Eastern and Central Europe: Psychological and Information Environments

Article excerpt

What stands out in the experiences of many information professionals with business or consulting activities in Eastern and Central Europe are the enormous differences in people's attitudes, thinking processes, and mind sets as compared with those in the West--and the frustrations in dealing with their bureaucracies. These differences, as well as economic, social, management, political, and other factors, were explored in the Special Libraries Association's Institute on "Information in Eastern and Central Europe: Coming in from the Cold." Supported by Disclosure, Inc., the Institute was held in Washington, DC on November 12 and 13.

While the focus of this article is primarily on Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, current situations there mirror those in what formerly was the USSR, referred to here as the FSU--Former Soviet Union.

Know the Territory

Major problems in West working with East result from the fact that the FSU's perceptions, and to a great extent those of the neighboring countries, are products of their time and systems, explained Dr. Stephen H. Rhinesmith, Rhinesmith and Associates. Their view of the world was "fixed" by the information fed to them from childhood by their political system. This has resulted in an inflexibility of concepts and attitudes, especially among the 40- and 50-year-olds.

People in their early 20s are more flexible and more able to function in their developing situation and in working with Westerners. Faxon in Moscow is training young Soviets in their early 20s in modern business techniques said Joel Baron, Faxon Company. Even people in their early 30s were found to be too ingrained with the old regime--an observation confirmed by other speakers. The problems are more dramatic in the FSU than in Eastern Europe because of the longer period of Communism.

Rhinesmith's analysis displayed the enormous change people there are expected to make--and with no infrastructure to support those changes. For example, in perception on one's self they are moving from socialist leader to capitalist novice, from collective to individual responsibility, from external control to personal limits, and from alienation politically to participation in the world.

Other changes include going from a quantity state to one of quality and customer consideration, from equality to equal opportunity, from so-called lazy and controlled to being involved and motivated in management, and from power hoarding to power-sharing politically. In their perception of the world they are expected to go from an economic sense of limited goods to one of unlimited goods, from social control to social freedom, from a management state to one of self-management, and from a power-based to a law-based system.

Their expected patterns of thinking are now radically different, moving from worker to owner, from supply to profit/ROI management, and from a totalitarian political setting to a democratic culture.

While the people are expected to make changes in attitudes, they don't know how--and there is no structure in place to support them in making these changes. They must participate in new processes, yet they still carry their old perceptions of self and others. Rhinesmith anticipates that the FSU may lose a generation before people will know how to deal with their new world and develop efficiency and flexibility to make the transitions outlined above.

One approach that has been proposed, he said, is that only "bite-size" goals be presented, since it is too much to expect accomplishment of larger goals.

No Charts for the Course

The people in the FSU have no experience in sharing power, in compromising, and in negotiating. They have little or no knowledge of how to make a decision, since heretofore the pathways to decision-making were spelled out for them. For the last 70 or so years they have had psychological deprivation and isolation. …