NEW SERIES is inspired by a process of detachment from the homeland. I left Ukraine two years ago now. And throughout this time I was observing the changes I was facing. These includes the personal attitude towards patriotism and the phenomenon of friendship in spite of distance. Immigration also influenced my overall view-point on the choice of being an artist and staying true to your statement. I also explored the trance-continental dialog one faces through a change of geographical location and the access to the social media that keeps you up to date with the lives that used to surround oneself. Mixed fillings caused the dream-like mixture of memories combined with current political and cultural events that troubled the world in 2015-16.
“I need one more dollar.” Says a seven-year old boy.
“How much?” Asks him his grandmother.
“Just one more dollar.”
“Do you know what you have to give, in return?” Grandmother asks, then approaches her chick to the boy. He hesitates, bashfully.
“How much do you want it [a dollar]?”
The kid quickly gives a kiss and runs away holding the earned money towards the Italian Ice truck.
Rome was the Wall Street of the II century BC.
Socialists continuously blamed capitalism for the entrepreneurial approach to life, and materialistic morality of the capitalists. However, regardless of the forms of payment and chosen priorities, everything has its price. This statement has been so often argued. Since the I millennium BC the exchange relationships have been turned into the trade, with the invention of money. International trade practices lead to the establishment of the banking system. Rome was the Wall Street of the II century BC with its silver coins, that were quickly overpowering all the other Mediterranean currencies. In fact, accessibility via trade paths became a “match point” of a country’s prosperity. Between now and then, the only difference in the trade relationships is its ethics. With the progression of the mankind, the society has definitely gained humanity. One is no longer owned by another person (like during the slavery times). One is no longer obliged to work, and can not be imprisoned for the refusal to find a job (like in the USSR society).
However, we ended up in the prison of our own expectations and indulgences, attached to the socially globalized systems. The world’s progress is undoubtedly drastic. Especially with the contemporary physics, technology, and anatomical studies. It’s absolutely beautiful. Yet, while one is expecting the soon-to-be-delivered lab-grown, 3D-printed knee for the more and more affordable high-end surgery; another one is still struggling to provide food for the family. Juggling between the casual employment and hustling locally. Many decide to go abroad in search of the earnings.
Such worker doesn’t demand the medical insurance or legal rights; is not a burden for the local taxpayers, and accepts the wage, that none of the local citizens would willingly work for.
The two legal options are: immigration and temporary working (contractor’s) visas. Now, there is a vast difference not only for the person applying for the change of status (or visa), but also for the hosting country. In the first case, in addition to the extra competition, created on the job market and taken advantage of the social benefits, the country also gains a new citizen, that is seeking to assimilate, pay taxes, spend money on the local economy and hopefully contribute to the country’s prosperity. In the second case, the strict immigration policy in the majority of the developed countries, however, forces the people, seeking the earnings internationally, to apply for a temporary worker visa (or in many cases, when the legal process is still not accomplishable, due to the fees and background checking, – to try to cross the border illegally, risking their lives). A legal temporary worker is very welcomed both by the corporations and the government. Such worker doesn’t demand the medical insurance or legal rights; is not a burden for the local taxpayers, and accepts the wage, that none of the local citizens would willingly work for. On the contrary side, these allows the manufacturers to keep the minimum workers’ wage so low, due to the demand on it from the out-of-state workers. As a result, it takes the jobs from the potential local workers. Certainly, this is arguable in terms of the free market economy.
The International Relations Minister of Poland stated, that, according to the National Bank of Poland, Ukrainians sent a total of 5 billion Euros of their earnings from Poland back to their families in Ukraine in 2015.
In addition to this, the temporary workers create the huge cash outflow. After paying the lodging (which is usually very low, due to the sharing practices, where up to six people live in one room) and transportation expenses, the majority of the earnings is an immigrant remittance. One would be surprised by the dedication of such workers. Committed to providing for their children’s food and education, or saving money to start their own business back at home, the temporary workers would work from dusk till dawn, seven days a week, and won’t spend an extra cent on their own needs. These includes Latin American workers in the US and Eastern European (including my home-country Ukraine) workers in the both EU and US. The International Relations Minister of Poland stated, that, according to the National Bank of Poland, Ukrainians sent a total of 5 billion Euros of their earnings from Poland back to their families in Ukraine in 2015. According to the Pew Research Center survey: immigrants to Canada (mostly temporary foreign workers) send billion dollars per capita in remittances out of Canada. The top countries receiving Canadian remittances are: China (which receives $3.9 billion), India ($3.5 billion) and the Philippines ($2 billion). An estimated 582 billion U.S. dollars was sent by the contractors of the foreign origin from the USA to relatives in their home countries in 2015 (according to the Pew Research Center).
These contractors will choose the outrageous working conditions and separation from their families over the unemployment in their home countries. As long as the inflow of the foreign workers is legally processed (or at least looks legally enough), this system seems to satisfy the corporations and hence gets out of the hosting country’s governmental control. The point is, it keeps the production costs low, and selling prices competitive. Objectively, though, these kind of contract jobs are no different from the feudalism in the Middle Ages. The ultimate argument is: “They have an option to stay in the countries of their origin.” Consider the pre-unions times in the industrial USA. Or the post war UK. Workers including children had to work on the factories and in the coal mines with no regulated work hours, or wages. And while at that time it was a rather necessity, due to the economical post war crisis; in the contemporary world it seems to simply be the toll to the global competition.
Luckily for my generation, they are a lot better equipped.
While on one hand, there are rapidly increasing board closures (including Brexit; and the promises to build the wall on the South, between the US and Mexico, of the currently running for the US presidency, candidate Donald Trump), on the other hand, I run over more and more friends, who are already abroad or considering to be there soon. All seeking the earnings and simply better opportunities. Luckily for my generation, they are a lot better equipped. They are young, know foreign languages, are proficient in modern technologies. Even though they might consider themselves the global citizens, in the end of the day it means you have no home. Foreigner both abroad and in your country of origin. Most of them look happy regardless. They say, as long as you know, what do you want. But when do you, truly?
They say “art copies life”, but being an artist I can long argue that. However, if one tries to oversee the general picture, one is likely to observe a certain pattern. I narrowed my examples down to the two counties (USA and Ukraine), due to residential status, and hence the highest awareness of these two nations.
The world famous “happy endings” are definitely the US “licensed” feature. It all comes down to the morals in the end of the story, that proves that it was all forth it: the hardships, one survives, and all the battles, that a character wins. To sum up, it’s all about the win for Americans. American candidate running for a president, Donald Trump constantly uses the ‘win’ slogans in the motivational speeches. “We will have so much winning, if I get elected, that you may get bored with the winning,” Trump said. That really seems to be working. It has long become the ultimate purpose. A gymnastics commentator quoted on the men AA individual competition final: “If you ain’t first you’re last” (Scene where Reese Bobby inspires Ricky). In 2016 Olympics in Rio one will find multiple examples to prove this point. Michael Phelps comes back with a baggage of 18 Olympic gold medals and a series of controversies (boredom chased by dui etc.), only to win four more gold medals. Aly Raisman, who scored 59.566, in the individual all-around, tying with Aliya Mustafina of Russia, but lost the bronze in a tie-breaker and placed fourth, comes back four year later to Rio and wins silver over Russian gymnast Mustafina. Bernard Lagat, a 41-year old runner qualified to represent USA at the Olympics for the fifth time in his life. Lagat finished in 13 minutes, 35.30 seconds while Hassan Mead (13.35.70) (second in qualification 5k race).
For the viewers it is like a smell of that apple pie, your grandma used to make, when you were 6. It is familiar and so desirable. The smell of win. But more importantly the win over the best. Michael Phelps was so cheered for, not only for the 18 previously won medals, but because he won over the Chad Le Clos, South African athlete, who had won the gold in London 2012. and later in 2015 had choice words about Phelps. “Michael Phelps has been talking about how slow the butterfly events have been recently,” he said. “I just did a time he hasn’t done in four years. So he can keep quiet now.” And also because he qualified for the next event finals, twenty minutes after receiving that 22nd gold medal on the Olympic podium in Rio on Aug 11. It’s all that drama and nerves that go along with the win, and make you still talk about it years later, just like that best in the world pie.
On the other hand is the picturesque story of Ukraine. The country that is at a constant war for sovereignty, and hence the self-identification, due to its location on the border between the East and the West. Ukrainian National team is ranked top 20 by the number of participating athletes in Rio Olympics 2016. This year is the fourth Olympics for the independent from Moscow Ukraine. As a result of newly formed independent economy, sports (and arts) were left on the “left-over” budget. The athletes are mostly volunteering their health and time, based on pure dedication to the sports. Based on the example revealed by the Ukrainian men gymnastics team, there are no physical therapists, no modern post USSR training equipment, no rehabilitation funds; simple necessities like tapes and hand gloves are donated or bought by sportsmen out of the pockets. And moreover, if the team doesn’t deliver the medals, the funding cuts even lower. That is exactly what happened after London 2012 Olympics, when the Japanese team filed an appeal, believing that Uchimura should have been given more points for his dismount, which although botched in execution, was landed without an actual fall. After a video review by the judges, Uchimura’s score was increased by 0.7 points to 14.166, bringing Japan back to second place for a silver medal, and knocking Great Britain down to third place for a bronze and Ukraine to fourth place, out of the medal standings. Two of the best Ukrainian gymnasts left the team to go abroad, because of the lack of funding. No medals – no cash. So much for the dramatic story build-up.
So when Martha Karolyi (the women’s gymnastics team USA coordinator) comments on her decision at the qualifications finals: “They need to prove themselves. They need to show that they’re able to handle the stress and their routines are very consistent.” – the Ukrainian national team slogan is more likely to be “neck or nothing”. Ukraine doesn’t have a privilege of consistency, but one can be sure it will be the team that throws it all on the table. When you watch Oleg Verniaiev (Ukrainian gymnast) compete in the individual AA face-to-face (in fact leading at times) with the six time world champion, Japanese gymnast Kohei Uchimura, be sure there is some history being written. And even when Oleg fails to score enough for the gold, and lets Kohei seal the championship by the lead of 0.9, it is a miracle of dedication that gets your heart bumping. When Serena Williams’ reign as Olympic women’s singles tennis champion comes to a shuddering halt after a shock defeat by Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, there is no place for consistency. It is rather the smell of sweat, produced by adrenaline, when you risked it all at this second. If not now, when?
The little hop during Oleg Verniaiev’s landing at the AA final event separated the gold medal from “what if”. But maybe it is a chance of “what if?”, the adrenaline of allowing yourself this dream of the gold, is what drives the Ukrainians alongside with the American dreamers, regardless of the obstacles surrounding them. It is inspiring to hear Aly Raisman speak of how all the years spent in gym; all the parties, football games and simple teenage joys missed for the cause of sports, are all worth it, when you stand on that pedestal, receiving the medal, and that your life changes completely after that. This is why everyone does it, and this is how it should be.
But there are competitors from team Refugee, who trained for the Olympics without the sneakers, or had to push the boat for three hours just to survive, like Yusra Mardini, 18, or Ukrainian gymnast Verniaiev, who secured the funding for the whole team by winning that medal, that gets a viewer out of the couch and pushes to accomplish more.