinct to lash out when in pain or discomfort is no secret to any of us.  Those who wish to manipulate our behaviour are just as well aware. The instinct is most often played upon when the age-old “who is to blame?” needs to be deftly steered away from the issue of personal liability, and even more urgently, from questions of what should be done to rectify the situation. 

Instead we hear: “Who is to blame?” – Everybody.  “What needs to be done?” Everything – so toot your horn at 12.00 on Monday!  (People are being asked on 22 December to toot their horns to demonstrate that they’ve had enough)

The difference between reaction by Ukraine’s leaders to the financial crisis and that of most other countries’ leaders is dramatic. For two or three weeks in autumn the world markets appeared in free fall, and a very large number of people in most European countries and the USA believed the banks holding their money might go bankrupt (a few did).  The situation remains critical, with businesses folding, people losing their jobs and their homes which they can’t pay the loans on.  It could have been worse and during those weeks, the tension was dreadful, particularly over the vote on a bail-out plan for the American economy. Despite the US presidential race and the British ruling party’s weak standing, it was simply inconceivable that politicians at the highest level would not show unity. We can argue about whether the leaders were themselves capable of putting aside their battles for political points, or whether they knew that the voters would turn away in droves but who cares?  During time of war party differences lose any meaning since the issue is one of survival. The stakes in those autumn weeks were simply too high to play for political points. In Ukraine they are probably even higher.

There was indeed mass speculation on the volatile share market leading to panic, short selling, for example.  In other countries the culprits were private individuals.  The accusations being hurled about in Ukraine do not only concern commercial banks and must be investigated. However given the present threat to the economy the first priority must be to take action aimed at stopping such speculation. Once again we are hearing mutual recriminations without any sign of specific – and transparent – measures.

Another significant difference in other countries has been the response to the fact that the blame for the financial mess lies at least partially with the banks. Judging by emails to media outlets, blogs, etc, people in the US and in European countries have been less than understanding where the boards of banks demonstrate absolutely no inclination to reduce their own and top employees’ fat salaries and bonuses. Where governments effectively bailed out a specific bank, they had some leverages, however political leaders seem to have mellowed their demands. They know that in a global market the bankers can go elsewhere and any more instability could send the markets reeling once again.

What this does to our sense of justice must, unfortunately, also be left to better times, purely I would stress so that the latter arrive as soon as possible.

I don’t know whether the latest accusations alleging culpability for the terrifying fall in the hryvnia’s value against the dollar are warranted. If there is evidence, would it not be better to present it so that those of us without an economic education could fathom what exactly it proves?  When the British Government introduced measures against short selling, the reasons were publicly given, and the slowest beginner could find it explained in words of almost one syllable in all newspapers. I fear that in Ukraine at present conclusions drawn will depend largely on previously-formed political preferences or who presents their point of view most persuasively.

It is difficult not to feel suspicious when the same accusations are being re-hashed to indict the same fearful villains despite the apparent change in theme.  I am still more wary when even if the accusations are 1) true and 2) acted upon the problem will in no way be resolved. In a time of deep crisis when people have seen their salaries halved, where many people are not being paid at all, or have lost their jobs, any calls to impeach the President or sack the Prime-Minister are simply inconceivable, and suggest that those in power have totally lost grip of reality. 

  That is, of course, if we assume that they believe their own words. Yet if they don’t, then why go on about them in the middle of a crisis of this magnitude?  During an election campaign, it is standard for the opposition to criticize all aspects of the government’s or President’s performance. However any election is far off and besides which in the present situation the question of who represents the opposition is also exceedingly problematical.

  Yes, we’ve all had it, that’s for sure. However tooting our horns, animated discussion about why X behaved this way, why now, what he or she is trying to achieve, as well as who must be sacked, impeached, arrested or worse, are all mere distraction and Ukraine cannot afford such a luxury.

It is vital that the media, civic organizations and the public as a whole refuse to allow themselves to be sent running this way and that in search of the nasty person who made them feel bad. The situation is much too dangerous.

Politicians in other countries managed to understand that there could be no winners, by definition, if they did not stand united. Ukraine’s leaders bear full responsibility for their inability and unwillingness to comprehend this simple truth whatever fine words they use to mask their contempt for their own citizens.

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