Ten years after changes in governments, members in Eastern Europe still feeling effects
By Kathy Kowalenko
Editor, The Institute
It has been nearly a decade since the breakup of the U.S.S.R. and
the change in governments in other Eastern European countries. That
period ended one era for IEEE members and began another. The
Institute recently asked some members from those countries to
reflect on the effect of this phenomenal change on their lives and
careers during the past 10 years.
For some, conditions have improved. There are more freedoms such as
the ability to publish and travel abroad. New areas of research and
career opportunities have opened for them.
"As an engineer, I can research and develop anything if I can get
money for it," said Zbynek Skvor, associate professor at the Czech
Technical University, Czech Republic, where he teaches and conducts
research. "There are no silly ideological problems. In our country,
cybernetics used to be a kind of bourgeoisie pseudoscience,
forbidden for some time," explained Skvor. "I can use products from
all over the world to compose my circuits where before I could get
products from only some countries."
Others say new career opportunities have been one of the best
outcomes. "There is an opportunity for foreign contacts and
possibilities to work abroad," said Oleg Stoukatch, Tomsk State
University of Control Systems and Radioelectronics, Tomsk, Russia.
According to Stoukatch, there is much more freedom in accessing
information, and more opportunities in earning money and making
contacts with scientists from other countries. "The present time is
a time of decentralization of control. But it has no relation to
'quality of control'," he notes. "Our life depends not on how we
work, but how it is controlled by us."
Svetlana Rau, National R&D Institute for Microtechnology at
IMT-Bucuresti, Bucharest, Romania, says the ability for engineers to
travel abroad though has caused a "brain drain" in her country. "After 1989, with the opening of the market, the Romanian electronic
components and equipment fields started a continuous depreciation,"
she explained. "Many young Romanian specialists were drawn to the
United States, Canada, South Africa and even Australia. Specialists
who hadn't left the country remained working in small and medium
start-up companies and research institutes or for IBM's and
Motorola's newly opened Romanian centers."
For Alexander Gridchin, Novosibirsk State Technical University,
Novosibirsk, Russia, being an IEEE student branch counselor has
given him a different kind of opportunity. "I've received the
excellent experience of planning, managing and holding various
scientific, technical and social meetings," said Gridchin. "I've
established warm personal connections with some colleagues worldwide
that I hope will be useful to a new generation of researchers in our
The change in government also has brought difficult economic and
working conditions for many IEEE members. "Any janitor, porter or cabby in Moscow is now in the best position
with salaries compared to engineers or university teachers," said
Dimitry Sazonov, a professor at Moscow Power Engineering
Institute-Technical University, Russia. "Many engineers and
university teachers are forced to take overtime jobs in another
profession. An engineer is the most non-prestigious profession in
According to Stoukatch, the situation in Russia has caused a
ten-fold decrease in scientific research incomes compared to 1999. "However, we have acquired a necessary measure of stability, and
this helps us to overcome temporary difficulties," he said.
Rau says working conditions have deteriorated in Romania's state
companies because of the lack of investments and the financial
market. "In private companies, mostly in the field of developing
software for computers or computer-assisted design, there are
powerful PCs and the newest computer software," she said. "But
conditions have deteriorated for all inland industries. In
electronics, after 1989 a lot of well-known Western or Far Eastern
companies now compete with the local industry, which is falling
Most of those interviewed have access to the Internet and e-mail
through their university's network although it is slow and
For Sazonov, the Moscow Chapter of the IEEE Antennas and Propagation
Society and the IEEE Lasers and Electro-Optics Society provides
financial support to offset the US$300 yearly cost of these
According to Stoukatch though, the majority of IEEE member benefits
connected with the Internet are not available for Siberian members. "As a rule, e-lines are bad everywhere but it's especially difficult
and practically impossible to enter the IEEE site," noted Stoukatch. "Frequently, reports for conferences or symposiums that are 'hanging
in the Internet' for a year become known only after publication in
journals when the deadlines have already passed."
Other technologies are not easily accessible either. "Free access to
technology has not improved and is difficult," said Gridchin. "It's
expensive for me to subscribe to the necessary scientific journals
in my scientific direction. Even IEEE membership doesn't provide
free access to all journals that are of interest to me. On the other
hand, it's difficult to promote my own scientific production into
the marketplace. It requires financial support. Who should provide
it? I suppose universities, governments or industry -- all these
sources are weak in Russia now."
For Skvor, the conditions that have improved the most have nothing
to do with his career, the economy or technology. "I am not afraid
to be imprisoned because of my religion and ideas," explained Skvor. "I was not allowed to study for some time. Now I know that my
children can study despite of what I or my relatives think about our
government. I am allowed to have my private business and to earn
more money if I decide to do so. Freedom is the most important
thing. That is the main difference, not only for engineers."