I got a gig writing for the Nation. Here’s my first article, “Corruption, Not Migrants, Is Russia’s Problem.” A few words updating the story. Yesterday the police liquidated the migrant camp at Golyanovo. The Moscow city administration announced that it will not erect any new camps. However, the Ministry Interior has a new facility to detain migrants in Severnyi outside Moscow. So far 400 foreign nationals are housed there, including the remaining 234 from Golyanovo. This campaign against migrants, therefore, continues. Here’s the opening paragraph of the Nation article:
On Saturday July 27, a group of plainclothes police arrived at the Matveev market in Moscow to arrest Magomed Magomedov, a Dagestani, for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. As the police detained Magomedov, a crowd gathered to protest. Fisticuffs ensued as one of Magomedov’s relatives attacked an officer, Anton Kudriashov. When the dust settled, Kudriashov’s attacker, Magomed Rasulov, had fled, allegedly after bribing another cop. Kurdiashov lay dazed with a cracked skull. Responding to the incident, an incensed President Putin captured Russians’ anger. “[Citizens tell] us it is impossible to continue tolerating this level of lawlessness… Policemen were standing there and watching as their colleague got beaten up. Why? Are they such cowards? Perhaps, but it’s unlikely. Most likely, their inaction is earning them money from those merchants. This is obvious and well-known to everyone.” Putin’s right to single out corruption. It’s not only at the center of the Matveev market incident but at the heart of the migration issue. The sweeps of illegal migrants are populist measures meant to divert the attention, and especially that of the Moscow electorate that will vote for mayor on September 8, from the real scourge of Russian society: corruption.
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By Sean — 2 years ago
Eileen Kane is an Associate Professor of History at Connecticut College where she specializes in empires, migrations, religion and historical connections between the Russian and Ottoman empires. She’s the author of Russian Hajj: Empire and the Pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Roots, “Adrenaline!” Things Fall Apart, 1999.Post Views: 737
By Sean — 7 years ago
Remember Joaquim Crima, the so-called “Volgograd Obama“? The last we heard from the simple watermelon seller turned political candidate was back in 2009 when he ran for office on the United Russia ticket in Srednaya Akhtuba. The novelty an Afro-Russian candidate bequeathed Crima fifteen minutes on the world stage. He was featured in both the Russian and international media. His fame even spawned a “virtual” challenger, Fillip Kondratevto, to his moniker as Russia’s Obama. His fame even got him an audience with Vladimir Putin last summer. It was assumed, or at least I assumed, that that was the last we’d ever hear from him since I had a sneaking suspicion that Volgograd’s Obama was nothing more than a flash in the pan publicity stunt.
I guess I assumed too soon.
The “Volgograd Obama” is back and and just as his political aspirations thrust him into the news, so has his latest move: dumping United Russia. “I request to cease my membership in the party United Russia,” reads a hand scrawled note, littered with spelling mistakes. It didn’t take long for Crima to find a new political home as a member of Just Russia. “The admission of Vasilii Crima into the ranks of Just Russia is surely a significant event,” says Sergei Klimenkov, a Just Russia secretary. And why did Crima, who had been a member of United Russia since 2007 and once said that “I think that if the country had a hundred of such people like Putin, Russia would be the first in the world,” suddenly switch sides, and no less on the eve of United Russia’s regional party congress?
The answer lies in Crima’s open letter to Putin. Obviously composed by Just Russia spin doctors, it might might go down as an archetypal expression of “loyal opposition.” Criticize the locals for excessive bureaucratism and indifference to the masses (an old Soviet trope by the way), but show deference and, as Crima puts it, staunch support for the course laid out by, and the order of names are key here, Putin and President Medvedev.
Also, are we really to believe that Crima amassed 20 tons of watermelons to send to fire stricken Moscow!? You gotta be kiddin’ me. What did he expect villagers were going to do with 20 tons of melons? Throw them on the fires?
Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich!
Joaquim Rit Cabi Crima is addressing you. Less than a year ago you extended to me, a simple village entrepreneur from the Sredne Akhtubinsk district in Volgograd province, the great honor by inviting me to a meeting which you held in Volgograd. There you asked me if it was better to work in Africa or in Volgograd? Today I would like to answer that question as I did then: it is not important where one works, whether in Africa or Russia, what’s important is what one works for, and here everything depends on the person. If a person actively wants to live better, he must always yearn for something greater.
An You, Vladimir Vladimirovich, agreed with me then, and literally said the following, “If we want to live better, then we need to work better–that’s the whole point. But in order to work better, we need to understand what’s going on.”
I thought of your words several times as I was deciding to leave United Russia and join Just Russia. It was this decision that promoted me to write you this letter to explain why I made such an important decision.
Over the last year the support for United Russia has significantly dropped in Volgograd. This isn’t just my opinion, our governor recently said this himself. I think that to understand why this has happened we need to look at United Russia’s regional office and the situation that has developed in Volgograd province. Volgograd residents have lost faith in the government, in the party of power, and they don’t see positive changes in their lives.
For example, among United Russia’s campaign program in the last elections for Volgograd’s provincial Duma was a promise to increase the pay of state employees, control the prices of essential goods, and prevent the increase in utility costs. None of these promises were fulfilled.
But the money for the increase of state employee salaries exists in the meager provincial budget. Along with this, several of the budget’s social clauses were put under the knife. The introduction of the institution of city manager in Volgograd has not added to the authority of United Russia’s regional office–the population of a metropolis has lost its right to elect its city leaders.
I became convinced by personal experience that United Russia is more and more becoming a party of bureaucrats. I will give you just one example. Last summer when the horrible fires raged, I came up with an idea to give humanitarian aid to two villages in Moscow province that had severely suffered from the fires. This was a simple, normal desire to help people. I managed to collect 20 tons of watermelons. All that remained was sending them to Moscow. I requested help from United Russia’s regional leadership several times, but it was all in vain–just blank walls of incomprehension and indifference to a stranger’s misfortune. The watermelons simply rotted.
United Russia has talked a lot about needing concrete action in the interests of society. Unfortunately, in my opinion, United Russia has recently moved farther and father from its principles. Concrete political work had been exchanged for well known administrative resources, people have lost their right to vote, and there is an eternal struggle for power between members. United Russia’s political monopoly has not only become a hindrance on path to democratizing our country, but also the source for making decisions that are contrary to the interests of society. This is especially clear in Volgograd province.
That’s why I have decided to leave United Russia. My humble desire to be useful to the party remains unclaimed. And to just possess a party card is not for me.
Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich! Though I am no longer a member of United Russia, I remain a staunch supporter of the course of Russia’s modernization that you and President Dimitry Medvedev have taken. This course, I am sure is also shared by Just Russia. Hopefully, I will not be superfluous in its ranks.
May 4, 2011Post Views: 146
By Sean — 7 years ago
In a Journey From St. Petersburg to Moscow (1790), Aleksander Radishchev referred to Russia’s autocratic system as a “hundred-headed monster that gulps down the food prepared for the people’s general sustenance.” For most Russians, whether under Tsarism or the Soviets, the heads of that monster were decorated with the stony face of the bureaucrat, or chinovnik. And be sure, a hundred heads is far too small of a number to capture the enormity of the Russian bureaucracy.
While Radishchev’s reference was to the ancient Greek monster of monsters, Typhon, the image is antiquated in capturing the present day Typhon inhabiting Russia. Indeed, Russia’s Typhon still has one body, but the heads number well over a million. According to Rosstat, the number of bureaucrats in 2010 at the federal and municipal levels was 1,648,400, or an average of 25 bureaucrats per 1000 people. In the belly of the beast, i.e. Moscow, there are over 78,000 alone, or 12 per 1000 people.
This wouldn’t be such a problem beyond the inevitable red tape if Russia’s chinovniki weren’t also known to be horribly corrupt. Here are some choice comments about Russians’ attitude toward chinovniki from interviews complied by Anne Hamiton for her article “Radishchev’s Hundred-Headed Monster Lives! The Role of the Bureaucrat Symbol in State-Society Relations in Russia“:
“[Bureaucrats] are people who start to gnaw at you for every little paper”; “they are also vulture-like, in the sense that they grab everything and pig out”; “Any leader is a hero in my eyes, but these [biurokrat, chinovnik, apparatchik] are reptiles, rats, nits—rotten”.
Even those who do their job are viewed as lacking any morality, and even a soul:
“You have good chinovniki, those who worked normally, fulfill their jobs, do everything quickly, but they are lacking soul, they are cold, chilly in general”; “I don’t know why [they treat people poorly]. Maybe they pay them poorly, most likely, it’s … immorality, lack of soul”
You get the point.
Granted, Russians’ poor regard for their civil service is entrenched in the culture. Just think of the enduring legacy of Gogol’s Akaky Akakievich. But this is not to say that Russian bureaucrats haven’t consistently provided kindling to keep such deleterious views burning bright. Two recent articles, one from Gazeta.ru and the other from Vedomosti, provide key reasons why.
The first article from Gazeta concerns Chief State Prosecutor Yuri Chaika’s annual report to President Medvedev. There was little in Chaika’s report to celebrate, and if its results don’t end his career as Russia guardian of the law, I don’t know what will. It certainly puts Medvedev’s campaign against corruption into perspective. Medvedev can raise the penalty for corruption as high has he wants. He can also point ad nauseum to the endemic problem of corruption. And even if the “real” Medvedev stands up, be sure the political reality that is Russia will strap him right down. After all, you can’t punish if the very organs of punishment are unwilling to. Here’s what Gazeta has to say to this effect in Chaika’s report:
There were 40,600 crimes “against the government, the interests of civil service, and the employees in local government offices.” That is 12.2% less than last year. In the past year the Investigative Committee initiated 13,500 criminal cases involving corruption and refused to carry out investigations in 21,500 cases. But in the last year and the number of investigations on bribe taking shrunk by 2%, on abuse of official authority by almost 6%. There was an insignificant growth in the number of investigations against commercial bribery.
In manufacturing, investigators had 18,000 criminal corruption cases, but investigations were completed in less than half of them. The courts tried 7,300 criminal cases, of which 2,400 were about giving bribes, 1,400 for taking bribes, and even 1,100 for fraud. The courts tried 2,200 cases under other “corruption” statues.
And when it came to the people who were prosecuted, they tended to be rather small fries: “doctors, teachers, and low ranking police.” “Cases involving sums more than a million rubles totaled around a hundred.”
So much for Medvedev’s campaign. Even if he was serious, and I think he is as serious as he can be without undermining his support among the elite, the hundred-headed monster has more domes than a mere gnome can lop off.
Bribes do pay. Quite well. And their costing the vast majority of Russia a whole lot of cash. The costs, however, are not just from individuals paying bribes, but in the price of doing business. These costs were the subject a recent article in Vedomosti on the impact of ineffective and corrupt bureaucrats on the cost of commercial property, goods and services. Among many things, the business daily reported:
Poor institutions are responsible for 25-30% of the cost of residential and commercial property (in Moscow up to 60%), a 15% extra markup in retail goods, and 10% in telecommunications service.
Bribes to get the necessary permits for construction amount to 5-15% of the cost of the project, and 7-10% for hooking up utilities. All of this at the end of the day gets passed on to the consumer.
Then there is this:
The cost for permits from various government levels can consist of 30 to 60% of the cost of construction of buildings depending on the region and difficulty of the project,” says Dimitry Potapenko. Permits can drag for years, like for example, it’s turned out for IKEA in Samara. The Swedish retail store began its construction in 2006 and has yet to get the permission to open. In addition to the planned 4 billion ruble investment in the project, IKEA is forced to put in twice more.
Not the best way to court foreign investment.
With findings like these, each head of Radishchev’s monsters is living quite well on the food prepared by the Russian people.Post Views: 326