It’s getting wet and petty in frozen Saigon. The thermometer’s rising, and now there’s a thin cold drizzle covering everything in sight the moment you walk out of the door. But the NGO community is fighting too; trivial disputes are becoming inflamed. I’ve seen this before in other institutional environments, and it’s near universally because there isn’t enough money to go round. The problem with NGO’s is that everyone thinks they’re their own boss, and to an extent it’s true; we’re all relying on one another for good will and spare time and I’m not in a position to give instructions to anyone; I can only be nice to them if I’d like them to help me with a project I’m doing. But this makes the NGO community a sprawling mass of tentacles writhing in different directions, and it can make operating with NGO actors quite frustrating.
As the cast in a play we’re full of melodramas, and I’m plunged right into the middle of one of them. There’s a chap called R______, mentioned in these diaries before, whose skills in some ways compliment mine but I don’t trust his financial propriety and he had a huge falling out with the Ukrainians who run an NGO I am very close to. Anyway it seems some other people have fallen out with him too, and he has been kicked out of one chat group and then he has set up his own chat group which has copied all the members of the other ones minus the sinners he doesn’t like. Then last night he arranged a meeting in Mano’s Bar, using his own group, explicitly to exclude the people he doesn’t like, to discuss something like how best to help the troops.
Well that’s an easy one: support the military kitchen he fell out with. That would be a good start because it’s doing more for the Ukrainian Armed Forces than any other organisation in Lviv. But because he chose Mano’s bar to discuss this project with, one of the sinners he’d sought to exclude was there anyway - me - because I’m always there. Anyway nothing really was achieved except silly bickering because there are now two near-identical groups discussing the same sorts of things.
I mention this silliness with hesitation, really, not because any of this matters but because it’s an example of what happens when there’s no proper organisational structure and no leadership - or, worse, everyone thinks they’re the leaders. It’s also a good sign that people are short of money - which they are. When you have money to help the soldiers, you help them. When you don’t have money to help the soldiers, you have meetings about how to help them. These are the sad realities of any bureaucracy, and the NGO community is included in my mind as an unusual form of bureaucracy. When you have spare time and no projects, you fill the time with meetings and complications.
The evening dragged on. The Lviv Herald’s podcast series, www.lvivherald.com/podcasts, seems to be going well and we may even have a Youtube channel. It’s all very exciting. And yes, Mano’s Bar has become my office. In fact it’s become everyone’s informal office, with business being conducted between endless glasses of limoncello served up to slavering drunks and people asleep in the corner with alcohol intoxication. They’ve opened a room in the back where in principle you can have meetings but nobody ever does - that’s just in practice a room for people who are so drunk that they can’t stand up in the front room. They’re brought discipline to the bar, with a little old lady standing guard over the youngsters who serve drinks and making sure they are honest with the takings and serve the customers well. They still don’t have a kitchen which is their biggest downfall, but they have managed to establish themself firmly as the centre of the international NGO community in Lviv - a sort of meeting hall for all the hoary characters that pass through the NGO world in Lviv.
If there’s one place everyone goes to at least once, then it’s Mano’s Bar. Eccentric, flippant and far from to everybody’s taste, nonetheless if you go there each night then you will meet everyone at some point. So it has become virtually the pre-eminent locus of social interaction for what foreigners are doing in the country. I like the boozy laziness of it all, the fact that the bartender can’t remember what I had to drink, the fact that a strange drunk man you’ve never met before will come up to you and put his arm around you, and tell you how grateful he is that you are here. Because for all our internecine bickering, this is the role of the international community in Ukraine: to provide moral support for the Ukrainian people in their hour of need and to show them that the world does care. Because I think the world really does, but the message isn’t getting through as effectively as it should.
Why don’t you do something to help us? Come and join us in the funky, spunky, Mano’s Bar. Take a week or two’s vacation from your day job, and come to chop some vegetables with me and talk about tanks and rockets while propping up Mano’s Bar. Do something. You need to do something to help. This is World War III, it’s hell on earth, and the people of Ukraine feel abandoned. Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe and it has been invaded by its aggressive, vile neighbour that has moved beyond even totalitarianism to a form of aggressive military fascism in which the interests of the army dominate everything and every aspect of life. Now in Russia if you don’t support the army then you will be dead. I’m increasingly thinking that the proper parallel to draw with Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not Stalin’s Soviet Union - that had an ideological purpose of communism - but rather Nazi Germany, in which the wanton and mindless pursuit of military aims was the only reason for the state to continue to exist. We’re dealing with another Adolf Hitler, and right now we are following the policy of appeasement rather than confrontation. It won’t work. So please come and help us fight the greatest evil of our time.