East versus West: Sharing Made Cool

Traditionally, Western Europeans are the consumers while we, Eastern Europeans, are rather the suppliers of labor. This large segment of the sharing economy – the providing of labor on demand – is ideal for an anatomized society such as ours

Magazyn Miasta / Cities Magazine

“There are many things that can make us hopeful, including wonderful examples of sharing initiatives in cities, promoted by local activists and directed at helping communities to become more connected.”

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An interview with Brian Fabo

By Jędrzej Burszta

Jędrzej Burszta: Is there any common history of sharing in post-communist countries in our region?

Brian Fabo: I don’t necessarily think there was one model of sharing that would apply to all communist countries. The Polish experience under that system was different than the Czechoslovakian. The most pronounced legacy of this past in Czechoslovakia was the time of the so-called normalization after the 1968 Soviet occupation. The regime almost abandoned the previous ideological core and became more cynical, in a way striking a deal with the citizens – if you will continue pretending you are loyal, then we won’t beat you up.

But at the same time there was a new notion that a person who doesn’t steal from the state in fact steals from his own family. This was a popular way of thinking – if you don’t take some goods for yourself, including public goods, someone else will. This only became stronger after the fall of communism.

 

How would you explain the different attitudes to sharing today, seen not only as a kind of philosophy or social activity but also inspired by economic models introduced by capitalism?

The period of transition from communism to capitalism marked a crucial change not only in the political economy, but there was also a social and cultural change in how people living in the new post-socialist reality interacted with each other – and the space they shared.

What we discovered in capitalist societies is that the market functions more efficiently when people trust each other. If you maintain public space, or public-ly-accessible sources, it becomes easier to develop trust between strangers who can then f nd it simpler to do business with each other.

But our models of capitalism, though they seem to be reproducing the Western paradigm, are much less developed. We can see striking differences on practically every corner. In Slovakia, we have a capital which is located on the border with Austria and Hungary. It cannot expand within Slovakia for geographic reasons; as a result, it is expanding across the border to villages in the other countries.

When Slovaks move to Austrian or Hungarian villages which are basically suburbs of Bratislava, you can tell which houses are owned by Slovaks because they have high fences around their houses. This is my property, stay out! You never see this in households of “native” Austrians. We can see traces of this mentality even on the street – something I have never seen in Western cities. You have public space which is being used by city residents primarily for… parking their cars, naturally. People put up a sign that this place is reserved for me.

 

Is that why sharing initiatives are much less popular in our region?

In this sense, the “East versus West” division in Europe is still sharply defined. On any street in Western cities you see more of these bottom-up efforts than in Bratislava or Warsaw. The sharing economy project like bike sharing picks up so much better in the West than in our region. This is not surprising in a society where the notion of public space is not as developed, making these ideas much less popular. Although this situation is beginning to change, fortunately.

 

YOU MAY READ THE REST OF THE INTERVIEW HERE (page 8-11)

 

Brain Fabo – and Comenius University in Bratislava. Previously, he was affiliated with the Central European Univeristy in Budapest and Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. Brian has published extensively on various aspects of digital economy, including various sharing economy platforms. His work on the sharing economy has been widely cited by international bodies, including the European Commission.

 

Adopted text from Magazyn Miasta / Cities Magazine vol. 2

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