THE WAY THINGS ARE NOW

The first and most important difference now is that the former Soviet Union has been partitioned into a collection of separate and independent countries. Each has its own government, language, currency, and laws. What is common practice, legal or acceptable in one country is not necessarily so in the other countries. These countries all have a keen sense of nationalism. Although because of prior Soviet domination the Russian language is almost universally understood and spoken, it is important to respect the national dignity of each newly independent country and not confuse it with Russia or refer to its people as Russians. From the business perspective, this partitioning complicates matters somewhat. Where previously a trip to or office in Moscow was a sufficient link to establish business relations, business now is transacted within each of the individual countries.

With respect to science and technology, major changes have similarly taken place. Each country now has its own Academy of Sciences. The massive institutes still exist, but now they are subject to the laws and financial support of the country within whose borders they are now found. The central planning that was provided by the Soviet government is no longer there, and each institute must define a new role for itself within the parameters of national priorities, the expertise of its staff, and market forces. As a result, times have been quite difficult for the science community. Budgets have been slashed. See Figure 7.1, which shows the actual budget of one institute in Russia. It is significant that while expenditures fell from about $100 million per year in 1990 to $6.5 million in 1993, the relative percentage of the budget allocated for salaries and overhead climbed from about 32% of the budget to about 90%, with a corresponding reduction in funds for equipment, travel, and subcontracts to other institutes. Essentially, the state can afford to pay only for salaries and utilities, but even these are becoming limited resources. For example, in Ukraine recently most of the institutes have gone on a three-day pay and work week.

The physical plant and equipment is deteriorating from lack of investment in care and maintenance. Particularly short in supply are hard currency funds necessary for such things as conference attendance, journal subscriptions, and sophisticated equipment. Subcontracts with other institutes are complicated by the fact that some of them are now in different countries, and currency restrictions now control cross- border transactions. Previously simple transactions often turn into barter deals among scientists.

Perhaps the most demoralizing effect on the scientific community has been the lower salaries. In Ukraine, for example, a top research scientist earns only about $15-$25 per month. This amount is somewhat, but not significantly, higher in Russia. To place these earnings in context, a 20 liter canister of gasoline costs about $10-$12; a kilo of smoked pork loin costs about $8. Salaries are paid in local currency, usually a month or two late, in countries where the inflation rate has approached 50% per month. Clearly, economic survival on salary alone is very difficult. Anecdotal information suggests that approximately 25- 30% of the scientists have left their respective countries. Some have emigrated, others have gone on extended work contracts in other countries. Many of these are hoping to find some mechanism by which they can stay. The most often-cited destination countries are Israel, Germany, and the United States.


Figure 7.1. Budgets of an FSU institute.

Another 25-30% are reputed to have gone into some other business. This can be some form of commodity trading or an entrepreneurial venture based on the scientist's area of expertise. The governments are struggling to support the remaining scientists.


Published: December 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian