Never waste a good economic crisis.

The problem is that the Right has been making hay in the latest one, especially in Eastern Europe. Faced with the vestiges of public assets – public transport, medecine, education and so on – the Right has aggressively offered the spurious claim that these are the source of ‘sovereign debt’ and has been jumping in to turn these dreadfully unprofitable ventures into sources of profit. And what better way than to force the sale of those public assets to your cronies in organised crime the business world. But it turns out to be the latest phase in a consistent assault of over two decades.

As Rossen Vassilev points out in ‘The Tragic Failure of “Post-Communism” in Eastern Europe‘ (1o March 2011):

In Romania:

Romania is mired in a severe recession and its battered economy is expected to decline by at least 2% in 2010, after contracting by 7.1% the previous year. Instead of trying to assist the unemployed and the socially weak, the Bucharest government, which is reportedly riddled with corruption, cronyism and nepotism, has slashed public-sector pay by one-quarter and trimmed all social expenditures, including heating subsidies for the poor as well as unemployment, maternity, and disability benefits. At the same time, the national sales tax was hiked from 19% to 24%, as the authorities are striving to hold the national deficit down to 6.8% in order to meet the stringent fiscal requirements of the European Union (EU), which Rumania had joined in January 2007.

In the Czech Republic:

20,000 hospital doctors were quitting their jobs en masse to protest the decision of Prime Minister Petr Necas’s cabinet to cut all public expenditures, including healthcare spending, by at least 10% in order to keep the country’s troubled finances afloat. These mass resignations were part of the “Thanks, We Are Leaving” campaign launched by disgruntled physicians across the country aimed at putting pressure on the Prague authorities to increase their low wages and provide better working conditions for all medical workers. Confronted with the worst healthcare crisis in the ex-Communist country’s history which was endangering the lives of many patients, the Czech government threatened to impose a state of emergency which would force doctors either to get back to work or face harsh legal and financial penalties.

In Latvia:

Latvia’s conservative government borrowed heavily from the EU and IMF on punishing repayment terms that have imposed such harsh austerity policies that the Latvian economy shrank by 25% (neighboring Estonia and Lithuania have experienced an equally steep economic decline) and unemployment, currently running at 22%, is still rising. With well over a tenth of its population now working abroad, Latvia’s guest-workers send home whatever they can spare to help their destitute families survive. Latvian children (what few of them there are as the Baltic country’s marriage and birth rates are plunging) have been thus “left orphaned behind,” prompting social scientists to wonder how this small nation of 2.3 million people can survive demographically. These are the results of post-Communist austerity budgets that have cut ordinary people off at the knees while international creditors and local bankers are bailed out.

In Bulgaria:

Official statistics show that both the annual gross national product (GNP) and the per capita income of the population have plummeted, the social-safety net has disintegrated, and even the physical survival of many impoverished Bulgarians is in peril. The immediate effects of market-oriented “reforms” have been the destruction of Bulgaria’s industry and agriculture, unemployment, inflation, flagrant inequality of incomes, crushing poverty, and even malnutrition. Organized crime and endemic corruption in the form of nepotism and cronyism, graft on the job, embezzlement, bribe-taking, influence-peddling, smuggling, protection rackets, illegal gambling, prostitution and pornography rings have exacted a heavy toll on post-Communist living standards and livelihoods. Another unfortunate effect is the widespread neglect of the economic and social rights of ordinary Bulgarians, for many of whom the 8-hour work day is now only a memory.

Right across ex-Soviet countries the story is the same:

Sharp government cutbacks in social welfare, education, healthcare, public transportation, and other basic social-infrastructure spending threaten to undermine economic security, long-term development, and political stability across the ex-Soviet bloc countries, young people are emigrating in droves to better their lives rather than suffer in an economy without any employment opportunities. The citizens of the ex-Communist nations now have to pay out of their own pockets for all previously free, government-provided medical services even though they also have to pay income, real-estate, and sales taxes—something they did not have to do under the Communist regimes. There is also the monetization and/or privatization of the previously free educational services, especially in higher education and the new private schools, colleges, and universities where students have to pay for their training, including many fees that each student must pay for taking entrance exams and other mandatory tests required at every level of schooling. Government subsidies for everything from healthcare, education, and legal representation to housing, energy, and public transportation are disappearing in the scramble to slash social spending and trim budget deficits, making it even harder for ordinary people to survive in their daily struggle for existence.

Who has gained from all this?

A new breed of rapacious and ruthless plutocrats with insatiable appetites for wealth and power has pillaged—through an unjust and corrupt process of privatization—the assets of the formerly state-owned economy.

In other words, capitalism as usual.

The upshot:

Nearly all of these twenty-eight Eurasian countries have experienced a long-term economic decline of catastrophic proportions (only Poland has thus far surpassed its Communist-era GDP). Grave economic setbacks, deep-rooted corruption, and widespread popular frustration with the hardships and deprivations of the seemingly endless post-Communist transition are undermining the prestige of the new authorities and even the population’s belief in Western-style democracy and market-based capitalism.

So is communism really better than this? As a 68-year old retired Romanian mechanic said:

I regret the demise of Communism—not for me, but when I see how much my children and grandchildren struggle. We had safe jobs and decent salaries under Communism. We had enough to eat and we had yearly vacations with our children.

In another time and in the same place, Lenin and the communists turned an economic crisis in a very different direction.

(ht tp)

What makes a place sensual? Is it topless bars or erotic dancing? Is it a dubious reputation, like Paris or Rio? Is it golden sunsets, beaches and fine wine – the sort you see only on tourist advertisements? Is it, as Annie Sprinkle once opined concerning porn and erotica, the whole chicken or a feather?

For me the criteria are very subtle, concerned above all the carriage of the body. Learned through a long, supple and largely sub-conscious apprenticeship by children and teenagers, the way we carry your body involves posture, shape and movement. For example, it concerns the way one stands, turns or tilts one’s head, holds one’s shoulders just so, positions one’s body in relation to others, interacts on the street, uses eyes and mouth, or moves one’s hands – in short, the way we are present in and with our bodies.

Reading such bodies requires a little intuition and much patience, but it’s deeply satisfying. So what are the most sensual places on earth?

Top of the list must be Ukraine. Ukraine!? Through a mix of fortunate genetics and excellent upbringing, Ukrainian women and men would have to be among the most sensuous on the planet. The way they amble among a crowd, the unconscious ability to move a thigh or slide perfectly shaped buttocks in a long stride is simply amazing. As is the turn-and-look movement while talking, the carriage of the head and the inquisitive eyes.

Russia is comparable to Ukraine, since they were part of the same country for many years, but some subtle differences soon show up. Ukrainians are more up front in their assessment of you, but not Russians, at least the ones I have met. Walk down a street and none of the Russian beauties looks at you. Or at least it seems as though they don’t look at you. No matter how surreptitiously you try to glance at someone passing, you never catch any one so much as flicking a look in your direction. And yet you get the distinct feeling that you are constantly being checked, surveyed, and assessed in the most sensuous manner possible.

Serbia wins a spot here since it is the historical point where many ethnic groups have fought, razed the city and then rebuilt. The result is a mongrel people, and mongrels are by far the strongest, healthiest and have the most positive outlook on life. As a result, Belgrade women have the smoothest, olive skin, taking every opportunity to show off as much of it as they can (at least in summer), long dark hair, lithe flowing bodies and the challenge of a direct and sustained look.

I can’t leave Denmark off the list, especially Copenhagen. The key here is the blending of bicycles and people. Flowing hair, long thighs descending into high-heeled boots, baskets overflowing with beer or bread or clothes, all moving in a slow, sensuous rhythm along every city street.

Greenland: an unexpected entry on this list, but Greenlandic people are stunning. Meet a tall, well-endowed Greenlander on the street, with jet-black hair and the tough eyes of one who has seen far more than you will ever hope to see, and you will be smitten.

Last for now is China, although this is a very subtle one. Initially I simply didn’t get it: Chinese people in China were, it seemed to me, as missing in sensuality as the many I had met in Australia. The men wore their pants impossibly high (amazingly avoiding the squeak I constantly expected) and the women were reserved, if not withdrawn. But then, after some time in China, the subtlety began to dawn on me: a fold of clothing at a metro stop, a surreptitious glance on the street, a careful move of a hip.

I can’t leave this discussion without pondering the most un-sensual places on earth.

USA: sorry, but you just don’t have it. Brash and awkward and botox ain’t sensual.

England: ditto, but worse. Everything doesn’t work here – posture, movement, carriage. A turn-off.

Germany: Big, clumsy and rough. For some, that may mean sensual, but not for me.

Latvia: curious one here, since the military-like precision of their manner may do it for some. Not me.

Norway: sorry about this Norway, but you are slick, glossy and a little obscene. Too much money and simply no sensuality; even in high-heels, you look awkward and ungainly. Go to Ukraine to find out how to do it. And running or riding about town in yet another expensive sports outfit is not sexy.

France gets a thumbs-down as well. I know many will be surprised at this, but France is just too self-absorbed, too convinced of its own sensuality that it’s like one great wank. Not much fun for anyone else.