I wouldn't have noticed it if it hadn't been about the neighborhood I've spent the past five days in (not right where I am, but very close - even closer when you think in Moscow distances, not Kyiv...):
Potemkin village on 1 Komarova St.
A user of the Education and Science forum reports:
Today our President, Victor Andriyovych Yushchenko, will visit the National [Aviation] University - one of the most interesting universities of our country.
We know in advance what our President will be shown. We also know in advance what will remain invisible.
The President will be taken through the repaired Building #1, and perhaps he'll glance into the newly repaired Building #11, where the real pride of our university is located: the aviation hangar.
He won't be shown Buildings #3 and #5, where the windows haven't been washed in years, where the elevators do not work, where it's cold in winter and no air to breathe in summer. He won't be shown the conditions in the lecture rooms in the highrise Building #8.
The President will be happily greeted by the students dressed in uniforms for which they were forced to pay 550 hryvnias [$110], and by the professors who paid from 850 [$170] to 1200 [$240] hryvnias, after being threatened that they'd be fired and have the following scary note inserted in their records if they didn't comply: "[Fired] for disregard for the behavioral norms and for violating the university's internal regulations." (It has to be noted that the quality of the fabfric the uniforms are made of is so low, it's shameful to wear them in front of others after just one year.)
Perhaps the President will look from afar at the wonderful Aviation University dorms, where, in horrible conditions, five people live in rooms meant for two or three students. Only the lucky ones live there, though, for there isn't enough space in the dorms for all students, and many have to look for shelter around and outside Kyiv.
The president will be told about the university's library, which has a few thousand volumes. And he'd probably be surprised if someone told him that to check out one book, a student has to pay 1 hryvnya ($0.2). Oh come on, this isn't money! And the librarians are poor, their salaries are tiny but they need to eat, too!
And, I wonder, what will they do with that huge pack of stray dogs who live near the university's dining hall and run around Harmatna St. in the evening, scaring the passer-by?
And of course, the President will never go down to the undreground pass by the Harmatna tram station (sorry - the National Aviation University station) - if he does, he'll never believe that he's two steps away from the National [Aviation] University and not in some remote Gorlivka [town near Donetsk] neighborhood full of drug addicts and dealers.
The university faces lots of problems, but there've been many achievements, too. It'd be unfair to stain the memory of these great scientists and teachers: Bashta, Kukhtenko, Malynovsky, Mkhitaryan, Lozytsky and others.
Just one question: does Ukraine need modern universities or Potemkin villages?
This was posted in the morning. From the evening news I understood that Yushchenko never showed up at the Aviation University. Minister of Education did, though (I think his last name is Nikolaenko, but I don't know anything about him).
There was some silly concert dedicated to the Students' Day (today), and then the minister went on stage and, surrounded by the young men in uniforms and with stupid smiles on their faces, told a student joke: how Baba Yaga and Koshchey Bessmertnyi (scary Russian fairy-tale characters) caught a few students, and Baba Yaga decided to make a soup out of them, but Koshchey told her not to - because last time he did, those guys were so hungry they spoiled the soup by eating all the potatoes out of it! And everyone in the audience laughed, though it was hard to tell if they laughed obediently, or for real, or both.
This anonymous post reminded me of a story I've been telling everyone since 2001. Somehow, this is the first time I'm writing about it here.
A friend who used to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ternopil recalled how Yushchenko, then still the prime minister under Kuchma, came to visit his alma mater, the Ternopil Finance and Economics Institute. Prior to his arrival, all the professors who had computers at home were ordered to bring them to the institute, and a makeshift computer lab was created. They showed it off to unsuspecting Yushchenko when he came over. As soon as he left, the professors were allowed to take their computers back home - and the computer lab disappeared.
I always tell this story when I want to explain to someone foreign what pokazukha is - something so typical of the Soviet and post-Soviet societies, the contemporary Potemkin villages...