Peter Rutland is a professor of government at Wesleyan University. He writes widely on Russian political economy and politics and is author of two books The Politics of Economic Stagnation in the Soviet Union and The Myth of the Plan: Lessons of Soviet Planning Experience. His most recent article is “Petronation? Oil, Gas and National Identity in Russia,” published in the journal Post-Soviet Affairs.
Killing Joke, “Money is Not Our God,” Extremities, Dirt, and Various Repressed Emotions, 1990.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
If Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin’s warning last week that Russia’s recent economic bump will most likely be short lived got you down, don’t fret there are some economic spheres besides McDonald’s that are going strong. As Time reports, leech farming is a “flourishing industry” and “a bright spot in a Russian economy.” That’s right, leeches. Not the oligarch kind that sucks wealth like a like a crack addict hits the pipe. The slimy, waterborne, blood sucking kind, or as known by its Latin moniker, Hirudo medicinalis.
Russia is leech producing central, churning out 10 times more blood suckers that any other country. The base of operations is the International Medical Leech Center at Udelnaya, southeast of Moscow. The Institute has a long history. Beginning in 1937, Udelnaya was the center of Soviet leech production. It’s unknown what their production quota was in Stalin’s Third Five Year Plan (1938-1941), but the Center produced about 3 million leeches a year. The number is evidence of how widespread leeches were used in Soviet medicine. Every Soviet pharmacy was required to carry a stock of at least 25.
The use of leeches continues to be a sound medical practice. According to Time,
[The Center] is now taking advantage of the growing popularity of leech therapy, also known as Hirudotherapy, around the world. Demi Moore last year spoke about the cleansing effects of leeches; Britain’s National Health Service buys 50,000 bloodsuckers every year; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved leech therapy in 2004 because they proved beneficial in increasing blood circulation for patients who have had skin grafts.
Today the center sells the leeches to plastic surgeons, who put them on wounds to reduce the chance of scarring, to dentists, who apply them on gums to reduce swelling, and even to gynecologists, who use them to treat sexually transmitted diseases (Yes. You imagine right.). The oral cavity of the leech is rich with an anticoagulant, which allows the animal to feed continuously on blood but which also delivers the anti-clotting substance more effectively to the area of a wound than would a small injection puncture. Indeed, leeches are used very much like syringes. After a leech is used on a patient it has to be killed. “It’s like a disposable syringe, it isn’t good sanitary practice to use it twice,” says Gennady Nikonov the director of the Leech Center.
Perhaps strangest of all are the emotional relationships technicians at the Leech Center have formed with their leeches. Their jars require constant cleaning because, as Elena Titova, a 25 year veteran at the Center, explains, “Leeches urinate non-stop for three days after they are fed. You have to clean their jars very frequently during this time; otherwise they poison themselves with their own waste.” The staff feeds its stock “certified cattle blood” except on holidays when they treat the leeches to veal blood “as a treat.” According to Nikonov, raising leeches has a gender component. Women are more nurturing than men, and since each employee is responsible for their own crop, some organize their vacations around feeding so no one fiddles with their leeches. “Leeches are very attached to their owners,” Titova believes.
Besides their use in surgeries and other procedures, leeches are also the central ingredient of Nikonov’s skin care line, Bio Energy:
Some of the leeches go into Nikonov’s own skin care range “Bio Energy,” which is made at the Center. The most expensive product, an anti-aging cream, contains dried, freshly-hatched larvae and retails for 47,000 rubles ($1,300) for 15 grams. The idea for the cosmetic range came after the collapse of Communism, when pharmacies were no longer required to sell leeches. “We had no money and the staff would go several months without wages,” says Nikonov. “We had too many leeches and we wanted to try and create something exciting and profitable.” Nikonov explains that the deconstructed leeches become ingredients in a cream, helping it the skin’s surface to improve circulation of oxygen, fats and protein. All this, he claims, leads to younger looking skin.
The biggest export market for the Center’s leeches is France. Nikonov, however, says that he remains very selective about his clientele. “We are careful about who we export them to,” he says. “I know in certain cuisines people put the leech on a goose. They wait until it gets fat on the goose blood and then fry the leech like it’s a sausage. This is considered a delicacy. I feel sorry for the leech. They should not be used this way.”
Okay . . . I guess it works if you work it.
By Sean — 10 years ago
Vladimir Putin just keeps racking up the accolades. As everyone will remember, Time magazine caused a stir when it named VVP Person of the Year 2007. Now Vanity Fair has named him Numero Uno on its The New Establishment 2008 list. VF‘s blurb on Vlad the Invader,
SPHERE OF INFLUENCE: After eight years as Russia’s president, Putin’s still at the height of his power. He saw his approval ratings top 80 percent, thanks to an economy revived through energy profits, which has made it easier for him to get away with his antipathy to free speech and other civil liberties—he controls the media and imprisons or exiles his enemies. And cashing in on Russia’s natural resources has enabled Putin to pay off the nation’s foreign debt, rebuild its military, restore its pride, and re-assert its place in world affairs. Faced with presidential-term limits, Putin, 56, sustained his formidable power by becoming prime minister and leader of the overwhelmingly dominant United Russia party. He also all but installed his longtime protégé and former campaign manager, Dmitri A. Medvedev, as Russia’s new president through a reportedly rigged March election. But by all accounts Putin was the commander in chief in its recent foray into Georgia.
ENEMIES: Georgia and former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is the leader of the opposition coalition Other Russia and has had the nerve to challenge Putin’s iron rule.
RUMOR HAS IT: Putin has secretly stashed away more than $40 billion (from Russia’s oil-and-gas riches) in secret bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
EVIDENCE OF POSSIBLE LACK OF MODESTY: Putin’s exhibitionistic tendency to go shirtless (and show off his buff, hairless physique to photographers) while fishing with Monaco’s Prince Albert II or hunting in the Siberian mountains.
SHOULD BE EMBARRASSED ABOUT: Putin has done little to rein in the country’s ruling kleptocracy. In a recent call to analysts, Rupert Murdoch said, “The more I read about investments in Russia, the less I like the feel of it. The more successful we’d be, the more vulnerable we’d be to have it stolen from us.”
And when you consider all the above, his pecs, and his hunting skills, what a mensch!
By Sean — 8 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.