Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pay for the whole seat, you only need the edge

So, in the midst my fever-dream of grading and squirrelbears, I guess I neglected to wrap things up on the gas crisis here in Slovakia and parts thereabout. On the 18th, we got some relief when RWE Transgas in the Czech Republic essentially reversed polarity on the Bratstvo — or Brotherhood — gas pipeline normally used to deliver gas to them. Roughly two days later Russia and Ukraine reached some sort of agreement and gas began to flow through standard channels once more.

I can't speak for places like Bulgaria, which had a much worse time of things, but the short-term interruption in daily life here in Slovakia was fairly minimal; mostly just another topic of conversation. The reserves held like a nervously exhaled breath, and only a couple large companies had to reduce their output while waiting it out. Households, hospitals, schools, small businesses, all went on as usual. Long-term effects on the economy? Relations with Ukraine and Russia? I don't know. Also, in the wake of it all, the Slovak government debated a bill on official gas emergency measures, should the issue arise again, say same time next year. Not entirely certain how that all ended up.

My personal reaction was unexpected. I wrote this late one night in the midst of it, and wasn't sure if I should post it:

It's wierd, right? It's not like we're in freaking Gaza or something, or even in Bulgaria, where there're no gas reserves. And it is cold out there, but not even Philadelphia-cold, where it was -14 Celsius or something today. And I know they've got people without gas, too.

But this kind of scarcity is new to me. I'm terribly comfortable with the idea that poor people can't get access to the basics of a reasonable standard of living. But this? You can't even wave money at it to make it go away. It's a global inequity in the distribution of the resources necessary for survival. It's a political scarcity. As a USian, I'm not used to being the third party/collatoral damage in international politics, and maybe that's why I find this so unsettling.

I can't imagine how histrionic I'd have been if they actually turned our gas off.

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