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Shock without Therapy, Market without Order,

by Juri Andruchowytsch Thursday, Jun. 09, 2005 at 7:28 AM

Half of Russia's assets are gone. Was this caused by Yeltzin, the IMF or the Washington Consensus? This article by a Ukrainian novelist tells us that the end of history and victory capitalism are over as utopias. May we be summoned to serious reflection.


Capitalism appeared to us as a handsome prince when the wall fell. Now this utopia is also over.

By Juri Andruchowytsch

[This article published in: DIE ZEIT 22/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, Juri Andruchowytsch was born in 1960 in west Ukraine. He studied in Lemberg, Moscow and the US. With his novels, he is a celebrated (and controversial) protagonist of contemporary Ukrainian literature.]

Oh, how beautifully everything began! The turn occurred 15 years ago that was later erroneously described as the “end of history.” We could not rejoice enough over the imminent victory of capitalism. In our media that became free and objective by a wave of Gorbi’s magic wand, the positive reports about this triumph piled up. The frightening monster had changed into a handsome prince and we dedicated ourselves to the attractions of the market with the absolute devotion of new converts. Like children drawn by an invisible cord at the fair amid the sounds of mechanical music, economists, philosophers and poets repeated “Market, market, everything is a market” as though it were an oath although no one (least of all the economists) really understood the meaning of this word. (Illustration: Tolga Kocak

Those of us who were first to go to the West told of an incredible variety of food and drinks and other wonders of the consumer world. “Imagine people thanking you for going shopping!”

The initiation by the supermarket, this special ritual of the introduction of the Homo sovieticus to western values, was the turning point of life. A poet known to me who is a citizen of the state of Israel today emigrated from Kiev to Munich at the end of the seventies. He brought his newly arrived guests from the East to a gigantic Cash & Carry-market. The magnitude and range of the offers overwhelmed us. Civilization seemingly consisted of 99 percent superfluous things and was therefore wonderful, an absolutely different and better world. I will never forget the giant-sized aquarium with fish and water plants, sacrificial fish appointed to kill and be eaten. How marvelously they swam about in colorfully illumined water! How they played!

Without question, capitalism was marvelous!

Then shock without therapy, wild appropriation of property, complete devaluation of all savings, open and hidden unemployment, social descent to the lumpen-proletariat and as antithesis the first “fat cats” later called oligarchs were awkwardly grafted on our native soil.

In reality, (wild) capitalism broke out among us. However something much more beautiful prevailed – the liberal-post-industrial society.

Not long ago a Berlin doctor of philosophy pointed out to me in a discussion that the oligarchic order was the most perfect form of economic liberalism.

I thought the oligarchs were banal bandits.

The worst thing drummed into our heads was that one must choose between freedom and provisions. While destitute, state power provides for you. State power lets you run where you want but your race ends in hunger.

“Lukaschenko is better than Kwaniewski,” my Polish friend said, “because Lukaschenko cares about the social security of the population.” He should live a little in Byelorussia! “Shortage in everything now prevails there and journalists disappear without a trace,” I told him. Still he insisted on his viewpoint. “Hundreds of thousands of Polish children today do not have the possibility of going to school because the government has simply abandoned their parents to themselves and destruction. But our journalists although supposedly independent do not report about this.”

My friend believes that the Polish journalists earn too much to write about these things. Perhaps hundreds of thousands of hungry Polish children who cannot be drawn to school is an exaggeration. Who knows?

Our conversation fell into a vicious circle. We tried to find an answer to an absurd question: “Is it better to be rich and dumb or poor and wise?” Under two cynicisms – the capitalist and the socialist – we would choose the one with the more human face.

Another friend, a young Ukrainian poet, wears a T-shirt with Che Guevara’s portrait (he isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last). In his poems, he calls Jesus Christ a communist. “Your beloved Che would have personally shot you on account of your 50-dollar shirt,” I said to him. He is 14 years younger and drifts more and more to the left. His poetry approaches socialist realism. He cannot understand any more the idiocy of the everyday Soviet routine – standing in line for three hours for sunflower oil or soap and the secret service’s total control of the chemical composition of thoughts. Never mind what is long past.

In the near future, there will be a total superiority of leftist ideologies. These scenarios circulate among us.

I don’t seek these scenarios; they find me.

Recently I traveled from Charlottenburg where I now live to friends in Pankow and paused for a moment at Alexander plaza. I was a little unnerved by the increasing number of street people at the train station. Three boarded the train at the Friedrichstrasse station. They had large dogs and asked the passengers for alms. Begging is more promising when accompanied by a dog. With animals, people have compassion. I resolved to always have small change in my pocket in the future. That I couldn’t give anything to the street people was embarrassing to me.

The wind swept over the empty dirty Alex. Since I was there the last time, fences have appeared. A half-finished ruin faces a gigantomaniac shopping center, a consumer paradise, a symbol of the change in the former DDR (east Germany). I crossed the wilderness of the plaza, past the punks of small stature (the grandchildren) and their beer, their cigarettes and hybrid tikes, past the cheerless students on a class trip and suspected sellers of illegal jewelry, crackpots and invalids in wheelchairs at every turn. Finally it dawned on me: This is the degeneracy.

We obviously face a new phase of decadence. After the conflict between the systems ended, another utopia of the Occident collapsed before our eyes: the utopia of eternally guaranteed security, stability and above all constantly high living standards.

Life can not, will not and should not be forced into standards however high they may seem that designing engineers regard as their living standards. The human face was not only created for quick, superficial and estranged smiles. Wrinkles, cuts, desperate grimaces and painful cramps are realities. The human face cannot be fabricated.

On this background, the described scenery – street people, punks, tikes and crackpots – can have very optimistic features.

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