Damned By Faint Greys 3

Sorry for the recent silence. I have been terribly busy with anti-war meetings in Edinburgh and Glasgow at the weekend, and then to Dundee for a University Court meeting on Monday, with lots of pre- and post-consultations. Got back home at 1.30am Tuesday (because the University values its Rector so highly it insists he travels Easyjet). Then quite literally up all night dealing with correspondence, and an 08.55 flight from Heathrow. Now blogging from Moscow.

Couldn’t resist the chance to mingle with the crowds at Yeltsin’s funeral. Astonished by how pinched and old Clinton looks – George Bush senior appears hale. The UK sends the Z team – Prince Andrew and John Major. Not so much damning with faint praise, as faint greys.

I am impressed by the many thousands of Muscovites, filing past the coffin all night and lining the short funeral route. I vox pop the funeral crowds, who are of course a self-selecting biased sample, but the Western media seems rather too glibly to accept the line from the state controlled Russian media that Yeltsin’s mistakes are remembered more than his achievements. At night I wander down to the White House and look at the cars whizzing past, over the spot where he climbed on the armoured vehicle (not actually a tank) to save Russian democracy and prevent the restoration of Soviet dictatorship. John Major is not really inappropriate as a mourner, because he had been speaking to Yeltsin from London moments before he did that. It is worth remembering that the troops had opened fire. Major says Yeltsin genuinely thought he would die then.

The media talk of Yeltsin as Russia’s first democratic President. I fear “only” might be a better word than first. Certainly mistakes were made in the uncontrolled rush to capitalism, as Abramovich and his like looted the country. It was done much better in Central Europe, with voucher schemes and other ways to get some immediate benefit to ordinary people. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it must not be forgotten how fragile the new Russian revolution was, and how real at first was the fear of Soviet reurgence. There was reason to hurry.

That does not excuse the ensuing creation of robber barons or Yeltsin’s decline into a drunken, jovial tool of corruption. But he had many decent human qualities, one of which was a lack of arrogance. Nobody noticed his resignation as President because it was the Millenium and we were all getting pissed. But he apologised to the Russian people for his mistakes, and especially the Chechen war. Do not expect Blair to follow.

Outside the White House is a girl with short blonde hair carrying two red roses. She too is looking at the road and thnking of Yeltsin. I point out that with today’s traffic, the army would never have got there. She has tears in her eyes – “He gave us our freedom”. She is bitterly amused that the only other person who thought to go to the White House on this evening is a passing Scot. I tell her she looks too young to remember all this. She says she was in her first year at Unversity when he resigned. But she remembers the White House, as a child. “He used to be handsome”.

We go for a pizza – thus adding a new tactic to my range of pick-up techniques. In the “Golden Drum” pub, the consensus is that at least Yeltsin ended Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol drive. His memory fades in a night of beer and vodka. Perhaps he wouldn’t mind that.

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3 thoughts on “Damned By Faint Greys

  • kazbel

    I'm impressed that you got the university to pay for your flight at all. Only external examiners and pro-vice-chancellors travel first class in the universities I know. I don't know Dundee University but why not see how well people are paid (and what expenses they have to meet) at the bottom of the heap? That's where the serious cuts are made. Universities employ lots of part-time hourly-paid lecturers on casual contracts. The hourly rate will look good on paper (somewhere between ?20 and ?35) but it's worth asking questions like this:

    1. are they paid for preparation and administrative work (almost certainly not – or a token amount)?

    2. are they paid for the time they spend in tutorial support or pastoral work? (some institutions pay – others expect this work free)

    3. are they paid for marking and, if they are, does the amount they are paid cover the time it takes? (this varies)

    4. are they expected to spend their own money on the books and equipment they need for teaching? (usually they will have to spend ?50 – ?100 pounds before term starts)

    5. do they have any administrative support? (that's a joke question – of course they don't – hardly anyone does any more)

    6. how long after they start teaching do that have to wait for their first pay cheque? (6-8 weeks is usual)

    7. are they expected to attend meetings and, if so, are they paid? (again, this varies)

    8. do they get holiday or sick pay? (another joke question, though there may be a token amount if they're really lucky)

    9. how much do they make in a year? (anyone making ?10,000 this way is working flat out and in danger of premature death from exhaustion)

    10 how long have they studied? how many qualifications and publications do they have? how deep in debt are they? how much of their student loan is outstanding?

    And I'm not a part-time lecturer. I have been, some years ago. Pay and conditions were bad then and I said I'd never forget. Pay and conditions are worse now, on the whole, though the union does a bit more to help.

    (By the way, university managers will claim that hourly-paid part-timers are Ph.D students. Some will be but others are dependent on casual work for years.

    And I haven't yet got on to pay and conditions for the support staff, the cleaners, the porters, etc …

    I realise your main concern is with he students but this kind of exploitation affects students too … though students tend to assume that all lecturers are well-paid …

  • kazbel

    If you think all that was way off the point, fair enough. And actually you're doing a great deal. I doubt you've time as rector to take this up. But now you're involved with a university, it may help to know.

    I enjoyed the rest of the post too, by the way. And I'm sorry if my rant about hourly-paid part-timers seems a bit rude – it wan't mean to be.

  • Strategist

    Craig, don't answer this obviously if it's top secret, but what are or were you doing in Moscow? Has the book been translated into Russian? Have you had a reaction to it from a Russian as opposed to Uzbek readership?

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