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Prostitutes and Politicians and Trust in Ukraine

April 17, 2011

While searching through poll data of the Ukrainian population last week, mainly for info on Russian-Ukrainian antagonism, I instead stumbled upon the following poll done by the Razumkov Centre in 2006:

“Do you trust the representatives of the following profession?”

Fully trust/Rather trust/Rather mistrust/Fully mistrust/Difficult to answer
Prostitute 1.7 6.7 19.7 55.7 16.2
Politician 1.9 16.8 37.5 35.7 8.1
Insurer 4.2 23.3 33 20.8 18.7
Healer 7.5 24.1 29.5 27 12
Astrologer 6.5 25.9 31.5 24.6 11.4
Banker 6.7 26.3 33.5 19.8 13.7
Police officer 6.7 29.9 34.4 22.1 7
Salesman 6.2 34.3 36 14.8 8.8
Psychotherapeutist 8.1 28.2 24.4 13.9 25.4
Sociologist 10.4 41.5 20.8 7.5 19.8
Journalist 14.2 44.5 25.7 8.1 7.5
Doctor 16.9 48.6 21.5 8.1 4.9
Economist 14.8 48.8 20.1 6.9 9.4
Lawer [sic] 18.8 47 16.7 6.6 10.9
Priest 26.6 39 14.6 8.3 11.6
Soldier 17.7 49.2 16.9 6.5 9.8
Builder 20.5 51.3 14.3 4.4 9.5
Teacher 26.4 54.9 10.3 3.5 5

Any Westerner who has had the privilege of living in Eastern Europe quickly learns that the concept of “trust” is an entirely different beast here. Whether it’s in personal interactions or dealing with government agencies, you’ll learn your Western conceptions of trust are largely useless. There are a number of ways social scientists measure, analyze and deal with trust. Most crudely put, one can divide an analysis into two categories, the macro-level, namely looking at systemic trust across a society (a focus on groups and institutions) and micro-level, how trust functions within the individual sphere, in addition, looking at the relationship between macro and micro-levels. I’d argue here in Ukraine trust exists in the inverted form of ours in West. The closest circle of trust itself is much more defined here (that is those with whom you would consider confidants, ie friends and family) and within that circle trust holds a much stronger value and potency than in America, while on a macro-level trust is significantly lower here than in West (trust in government and institutions such as schools, hospitals, etc).

On almost any given day you can find evidence of this discrepancy of how trust operates, it’s simply that after being here for a long time, you stop noticing. Within the last week, I started paying a little more attention and here is some evidence. One great example came from two identical stories about foreigners trying to register their visas with the Ukrainian government. In order to register one needs a notarized letter from the landlord (among many other items). In both cases, the landlords of my friends are living in Canada, so naturally they got the rent agreement notarized there and then shipped the original copy to Kyiv. This document was rejected by the authorities, since it was not notarized by a “Ukrainian notary,” as if notaries in Canada aren’t trust-worthy enough for them to simply put a stamp in their passports. How they expect foreigners to get registered in such situations is beyond me. As for the actual process of getting something notarized in Ukraine, I don’t have the time or space here to describe it.

The second example came at the post office. I got to spend over an hour there this past week paying one bill and trying to pick up a package. During my visit, I witnessed a 20 min interaction between a very unpleasant young woman and a postal worker that resulted in the postal worker crying. The young woman was mailing a package to Finland with some type of extra verification (like our “certified” mail). The amount of stamps, signatures, and paperwork that went into mailing 5 pieces of paper was simply stunning. Varous stamps were dolled out, front and back signed, extra forms completed, data put into the computer, and so on. To make matters more complicated, the woman kept insisting the information be put into the system in English, not Ukrainian. A 5 min argument ensued basically because the woman did not trust the postal service would delivery the package properly if it was not entered into the system the way she wanted, though this wasn’t regular protocol at all (note she also didn’t trust anything the postal worker was doing). I’ve had all my packages sent that way without any special instructions. As long you write the address the correct way on the package, which she did, then it’s fine. The most interesting detail is how Ukrainians need to stamp, sign and mark the opening flap of envelopes because there is no trust that someone won’t open and alter the contents at some point on its journey. After harassing the worker about the language issue, she then harassed her about the re-tapping the flap closed and putting four stamp/seals on it! Four! At home, in Germany or in England (where I’ve done this), this affair would have required one piece of paper, a stamp and payment – that’s all, a two-min transaction, because there is a certain level of trust between us and the postal service. When I’m done writing about violence and genocide, I think I’d love to sit in post-offices around the world and do a sociological study (half-serious).

As for the third example, I recently noticed these parking spot “protectors” throughout the city. In residential parking lots, there are these metal contraptions installed into the pavement that lock and protect a parking lot. So even though you presumably received a specific spot to park by your apartment and pay for it, you also you need to literally lock down your spot, since no one will respect your agreement with the city or landlord (or whomever one pays for the place). If another person sees your spot, even if say it was marked with a sign or paint as a residential spot, he or she would certainly just park there — this is common knowledge and the reason for the lock. Just picture your personal parking spot in your apartment building in the US with a large metal trap and a padlock on it. That’s certainly an issue of trust. Note these are only a few items I’ve noticed in a given week, now that I’ve been pondering the issue anew.

But back to the date above — what was surprising and what wasn’t? Given the margin of error, the fact that Ukrainians trust prostitutes as much as their politicians is not much of a surprise at all. I guess I’m a little surprised prostitutes didn’t do a lot better than politicians. I find the discrepancy between banker and economist curious. I suppose economists are trusted more because it’s presumed they were trained in the West and/or are better educated than bankers. Banks, by the way, usually advertise here by using words like “stability” and “trust,” which should tell you a lot (a recent one I saw: “Ukraine’s most stable bank of the last decade”). The fact that lawyers did better than say journalists or sociologists is certainly curious. That teachers are the most trusted is not much a surprise. The respect for education, which one can argue is certainly a remanent of the Soviet period, is an obvious one. Through my own interactions, I’ve found Ukrainians are far more appreciative of historians and teaching profession than in my dealings with Americans.

Out of curiosity, how does this match up to US polls of similar nature? Gallup does a poll every year on trust and professions, which is useful. The biggest discrepancies between Ukraine and the US are certainly police officers and lawyers. The police are a profession that conveys little trust in Ukraine given the astronomical levels of corruption, so this is hardly a shock. Why lawyers are trusted more in Ukraine, I’m not entirely sure. Given the whole judicial system is corrupt I’m not sure why lawyers are trusted more than say doctors. The military is respected highly in both places, also not surprising given the strong military ethos in both countries. The most surprising item in the US poll is school teachers. I never would have thought, given the hatred we’ve seen spewed recently towards teachers and their unions, they’d be doing so well. This is only a rough comparison, given the parameters of the polls are not identical, the terms are a bit varied (I don’t know what a “builder” is in the Ukie poll), and qualitatively I’m not sure how things would measure out (for instance, how much trust would you find in doctors in the Ukraine versus the US, rather than their position relative to the other professions).

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Madison permalink
    April 17, 2011 3:02 pm

    I don’t trust teachers. Those tax-money mongerers!

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