Trials and Tribulations of Life in Transition

Last week saw a really exhilarating and exciting event at EBRD headquarters – even if exhilaration was marred by the very scant attendance by staff and board, maybe due to the impending tube strike. In the auditorium, six out of around 600 essay writers on “Born in 89” (see talked about their essays, their life in transition countries, , their aspirations and possibilities. They came from Croatia, Georgia, Ukraine and Russia and gave us a lively rendition of their lives in our countries of operations.

The idea to the essay competition had been announced nearly one year ago as part of EBRD’s contribution to celebrating 20 years of transition. The organizers tell the story that very few entries had reached them until a few weeks before the deadline – but that close to the end they were swamped by around 600 entries – which put the jury, composed of highly renowned specialists from the region, from literature, journalism, under quite some pressure. In the end, 24 essays were chosen for publication, and 6 were invited to London for a weekend and the above event.

What the authors told us was their amazement when they got to know each other in London, how similarly they felt and thought, even though they had studies very different things, lived between Zagreb and Wladiwostok under very different circumstances.

All of them showed great maturity, some of them great insights in what had changed between their parents’ lives and their own. Like in the “Western” countries, these young 21 year olds do not have it easy to find direction and orientation for their future. Some of them fret at the freedom they have, the large number of options, the material well-being, the insecurity of where their country goes. Some of them want nothing less than moving abroad, but most of the 24 authors are very strongly attached to their countries of origin and their friends and their culture. While most of them possess many of the trappings of modern-day life (ipods, cellphones, TV, movies, netbooks) and seem to have been fed on MTV (in addition to mother’s milk), it is very positive to see that they are strongly rooted in their country’s culture. Of course, material aspirations of many of them are heavily influenced by (mainly US) television series, their non-material aspirations remain in their own cultural context.

There is one thing which really struck me when reading these essays: all the ones which talk about their families, talk about the important role of their mothers in their lives, about their mothers’ hard work which enabled their own progress and well-being. Fathers seem to be absent, both physically and as shapers of their world-view. Is this a transition phenomenon?

The best stories are the ones which talk about everyday life. The winner’s (Ana Dabrundashvili from Tbilisi) story about the explosion of abuse an old lady on public transport hurls at her when she accidentally steps on her foot tells more about the tensions of life for older people than do statistics about poverty.

While it is probably true that these young authors belong to the privileged classes in their countries and are potential “transition winners”, and as those give contrary evidence about their lot than the EBRD’s “Life in Transition” survey (which showed that around half the persons surveyed assessed their life under the old system better than after the change), this EBRD exercise give new hope and impetus to all of us in the Bank that our work towards transition does not only help to bring about a functioning market economy, but also reaches to the individual people and improves their lives.

It really is a pity that not more people attended this event. To those who were not present reading some of the 24 essays will be an uplifting and eye-opening experience.


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