Corruption in Russia: I Want Less of It, or More Participation In It

Uncle Volodya says, "This proves a high-ranking politician can be disgraced without the requirement for hookers or gay sex in a public washroom. Refreshing."

Before we get started, I apologize for the lengthy delay in posting. As I probably mentioned elsewhere in the comments, my in-laws are visiting from the Far East; also, Christmas is a very busy time for family – for those so fortunate as to be with their families – in Canada. There’s the Christmas shopping to be done, traffic is crazy (the city I live in is only about a million if you include incorporated suburbs, but at this time of year, you’d swear it was New York or something nutty like that, I don’t know where all the people come from). Anyway, I’ve found that being on vacation allows me a great deal less free time that I was used to having at work; a fact that might be viewed with equal astonishment by my employers.

I’ve never had the opportunity to be in Russia for Christmas, but I’m told it’s not anything like the occasion it is here. To my even greater regret, I’ve never been there for New Year, which I’m told is the social event of the season. It sounds like a great time, and I hope to experience it in the years to come – perhaps in St Petersburg: I’ve always wanted to see St Petersburg.

I’ve finally received Kovane’s latest work, his long-awaited omnibus piece on corruption in Russia. As is becoming his hallmark, this work strikes me as brutally honest – so much so that I’m afraid I’m going to have to climb down a little in my defense of Russia on this issue. The problem is much more serious than I ever thought, and much deeper entrenched. It’s an enormous challenge for the government, and changing what is for some the habit of a lifetime is going to be a daunting task. As I usually do, I wish Russia success in its efforts, and encourage…..well, encouragement. Let’s not waste any more time, but get right to it. Kovane?

“Just recently, reading the news made my forehead sweat. Transparency International once again downgraded Russia in their Corruption Perceptions Index; the head of the Kremlin’s control department, Konstantin Chuichenko, announced that by his conservative estimate, the Russian budget is 1 trillion roubles short due to corruption in the state procurement system (around 20% of the total amount).

This revelation plunged me into despair, and made me feel like an utter failure – everyone seems to be getting in on the sweet juicy action, and I’m missing out on all the fun. Meanwhile, the subject of corruption became the first violin in the merry band of those who are keen on portraying Russia as a failed state. It’s a mandatory part of any diatribe, whether concerning another prediction of Russia’s inevitable and forthcoming end, or the latest multi-page enumeration of Vladimir Putin’s sins. Is corruption in Russia a state-threatening phenomena? Is the current political system intrinsically unable to overcome the problem? In order to answer these questions, we should look critically at current methods of gauging corruption, its characteristics pertinent to Russia, and the very nature of corruption itself.

Economic theory teaches that corruption is a very broad umbrella term, including such many-sided forms as bribery, embezzlement, kickbacks, cronyism, police and judicial corruption, electoral fraud and trading in influence. Some of them, like petty bribery and clan cronyism, are more inherent in traditional societies; others, like trading in influence and lobbyism, are the hallmarks of developed democracies. But at the end of the day, all of them combine in about the oldest game, which has existed as long as humanity itself – the intertwining of wealth and power. The common attribute that allows their grouping is that all these forms come from the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Their economic effects vary significantly, from paralyzing and crippling to even mildly beneficial, enabling navigation through an over-regulated economy.

There are many ongoing debates about the nature of lobbying: at first glance it’s a completely legal process, intended to be a competitive way for different groups to influence the government’s decisions. But in practice, lobbying turns out to be very reminiscent of corruption and prone to abuses. For example, US health care spending is approximately 17% of GDP, while Canada spent 10% and UK around 8%. Comparing the quality, WHO’s overall health service performance ranked the US below both Canada and UK in the terms of “composite measure of achievement in the level of health”, but this survey is certainly not without its detractors. The point is that the necessity of changes was evident to everyone. And any chance of meaningful reform was worn down in backroom dealings. What’s the result? All prognoses show that the costs will only go up, which means that more than 7% of GDP ends up in the pockets of the health care industry due to inefficiency. And the whole process is completely legal, no corruption whatsoever.

The situation with US health care demonstrates another economic aspect. Much more often than not the market fails to achieve an efficient allocation of resources, due to either information inequality, externalities or the tendency to monopolization. All these negative factors can be corrected to some extent by the state’s interference. This becomes the source of corruption, of course, but if the interference is reasonable, the economic loss from corruption is less than the potential loss from the market failure, so state involvement is acknowledged as the lesser evil. Of course, the degree and forms of interference are subjects of heated debate, especially given the tendency of bureaucracy to encroach on the controlled sphere.

What makes corruption such an ingrained problem – and complicates battling against it – is that the victim is often the state or an unsuspecting third party. Only in certain cases, like a rigged court decision, can the side that is wronged draw attention to the shady dealing. That happens fairly regularly in Russia when, under the pressure of public opinion, some court decisions are reviewed. But a much more common picture is when virtually no one is interested in the investigation of corrupt practices: for example, in the case of kickbacks on state contracts, everyone involved is usually getting a share and the police have no incentive to cross the path of the influential people, especially when their own uniform is far from unblemished. Besides, those who line their pockets with state money are not eager to rush into Forbes offices to brag about their ill-gotten profits. That’s why making any estimates of a corruption level is so difficult; it can be gauged only by indirect manifestations.

Currently, there are several international organizations that try to quantify the data on corruption in world countries. The most often cited is certainly Transparency International, which annually publishes its Corruption Perception Index. The name speaks for itself: this indicator reflects how corruption in a country is perceived by a number of international NGOs, such as Freedom House and the Economist Intelligence Unit. Basically, TI crams into a single number such a complex phenomenon as corruption using opinions of experts whose objectivity and knowledge is certainly not without question. For example, head of Freedom House James Woolsey claimed that the Russian administration behaved like a fascist government, which isn’t a very promising sign of impartiality. But one of the stinkiest eggs on TI’s face is the recent financial meltdown in Iceland. The country which was number one on the CPI index ranking in 2005 collapsed in 2008, ruining the lives of ordinary people. Even preliminary investigations showed that an orgy between the government and banking industry greatly contributed to the financial catastrophe. Something tells me that most Icelanders would gladly exchange that first place for corrupt road policemen, if only TI took Iceland corrupt elites with it.

Anyway, in 2010, Russia scored abysmally low, 2.1 on a 10-point scale (the 154th place out of 178). Much objection was raised over this ranking, and certainly not without reason. For instance, these charts show the correlation between a CPI rank, GDP per capita and Human Development Index. Venezuela, Iran and Russia clearly stand out against the common trend, and I will offer no prize for correctly guessing what they have in common. The answer is too easy: the love of the Western world clearly eludes them. Responding to criticism of their methodology, TI introduced another indicator, Bribe Payers Index (BPI), which shows the willingness of businessmen from different countries to pay bribes when operating abroad. Russia came in 28th of 30, right above China and India.

A possibly more solid approach to measuring corruption is demonstrated by another NGO, Global Integrity. They try to evaluate not so much corruption itself, but anti-corruption measures implemented by a country, something that can be performed more objectively than TI’s divining how many bribetakers can dance on the head of a pin. However, Russia didn’t turn out to be a bastion of incorruptibility there either: it was given an overall rating of “Very Weak” and scored 69 of 100. Global Integrity also brought out the fact that the Russian legal framework is much better that its actual implementation. There are some other international organizations issuing estimates of corruption, but they are either working with TI or not especially influential. Admittedly recently developed, but already tremendously authoritative, will the Karlin Corruption Index become the staple of objective corruption assessment?  Time will tell.

Ironically enough, despite the visibly raging storm of public indignation in Russia, the number of non-government organizations that draw attention to the problem of corruption is small. It’s a local branch of the ubiquitous TI, the garishly liberal INDEM fund and Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights. They all issued reports on the state of corruption in Russia, and I will join them in their effort. However, my account will be different: I’ll try to describe the interdependent layers of corruption in Russia, rank them according to the danger they present, estimate corruption leverage they have and suggest the methods of dealing with them. Of course it will be subjective, but everything is when speaking about corruption.

Low-level corruption

As unpleasant as it is to admit, corruption in Russia is deeply rooted even at the lowest level. The source of this problem lies in the virtual devastation of the state after the USSR’s collapse. The wages of teachers, doctors, policemen and civil servants were devalued in a matter of months by hyperinflation. With the most capable having left for the private sector, the framework of society was quickly changing. For those who stayed, the only means to survive was by collecting small bribes. During the 2000s the situation improved somewhat, but still, wages were often half the average wage. Doctors, after 8 years of study, earn 300-400$, and this wage grows very slowly with experience. Nearly the same money is paid to entry-level road policemen; teachers make slightly more. This accounts for a very high churn rate there; the numbers of doctors, policemen and teachers having to be kept significantly higher than the world average. For example, there are four times as many policemen in Moscow compared to Vancouver, and two times as many compared to London. A similar picture is evident in health care. The ones who choose to occupy their lives with Russian health care or the police are a motley mix of true enthusiasts, low-qualified mediocrities and shady characters that learned to supplement their low wage with a hefty illegal income. The latter quickly understood a simple formula: “the state saves money on the wages, but turns a blind eye to some profitable escapades”.

Undoubtedly, the most lucrative spot is that of a road policeman; their bribery is infamous among common people. While official fines range from 3$ to 200$, they are quite inconvenient to pay: it requires going to a bank, saving the receipt, besides its leaving an official record. With a road policeman, you can solve the matter for as little as a third or half of the official fine, payable on the spot, no records. Don’t believe anyone who suggests that a road policeman extorted a bribe: they don’t need to. Supply is too high, they can allow themselves to be picky. A completely different story is violations punishable by disqualification from driving. A clever cop has merely to correctly assess the material wellbeing of the violator and how important the driver’s license is to him, in order to not drive too cheap a bargain. The bribe is usually from 100$ to 1500$. Earning a little bonus is much harder for doctors. The most common schemes are selling fake diagnoses, forcing unnecessary paid services on patients and prescribing various snake oils in the form of bioactive additives, for which doctors get a share of sales. But since doctors (of state hospitals) work primarily within the poor strata of society, the opportunities for illegal income are rare, so very few get to live in style on this kind of income. For low-level clerks, opportunities lie in expediting the process of obtaining papers; teachers content themselves with small shakedowns from parents.

At first glance, this type of corruption is pretty innocuous: it can be presented as an additional charge levied on the people who use state services. But such an interpretation leaves out several important negative consequences. First of all these practices increase the tolerance for corruption in society and subvert civil service, making it very inefficient. Second, petty bribery creates a bad image in the eyes of foreigners and contributes to the deterioration of the investment climate. Finally, involvement of a majority of state employees in illegal activity supports corruption at higher levels and facilitates criminal solidarity.

Luckily, the ways of eradicating low-level palm-greasing are well-known and relatively easy. Hell, it’s so easy that even such a boob as Saakashvili did it. Increasing wages to an adequate level, making honest living possible, is the first and most important step. Reducing the number of civil servants will help to come up with the required money. Establishing at least minimal anti-corruption measures is absolutely necessary to curb corrupt practices, as nobody will turn down the opportunity to earn more when  punishment is unlikely.

Corruption that extends the rights of the wealthy

Throughout world history, the rich and powerful have enjoyed a completely different code of rights than other people, and modern egalitarian societies have existed for two centuries at the very most. But even now, despite declared equality, means are far from being equal: money provides better defense in court, better education and a better head start for children. Or, as the “Pravda” newspaper had it in a column; “Two worlds – two fates”. But that’s unremarkable, and is only disputed by marginal utopianists. A distinct characteristic of a developed society is that it clearly defines the areas which are intended for economic competition, and which are not, or at least that’s the ideal to which to aspire. Russia, on the other hand, looks like a bizarre libertarian paradise – there is a market for almost anything. A glaring example of this is the Russian conscription army. There are so many ways to avoid it: a bribe directly to a local draft station, buying a medical certificate that shows that a person is unfit for service, through education or simply old-fashioned draft-dodging. As a result, conscription works as inverted selection – only those who are too stupid or too poor end up there, along with people who have other reasons to serve. That, to a large extent, accounts for the pretty dismal state in which the Russian army finds itself, and it forms a vicious cycle. The worse the army becomes, the more young citizens try to avoid it.

The education system suffers from similar problems. Before 2009, all universities held entrance exams, which were infamous for their corruption. Addressing this problem, the government introduced the system of unified school exams (EGE), intended to be less susceptible to string-pulling. But the effect turned out to be quite different. Corruption simply shifted from universities to schools and regional public education authorities, and now the whole country rejoices at the inflow of students from North Caucasus who scored 100 out of 100 points in a Russian exam – but can barely speak it. In a study conducted by the mathematical-mechanical faculty of the MGU, more than 60% of first-year students failed an exam based on EGE material. Any calls to repeal the EGE failed, so Russia has to live with it, and whether its flaws are temporary or systemic remains as yet unclear. If, with EGE implementation, universities lost the potential for illegal earnings through entry exams, corruption among academics remains the same. Some students even don’t visit the university, paying for the whole set of examinations. Although the system of bribery became more subtle in recent years, often disguised as private tutoring, the state of Russian higher education leaves much to be desired.

But definitely the direst problem lies with law-enforcement. It’s not a secret that, in Russia, criminal laws are not so strict for those who can afford it and extremely pliable to the influence of money. It is possible to derail a criminal case practically on any stage – from beat policemen to courts. Fairly regularly, news about crimes involving Russian big shots or their relatives hits the headlines, but then dies away; only pressure from public opinion – rarely – succeeds in bringing attention to these cases. And how many crime investigations are just smothered in obscurity? An especially dangerous situation is emerging in the localities where all scarce sources of income are controlled by a single entity. That leaves whole villages and cities to the unregulated will of the owners, where even police and bureaucracy serve their interests. Such incidents as Kondopoga or Kushevskaya are direct consequences of such processes. Indifference of authorities results in social tension and interethnic conflicts; they represent one of the most dangerous threats to Russia.

“The Economist” can be really proud: some kind of market for these services formed, and the size of bribe generally depends on the affluence of a region. For example, draft stations in regions set a fixed rate with a complex discount system. In Moscow the price is around 10 grand, in regions it is much lower – around 2 thousand. Considering the multitude of ways to avoid the draft, there is even competition on this market. Things are roughly the same with EGE and bribes in universities. One EGE in Moscow costs up to 2 thousand; in regions – around 500 dollars. Making a criminal case go away is really a custom-made product. The price starts with several hundred to patrol policemen, if the crime is petty, and may go up to several hundreds of thousands to sway the judge. Of course, there are many factors, such as specifics of the case, the resistance of the injured party and the number of middlemen. But for the right price, a compromise can always be found.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy recipe to solve all these problems. Only consistent improvement of the legal framework and introduction of strict control mechanisms will make some headway. Changing the attitude of the citizens is also vital – their participation in the battle against corruption will alleviate the efforts to expose unsavory dealings.

Graft and embezzling of state funds

Government officials in Russia quickly understood the safest and most potent way to profit from their positions – by controlling state expenditures. A more or less transparent system of government procurement was introduced as recently as 2006; since then, more than 20 amendments were adopted. Despite the seeming immaturity of the system, the International Budget Partnership (another NGO) evaluated it fairly well. But any positive estimates mean little, knowing the real picture. Only in 2009 Medvedev made publishing income declaration mandatory for government officials and their immediate relatives, and first results made everyone laugh. To begin with, a group of officials simply refused to do so, and complied only after the president’s direct demand. Some declarations turned out to be absolute comedy gold. For instance, Ramzan Kadyrov (Chechnya governor), who – according to a Wikileaks report – loves to run around giving gifts like  5-kg gold bullion and dances with his gold-plated pistol, owns only a small flat, slightly larger than a kennel, and an old Soviet car. Another tendency: Russia is a country of freewheeling feminism; very often high-ranking officials put onto the family budget only their relatively modest salary, while their wives rake in piles of dollars. Or, take Krasnodar governor Tkachev. He may not be very rich, but his 22-year-old niece is a rouble billionaire, and owns a couple of big factories and a large development company in the region. Hey, you didn’t have any factories when you were 22? Too bad, you should have worked harder, that’s the reason.

All jokes aside, while there’s no control over the earnings of civil servants, it would be a sin for them not to stuff their pockets. The number of tricks in their playbook to assure that the right company wins a tender is infinite: concealment of a lot; a rigged requirements specification so only the right supplier meets it, using insider information and many others. Creatively using any combination of them makes corruption extremely profitable, and virtually unproveable.

1 trillion, announced by Chuichenko as the size of theft in the government procurement system, is certainly more a political statement than the real assessment. Not because that’s too large or small a number, there’s simply no reliable methodology to do that. The most difficult part is drawing the illusive line between inefficiency and corruption. What price should be considered fair, and how to determine it? Experts say this estimate is derived from the statistics of the unified electronic trade platform, which is due to be implemented in 2011. During the course of bidding, the price lowers by 20% on average: the system is not yet operational in Russia, and hence the 20% is stolen. Such logic is certainly debatable, but nevertheless, it shows that there’s plenty of room for improvement in the current procurement system. The size of an illegal mark-up varies greatly, depending on the subjective component of a bid. For example, in a recently investigated corruption case, tomographs were bought with a 100% mark-up. State purchases of medical equipment, along with research and IT projects are the most corrupt areas, while other goods and services are less so.

The dangers of the current system’s ineffectiveness are evident: it slows down economic development, subverts the people’s trust in any state projects and provides inducement for capital flight – corrupt officials often prefer to keep their ill-gotten gains abroad in case of emergency. Perhaps the most revealing example is the public attitude to Russia’s winning the right to host the World Cup. A significant number of people voiced their misgivings that a large part of the funds will be stolen.

There’s only one solution to this problem – more openness and transparency, and the government, fortunately, realizes that. In 2011, the Unified state procurement system will be introduced; from 2012, more purchases will be made on an electronic auction basis. The general public is also acutely aware of the problem, and the struggle has already attracted a champion – lawyer Alexei Navalny. Despite having a somewhat blemished reputation – he flirts too much with the US, which doesn’t improve his standing in Russia, and is often accused of attention-seeking behavior – his attack on Transneft caused a lot of resonance not a while ago. Regardless of whether Navalny’s activities are honourable and honest, or just another conspiracy to bring Mother Russia down, they put pressure on state companies and compel such giants as Transneft and VTB to change old practices.

Corruption and business

A quite common leitmotif of describing business in Russia – in the Western press – is that it’s constantly teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, being bullied by the bureaucracy and fearing inevitable chekist takeover.  Is there any truth in that? Well, it’s undisputed that the Russian legal system is not the most business-friendly, to put it lightly. Many regulating legislations were grafted from the strict standards of the USSR, some others were drawn up with a maximum number of controlling clauses. A tendency of the most recent years is a very slow improvement of these regulations, but a lot more is still needed . The World Bank’s project “Doing Business” ranked Russia at 123th place according to the ease of doing business, which isn’t very reassuring. A closer look at the ranking revealed a lot of material for thought: no members of BRIC are doing better – Brazil is 127th, India is 134th and China is 79th. But that doesn’t stop these countries from rapid growth. Yet another example: Russia took the 182nd place of 183 for ease of dealing with construction permits (eat it, Eritrea at 183rd place!), and it’s fair to say that that placement is to a large extent justified. What’s surprising is that the bureaucratic barrier doesn’t strongly affect construction costs. According to the study by Rider Levett Bucknall, average building costs are on par with the European level, which confounds widespread myth about exorbitant expenditure on construction in Russia. These two facts alone demonstrate that the relationship between the government and the private sector in Russia is much more complex than the one-way street pictured in the media. The most appropriate characterization is the saying “strictness of laws in Russia is compensated with the non-obligation of following them”; and business gladly cuts corners here and there. For example, Russian labour law obliges companies to pay wages on time, properly register all vacations and keep detailed records. No wonder many businesses violate these regulations. They can pay the fine and correct violations, or they can order a “consultation” from a front firm, associated with a head of the labour law inspectorate, so everyone is happy. The capacity for illegal extortion actually is quite limited, as the firm can complain to the police, and an excessively greedy official will be arrested; such matters are best resolved amicably. Approximately in the same way, things work in other spheres of regulation: fire safety, tax regulations, etc. Often such arrangements backfire, as it was with the “Lame Horse” club in Perm. Its owner flagrantly neglected any safety regulations and, after the tragedy, was arrested along with the fire inspector who approved the club’s fire safety. For most businesses in Russia, paying a bribe is just a way to save money on the legal department. Instead of keeping track and following the constant flux of the arcane legal system, it’s often easier to work out an extralegal solution on an ad-hoc basis.  In any case, entrepreneurs are far from being a docile and intimidated flock, and they actively fight for their rights. And this struggle is often successful: according to statistics, more than 73% of all tax cases in arbitration courts are resolved in favour of businesses.

Such cumbersome regulations couldn’t get past the eyes of big companies, and they gladly use them against competitors. The ability to cast upon an intractable counteragent swarms of inspections, which can completely paralyze any activity, proves very handy in hard negotiations; that’s something called “administrative resource”. This creates an additional layer of competition; any comparable company has to have similar methods in its arsenal, or at least be able to repel them. Small businesses are rarely affected by attacks like that: nobody wants to bother with them, and they are much more flexible. Tight regulations are also the favourite trump card of the Kremlin. Alleged violations of ecological regulations were used as leverage in the buy-out negotiations with Shell in the Sakhalin project. Those bastards didn’t care enough about grey whales and orchids! UKOS was no better, according to inspection reports; they tortured pigs and rabbits which were subjected to, quote: ”non-systemic mating and improper accounting”. My heart goes out to them.

The aforementioned practices are certainly not alien to any economy, but in Russia they reached a much wider and more dangerous scope. This has a severe negative effect on the investment climate, and creates more uncertainty and risks for entrepreneurs in Russia. Furthermore, using administrative resource allows the creation of monopolistic conglomerates, which suffocate competition and slow down economic development. The economic leverage wielded by the authorities is quite substantial. Fines are large enough by themselves, but other penalties, which can paralyze an entire company, are much more dangerous. Even criminal prosecution is used as a tool in competitive struggle, so administrative resource can be the difference between success and failure. A good rule of thumb: don’t start a large project in Russia without a few good connections among local authorities. As to the ways to uproot these harmful practices, regulating legislation should be definitely reviewed and simplified. The only thing that would be worse than the current corrupt regulations would be if they were followed to the letter. But even the most perfect legal framework is useless without correct application. So, much closer attention to anti-corruption Investigations is an integral part of any solution.

Conclusion

So, what can be said about corruption in Russia? On the one hand, it cuts across all levels of society and is deeply ingrained in the habits of the people. On the other, it bridges the differences between an absurd state of affairs and what people consider fair. But whatever benefit it brings, there’s no denying that corruption causes social tension that can lead to violent outbreaks; it gnaws at healthy economic development, and provides plenty of reasons to expose Russia to well-deserved ridicule.

Does the current power in the Kremlin realize that? Certainly; beside the usual big and empty words, recent initiatives show they are clearly aimed at fighting low-level corruption. Police reform, increases in the wages of public servants and the reform of anti-corruption laws launched by the government are essential steps in that direction.

Should any meaningful measures against high-level corruption be expected? Not from the current leadership. What is there to say if today any man who has never paid a single rouble in taxes can bring a bag of cash and buy the most expensive car and house; and no institution is interested in impartial investigation of high-profile cases? In one of his interviews Vladislav Surkov, the chief Kremlin ideologue, said, quote: “It’s critically important to preserve political stability. Stability doesn’t equal stagnation, doesn’t mean stopping. It’s an instrument of development. There will be no modernization from chaos”. This statement underlines the importance the Kremlin attaches to stability. And given the political backdrop – where even younger, second-tier politician, like Vasiliy Yakemenko, get accused of ties with organized crime – it’s crystal clear that virtually each member of the Russian political and business elite has more skeletons in the closet than are at the Arlington cemetery. Mutual assured destruction is the only thing that keeps them together, and an attack on any member will have the effect of an avalanche. Luzhkov’s ousting showed that corruption charges are only applied after political defeat, and used to mop up the scene of unwanted allies of a “gone” politician. Everyone else is safe as ever. The Kremlin’s long-term strategy seems to be a very gradual tightening of the rules, simultaneously punishing softly those who refuse to give up the old ways. A more radical approach could be brought about sooner if the economy runs into inexplicable stagnation. Aside from that, it would be a miracle to see them before Medvedev moves into some nice retirement community.

Is corruption in Russia state-defining and ineradicable? No; as the experience of Singapore and Sweden shows, decisive and thought-out actions transform places that were previously considered to be strongholds of corruption. All that is required is political will. Moreover, most of Russians are tired of corruption, and support decisive measures against it. There are plenty of people and businesses that refuse to participate in shady activities, even though it puts them at a disadvantage. Sooner or later , Russia will cure its social illnesses.”

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190 Responses to Corruption in Russia: I Want Less of It, or More Participation In It

  1. rkka says:

    Excellent post, about an extremely serious subject. I especially respect it’s estimate of how deeply rooted it is, and the magnitude of the effort it will take to deal with it.
    It is a fine example of constructive criticism.
    Totally unlike the masses of destructive criticism of Russia, like that found at Streetwise Professor, Robert Amsterdam, The Economist, and in the leaked cables from US diplomats.

    The hallmark of their destructive criticism is the demand that it be fixed today, and Khodorkovsky released and Yukos sold to a Western energy conglomerate.

  2. Excellent summation of a complex phenomenon, kovane.
    My profound congratulations!

    As usual, some preliminary thoughts:
    (1) I didn’t know Sweden used to have a reputation for corruption. When?
    (2) About the KCI: I think I put Russia up by one more place than I should have, the 4-5 range is more appropriate for it. Especially considering the Navalny case, who got an politically investigation against him for his efforts, while the corrupt Transneft managers simply got transferred to Olympstroy.
    (3) What do you think of relative corruption levels in Belarus? If anything, the perception gaps there are even vaster than for Russia. One side believes it is every bit a tinpot dictatorship. Another side (inc. many Soviet nostalgists in Russia) believe its remarkably clean. Others (and I share this view) think it’s *more-or-less* similar to Ukraine and Russia.
    (4) My main beef with the CPI is that its “perceptions” are, in too many cases, wildly off-kilter from common sense. I just don’t see how Russia (2.1) is more corrupt than Zimbabwe (2.4) or Saudi Arabia (4.7), or how Italy (3.9) is more corrupt than Oman (5.3). On the other hand I do agree that CPI is important as a measure of “reputation” and in this Russia fails epically.
    (5) This “realistic” portrait of Russia’s corruption (as opposed to the “apocalyptic” pushed by the media) seems to resemblance in many ways China’s corruption. Weaponization of regulations to harass less-connected competitors. Close interconnections amongst regional political and business interests. The necessity of having good “guanxi” (i.e. “good connections among local authorities”). Impunity of the elites e.g. the recent Li Gang incident which is strikingly similar to the scandalous stories of UR bureaucrats riding over commoners and suffering no more than a modest fine and slap on the wrist. But the main difference between China and Russia is that truly large-scale (i.e. in the billions of dollars as with Transneft) appears to be far riskier in the former since those magnitudes of stealing are near certain to be punished, including with the death penalty.

    I hope these are enough to generate some initial discussion. I’ll return with more when I’ve had more time to think this material through.

    • kovane says:

      Thank you, Anatoly. Any praise coming from you is a great honour indeed.

      1) Quite a while ago, in the XIX century.
      2) Yes, I agree. Russia has a long way ahead of it to reach the Italian level of order (and that’s not the top standard, no offence to Guiseppe). I wouldn’t say that Navalny is persecuted in any way so far. An attempt to dig up some dirt on him is quite natural for those whose interest he crossed. This is a destiny of all champions, they have to be of a snow-white reputation. If some case against him is fabricated and he is convicted, this will raise serious questions. But Navalny seems to be a smart fellow and he knew what he was up to, so he was very careful in past. I very much doubt that any investigation against him will go any far, this will be a huge PR failure, and Medvedev/Putin showed that they try to avoid it.
      3) I have to admit, I’ve never been to Belarus, but know many people from there. Low-level corruption is without questions worse in Russia, but that’s because policemen are earning decent money in Belarus. As to other forms, Belarus is a reformed Soviet Union, with a tightly-controlled market economy with many regulations at the bottom and quasi socialism at the top. So bribery and cronyism is widespread there as well. But the country is much smaller than Russia, so it can be controlled much better. In any case, it can’t be that far from Russia in the TI ranking.
      4) It’s not even the glaring gap between the Ti ranking and common sense that dazzles me, but their extremely faulty methodology. Compiling the opinion of dubious experts and a further attempt to impart a flair of a scientific weight to the resulting evaluation is even worse than a beauty pageant. Let’s be honest, Russia will fail in the eyes of the Western world for many years forward, irregardless of its state and actions.
      5) Once again, I agree. I think that all BRIC countries are common in that way, with some specifics (crime in Brazil, mass poverty in India, etc). The main difference between China and Russia, in my opinion, is that Russia has a large rent-seeking part of the economy. It creates obstacles to to the fight against corruption, as many are simply interested in preserving the current state.

    • Tim Newman says:

      My main beef with the CPI is that its “perceptions” are, in too many cases, wildly off-kilter from common sense.

      Funny, I thought much the same about your own corruption index. Not that I’d fault you for putting it together.

      I just don’t see how Russia (2.1) is more corrupt than Zimbabwe (2.4) or Saudi Arabia (4.7), or how Italy (3.9) is more corrupt than Oman (5.3)

      I’ve done business in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Oman and have had extensive dealings with Italy’s largest government-owned company. I could probably agree with those rankings and offer an explanation as to why, and it would lie in the level at which bribes are paid (which I mentioned in my other comment). Without meaning to sound overly harsh, I am hardly surprised you find the corruption index to be strange to you when you have no experience doing business, especially in corrupt regimes. By way of comparison, I find the yearly university rankings to be most odd, and sometimes I even comment on that, but in actual fact I haven’t the slightest experience of how universities would be ranked or even how research could be weighted. It’s very hard to judge something you don’t know much about, as stuff which would seem obvious, or accepted wisdom, is often no such thing.

      • I have a close friend in the education sector (engineering) with substantial international exposure. Based on work ethic, aptitude, and even direct bribe offers, he suspects that practically all the Saudi and Omani students got on the program “po blaty”. He also estimates the percentage as being far less for Russians, East Europeans and Botswanans, and probably non-existent for Koreans.

        Now obviously, international education only is only a small cross-section of society, there being plenty of others where Russia may well be supreme (e.g. road construction, state oil companies). But even if it’s as huge as you claim – and I don’t deny it might be, if Navalny’s findings about Transneft are both accurate and representative – at the very least it’s still formally illegitimate, even if accepted in practice.

        From what I’ve read, in S. Arabia, each member of the huge royal family is entitled to a large chunk of the proceeds from the oil activities. The country itself and its oil company are even in name considered to belong to the “Saudi” family. The difference from Russia seems to be that real corruption is factually “legalized”. So if that makes S. Arabia get higher “rule of law” scores, that’s just great for the Saudis, but if I was an ordinary citizen there I’d be just more despairing because even the formal law would be on the side of the thieves.

  3. Yalensis says:

    Great post, kovane, and very good discussion of some very difficult and intractable problems. I would recommend to government to go after low-level corruption first, because 1) it’s easier to tackle and could give some early success, and 2) is most felt immediately by the “little person”. Of course, if someone steals billions from the state, that is obviously more important in the scheme of things, but the average person doesn’t feel it as much; but feels keenly if there is injustice, for example, in some local court case. This was brought home to me in minor incident: I was accused (falsely) of scratching someone else’s car, but fortunately for me, investigating cop was honest and smart and explained to other driver how it couldn’t have been me, since the color of paint on their scratch didn’t match color of my vehicle, etc. So I did not have to pay fine. If cop had been corrupt (or incompetent) and taken other driver’s side, I would have felt injustice very keenly. It is these small incidents that matter most to average person, in my opinion.

  4. Tim Newman says:

    Good article, one of the few I’ve read which addresses the realities of doing business in Russia. A few comments:

    Is corruption in Russia a state-threatening phenomena?

    IMO, no. But it will cripple any chance Russia has of realising its potential.

    As unpleasant as it is to admit, corruption in Russia is deeply rooted even at the lowest level.

    Not quite the absolute lowest. In Nigeria, you have to bribe the housekeeping boy to clean your room in a hotel which charges $250 per night. High-level corruption, such as that in the Middle East, where you pay the Crown Prince a billion and from thereon it’s plain sailing, is workable. Low-level corruption, where you have to pay a bloke a dollar to open a gate, is not. Russia is too far down towards the low-level, if they could reduce that, the high-level stuff wouldn’t pose much of a problem.

    What’s surprising is that the bureaucratic barrier doesn’t strongly affect construction costs. According to the study by Rider Levett Bucknall, average building costs are on par with the European level, which confounds widespread myth about exorbitant expenditure on construction in Russia.

    I suspect there are two reasons for this. Firstly, a non-connected company will experience enormous costs, whereas a government-mandated project or well-connected company will merely bypass the bureaucratic obstacles (including those regulations which exist for very good reason). Secondly, there is probably no comparison in the quality of construction. Chances are a 20-storey tower block in Germany would cost the same as a 20-storey tower block in Russia, but the former would be excellent and the latter a bag of shit.

    On the one hand, it cuts across all levels of society and is deeply ingrained in the habits of the people. On the other, it bridges the differences between an absurd state of affairs and what people consider fair.

    That’s a pretty good summary.

    Sooner or later , Russia will cure its social illnesses

    But I don’t share his optimism. I see far too much of a propensity amongst Russians to fuck one another over at the first opportunity. Not that this is by any means unique to Russians.

    • kovane says:

      Thanks, Tim.

      if they could reduce that, the high-level stuff wouldn’t pose much of a problem.

      As I already said, that’s exactly my opinion.

      a non-connected company will experience enormous costs, whereas a government-mandated project or well-connected company will merely bypass the bureaucratic obstacles

      Yes, companies that work in the construction business in Russia for a long time clear those hurdles without a hitch, either by knowing all ins and outs of the law, or by knowing a few right people. The bureaucratic barriers pose threat only to smaller and unexperienced firms, and considering the very small construction period in Russia, costs could easily skyrocket for them.

      but the former would be excellent and the latter a bag of shit.

      I have certain doubts about that. My understanding is that Rider Levett Bucknall gathers their information from large international companies rather than some local construction ones. Are you saying that the same international company will build a top-notch building in Germany, and a shoddy hovel in Russia?

      But I don’t share his optimism

      That depends on what you consider to be a full recovery. Uprooting the low-level corruption is relatively easy, even in the late USSR bribery among the police was minimal. Getting rid of shady dealings at the top is nearly impossible, but they can be kept in check.

  5. Tim Newman says:

    Are you saying that the same international company will build a top-notch building in Germany, and a shoddy hovel in Russia?

    Yes, pretty much. I’ve built stuff in Russia under the banner of an international company, and in applying local content laws we had to employ Russian subcontractors who got where they were on connections, not competence. Most of the workforce were appallingly paid Kyrgyz or North Koreans, which wouldn’t be so bad were the supervision or quality control any good. Sadly, neither were, and the completed buildings were an embarassment. Couple that with some of the Russian design standards bringing some pretty weird factors into the project (i.e. stupidly oversized structural members) and compliance with ever-changing regulations requiring retrofitting or late design changes, and the finished product in Russia is almost always pretty poor. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a building in Russia finished to western standards which did not date from at least Stalin’s time. Although there were a few buildings in Khabarovsk which looked as though they might have, but I didn’t get to inspect those up close. Certainly, the newly built apartments in Kazan and Moscow, plus the new Mega Mall in Kazan would fall short, and I got to see those up close.

    • marknesop says:

      This is probably a stupid question, but are there no Russian international construction companies? Is it possible the domestic industry has no idea how things are done elsewhere? There’s no shortage of Russian labourers here, many of whom do excellent work, and some of whom have built excellent reputations for their stonework and tiling expertise, as well as carpentry. It’s not a matter of them just being too clumsy or uneducated to follow code and do quality work. Also, I’ve always been curious – why do they put the water-supply lines above ground in Russia? The heat loss must be terrific, they’re always open to tampering and they take up space that could be used for additional construction.

      • Tim Newman says:

        Is it possible the domestic industry has no idea how things are done elsewhere?

        Again from my experience, I found the Russian codes, standards, and building practices to be almost hermetically sealed from the rest of the world. Not that they were all bad, but even the good ones were often hopelessly out of date. For example, the structural codes would not recognise the use of computer modelling to determine the most efficient size and configuration of structural members, something that is done as standard in the west. So you end up with about twice as much steel in your building as most other places in the world. Russian companies used to Russian methods would be pretty hard pressed to compete overseas. I think this is going to become very apparent to Gazprom as it gets more involved outside of Russia.

        There’s no shortage of Russian labourers here, many of whom do excellent work, and some of whom have built excellent reputations for their stonework and tiling expertise, as well as carpentry.

        Russians have never lacked individual skill and ingenuity. Unfortunately, that’s only part of the story in getting a job done.

        Also, I’ve always been curious – why do they put the water-supply lines above ground in Russia?

        A few reasons. Firstly, it’s cheaper and easier. Secondly, burying stuff in Russia is hard because the freeze-thaw of the ground tends to destroy stuff that’s buried. Thirdly, it’s easier to maintain (assuming it needs maintenance, which if it’s built properly it won’t, but nothing is built properly in Russia).

    • kovane says:

      Yes, pretty much.

      This is ridiculous, Tim. I have no doubts that some companies can’t organize a proper construction process, even as big as Shell (it was Shell, I presume). But to think that the biggest consulting agency that specializes in construction all over the world doesn’t take into account quality is unfounded at least. When they give a number under the category “premium-class offices”, everyone reading that has to understand that it means a shed in Russia and a palace in Germany? Do you have any information to corroborate that? Otherwise, you shouldn’t extrapolate your personal experience to the whole construction sector in Russia.

      • Tim Newman says:

        This is ridiculous, Tim.

        Yes, it might seem ridiculous to you, but it doesn’t to me. Like I said, I’ve seen construction projects up close in Russia (I stayed with a mate who was the PM of the Mega Mall construction in Kazan), I’ve stayed in enough new-build residential blocks, and been personally involved with civil construction projects in Russia both at the design stage and the construction stage. And I’m afraid to say, the standards of construction in Russia are much lower that that found in the west.

        But to think that the biggest consulting agency that specializes in construction all over the world doesn’t take into account quality is unfounded at least.

        I’m saying nothing of the kind. What I am saying is that in this survey, which compares construction costs, they might not have applied a cost weighting to reflect differences in quality. The reason I think they didn’t is because it would have been extremely difficult to apply a consistent method of assigning monetary values to quality levels.

        When they give a number under the category “premium-class offices”, everyone reading that has to understand that it means a shed in Russia and a palace in Germany?

        No, but I doubt there are many who would consider a premium class office in Russia to be premium class in Germany. I currently work in one of Lagos’ most prestigious office blocks, but it is possibly one of the most appalling buildings I’ve ever worked in. What is considered premium class varies between locations.

        Otherwise, you shouldn’t extrapolate your personal experience to the whole construction sector in Russia.

        True, perhaps I shouldn’t. But I think I’m entitled to observe that what is written does not tally with my personal experience and offer an explanation as to why.

  6. luke says:

    When I lived in Russia last year the Russian Immigration authorities had to take our passports back for visa renewal once, upon which they “lost” them for over 6 weeks after the date that we were supposed to get them back, meaning I, as well as most other students I was with, had to walk around Moscow without valid identification for foreigners (which is illegal, of course). Some kids only got their passports back less than 24 hours before their flights out of the country. I know people who work in China, India, the Arab world, even Africa, and have asked them if they have had similiar experiences: none of them have ever had a similiar experience with such worthless and incompetent government.

    • marknesop says:

      Did you have other incidents, Luke? Or is your analysis of the entire government of the entire country based on the failure of one small part of it to return your passport on time? I only ask because it seems to have gone downhill terribly in the past 5 years. That’s the last time I was there, and they returned my passport exactly on time, so obviously there was nothing wrong with the government then.

      Cheer up; it could be worse. You could live here. We apparently have an incredibly incompetent and worthless government, since the Mossad loves to use our passports to carry out political assassinations.

      • Nils says:

        I hope that is sarcasm Mark. I was in Moscow this summer and everything was done on time. Additionally, I was in Pskov in 2007 and in St. Petersburg in 2008 (both for 6 months, I was on exchange in Pskov and I did my internship in St. Petersburg) no problems at all with visa. I have never ever had any problems with the Russian police or Russian bureaucracy but then again I have never ran a business there. The Russian police is always more than prepared to help me with my problems. But then again, all this is based on individual perception. Maybe it is because I speak Russian and the fact that I have been studying Russia since I turned 17, so I know what do to and how to bring it.

        • marknesop says:

          Yes, it was. Maybe it was because that was the first comment I read, and perhaps the commenter didn’t mean it that way, but it’s tiresome when someone attributes a general malaise to the entire country because somebody cut them off in traffic, or was rude to them when they were buying cigarettes, or some other trivial experience that has nothing to do with the overall running of the country.

          Not that I’m immune. I’ve flown all over the world, including on airlines where you’d think the only thing that could be relied on to stay in the air was the company flag, and that only because the flagpole on the roof holds it up, and only two airlines have ever grievously disappointed me. One of those was United, but that was a one-off; they made me miss my connection from LAX to Seoul because they sat on the runway an extra 45 minutes in San Francisco waiting for a connecting flight that was delayed. Doubtless those passengers thought United rocks, but I hated them.

          The other is Air Canada – hands down the worst airline in the western world. Subsidized by the government as the national airline, so it can’t fail, and bailed out every time its sarcastic stewardesses, tightwad meal service and propensity for treating baggage as if it were some kind of lottery causes their ridership to sink. I don’t feel I’m talking behind their back, either, as I’ve written customer service any number of times to tell them the entire airline would probably experience a quantum upsurge in customer satisfaction if they were bought out by Air Namibia. They’ve lost my bags more times than all other airlines combined. Still, I suppose my personal experiences have little bearing on the daily running of the business, with its thousands of customers. If for no other reason, because if they pissed everybody off the way they do me, not all the government gimmes in the world could keep them afloat.

          I’ve flown Vladivostok Air, and they managed to not lose my bags as well as serving an excellent hot meal – with real meat instead of those toasted skin grafts you get from Air Canada – even though the flight was only a bit less than 2 hours. In order to qualify for that kind of meal with Air Canada, you’d either have to be flying 18 hours straight, or the pilot. But there, I’m doing it again.

          I’ve never had any problem with visas or passport in Russia. The last time we visited, I didn’t even go in person to register my visa – I sent my passport in with a friend we were staying with, because his company does business with the hotel where I was supposed to be staying, and they stamped my visa for the entire stay even though I was never inside the hotel.

          • Tim Newman says:

            The last time we visited, I didn’t even go in person to register my visa…

            I’ve visited 36 countries in the world and only 1, Russia, required I register my visa on arrival. It’s hardly a defence of Russia to say you had little problem negotiating a bureacratic obstacle which doesn’t exist almost anywhere else. I suppose I didn’t have any problem registering my visa when I was last there, but it still took 4 hours.

            • marknesop says:

              I’m….getting the feeling that anti-Russian commentary goes down much better with you. I wasn’t actually defending Russia. I don’t feel the need to do that; I like the place, and haven’t had a bad experience there. If it’s excruciating for the building industry; sorry. It has a corruption problem, as discussed here, but I’m more interested in its resolution than in pointing and snickering. I don’t get why Russia inspires such loathing – is it because westerners feel like it should be part of the big old one-hand-washes-the-other, I’ll-scratch-your back, easygoing wealthy people helping each other system, and are disappointed because it’s not? North Korea doesn’t inspire such constant baiting and vituperation, and it’s orders of magnitude worse. China is…umm….not without its problems, but they have a lot of money to spread around, and money hides a multitude of sins. For some reason, Russia is the default love-to-hate country. Maybe it’s because its people are white – everybody expects the brown/yellow boogies to act like savages, but it’s just not on if you aren’t.

              It used to take quite a long time to register your visa in the USA, too, if you were from one of 23 Muslim countries, but people said they were crybabies when there were complaints. When you’re in another country, they said, you’re bound to put up with its customs. That program only lasted a year, but it was exemplary while it lasted for the attitude its hosts displayed – if you don’t like it, don’t come here. Nothing wrong with us.

              I’ve noticed that the degree to which westerners are comfortable with another country is heavily dependent on how much it’s just like home. Americans, for example, often don’t care much for a country that doesn’t have any McDonalds (American military people, anyway, which form the great majority of my experience). The ideal country, then, appears to be one which is exactly like home in its customs, traditions and available entertainments, while its people are simple and backward and don’t object to foreigners making enormous profits from its resources, yet the presence of foreigners is low so there’s less competition for those resources. This is pretty much the textbook description of what the USA tried to make in Iraq, although that’s….still not entirely successful.

              Granted, whenever I was in Russia, I was on vacation, and I’m sure having unlimited (within reason) time to deal with administration puts a different spin on things than if you’re there to work. However, I never had any trouble registering a visa, and never stood around waiting for it to be done, either. I always registered with a hotel, and just dropped off the passport and picked it up later. Everybody wants to know who’s running around in their country, and this just seems to be Russia’s way of keeping track. The alternative is to have the country full of illegal immigrants who came in on a visitors visa and never left; a problem whose scope was discovered by the Americans when they took steps to tighten up as described above.

              • Tim Newman says:

                I’m….getting the feeling that anti-Russian commentary goes down much better with you.

                It’s more a case of the pro-Russian commentary not coinciding with my own experiences. There is much positive that can be written about Russia, but sadly this is pretty rare (find me a post on Soviet and post-Soviet rock music, or anecdotes of chance encounters with Russians, who are the friendliest people in the world). Instead we usually get sugar-coated descriptions of Russian government policies or state behaviour, coupled with a dubious observation that it is no better elsewhere. If somebody wrote about those areas of Russian life which were not bludgeoned by the dead-hand of government I’d probably join in with positive comments, but I find it pretty hard to credit any government with anything, let alone the Russian government (although to be sure, there are positives).

                I’ve noticed that the degree to which westerners are comfortable with another country is heavily dependent on how much it’s just like home.

                I haven’t. Not in the slightest, and I’ve lived in Kuwait, Dubai, Russia, Thailand, and Nigeria in the last 7 years. Which countries are you basing your analysis on?

                Everybody wants to know who’s running around in their country, and this just seems to be Russia’s way of keeping track. The alternative is to have the country full of illegal immigrants who came in on a visitors visa and never left

                So how does the rest of the world manage? I find it seriously hard to believe you’re defending the Russian registration system as a necessity to prevent illegal immigrants.

                • marknesop says:

                  Well, I hope I’m not sugar-coating Russian government policy or state behaviour in any way. What I try to do here is suggest there might be a good reason for Russia doing things the way it does, as opposed to Putin just waking up drunk every morning and knouting a few of the peasants for pre-breakfast amusement. In fact, I’ve seen a great deal of the latter and pretty much none of the former – could you suggest a few sites you believe are sugar-coating Russian government policy? Also, I generally don’t argue that it’s no better elsewhere, although in diatribes about how horrible activity X is in Russia, I can generally find examples of somewhere that it’s worse that I hope will surprise. We had quite a bit of fun in that respect with the fake-diploma scandal at Sukhoi a little while ago, as the critic (the Power Vertical; Robert Coalson, to be more specific) was American while the USA is the biggest market for and generator of fake diplomas on the planet. I recall also, by way of coincidence, from research for that article that the number of “diploma mills” in the UK outnumbered legitimate universities by a wide margin, although the UK was far, far behind the USA.

                  Anyway, I hope I haven’t turned into a nightingale singing Russia’s praises where they are in no way justified. I took a quick look through the back pages, and didn’t see anything like that. I do tend to become annoyed when people publish blatantly silly things, such as Julia Ioffe’s snotty piece on how deep you could pave the road they’re building in Sochi to service the Olympics with caviar, Louis Vuitton handbags, and the like, because it’s gratuitously stupid and begging for a sharp rejoinder. I disremember the exact figures now, although I daresay I could look them up, on what the city of Boston as well as the State paid for the “Big Dig”, but I do remember (a) it was head and shoulders above what Russia has budgeted, (b) the Sochi road is much longer, and features a number of bridges through extremely mountainous terrain as well as a parallel passenger railway, and (c) there was no mention of the wanton wastefulness of the “Big Dig”, gratuitously silly or otherwise, in the Russian press. Anyway, while I understand perfectly that much of the budgeted funds will be lost to corruption, which is the underlying point, there are places who pretend to a much higher standard who are in reality no better at all, while they have honed hypocrisy to a razor edge.

                  Perhaps you are the exception to the rule, although it’s also likely most of the people I’m speaking of were either vacationers, students or military rather than businessmen. I could supply any number of incidences of visiting a foreign country in company with an American warship, only to have the sailors stream ashore in, say, Tokyo, and head for the nearest McDonalds. Really? you came all the way from Culpepper or Beaumont or Teaneck to eat at a place you could eat at any day of the week, and where the cuisine is unvarying (with rare exceptions – the McKiwi had beets on it, and the McAussie was made with peanut butter). Similarly, I’ve heard (this was quite a few years ago, but it might still make you laugh) no end of people say they didn’t enjoy their visit to the UK because the toilet paper was hard, gritty and rationed in tiny squares – one chap even brought back a piece in his wallet, as a souvenir. That, of course, was from a public toilet, probably in a pub, and it was the late 70’s/early 80’s. Nowadays, one’s bum can be assured of soft welcome more or less anywhere in the UK.

                  Russia is, generally speaking, a more insular country than others. However, even there tourism and immigration are two decidedly different things. I’m not suggesting Russia substitutes visitors visa registration for immigration policy. But everybody keeps track of who visits, either at border checkpoints or through the visa system for countries that require them for entry. I’m not suggesting everybody should adopt Russia’s policy of visa registration, just that it isn’t the grindingly onerous requirement some make it out to be. So what? It makes as much sense as complaining that Mexicans take a 3-hour lunch break. There are loads of unique situations throughout the world that plague visitors, and everybody just puts up with them.

            • And I know Russians in the UK whose family members in Russia have been refused visas by the fucking British government FULL STOP, even after getting them to reveal all kinds of financial and personal information about themselves. So cry me a river.

              • Tim Newman says:

                Right, but we’re not talking about the process of applying for a visa, and I’m not defending the idiotic visa laws which the UK has.

                Once again, someone having criticised the pointless visa registration system in Russia, everyone rushes to point out that the visa application process in other countries is stupid. Well, yeah, I know. I’ve crossed 150-something borders in the last 7 years, so I know something about it.

                But the visa registration system is monumentally stupid, because it is merely an extension of the citizen registration system which, thanks to its hobbling of the free movement of labour, probably does more to keep Russians poor than any other policy. But you’d be hard pressed to find that argument on any blog dealing with Russia. Elephants and living rooms spring to mind.

                • kovane says:

                  because it is merely an extension of the citizen registration system which, thanks to its hobbling of the free movement of labour, probably does more to keep Russians poor than any other policy.

                  Really? You obviously don’t know what you’re talking about here. Even for foreigners, the registration system is simplified now, and it merely oblige them to send a form by fax, without a personal visit (for a work permit, it was done to legalize hordes of illegal gastarbeiters). And of course, it is much more simpler for Russian citizens and doesn’t restrict movement across the country. So when you say that it hobbles the free movement of labour I don’t know how you can be farther from truth.

      • ETat says:

        Mark, you’re siting some muslim anti-semitic scam’ libellious article of ’98 to juxtapose Canada and Russia, kicking Israel along the way?

        I hope that was a joke, if in a very bad taste.

        • marknesop says:

          Oops; sorry, was that a muslim anti-semitic article? Here’s one from the decidedly pro-semitic Washington Post, describing the same incident. Here’s another that’s a little more recent: although Israel promised it would never happen again, they must have had their fingers crossed. That, or they meant they wouldn’t do it again using Canadian passports, because the next attempt that resulted in their getting caught involved New Zealand passports.

          I couldn’t find an instance of a foreign intelligence service getting caught using faked Israeli passports, and that includes the Mossad. You’d think that would be a simple matter; here, government passport guy – make me up a fake passport that says I’m Isaac Goldman, a perfume salesman from Haifa, I’ll need it for my next international assignment. Why don’t they do it, then? Because when some moke turns up dead in his hotel room in a faraway country, and the police start fanning out in search of suspects, they’ll be looking for a couple of Canadians!! Or a bevy of Brits, or a clutch of Kiwis!! Brilliant, isn’t it? And I be go to hell if here isn’t another report, from just this past March! If the UK is anti-semitic, it’s the first I’ve heard of it, but they don’t seem best pleased with this behaviour, I’m afraid.

          If there was a juxtaposition linking Russia and Canada there, I must have missed it. I suggested both countries had incompetent governments – and even at that I was being sarcastic – based on their sloppiness with passports and in response to Luke’s suggestion that the Russian government failed him because he didn’t get his passport back on time. That may be true, but at least nobody’s looking for him for trying to kill somebody in Dubai.

          • ETat says:

            now you are siting heavily muslim ass-licking lefty Grauniad?
            Yes, absolutely, UK Left is anti-semitic – have you not heard? You must be the last person on Earth so oblivious.

            How do you know that other foreign intelligence services (say, Russian for instance) are NOT using fake Israeli passports as a means of disinformation? That sounds so totally standard procedure, from what is known of modus operandi of those organizations, I’m surprised you even conceive such a poor example.
            Also, I grant Mossad total carte blanche in their operations. Anything they do to provide security to their country I applaud.

            I understood Luke suggesting something altogether different (and I ask him correct me if I’m wrong); namely, that he and his friends didn’t get his documents on time because they didn’t pay up the officials. Spelling it out: they didn’t bribe the passport clerk. That sounds very likely. Also likely, alternatively, that it was a matter of incompetence and bureaucracy.

            Feel free not to come to my blog anymore.

            • marknesop says:

              Whose blog? What, this one, where you said, “I can tolerate wide variety of themes; it’s the aggression, hysterics, unfair representation of your fellow conversationalists and generally rude, bullying behavior that will make me withdraw the invitation”? To be honest, I wouldn’t have guessed that was the same person. Far be it from me to tell you how to run your own blog, but I recommend you add “not being sufficiently pro-Israel, even when the actions taken by their intelligence services imperil innocent citizens of other countries while in the process of looking after their own”. Just a suggestion. And that’s “citing”, by the way.

              Let’s see… speaks and writes Russian….hates Russia….Heyyyy…..are you really Condoleezza Rice?

              • ETat says:

                But of course – the favorite manner of the lefties – when having no argument, point to grammatical mistakes of the opponent ( whose English is not native); when you came over with assumption that I’m of the same political persuasions as you my grammar and spelling didn’t seem to bother you, did they?

                I consider anti-Semitism a disqualification and rudeness against me personally, Mark.

                After you came over I was curious and check out your self-introduction. I didn’t put you on my blogroll and never returned to your blog after that – is that clear enough for you?

                So long, you will be better served by association with Soviet nationalists, as you do here.

                • marknesop says:

                  You…ahh…didn’t use the word “siting” out of context before, and I never assumed we were of the same political persuasion; in fact, some of your archived stuff was extremely conservative. That doesn’t really bother me, I have friends who are conservatives. If you don’t want to be one, my heart will of course be broken, but don’t concern yourself with my pain – save yourself, for the children if for no other reason.

                  Since when is it anti-Semitic to draw attention to a practice every ally who has been the object of it condemns? The Mossad uses the passports of foreign citizens while in pursuit of international operations that would be illegal in any country. There is a good deal of evidence that suggests the government of Israel “clones” the passports of foreign citizens who are visiting Israel for purposes of tourism and study. Using their passports puts them in danger – at the very least, of arrest and detention – for actions that took place when they were totally unaware and often not even in the same country. I didn’t make those up. The facts are what they are. Your attitude suggests it would be anti-Semitic to call an Israeli who was known to steal a thief. Similarly, if everyone did it, it wouldn’t be remarkable. But everyone doesn’t do it. I’m sure you could find examples of foreign agents using fake passports, but only the Mossad routinely does it, and uses the passports of real, living foreign citizens as a matter of course.

            • So let’s get this right. Criticism of the Israeli state, even when the actions it does imperil the lives of your own citizens, is vile anti-Semitism. That is all Jews, be they Israeli, pro-Israeli, neutral or anti-Israeli (not that those Jews exist) are one, always united behind Mossad and against teh Mooslims. It is in fact a massive Jew conspiracy just like the one described in The Protocols!

              OMG, did I get that right? Could ETat actually be, behind his Russophobe and Western chauvinist exterior, a rabid foaming at the mouth anti-Semite?!

              • marknesop says:

                Her. And I doubt it – the “Lawdy, I seen the light” conversions from a previous citizenship almost always result in hardcore, tea-party level conservatives. If you were to run a graph on how many Israel-Firsters are also hardcore conservative Republicans, I suspect the conclusion would be less than startling.

            • This is actually pretty hilarious. You are a US citizen (AFAIK), but – rather pretentiously, if I do say so myself – “grant Mossad total carte blanche in their operations” (not that anyone cares but still). Now Mossad is certainly no less nasty than the Russian intelligence services, and I for one have never even thought of doing the same for the FSB/GRU/SVR. Nonetheless, I am the “slimy viper, living in excess in California, a viper, who never knew a want, a heartless viper, professing love to the country he left – but only uses it as pretext for his narcissism”. LOL.

  7. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    Interesting reading Kovane. You’re right to stress that the CPI is a “perception” index. It may fit well with the actual corruption level in the oil industry, according to Tim Newman, but it doesn’t work at all with the US home loan industry, and more generally with the US credit system. Speaking of perception, the more I read about US politics the more I see practices that would be considered questionable or plainly corrupt by the average Italian, but that aren’t seen as such in the US.
    Back to Russia, how is the role of the press in disclosing corruption? I mean, is the press more or less objective or does it tend to make overclaims? I’m asking because the Italian press started long ago to make exaggerated claims, often with an all too clear political agenda, and the effect was to saturate a part of the public that now doesn’t care about these allegations.

    • kovane says:

      Thank you, Guiseppe. The situation with the press is a match for the whole picture. The liberal media blows out of proportion even the slightest hint of corruption, and immediately links it to the slogan “Putin must go”, the state media keeps dignified silence to the last moment and attacks if only it’s been sanctioned on a higher level, when it’s obvious that avoiding the topic will only do more harm.

    • cartman says:

      Georgia’s zoomed up behind Italy in the CPI, but I saw a report a few months ago that said that country has the largest shadow market in the world (although the study was done up to 2007). Those are goods and services that are untaxed, without any legal recourse, so how is that not counted in perceptions?

      • marknesop says:

        As I regularly remind screeching defenders of Georgia on other websites, all of Transparency International’s data on Georgia comes from the Georgian government; either directly, or from surveys of businesses that are also conducted by the Georgia government. TI doesn’t wander around in Georgia asking questions, it solicits data and draws conclusions based on what it’s told. Considering some of the nutty things Saakashvili has said over the last couple of years, it’s not hard to imagine the input is fudged a little.

  8. Yalensis says:

    Re. Gruzia: kovane had mentioned in his blog that they had some success in tackling low-level corruption: “Luckily, the ways of eradicating low-level palm-greasing are well-known and relatively easy. Hell, it’s so easy that even such a boob as Saakashvili did it.” This may be one of the reasons why Gruzia gets higher points in international indexes. (That, plus the West LOVES Gruzia. The favorite child will always get higher marks!)
    Re. luke’s stupid comment dissing the entire Russian government and system based on one anecdotal incident that didn’t even seem to harm him in any way: This point of view was refuted well by other commentators, but I just want to add that extrapolating a system from one example is usually a logical fallacy. Also, there’s nothing new in this gambit of attack against Russia: You can read plenty of anti-Soviet propaganda written during Soviet times (by Western visitors and also by Russian dissidents such as Solzhenitsyn), “proving”, based on minor incidents of daily life, that the Stalinist bureaucracy were the most corrupt and greedy bastards in the whole world. And yet, by modern standards, we now see that the Soviet system was relatively egalitarian and the levels of corruption relatively low. It’s like this: in Soviet times, the bureaucrats stole the towels from the hotel room. In modern Russia, the bureaucrats steal the entire hotel (and then pass it on to their irritating whelps).
    My point? I discount the opinions of Russia’s enemies, even when they are right about something. They are annoying in their relentless propaganda against Russia, and their intentions are clearly destructive.

  9. luke says:

    Oh, don’t worry Mark, that was only the beginning of the complete incompetence that I experienced in Russia, including having to be woken up at 3 am in the morning on the train by cops who were claiming my documents weren’t in order so that they could get a bribe. I knew plenty of Americans in Moscow and the general consensus is that the corruption and incompetence in the visa agencies has only been getting worse over the past 10 years.

    And regarding the registration system for foreigners – it’s completely pointless, I have Russian friends who work for local government agencies and are not registered to live in the cities or even apartments they are living in- maybe start with your citizens first? I remember a businessman who has been working in China and the Middle East for the past 15 years and then going to Russia and describing his experiences with the security there as reminiscent of only one country he has been to – Saudi Arabia.

    • marknesop says:

      Ah; so your beef is with the Moscow municipal government, not the federal government. All right, I suppose that’s understandable – did you know the mayor has since been fired? Maybe it’s improved; at least I haven’t seen any suggestions that it’s gotten worse, and even the liberal opposition is sourly optimistic about their new freedom to hold demonstrations. I suspect much of that is manufactured in order to avoid questions like, “what the hell is it you people want, anyway?”, since getting arrested was the biggest part of the attention-getting effort.

      I must lead a charmed life. I had a bit of trouble at the airport during one visit, as I was leaving, because the stamp in my passport wasn’t correct (didn’t encompass the accommodation requirement for the entire length of my stay). That was totally my own fault – I’d gotten lazy because of the previous lack of scrutiny, and just didn’t bother to get the hotel to stamp it, even though a child could have figured out I didn’t stay there. Which they probably established with one quick phone call, so I could have saved myself the trouble of lying (although I suppose that, too, is a necessary part of the process). Anyway, I had to pay a small fine for contravening immigration regulations regarding tourist visas, which I now recognize was probably a bribe. Gee, my first and only bribe. Anyway, I didn’t think it was a huge deal, especially compared with the unpleasantness that could have resulted, not to mention missing my flight and perhaps waiting in jail for the next one, since I was on the last effective day of my visa.

      But just to put it in context, let’s take a look at the way things are done in other cities of similar size. How about Shanghai? What? Eight hours waiting in line to see a 15-minute movie at Expo? Here’s my favourite quote; “Who would like to do things that are completely inefficient with loss greater than gain? Only Chinese are this robustly patient, obedient, reticent, and complaint free.” Corruption? I guess there might be a bit. Let’s take a look at Mumbai. Ooooo…. corruption is a problem – businesses lose between 12 and 30% of monthly profits to bribes. Granted, that’s only a blog, but so is this. Remember the Mumbai terrorist attacks? According to this reporter, “the common enemy was the incompetent government and lax politicians”. That’s bad; let’s try somewhere else. Let’s look at Karachi. Oops: bad idea. “Almost 60 per cent of the development budget in the country is generally pocketed by people involved in projects at their different stages, revealed a top auditor and a procurement regulator on Monday. ” New York is quite a bit smaller than Moscow, but let’s take a look just for the heck of it. Hey, wasn’t that the city where the Police Commissioner (Bernie Kerik) went up on federal corruption charges after being nominated to head the Department of Homeland Security for the entire country? Where the City Council was investigated for hiding $millions$ in secret accounts with phony names? In fact, according to the Foundation for Economic Education, the entire U.S. government is “more incompetent than ever“.

      The registration system might well be pointless, I’m with you there. However, I’ve never found it anything like the inconvenience you have. Maybe the situation is much worse in Moscow; I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been there.

      • Nils says:

        Mark I think you are completely right here. Let’s look at it from a Russian perspective. I do not know what the rules are for a visa to Britain/America/Canada but I sure as hell know what the rules for a Dutch visa are.

        1. Form with all your data
        2. Proof that u will return to Russia, this can mean:
        A. Proof of you owning a house
        B. If you are a student, document from the uni, stating that you study in Russia (also which year etc.)
        C. A contract (that you work) with data from your boss, including your wage (I also think that you need to earn 110% of the Dutch minimum wage).
        3. Someone needs to invite you, so (if it is a private visit) the dutchman in question needs to go to the municipal administration building to get one
        4. You cannot just drop around whenever it suits you (at the consulate) but you need to make an appointment with one of the Dutch employees at a special centre.
        5. Think about it: if you live in Vladivostok and want to visit Holland u need to send a week or 2 in Moscow to apply for your visa. Additional problems.
        6. If they don’t have the money for your stay in Holland (according to Dutch visa rules you need to have (I think but it is probably more) 300 euro per day. So that means a Dutch guy needs to state that he is responsible for the Russian citizen in terms of finances and ensures that he/she returns to the RF on time.
        7. If the application is granted, you are still not done. Uppon arrival in The Netherlands it is quite possible (if you travel alone) that the Dutch customs want to see your bankaccount to check if you are financially able to take care of yourself. If that is not the case, the guy who invited the person of the RF in the first place needs to come up and show HIS bankaccount proving that he can provide support.

        Nah does not sound bureaucratic at all. Russians=backward.

        • marknesop says:

          From what I was told combined with what I know, the biggest problems with obtaining a tourist visa to Canada are;

          1. The Embassy is in Moscow. If you need to report for an interview, which you frequently do, you have to get there at your own expense. From Vladivostok, in my wife’s case.
          2. Convincing them you’re not trying to jump the immigration line. When my wife protested that she had a child whom she would most definitely return for (this was before we married, and the intent was that she would come alone), she was told that sometimes people sell their children to raise the money to escape to another country, so that was not a guarantee. For the record, I’ve never seen any substantiation for that claim, and if true it would not occur so regularly as to be a genuine hazard.
          3. Substantiating your relationship. We had to supply pictures and personal letters to satisfy their curiosity. Remember, these are Canadians, not Russians, although the women who work in the visa section (or did at the time) were Russians; what’s called Locally Engaged Staff. The Consul in Vladivostok was also a Russian, a very nice lady named Tatyana Demenok.

          We supplied a good deal of the paperwork you describe, including the invitation and a variety of personal documentation on me as the host, including income and the like. Still, she was refused a visitors visa on three successive attempts, and I ended up going there because it was much easier. We were married in Russia. Her immigration process following that took 3 years, and included an interview at the Canadian Embassy in which a representative of CSIS (The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service) implied she worked for the FSB.

          • Nils says:

            Right that is most aweful Mark. My points was btw that Russians have a lot more trouble than we have. Yes Russia is bureaucratic but my country is far worse when it comes to visa handling even though 99% of the visa applications are approved. That is the ususal excuse of the Russia haters “well they get approved anyways” (u hear them thinking: if it is politically viable we can always use it against Russia).

            Mister van Rompuy: tear down this visa wall.

            • marknesop says:

              Well, the embassy officials in Russia (Canadians) are instantly suspicious of any young woman who is invited by a single man – and to be fair to them, you probably would be, too, because those are the circumstances most likely to result in an attempt to overstay the visa. Applying for a visa can be a demeaning experience (like anything that has to do with the government, I imagine) because some of them love the fact that they have power over you and make the most of it, making you feel like you’re some kind of criminal or something and squeezing you for personal information that gets them off but has nothing to do with your application. You almost feel guilty for inviting someone, considering what they’re going to be put through. But my wife’s experience was the worst – once she was here and established, we had no more problems. Her Mom was here earlier this year, and she and my father-in-law are here now, and no problems at all; they didn’t even have to go to Moscow for interviews.

              I don’t know that our countries are worse than Russia for Russians trying to get a visa to visit here or the Netherlands, but I’d agree they’re just as bad, because of the petty tyrants who gravitate to that kind of employment.

    • grafomanka says:

      Getting American/British/Canadian visa is a nightmare. And once you get the visa and land in America/Canada you can be still refused entry or kept handcuffed for hours, interrogated by security.

      • marknesop says:

        Well, I’ve never known that to happen (handcuffed for hours); that would be a most unusual response, and from my experience you would just about have to be wearing a “Al Qaeda Bomb School Class of 2010” T-Shirt to be treated that way. However, you might have heard about the incident at Vancouver International Airport, in which Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski was tasered to death by police. I’m not sure what started the whole thing, but he became extremely upset about something, and could not communicate because he spoke only Polish. He had arrived the previous day, but for some reason was not cleared by customs until after midnight. In my own experience with customs officials, they can be a small-minded and petty lot, the type who should never be given authority over someone else (I’m basing most of that on a single official who asked me a number of very personal questions about a visit to Russia, although I had nothing to declare and was born in Canada, that was at this same airport), although many have said they are very professional and I know they are always very good about providing services in any language, so there would have been someone available in customs who was fluent in Polish. Anyway, customs had nothing to do with his death, although they may have had something to do with his state of mind when things started to spin out of control.

        You can be refused entry anywhere – a visa is permission to enter based on circumstances that prevailed at the time of issue. If you arrive loaded, or made threatening statements during the flight, or any number of other things that make the authorities suspicious, they are under no obligation to accept the visa. Once we were interested in getting a U.S. visa that would simply allow us to change planes in Los Angeles (the main hub between the Canadian west coast and Russia); we didn’t even want to leave the terminal. We would have had to go in person to the U.S. Embassy in Vancouver, and wouldn’t even be permitted to bring our daughter’s stroller inside, my wife would have had to leave her purse outside as well. They were so paranoid about a bomb, you’d have to go through a screener, just like at the airport. It was all too much of a pain in the ass, and we flew around the USA instead.

        In my personal opinion, officials of anyone’s government who are employed at embassies and consulates abroad (such as those in charge of visas) are the worst of their kind – they all try to affect this world-weary, cynical, I’ve-seen-it-all-pal attitude, and their default seems to be “no”. Basically, you start out at “no” as soon as you sit down, and it’s up to you to jump through the hoops it takes to get them to “yes”. It’s never pleasant, and sometimes intolerable.

        • grafomanka says:

          Mark, the incident you mention was pretty nasty indeed. Also, I heard that apparently Canadians thought the guy was Russian. But bottom line is he behaved aggressively for whatever reasons and tragedy unveiled. Since then polish press started reporting more on similar stories from Canada and it does happen that people are arrested upon arrival, kept overnight, and deported (put on a plane in handcuffs which is pretty intimidating). And it has nothing to do with terrorist threats, rather poor souls are being suspected of coming to work illegally.
          Obviously custom officers can be very unfriendly in many countries, I was more complaining for the sake of complaining. I think being woken up by Russian border security at 3am (happened many times to me while travelling by train😉 is really not such a harrowing experience.

          • ETat says:

            So, the people you’re advocating for came to Canada illegally (you included my country, USA, too, but gave no evidence to your claim) and you are upset that they are refused entry? Do you have a concept of law and order? Of national borders? Of national interests?

            I am sure they are handcuffed only if they show resistance to uniformed officers. That’s the letter of the law and our forces follow it.

            I wish ALL illegals were sent back whence they came from, including (and especially) Russians.

            • In that case, you should move to France. They’re far better on that front than the lame-o US. Why, Sarkozy just recently deported thousands of Roma, like it was the good old 30’s! And even better, those subhuman Muslims in France are about 90% less likely to get a job which are as equally qualified for as a white Frenchman. I suspect you’ll feel right at home there! (Well apart from the socialism and stuff, but everyone knows that pales beside the importance of disciplining your subhumans correctly).

            • grafomanka says:

              I will explain this again. Those people in question were LEGAL – they had a valid VISA – they wanted to visit their relatives. They were refused entry because the Canadian border security ‘didn’t like them’. The guy that was arrested and send back to UK did not behaving aggressively, he didn’t do anything to invite such a treatment. Sorry I haven’t got this story in English
              http://wiadomosci.gazeta.pl/Wiadomosci/1,80599,7601112,Polak_nie_wpuszczony_do_Kanady___Do_samolotu_prowadzili.html

              I wish ALL illegals were sent back whence they came from, including (and especially) Russians.

              Yay, America for Americans!!!
              As some people in Poland say – if you want to keep your dignity don’t go to American embassy.

            • grafomanka says:

              Oh Mark could you delete all my multiple posts above, please? Sorry!

    • So what makes you think you are entitled to convenient treatment above the rest given the list of abuses and persecution against Russian citizens documented above?

      • Tim Newman says:

        You miss the point on this over and over. Nobody is saying that British or any other citizen should be entitled to special treatment. The point is that Russia would be significantly better off if it made its visa laws better. Simply pointing out that Russians get fucked over by other countries is a serious case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. But then, Russians are masters at that.

        • grafomanka says:

          Russia has this quid pro quo approach to visas, it seems fair. But I agree that it does lose Russia a lot of potential young talents wanting to come to work.

        • Preserving national honor and dignity is more important than the two or three measly billions of dollars extra in GDP that simplified Russian visa provisions would bring.

          I’m all for free movement between countries, and yes, that goes as far as to include Russia and countries like Tajikistan. But no self-respecting country should tolerate colonial diktats on migration flows.

          You think that’s “cutting off your nose to spite your face”. So be it. Better than the alternative, which in its metaphorical form involves bodily activities I’d better refrain from spelling out.

          • Tim Newman says:

            Preserving national honor and dignity is more important than the two or three measly billions of dollars extra in GDP that simplified Russian visa provisions would bring.

            This speaks volumes, especially from somebody who doesn’t actually live in Russia and is therefore not on the receiving end of such economic effects. In fact, this statement is worthy of a blog post in itself, so well does it convey the mentality with which so much of Russia is run.

            • I know that Ukraine during the Orange period hugely relaxed visa processes for EU (maybe US too) visitors. I do not recall there being a huge new influx of tourists or FDI associated with it.

              I’m very sorry for you having to spend 4 hours on dealing with Russia’s immigration authorities. But as someone who got detained and questioned for 6 hours at a US airport, and who knows a few Russians whose relatives can’t visit the UK after spending weeks collecting and faxing in documents, my sympathy is rather limited. Suck it up, old chap, as they say.

              • Tim Newman says:

                I know that Ukraine during the Orange period hugely relaxed visa processes for EU (maybe US too) visitors. I do not recall there being a huge new influx of tourists or FDI associated with it.

                Actually, they were relaxed temporarily for the Eurovision song contest, and made permanent thereafter. I took full advantage of this to visit the Crimea, having not found enough to time to get the visa for my preferred destination, which was Russia. But Russia would benefit far more than the Ukraine from relaxed visa laws, especially Moscow and St. Petersburg.

                I’m very sorry for you having to spend 4 hours on dealing with Russia’s immigration authorities.

                Again, you miss the point. In every country you have to go through stupid bureaucratic hoops when you apply for a visa and arrive. The problem which is unique to Russia is that everyone has to go through a whole load more after they’ve arrived, and it is this latter process which took 4 hours. The former involved $600 on a wasted trip to Malaysia to get a Russian tourist visa, only to find that the rules had changed that very morning and I wasn’t able to get one. But you’ll noticve I didn’t complain about that, in this post I am referring to the daft registration rules.

          • cartman says:

            Visa regulations are stricter in Western countries for Russia because they do not want Caucasian and Central Asian immigrants in their countries. Before you dismiss this, I recently read this was Germany’s concern (maybe it was in the cables). The problem is in Australia too, where a boat of asylum seekers from Iraq recently capsized killing 48 (even though Australians just helped wreck their country).

      • ETat says:

        What list of abuses? not one legitimate link, not one legitimate case, just a wide-brush generality, completely unfounded and insulting to my country.
        [I am led to believe, you reside here in US, too. May I ask, what are you doing here? You are better off back in your beloved Russia. You suit each other well]

        And what a logic! You find it fair to subject innocent foreigners to corruption and abuse in Russia just because your country does not respect its own citizens?
        No wonder Russia is such a Zoo.

  10. luke says:

    ” I discount the opinions of Russia’s enemies, even when they are right about something. They are annoying in their relentless propaganda against Russia, and their intentions are clearly destructive.”

    I true sign of a clear head. Your opinion is clearly so warped it’s not even worth arguing with you, pal.

    • Rest assured the feeling is mutual. It’s clear that you are one of those Western chauvinists who expects to have everything presented to him on a silver platter when exposed to foreign cultures. Thankfully those days of dominant imperialism are drawing to a close and the natives are no longer so keen on scraping and bowing before you by dint of your heritage.

  11. luke says:

    i’m certain that Russia’s corruption is not on par with the other countries at it’s level in the analysis of perceived corruption, that would be ridiculous. I am certain that Russia will be able to eventually eliminate much of the corruption under a government with the right institutions in place, but I really don’t see those institutions coming into place under Putin/Medvedev. The easiest step might be for Tartarstan to take over Moscow, then you might see more competent government.

    • kovane says:

      The easiest step might be for Tartarstan to take over Moscow

      I’ve almost choked on a doughnut. Are you suggesting that Tatarstan is less corrupt than the rest of Russia, or it’s just my eyes have finally burnt out?

    • Yalensis says:

      “The easiest step might be for Tartarstan to take over Moscow, then you might see more competent government.”
      Hey, sounds like a great idea, they say everything worked smoothly under the Khans, and …. oh wait a secon d! Then there would be another “Tatar-Mongol” yoke for the “liberasti” to bitch about. Poor Russia, you just can’t win with these guys!

  12. Natalie says:

    Great comments thread here, as usual. Speaking of visas, my Russian visa was extremely easy to get (the paperwork was annoying to fill out, but whatever) but my UK visa was a freaking nightmare. I didn’t have all the documentation I needed from the university for a while (which I admit is not the British government’s fault) and I literally got my passport returned to me the day before I had to leave. I was frantically calling the consulate, but they did not help me at all. And according to the many other foreigners (i.e. non-British citizens) I’ve met so far while I’ve been in Britain, the process was easy for me (due to my US citizenship) in comparison with non-US citizens!

  13. Natalie says:

    Forgot to mention this: on the subject of visa registration, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the UK does have this requirement for certain foreigners. My Russian friend had to register with both the UK government and the local police station (and has to inform them of any changes to address). He has to check in with the police every term (that’s about every two months).

    As a US citizen, I’m not required to register with the local police; however, I also had to register my visa with the UK government. I’m the first to admit that Russia’s visa registration process can be quite annoying/stupid, but please don’t try to say it’s the only country in the world that has such a requirement, as that is far from true.

  14. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    About the visa issue, the Russian government has been trying since years to scrap visa requirements with the EU. But the EU has so far refused, because of the anti-Russian stance of its eastern members and the UK (I’m not sure about the latter). On the other hand, many EU “core” members, like Germany, France, Italy would gladly enter a visa-free regime with Russia.

    • marknesop says:

      I think you and Anatoly together are closest to what I’m trying to say. Rather than a distraction from what’s wrong with Russia – which I acknowledge – citation of abuses elsewhere is intended to make the point that nobody is talking about them. Cities of similar size to Moscow I pointed out (Mumbai and Karachi) are a good deal worse on the corruption scale: but the procession of torches and pitchforks leads always to Russia. And as you’ve said, Giuseppe, Russia would be glad to scrap its registration requirement along with liberalizing visa-free travel, but isn’t going to do it without some quid pro quo. That would likely affect only tourist visas, though – problems such as Tim’s would likely continue in some fashion for those who seek to work in Russia.

      Anyway, any pretense of reset between Russia and the USA is likely to go out the window if the Republicans continue being as influential as they have been. As Eugene Ivanov’s latest excellent piece points out, the elevation of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee likely ushers in a new age of ignorance and in-your-face support of Georgia. So you can likely look forward to quite a few more years of Russia doing things her own way, and slow progress toward modernization since it is likely to receive little encouragement.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        Hi Mark,
        my point on the visa isn’t just a comparison between Russia and other places. It’s also mainly about the use of this issue by certain western and western-leaning countries as a political tool and a form of “collective punishment” against Russians, because they are… Russians. No surprise that the Kremlin adopts a tit-for-tat response.
        Eugene Ivanov’s piece contains one good example of a practice that in Italy would be considered questionable or corrupt, but seems to be fine in the US. That McCain’s foreign policy adviser is payed by Georgia, so that the US foreign policy is “outsourced” as Eugene put it in a previous piece.
        Berlusconi recently got his usual ration of corruption allegations when a Wikileaks cable, asserting that he has financial interests in South Stream, emerged. The allegation is that his foreign policy is determined by Russian money, thus abusing his position. I fail to understand why no one accuses McCain and/or Scheunemann of abusing their positions for financial advantage.

        • ETat says:

          I find it very telling that for your examples of American corruption you try to throw dirt on McCain – but conveniently forgot about Clintons and their Chinese bribes’ connections.

          • marknesop says:

            Gee….you sound awfully conservative for a libertarian. Do you mean the same McCain who divorced his wife while she was in hospital, so he could marry a millionaire beer heiress? The McCain who owns so many homes he can’t keep track (for the record, it’s 8)? The McCain whose foreign policy consultant was a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government? That McCain? Just in case, you know, there’s another one who would make a good example of corruption.

          • Giuseppe Flavio says:

            Your reading comprehension is really low. It’s not just an example of US corruption, it’s an example of a behavior that looks like corruption to an Italian but isn’t seen as such in the US. The allegations against the Clintons you mention don’t fit into this description because they were (rightly) perceived as corruption.
            When (and if) you’ll understand what I wrote, provide some examples that fit into the category and involve Democrats. I’m already aware of some (Citigroup and Rubin), but I’d be happy to know more.

  15. Tim Newman says:

    Really? You obviously don’t know what you’re talking about here. Even for foreigners, the registration system is simplified now, and it merely oblige them to send a form by fax, without a personal visit (for a work permit, it was done to legalize hordes of illegal gastarbeiters).

    I was in Sakhalin in August 2010. I needed to do a lot more than send a form by fax. See the link I posted earlier.

    And of course, it is much more simpler for Russian citizens and doesn’t restrict movement across the country. So when you say that it hobbles the free movement of labour I don’t know how you can be farther from truth.

    Oh. So maybe my wife was making it up when she could not open a bank account, register our marriage, or renew her passport in Sakhalin when her registration was in St. Petersburg? And maybe my mate Andrei whose parents sold their apartment and moved to Kyrgyzstan really doesn’t have a problem registering in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk without help from his ex-wife, and he’s just making it up?

    Anyway, are you trying to say that a Russian from Khabarovsk can simply move to Moscow, rent an apartment, and live life as normal (i.e. open a bank account, access local medical services, register a marriage, etc.) without registering? Or will the owner of the apartment not want to register the tenant because it will imply certain rights? Or are you the one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?

  16. kovane says:

    I was in Sakhalin in August 2010. I needed to do a lot more than send a form by fax. See the link I posted earlier.

    I was talking about a work permit for organizations to use foreign workforce.

    Anyway, are you trying to say that a Russian from Khabarovsk can simply move to Moscow, rent an apartment, and live life as normal (i.e. open a bank account, access local medical services, register a marriage, etc.) without registering?

    Yes. All of that.

    Or are you the one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?

    You’re are very arrogant, Tim, you know that? I understand when you’re speaking with authority about international travel, but when you tell me, a native citizen of Russia, how thing are organized, it’s simply laughable.

    • Tim Newman says:

      I was talking about a work permit for organizations to use foreign workforce.

      Then why did you say: “Even for foreigners, the registration system is simplified now, and it merely oblige them to send a form by fax, without a personal visit”

      Even so, if you’re talking about obtaining the work permit quota, this requires a lot more than faxing a form. What is your experience in running a business in Russia which employs foreigners.

      You’re are very arrogant, Tim, you know that? I understand when you’re speaking with authority about international travel, but when you tell me, a native citizen of Russia, how thing are organized, it’s simply laughable.

      Oh, and you telling me that I am being “ridiculous” for pointing out that standards of construction quality in Russia are different from that in Germany, you are not being arrogant? And I couldn’t care one jot whether you are a native citizen of Russia, when you start telling me that Russians can easily move from one city to another without falling foul of the registration laws, then you are talking out of your arse. Have you actually made such a move yourself? If so, can you give details of how you registered? My wife only managed it because people with the St. Petersburg or Moscow registration tend not to get into trouble for being unregistered in another city, but still she could not access the state medical services or renew her passport in Sakhalin, and opening a bank account was difficult. Unfortunately, she could not register in Sakhalin for two reasons: firstly, no landlord would allow her to register in his property, and secondly you cannot be registered in two places at once meaning she’d lose her St. Petersburg registration, which nobody in their right mind would give up.

      I understand I’m going to open myself up for yet more accusations of arrogance (guilty as charged!), but you sound like an academic who has little experience in how things actually work, even in your own country. Your post on corruption was excellent, but relied wholly on third-party information, thus making it a research project. It was admirably done for sure, but there seems to be little in there which was drawn from your own experience. I suspect you find me arrogant because what I tell you of my experiences doesn’t always marry up with your theories or research, and you merely try to argue from a point of authority which, on certain subjects, you don’t possess. Out of interest, what is your profession?

      • Tim Newman says:

        In fact, I even blogged about the stupidity of the Russian registration laws when I was in Sakhalin, in the context of how it affected one of my employees.

      • kovane says:

        Tim, I’ve been living in Russia since I was born. That includes working in many places around Russia, moving to Moscow (wihout registration, by the way) and a lot of other activities. For example, when you say something about Dubai, I don’t dispute that, because I don’t know anything about Dubai. Even if I have 10 friends who consider themselves experts on it and I’ve read everything about it I will be very careful to make any statements. Russia has many flaws, but any “hobbling of the free movement of labour” is not among them. There’s two kind of registration in Russia: constant (a stamp in the passport) and permanent (a separate sheet). Getting the former is rather hard, but getting the latter is very simple. Even if you don’t have guts to demand that your landlord makes you a temporary registration (which is easy), you can always buy it for around 30$, it’ll be delivered to you by a courier on the same day. That’s not too hard for an international oil mogul? That’s in Moscow, and it’s the last city where this problem still exists. In other cities, I don’t remember anyone having troubles with registration at all.
        Even without it, you can get anything you want, I lived in Moscow for 5 years without a registration.

        • Tim Newman says:

          For example, when you say something about Dubai, I don’t dispute that, because I don’t know anything about Dubai.

          Right. But I lived and worked in Russia for 4 years, so I do have considerable experience in this area. Your problem appears to be that you don’t like me sharing it because it does not tally with what you experience. I’m afraid I can’t help that.

          Russia has many flaws, but any “hobbling of the free movement of labour” is not among them.

          Again, in my experience – having worked for probably the largest employer in Russia that drew people from everythwere – that labour mobility in Russia is severely restricted. One of the first questions prospective candidates would ask when being interviewed for a job in Sakhalin was whether the company would provide accommodation, and the second question was could they get registration there.

          There’s two kind of registration in Russia: constant (a stamp in the passport) and permanent (a separate sheet). Getting the former is rather hard, but getting the latter is very simple.

          Even if you don’t have guts to demand that your landlord makes you a temporary registration (which is easy)

          Oh yes, this is really an issue of guts, isn’t it? Brave Russia soldier you are! And of course, demanding, a landlord makes you a temporary registration is easy. Have you actually done this? Demanded a landlord register you? I suspect not.

          you can always buy it for around 30$, it’ll be delivered to you by a courier on the same day. That’s not too hard for an international oil mogul?

          Temporary registration does not entitle you to do certain things, e.g. renew a driving license. And as I’ve pointed out, in my experience landlords are extremely reluctant to allow a Russian to be registered in their property, temporarily or otherwise.

          Even without it, you can get anything you want, I lived in Moscow for 5 years without a registration.

          Yes, I am aware it is possible to get anything you want, but in my experience, it means you have to spend hours running about town with pieces of paper in the course of finding unofficial ways of getting what you want, which inevitably means paying somebody. This hardly constitutes evidence that the registration system does not impede the movement of labour/

          • kovane says:

            De”manded a landlord register you? I suspect not.

            And you would be wrong doing so. Once again, you confuse a temporary registration with constant.

            Temporary registration does not entitle you to do certain things, e.g. renew a driving license.

            It’s funny, because it does. I myself got my driver license having only a temporary registration. In fact, temporary registration doesn’t restrict you in any way at all.

            • Tim Newman says:

              And you would be wrong doing so. Once again, you confuse a temporary registration with constant.

              Huh? No I’m not, I’m casting doubt on your implication that you “demanded” a landlord grant you temporary registration.

              It’s funny, because it does. I myself got my driver license having only a temporary registration. In fact, temporary registration doesn’t restrict you in any way at all.

              Right, but your case of being able to get something in one place doesn’t mean it is possible everywhere. One of the most frustrating things about the Russian bureaucracy is the inconsistency with which it is applied from place to place and time to time. Most of the time the officials in the local offices are either applying old laws or their own laws. And I distinclty recall my driver not being able to renew his license in Sakhalin because he only had a temporary registration. Incidentally, diud you show your permanent registration when applying? Or just your temporary one?

              • kovane says:

                Incidentally, did you show your permanent registration when applying? Or just your temporary one?

                Получение Международного Водительского Удостоверения:
                – заявление водителя;
                – экзаменационная карточка водителя;
                – действующая медицинская справка;
                – паспорт личности гражданина РФ (удостоверение личности) с регистрацией по месту жительства или месту пребывания;
                – фотография размером 3,5х4,5 см. на матовой бумаге;
                – документ об оплате установленных сборов.
                Международные Водительские Удостоверения выдаются без сдачи квалификационных экзаменов, и не действительны в стране, выдавшей их. Предназначены только для участия в международном движении в странах, подписавших Конвенцию о дорожном движении.

                Only temporary. What more do you need?

      • kovane says:

        Oh, and you telling me that I am being “ridiculous” for pointing out that standards of construction quality in Russia are different from that in Germany, you are not being arrogant?

        Oh no, I don’t have that kind of blind patriotism, I called your opinion ridiculous because you were ready to admit that the survey of an international consulting agency didn’t take into account quality (which would make that survey basically rubbish), just because it contradicted your experience. That’s arrogance. It turns out that after living several years in Russia you don’t know even basic things, like registration, and we are supposed to rely on your opinion about everything else?

        • Tim Newman says:

          I don’t have that kind of blind patriotism, I called your opinion ridiculous because you were ready to admit that the survey of an international consulting agency didn’t take into account quality (which would make that survey basically rubbish)

          Heh. No. I was “ready to admit” that the survey didn’t take into account quality between nations because there was no evidence that it did, and – as I pointed out – it would be extremely difficult to quantify. The survey was not about quality, it was about construction costs. There is nothing arrogant about observing this.

          It turns out that after living several years in Russia you don’t know even basic things, like registration, and we are supposed to rely on your opinion about everything else?

          No, you’re not supposed to do anything. You can take or leave my opinions as you see fit. But you seem to be getting upset because I am merely sharing them on here, and they differ from what your own. I have no problem with you confidently asserting that the registration system in Russia has no effect on labour mobility or anything else, and can easily be bypassed as and when required, but having spent several years running up against problems associated with this time and again, I am afraid I cannot agree with you.

          • Tim Newman says:

            Actually, I get the impression you didn’t suffer from many problems because you had a permanent registration as well as temporary registration. If somebody was to sell his apartment in Moscow, study abroad for a year or so, and return to Russia and rent an apartment whilst looking for a job, he’d have no permanent registration. And I don’t believe that having no permanent registration does not present problems for Russians. In other words, he’d have to ensure he kept his registration, which in practice means keeping his property. And if being tied to a property in order to maintain a registration doesn’t restrict the mobility of labour, I don’t know what does.

            • kovane says:

              No, a permanent registration doesn’t mean anything at all as long you have a temporary one.

              • Tim Newman says:

                Again, this doesn’t tally with the problems one of my friends has. He was born in Kyrgyzstan as a Russian citizen, and moved to Russia with his parents after the collapse of the USSR. He lived with them, but his parents sold the apartment and moved to Bishkek. With that, he lost his permanent registration in Russia. He was able to obtain a temporary registration through renting a flat, but he had enormous problems when it came to dealing with officialdom, such as registering his car, openingn a bank account, etc. Maybe it was just a Sakhalin thing, but he only sorted this out by getting permanent registration in his wife’;s apartment. His auntie, who was in a similar situation, only got temporary registration by paying somebody off every few months.

    • ETat says:

      “native citizen”, huh?
      so may be you will enlighten us (I USED to be a native citizen. thank god for past tense.), what the word “прописка” (propiska) means?
      Or that newest variant, “vpiska” (which I almost threw up when heard of) – when a tourist, or just any visitor to a geographical locale comes to that place, he has to find legally-acceptable place to live and register the address with authorities. Be it a hotel or a private apartment. Who would’ve heard of such a thing here?!
      I had a lot of trouble, as many other fellow NewYorkers, to understand Russian tourists asking on local blogging community forum for “vpiska” . They think the insane practices of their native land is rampant everywhere in the world – and they are incredibly surprised that they don’t have to prove their whereabouts in NY every step of the way.

      • kovane says:

        I USED to be a native citizen. thank god for past tense.

        I’ve figured that out, my dear former compatriot. As it’s well-known, there’s no truer patriot of the US than some former USSR citizens. If you lived in the USSR, you should know what ‘прописка’ is, so my explanation is redundant. You can read about this scary ‘вписка’ here. Enjoy your newly obtained freedoms, my beloved former compatriot, you are dearly missed.

        • ETat says:

          Yes, you got it right: your explanation IS redundant.
          I don’t give a rat’s ass if I am missed in your hellhole. I certainly don’t miss it – and mostly because of the guys like the one below, proudly calling himself “sovok” and socialist.

          • This guy is really funny. So earnest. Or does he just have uber troll skillz?

            I guess the former. I know a few of these types here, no sense of irony or self-reflection whatsoever. Pure dogma.

          • Yalensis says:

            You talkin’ about ME, cowboy? (Looking over shoulder…) Yeah, you must be talking about ME, ‘cause I don’t see too many other socialists in the room. Well, anyhow, I see above how you proclaim yourself to be great “Defender of the Jewish People” — so how about some gratitude to Red Army and Soviet people (including some from my family) for saving YOUR family from Hitlerite extermination? You’re welcome.

        • ETat says:

          there’s no truer patriot of the US than some former USSR citizens
          …and for a reason – has it ever occurred to you?

          My freedom cost me a lot, and it’s not so new. Yes, I enjoy it, love my country – not the government – and thank you for reminding me again, why I do and I will, always. And why Russia will never enjoy the freedoms we Americans have : you have no respect for individual, you are slaves in your soul, you are collectivists, mediocrities and you are extremely envious of free people. Like domesticated geese, screaming at the wild ones in the skies.

          • kovane says:

            I especially loved these parts:

            I wish ALL illegals were sent back whence they came from, including (and especially) Russians.

            I consider anti-Semitism a disqualification and rudeness against me personally

            Reminds me this excellent scene in “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood”:

            Ashtray: Hey, Preach, what up nigga?
            Preach: Y’all need to stop using the word nigga. You see, it’s terms like the word nigga that the white man uses to take away the self esteem of another race.
            Ashtray: Word.
            Preach: Oh yeah, remind me to pick my laundry up from that chink motherfucker up the street.

          • Yalensis says:

            Yes, it’s all true, I’m afraid. We Russians hate you Americans for your freedom. We are the slavish shackled geese who can only admire and envy your astonishing flight formation from below (while trying to keep out of the way of getting shit on as you loftily soar by). You Americans are like that lovely lady in the shampoo commercial who pouts: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!” And yes, crude beasts that we are, we DO hate her for her all too-too intense gorgeousness!
            P.S. I’m confused by your avatar, can’t tell what it is…. A bull, maybe? Or some kind of gargoyle? What exactly does it represent?

      • cartman says:

        Orly Taitz!

        Soviet expats in America are my fav!

  17. Pingback: White Sun of the Desert » Volumes Spoken

  18. Natalie says:

    Kovane: ты живешь в России?🙂

  19. Tim Newman says:

    Hurray for Western chauvinism!

    Erm, no. The problem with using software to write your blog comments is that you run the risk of your comment being irrelevant, as yours is. For instance, I am now going to ask you to support your assertion that anything I’ve said could be construed as representing Western chauvanism, and you are inevitably going to fail to do so.

    But your comment that “The West: rape and loot the whole world, then seal themselves from its victims.” typifies Soviet education in that it:

    1. Assumes that it was only the West that did any raping or looting (as if these things were alien concepts before Westerners showed up);
    2. Implies that the West did nothing other than rape and loot (the definition of which, judging by your previous comments, includes entering into any agreement with a foreign governments);
    3. Ignores the fact that far from sealing themselves off from the rest of the world, the former colonial powers of the West have opened themselves up for unprecedented levels of immigration.
    4. Ignores the fact that Russia has done more than its fair share of raping and looting, much of it within living memory.

    • Tim Newman says:

      Oh, and

      5. Like Russia hasn’t made steps to seal itself off from its former colonies! Remind me, how often do you hear about sweeps to get rid of the darkie market sellers in London?

    • For instance, I am now going to ask you to support your assertion that anything I’ve said could be construed as representing Western chauvanism

      Implicitly exalting Western education over Soviet. (Even though, BTW, I never had the opportunity to experience the latter).

      3. Ignores the fact that far from sealing themselves off from the rest of the world, the former colonial powers of the West have opened themselves up for unprecedented levels of immigration.

      For mercenary motives such as exploiting their labor pool (post-war) or acquiring their scarce and hard-won scientific cadres. The chances of a Bangladeshi peasant fleeing AGW-related (and mostly Western-caused) inundation, or Saheli herdsmen escaping drought, to a rich Western country is virtually zero. Indeed, they would be lucky to receive a few droplets of aid, which will only subordinate them even further to the imperialists.

      5. Like Russia hasn’t made steps to seal itself off from its former colonies! Remind me, how often do you hear about sweeps to get rid of the darkie market sellers in London?

      And I’ve repeatedly condemned it. Russia’s glorious mission should be, as in the Soviet days, and in conjunction with other liberated territories (China, Venezuela, Bolivia, etc) to break the back of the planet-killing imperialists once and for all. Unfortunately its elites have been successfully bribed off from that endevour.

  20. kovane says:

    When my driver applied, he was told he could not renew on a temporary registration only.

    Look, they can demand a photo of his ass just to allow him to buy toilet paper. That doesn’t mean they have rights to do so. And if your driver was too lazy to check if he can renew on a temporary registration only, it’s his problem.

    • Tim Newman says:

      No, it’s not a case of being lazy, or not having guts. Yes, you can argue the case and point to the law, but if you think pointing to the law quickly gets Russian bureaucrats to cooperate, then I suspect you’ve not dealt with many of them.

      • kovane says:

        Yes, Tim. Your experiences and, most importantly, stories of your friends are the most significant and reliable evidence.By the way, did they tell you about vodka-sipping, balalaika-wielding, boiler-hat-wearing bears roaming streets of Russian cities? All true. If anything else doesn’t add up with them, it’s simply because I’m an academic or unexperienced. Hell, I don’t even venture outside my flat, to be honest.

  21. Tim Newman says:

    If anything else doesn’t add up with them, it’s simply because I’m an academic or unexperienced.

    Erm, no. That one isn’t going to slide. I’m not the one saying that your experiences didn’t happen. I fully accept that you find life remarkably easy in Russia, despite the presence of a registration system which no other country operates. However, I am entitled to point out that in my experience, and that of my friends and family, the registration system has caused no end of problems to me and them. This in no way invalidates what you are saying – indeed, I am delighted you find life so easy in Russia – but your insistence that such difficulties don’t occur to anyone because they do not happen to you leads me to suspect that your experience of Russia is not as broad as you think, despite your living there. Whereas in my experience, I am well aware that Russian officialdom can be both easy and impossible to navigate, with every shade in between; the hardest part is predicting which it will be on any given occasion. You’ll note that in response to another commenter saying they were detained at an American airport for 6 hours, I did not respond by telling him that on every occasion I have been to the USA I whizzed through in no time, and use this as a basis for doubting the truth or validity of what he says with an accusation of arrogance thrown in for good measure. No, it is possible to compare experiences without asserting that your own is the one and only which ought to be considered.

    • kovane says:

      Listen, I would hate for us to part on sour terms, you seem to me to be a nice and honest fellow. I will be frank, I’ve never crossed the Ural region and never been to Siberia and Primorsky Krai. As much as you do, I hate bureaucracy and find them lazy, ill-mannered and annoying. But if there’s one thing I learned about them, it is that they try to stick to the law and don’t violate it without a good enough reason. The problem is that the law is so involved that applying it can be like a work-to-rule strike. I don’t dismiss your and your friends’ experiences as blatant lies and a devious attempt to denigrate the glorious Russian government. And, unless Primorye observe a completely different code of laws, I find them to be very inconsistent with my experiences and, something that I find much more important, the Russian law in general. I can offer a few possible explanations, not that they are necessarily true. First of all, Russian citizens often invite troubles on their own, not knowing laws at all, and are very quick to dump all their difficulties on officials, even when their demands are quite reasonable. The other explanation is this. Having dealt with road policemen on numerous occasions, I find one of their favourite tricks is to make scary eyes and say something like, “You violated the rule 57 of the section 34: you were driving a green car,this is very bad!” If you call their bluff, they quickly withdraw the preposterous charges. But if you don’t know the traffic law, they can scare you into a huge bribe. I mean, you worked for a rich oil company in one of the poorest regions of Russia, and I doubt that your Russian allowed to communicate perfectly well. No wonder that any chinovnik saw you as a potential cash cow and jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of you. In any case, I very much regret that your impression of Russia was tainted by such events, but I can assure you that you’re wrong when you say that there’s any limitations on the free movement of labour.

      • Tim Newman says:

        Listen, I would hate for us to part on sour terms…

        Thanks, buddy. Me too, I mean that.

        I mean, you worked for a rich oil company in one of the poorest regions of Russia, and I doubt that your Russian allowed to communicate perfectly well. No wonder that any chinovnik saw you as a potential cash cow and jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of you.

        Actually, the depressing thing was is that it didn’t affect the foreigners so much, as they just said “Oh, better call the head of security mate, nothing to do with me”, and usually they backed down. It was the locals who seemed to cop the brunt of it, I remember one poor girl having to miss a month’s training with Exxon in Houston because the passport office took more than the legally allowed time to renew her passport. And my wife used to get the run-around probably more than me. Actually, you might have a point about people in Sakhalin not standing up for themselves. My wife was pretty amazed at the shit people put up with from the muncipality compared to the residents of St. Petersburg. So maybe it was a regional thing. And BTW, it was was Sakhalin, no Primorsky Krai. From what I could tell, Khabarovsk was a pretty well run town, and superbly well compared with Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

        In any case, I very much regret that your impression of Russia was tainted by such events

        I wouldn’t worry, my impression in this regard is only limited to the government, bureaucracies, and other state bodies and the contempt I hold these in as regards Russia is little different from how I view pretty much any government or state body, including that of the UK. Actually, in many ways I found more freedom from bureaucracy in Russia than I did in the UK. In any case, I love Russia as much as when I first went there, but by this I mean the people, culture, and physical nature. I consider these to be wholly separate from the government and state, which is probably the most sensible thing to do when dealing with Russia for the first time. I had a wonderful time in Sakhalin, the best time of my life, and I’d go back to live in Russia in a heartbeat (and for what it’s worth, I was married before I went there, so I’m not some letch chasing after the women like most oilmen). And it’s also worth mentioning that you should not take my criticism of Russia too seriously in the sense that the nature of my job takes me to places where I collide with insane bureaucracy and corruption head-on, so I am exposed to it far more than most. And finally, Nigeria makes Russia look like Japan as a model of order and propriety.

    • marknesop says:

      For what it’s worth, there are a good many persistent myths about Russia that are believed even by its citizens, and it can be very difficult to get at the truth. I was also told (along with a bunch of other nonsense provided with a country briefing before I visited Russia the first time) that citizens of, say, Vladivostok could not live in St Petersburg unless they were registered to live there. Ditto other cities, I presumed. Even if you could just move wherever you felt like, the line of reasoning proceeded, you would not be able to work or send your children to school; you would be, in effect, a refugee from Vladivostok hiding out in St Petersburg. Until the forces of darkness caught up with you, and you were sent packing.

      My wife said this is nonsense; you are free to move about as you wish, and it is not at all difficult to pick up again in another town or city without the government’s stamp of approval. Citizens still have internal passports, and those are as good a way of keeping track of where you are as anything else. When she left Russia (2005) you were still supposed to carry it with you all the time, and it was renewed not less than 3 times so the photo could reasonably be expected to look like you as you age. She sent my stepson to school in St Petersburg without difficulty, as she waited for a couple of months for another try at a visitors visa to Canada (the last attempt of 3, which was also denied). She says it would not have affected her ability to get an apartment, either, although that was never tested as she lived with relatives.

      Mind you, she also believes Kovane’s article on corruption is greatly exaggerated, and that things are nowhere near as bad there. You wouldn’t agree with that, would you? She worked as a schoolteacher for much of her time there, and in the last year or two as a translator/secretary for a lumber concern in Vladivostok that did a good deal of business with the Chinese (as expected, most international business is conducted – on paper, anyway – in English even if it is not the native language of either party). I doubt she personally saw much in the way of corruption, and the rest is probably national pride.

      I told her we were told that Vladivostok for many years was a closed city; absolutely closed to foreigners, and extremely restricted to domestic movement. She says it is nonsense; that she lived in Vladivostok half of her life, and people could come and go as they pleased. What we were told is that the visit to Vladivostok of Canadian ships in 1990 was the first in many, many years and that Vladivostok had been a closed city. The crews of those ships told us they were treated like visiting rock stars. She said it was nonsense. I looked it up, and the books say Vladivostok was closed to foreigners from 1958 to 1992. So, who’s right? We mostly know what personal experience tells us. In any case, myths persist in Russia that sometimes even its citizens believe are true, and it might be in the best interests of some to encourage that belief.

  22. Yalensis says:

    I see Tim’s stance as that of international capitalist seeking relatively unfettered access to foreign markets and labor. As a socialist (and crusty “sovok” type), I disapprove of all this blimey capitalism, it goes without saying. On other hand, Tim does make good points about ridiculousness of internal registrations, etc. If capital is allowed to move around unfettered, then, in all fairness, labor should be allowed to migrate freely in search of work, especially within boundaries of same nation. Anything else is silly and reeks of barbarian police state. However, Tim undermineshis own arguments by tone of macho belligerence and egotistic need to always be right. Tim: you really want bunch of angry Russians beating on you? Never a good idea. British people used to be very cultured and polite, then got corrupted and became rude, indecent, and unpleasant. I know this from watching British reality shows. Brits, please go back to being modest and polite, like Canadian people! (Constructive criticism…)
    Happy New Year to everyone!

    • ETat says:

      Dude, not all Russians are sovki, like you are.
      Be very careful when posing threats online – you might happen on receiving end of the violence you invite.

      • Yalensis says:

        Dude, I know fully well that “sovki” are in the minority, That’s why I present myself as being a unique specimen and try to be honest about my views when commenting online. I don’t speak for anyone except myself.
        Dude, I was NOT threatening violence, it was meant as humorous-metaphorical, referring to everyone jumping in and testily refuting Tim’s comments about Russian bureaucracy.
        I hope everyone else got that… right?

        • Yalensis says:

          P.S. The irony is that I was kind of supporting Tim’s arguments, just advising him to adopt politer tone of debate.

        • marknesop says:

          I got that, but one small point – you’re not talking to a dude, unless Tatyana has become a common dude’s name.

          • Yalensis says:

            Mark, I am astonished. You are telling me that this extremely rude and belligerent troll is a LADY? I find that difficult to believe…. You cad, what did you do to tick her off to such a degree that she BANISHED you from her blog? Egads!

            • marknesop says:

              Yes, what a bounder, eh? I’m kind of sorry that our relationship burned so hot that it kindled and turned to ashes so quickly, because I love having Russophobes on here who defend their philosophy so poorly. It’s not very challenging, but it sure is fun. I got her link from Tim’s blog, there are some really good ones there, and her blog is not bad. I haven’t removed the link from my blogroll (Tatyana’s Creaky Pavilion), and see no reason to. You should check it out. Kind of arty, but interesting. A couple of things you’ll probably notice right away: she speaks and writes English better than many who have it as a first language, so that “you’re picking on me because I spelled a word wrong, it’s my second language; I’m a victim, you’re a bastard” philosophy just doesn’t hold up. The other is the “About” page I already mentioned – so refahned, my deah, and swears like a truck driver on other blogs. I wouldn’t bother to comment, though; comments are moderated, and I sense she dislikes you nearly as much as she does me.

              If you do visit her blog and click on the avatar, you can see it larger, but I still can’t make out what it is. Some kind of sculpture incorporated in a fountain.

              Actually, she reminded me strongly of LR; the same constant changing of subject as soon as a position becomes indefensible, and the same accusations of racism or antisemitism so as to be able to withdraw in righteousness. Too bad; I think she was beginning to fall for my charm. Maybe all those Russophobe women sound alike.

              Merry Christmas, one and all!!!! May the best of the holiday season attend you and your loved ones, and may Ded Moroz spare a moment for those such as Tim who are far from their families at this special time of year. Best wishes for a New Year filled with success and laughter. Both on the part of the same person, hopefully.

              • Yalensis says:

                Thanks, Mark. I will take your advice and not leave comments on Tatiana’s blog. Although I did find it objectionable that she came barging all through YOUR blog, leaving little lumps of coal in everyone’s stockings!
                Mark, Merry Christmas to you too, and Happy New Year. Thank you for taking time to write great blog, and I wish much happiness and success for you and your entire family!

  23. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    One of the most frustrating things about the Russian bureaucracy is the inconsistency with which it is applied from place to place and time to time. Most of the time the officials in the local offices are either applying old laws or their own laws.
    This sounds like in Italy.
    First of all, Russian citizens often invite troubles on their own, not knowing laws at all, and are very quick to dump all their difficulties on officials, even when their demands are quite reasonable.
    And this too!
    I don’t find this Russian registration thing strange, it’s quite similar to the Italian system (Residenza). It hasn’t hampered the labour market at all, and we have had and still have a strong internal migration, mainly from southern regions.

  24. Tim Newman says:

    Actually, whilst we’re on the subject, my brother moved to Barcelona a few years ago and was somewhat surprised that he needed to register with the police and obtain their approval before being allowed to stay. So much for freedom of movement within the EU…

  25. novosti says:

    nice article thanks !!

  26. Pingback: Who’s a chauvinist? I’m a chauvinist?! « Скрипучая беседка

  27. My experience of Russia itself is confined is confined to Sherematyevo(?), but it looks like they exported all the same crap to Kazakhstan where I did live for 4 years …

    It is self delusion of the highest order to imagine that Russia’s processes around getting into and around the country operate for anything than the enrichment of those who administer the system. They use chauvinism as an excuse if needed. Sorry comrades, end of story.

    • marknesop says:

      I tried to think of any country that uses its processes around getting into and around the country for the enrichment of charity, or maybe paid out as a small year-end dividend to the citizenry. Couldn’t do it. Anyone? Every nation I could think of uses the fees realized from immigration and visa traffic to enrich and empower the government.

  28. Tim Newman says:

    I came to my Marxism independently, as the logical culmination of realizing the ecological unsustainable and profound iniquities of the capitalist system.

    Fella, you might want to check the ecolological record of the decidedly Marxist-based Soviet Union. You can start with the Aral Sea.

    • kovane says:

      check the ecolological record of the decidedly Marxist-based Soviet Union. You can start with the Aral Sea.

      Well, to link the USSR’s environmental practices (which were admittedly awful on many occasions) and Marxism is just like to link humanism and nuclear weapon use in 1945 by the US. There’s not a single line in ‘Das Kapital’ advocating the rape of nature, so that’s hardly a correct parallel.

      • Tim Newman says:

        Yes, but those countries which have based their political system around Marxism (or their interpretation of it) inevitably end up wrecking the environment (plus everything else). I’d venture to suggest that somebody who turns to Marxism as a solution for ecological destruction should maybe take this into account, especially before gobbing off about capitalism.

        • kovane says:

          That’s classic ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’. All countries that adopted variations of Marxism were lagging behind developed nations and had to undergo industrialisation. And the ecological damage (the Aral Sea) was a direct consequence of it. When the UK, Germany or the US were going through it, they hardly used “green” technologies either. It’s just that Marxism was influential in the XX century, when human capacity for changing nature was far much greater, hence the environmental impact. And if to assume that the UK will go red tomorrow and adopt a planned economy, there’s no evidence saying that everyone will start dumping radioactive waste into the Thames.

          • Tim Newman says:

            That’s classic ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’.

            No, it’s not. The environmental damage in the USSR was a direct result of the economical system where that which is owned by nobody in particular has no value applied to it, and is therefore abused. It’s more commonly known as The Tragedy of the Commons. The very reason the caplitalist countries cleaned up their environment was because people, once wealthy enough, started to value a clean environment and were able to express these preferences by spending money (either privately or via taxation) on keeping the environment clean. The communist countries had no mechanism for doing this, and that is the reason why their environment was treated so badly, not because they were trying to develop. The major damage to the Aral Sea occurred when the Soviet Union had a space programme, so it was hardly a matter of their being forced to destroy the environment in order to develop.

            And if to assume that the UK will go red tomorrow and adopt a planned economy, there’s no evidence saying that everyone will start dumping radioactive waste into the Thames.

            I disagree. I think the one thing which keeps the Thames clean is Londoners paying to keep it (relatively) unpolluted, nothing else.

            • kovane says:

              No, it’s not.

              Yes, it is. The ecological catastrophe of the Aral sea was a result of Khrushchev’s agricultural initiatives, only aggravated by the industrial pollution from some projects. The prevalent theory at the time was that human actions are too insignificant to harm nature, so no precautions were taken. Only in the 80s the law regulating ecology was adopted, but it was already too late then. Marxism, Communism or any other ‘ism’ have nothing to do with that. That approach was used everywhere, including capitalist countries

              I realise that I’m on a fool’s errand trying to make you step outside the ‘the government is always bad, the private sector is always better’ dogma – it’s much easier to convince a Ku-Klux-Klan member to vote for Obama, I think. Although I have a long way ahead of me to reach the level of Anatoly’s or yalensis’s conviction, I suggest we agree to disagree here as well.

              • Tim Newman says:

                The prevalent theory at the time was that human actions are too insignificant to harm nature, so no precautions were taken.

                No, the prevalent theory at the time was that the interests of the state override any concern be it human or environmental. I find it somewhat hard to swallow the line that the Soviets didn’t realise they were destroying the environment until the 1980s, they were pretty dense but not that dense.

                That approach was used everywhere, including capitalist countries

                No, the approach in that example was that an individual company thought it could damage the environment of others with gay abandon, then later found to its cost that there were consequences of their actions.

                I realise that I’m on a fool’s errand trying to make you step outside the ‘the government is always bad, the private sector is always better’ dogma…

                It’s a fool’s errand because it’s not what I believe. Some things the government does better, some things the private sector does better, some things we don’t know who does it better.

    • Yalensis says:

      Soviet Union was all about rapid industrial development, people of that era considered nature to be inexhaustible resource. Many corners were cut, many mistakes were made, it goes without saying. Tim, please read Anatoly’s blog more carefully, you will see that he is not superficial, he understands subtelties of history and is not dogmatic. Please treat his opinions with respect and don’t call him “fella”. Thank you for your attention.

    • In short: The 20th C Marxist regimes viewed nature as near-infinitely exploitable, the main focus being on rapid heavy industrialization (in large part due to the armed capitalist threat). Our number one predicament today has shifted to Limits to Growth, i.e. that limited energy resources and rising pollution means that growth under the current paradigm (without a major transition to a sustainable basis) isn’t possible for more than a couple more decades at most. Note that the pollution I speak of is far more serious than the serious but LOCALIZED pollution created by the Eastern bloc countries. The loss of a forest to acid rain or the contamination of a lake with pesticide is tragic, but runaway AGW will devastate the entire world.

      The inherent problem of capitalism is the necessity of growth to sustaining it; when the economy is stagnant or in decline, the natural result – barring massive taxation of rents – is soaring inequality (you don’t even need Marx for this, David Ricardo would do), and associated ills such as social injustice, elite privilege, political instability, etc. In other words, unrestrained capitalism under LTG conditions will increasingly look like feudalism.

      Furthermore, coordinating an international response to abate AGW is made all the harder. If a country like the UK (not going to mention the US since the middle-term chances of this are near zero) starts implementing aggressive green taxes, for instance, the citizenry will ask questions such as: Why do they tax our necessities while bailed out bankers profit from these carbon trading schemes? Why should we cut out emissions by 80%, when developing countries actually increase them (and don’t we give them trillions of aid – no, we give about 0.1% of GDP of development aid, but that’s doesn’t matter)? And won’t it hurt our economy relative to our competitors? And the end result is that you get non-committal, non-verifiable agreements such as Cancun, with the rest that practically nothing gets done until things get so out of hand it’s time for the geoengineering.

      This is why it’s now either socialism or barbarism. The people can only be reconciled to artificially lowered living standards (in affordability of consumer products) if it is accompanied by a strengthening safety net and a far more egalitarian income distribution, and the international cooperation for tackling AGW needs an end to imperialism as precondition. If on the other hand things go on as normal, which I suspect they will, the feudal oligarchies will continue consolidating their power, so that by the time energy shortages and climate disruptions bring about global collapse, famine and deindustrialization, we will, at least, have already redeveloped the typical institutions of the pre-industrial age.

  29. Tim Newman says:

    This is why it’s now either socialism or barbarism.

    Why choose? More often than not, the two go hand in hand.

  30. Tim Newman says:

    Our number one predicament today has shifted to Limits to Growth, i.e. that limited energy resources and rising pollution means that growth under the current paradigm (without a major transition to a sustainable basis) isn’t possible for more than a couple more decades at most.

    This assumes that economic growth is dependent on the consumption of more energy. This is not true. And whoever is telling you that oil will run out in the next couple of decades is probably making similar mistakes to those who were telling us the same thing every year for the past 40 years or so.

    • 1. So considering that new oil discoveries peaked in the 1970’s, where exactly is it going to come from? Conjured up out of thin air, or rather from remote, substandard deep-ocean and polar locations? The low EROEI (not to mention environmental dangers) makes many of these plans unfeasible. Just in the past year Cairn Energy, a politically well-connected company, turned its back its explorations of offshore Greenland oil wells, concluding that they are too uneconomical to be worth developing.

      2. (Physical) economic growth depends not only on growth in total energy consumption, but the efficiency with which it is converted to useful work. If the efficiency increases faster than net energy usage declines, then the economy should continue to expand. However, in most industries efficiency is beginning to flatten out to an asymptote.

      3. I think you pulled the 40 years figure out of your ass. If you’re talking about oil peakists, then represented by Hubbert, they predicted the US 1973 oil production peak to almost pinpoint accuracy (1970-75 range). Seeing that the US environment is one of the world’s most friendly for natural resources extraction, it showed that their theoretical methods are fundamentally sound.

      • Tim Newman says:

        So considering that new oil discoveries peaked in the 1970′s, where exactly is it going to come from? Conjured up out of thin air, or rather from remote, substandard deep-ocean and polar locations?

        Firstly, the barriers to increased oil production are political, not technological or geological. And even idiotic governments who practice resource nationalism cannot resist getting their hands on the oil money once the price goes high enough. So now that oil is back up around $80-$90 per barrel, and not likely to drop too much below these levels, we will several major projects being developed. Secondly, the increased use of natural gas (which is only just beginning to get going) will mean oil will account for a smaller proportion of energy use. Thirdly, improving technology will allow for better exploration and increased production rates over that which we now experience (continuing a trend which has been running since oil was first discovered). Fourthly, new discoveries are still being made, an example being the significant gas field Total has discovered in the UK sector of the North Sea (the world has not been totally explored, far from it). Fifthly, deepwater operations are becoming much more commercially viable (for what it’s worth, I’m the engineering manager for the world’s largest deepwater FPSO, so I know what I’m talking about) which is opening up huge areas previously thought to be unviable (deepwater West Africa, for example). Sixthly, as the oil price rises, previously unviable or abandoned fields will become operational again, thus increasing the supply. Seventhly, as oil becomes consistently more expensive, alternatives will become more viable and the use of oil will gradually die out. I understand that there are those who think this seventh occurrence will sneak up and surprise us all, sending a shock through the world which we won’t be able to cope with, but they don’t appear to have the opinions (as communicated by their actions) of the oil companies on their side (who are inexplicably planning projects with 25-year lifespans as we speak, based on $40 per barrel oil) and nor do they have historical precedent on their side (is there any example of a freely-traded resourse suddenly running out, leaving the population going short?). A common observation is that the stone age didn’t end because of a lack of stone.

        Just in the past year Cairn Energy, a politically well-connected company, turned its back its explorations of offshore Greenland oil wells, concluding that they are too uneconomical to be worth developing.

        Which happens all the time in the oil business. It is proof that economics drives oil production, not availability of oil.

        (Physical) economic growth depends not only on growth in total energy consumption, but the efficiency with which it is converted to useful work.

        Sorry, what is “(physical) economic growth”? GDP is a measure of value added, nothing to do with what is physically produced.

        I think you pulled the 40 years figure out of your ass.

        I did, it was a rough figure to illustrate the point that people who wander the world saying The End of the World is Nigh! have been with us since the dawn of time, and a more recent variant are those who insist that oil 1) will start running out and 2) will do so quickly, e.g. within the next couple of decades, and they’ve been doing so since roughly the first oil shock in the 1970s when they were able to conjure up doomsday scenarios in relation to oil.

  31. Yalensis says:

    As a Marxist myself, I believe that industrial development continues to be important and should continue as much as possible, using existing energy resources (coal, oil, gas), while creating new, greener resources. So yes, please go on drilling for oil, we do need the oil. At the same time, I agree with Anatoly that at a certain point austerity measures and rationing will become inevitable. International capitalist ruling class will attempt to push all austerity onto lower classes, while increasing their own wealth and privileges and encodifying these inequalities into law, as they are doing already, especially in countries like the United States. Lower classes in various regions of world will most likely resist and will insist on more fairness in rationing. If things go really bad, violent class struggle and even wars could be result. What makes ME pessimistic is that lower classes in many parts of world seem to adopting a religious philosophy (=Islam) as their ideological foundation for anti-colonialist resistance, instead of more beneficial secular ideologies like humanism and socialism. This ideological distortion of the underlying class struggle would feed into Anatoly’s pessimistic intution that we will all end up back in feudalistic type society with lords and serfs (or maybe caliphs and peasants, if Islam ends up being dominant religion in world).
    So, yes, the choice is clearly “socialism or barbarism”, and one can crack flippant jokes about it, but unfortunately the reality is that humanity has gotten itself into quite a pickle and desperately needs to find a way out.

    • Tim Newman says:

      So, yes, the choice is clearly “socialism or barbarism”, and one can crack flippant jokes about it, but unfortunately the reality is that humanity has gotten itself into quite a pickle and desperately needs to find a way out.

      Yeah, but the advocates of socialism have been saying that theirs is the only way for over a century now. Only these days, we’ve all seen the grisly results of it in practice. Meanwhile, markets and trading (which is not the same as capitalism) continue to rumble quietly on as it has for the past few millenia, lifting millions out of poverty as it goes.

      • kovane says:

        markets and trading (which is not the same as capitalism) continue to rumble quietly on as it has for the past few millenia

        For millenia, huh? It’s like a natural economy and feudalism never existed. And you are not confused by the fact that modern capitalism was conceived by direct state intervention? Breaking of the natural economy through Enclosure, draconian laws against vagrancy and taxes levied in money form in England; agrarian reforms in Germany in the XIX century; collectivization in the USSR – all these measures were directed at dismantling the traditional society and waged by the state.

        • Tim Newman says:

          For millenia, huh? It’s like a natural economy and feudalism never existed.

          Sorry, are you saying that markets and trading haven’t existed for millenia? And why would noting their presence mean feudalism never existed?

          And you are not confused by the fact that modern capitalism was conceived by direct state intervention?

          No, I am not confused, and nor am I denying that the rule of law, property rights, and an independent judiciary are prerequesites for an economy based on markets and trading to work, all of which must and can only be provided by the state.

          …collectivization in the USSR…

          Erm, I thought you were giving examples of modern capitalism, not Soviet communism.

          • kovane says:

            Sorry, are you saying that markets and trading haven’t existed for millenia?

            Basic market mechanisms have existed as long as humanity itself, it’s true. And even in the USSR, a significant part of the economy was based on the market. But if you’re saying that the quasi-natural economy of European feudalism, the laissez-fair of the XIX century USA, and the modern economy of Germany are even remotely comparable and are just different varieties of the market, I would have some objections to that.

            all of which must and can only be provided by the state.

            I’m glad that we can find some common ground.

            not Soviet communism

            Communism never existed in the USSR or any other place on Earth. It was defined as the final destination for the USSR, which it never reached.

            But enough with the arguments, Happy Christmas to everyone! (although you’re all heretics, the real Christmas is on the 7th of January, which I don’t celebrate anyway)

            • Yalensis says:

              Happy Xmas back to you, kovane! Mark must be proud of you — your great posting made his number of blog comments go up almost to 200. Hey, let’s keep on going — maybe we can reach 200!

              • kovane says:

                Thanks, yalensis, but I don’t view the number of comments as an indicator of my post quality. Although I hope that it is good, of course. Sometimes more comments mean flame wars and a lot of off-topic discussions, just remember the time when AJ was around.

                • marknesop says:

                  Too true, Blue – the Russian blogger who was most covetous of comment numbers as a measure of blogging greatness was none other than La Russophobe. Provided they were on her blog, of course. She did a post once called, “The Awful Cosmic Failure That Is Russia Blog” – or something very like that, you could probably find it in the archives – suggesting Sean’s Russia Blog was a failure because it had few or no comments. As you’re aware, it’s an excellent blog, although it did dip a bit because it wasn’t updated. But the times when LR’s own comments skyrocketed always coincided with the occasions when there was a commenter or two who disagreed, and then the flame war went back and forth as you implied. Those people never stayed around; either they would tire of the unrelenting hatred and rudeness, or she would ban them from commenting. Then things would drift back to the same circle-jerk of the same couple of commenters.

                  However, once the commenter who called himself RTR (he’s been several other titles since) asked, if lots of comments proves you’re great, how come Paul (The Indispensable) Goble’s posts rarely had any comments. She quickly responded that some of the best blogs had no comments, and some didn’t even allow them.

                  Lots of people read without commenting, and unless we have an external hit counter (we haven’t) others can’t see them. For those others, it’s just over 40,000 since the blog started up in July. I like comments, because it gives the author a chance to engage further with the readers, and often corrects mistakes (like the Slav thing, for one). I don’t care if the trend veers off-topic, because it goes some interesting places. But a lot of comments doesn’t necessarily indicate a good story, as you say. In my opinion, though, this is an excellent post. So was the Stalin one, which still accounts for a disproportionate number of hits.

  32. sinotibetan says:

    @ yalensis, anatoly, mark
    Reading your comments here opened my eyes to what current Marxists, secular humanists and socialists believe.
    Of course, I don’t agree nor believe in any of these theories.
    @Newman
    Interesting points you brought up against comments by the above.
    Sadly at some parts the debate went down to name-calling and explicatives.
    I think the truth of the matter is this:-
    1. The West is no saint. Russia is no saint either. Both can be defended and debunked. Both cannot claim the moral high ground.
    2. What is true about Russia(or any nation, be it Western or non-Western) probably lies in between Russia’s ardent supporters (Russophiles) and her most dogmatic enemies(Russophobes).
    3. We all have one thing in common – we cling very strongly to our convinctions and when these are opposing each other, hot debates come about.
    I hope, at least we can finally agree on one point(point# 3)?

    sinotibetan

    • marknesop says:

      Well, I don’t think I am any of those things; a Marxist (certainly not), a secular humanist or a socialist. I tend to vote liberal – which is sort of socialist, at least in this country – but I realize that if the government gives all taxpayers’ money to social programs for the unfortunate and doesn’t bother trying to remain competitive, we’ll have a well-educated population of lazy bums who can’t wait to be absorbed by the nearest aggressive power, so we can increase the base of taxpayers that keeps us comfortable while we do nothing. I’m very much in favour of responsible business and commerce that clean up after themselves and don’t have ambitions to run the country. I owe no filial loyalty to Russia, because I’m not Russian and have never lived there longer than a month at a time.

      Unfortunately, most of us lack the ability to express ourselves so that our meaning is crystal clear. When people say, “so you’re saying….” and proceed to tell you what they think you meant, they probably don’t get what you meant. Or else they’re deliberately going somewhere else, to change the subject. Either way, our own experience always colours our opinions of that experience. I’ve probably used the analogy before of the five blind men asked to describe an elephant; an elephant is like a rope, says the one holding the trunk. No, says the one touching the leg; an elephant is like a tree. You’re both idiots, exclaims the one touching the side – an elephant is like a wall. My experience of Russia is liable to be a great deal different than Tim’s, since he had to contend with the hassles of trying to do business in a foreign country. Anatoly and Yalensis (as far as I know) are both Russian-born, while Tim and I are foreigners. Going back to Tim for a moment, you’ll notice he also has nothing positive to say about his current locale – Nigeria. I don’t have a problem with that at all: he’s there, and I’m not, and I have no previous knowledge of the place. More to the point, my experience doesn’t disagree with his, because I have none. But also, think for a minute and try to come up with a well-organized military/industrial/government lobby that does nothing but bash Nigeria non-stop all day long. Give up? There probably isn’t any. Nigeria isn’t sufficiently important to the west to merit that sort of negative attention. Russia, however, can’t seem to do anything to suit its legion of critics.

      It’s no more complicated than the fact that Russia has almost nobody in its corner, and I am drawn to the underdog, especially when my own experience was extremely positive. At the same time, Russia is up against an army of serial exaggerators whose only diplomatic approach is to kick sand in the country’s face, forever. If you examine Russian/Western relations over, say, the last two generations, which has been betrayed more consistently on a national level by the other? Russia. Which has worked more energetically to undermine the political institutions of the other, supporting radical or dissident elements and breakaway provinces with funds and encouragement? The West. You’re exactly right that neither is a saint. However, the West has been embroiled in military or ideological confrontations with other nations for as long as it has been a coherent entity – and forgiven them all. The West beat Japan into submission, and although once you dared not say the word “Japanese” in small-town America unless you spat at the same time, they’re now the best of friends. America never beat China, and in fact is heavily indebted to China – but again, the two are on friendly and respectful terms even though the West claims to be the champion of human rights, and China has one of the worst human-rights records on the planet. There’s fertile ground for an ideological confrontation right there….but nothing happened. Only Russia lives on as the West’s whipping boy for every social evil, every perversion of justice; every transgression that can never be forgiven. In every other case, diplomatic overtures to former enemies met with some degree of protest, but the protests were shouted down as detrimental to western interests. With Russia, it’s exactly the opposite; although it’s a huge, energy-rich nation with limitless possibility for development and a relatively tiny population, the initiatives toward cooperation are tentative and weak, while the protest is a roar of noise. More significantly, every attempt by Russia to actually do what the West insists it must is met with jeers and ridicule, rather than encouragement. Ever known that approach to work?

      No, it won’t, and it isn’t meant to.

  33. Nils says:

    I completely agree, couldn’t have said it better. Are you going to do a post on Khodorkovsky anytime soon? He is obviously guilty as hell.

  34. sinotibetan says:

    Dear Mark,
    Thank you for your comments.
    1. “Well, I don’t think I am any of those things; a Marxist (certainly not), a secular humanist or a socialist.”
    I obviously mistook your political ideology as one of the above. My apologies. Strangely, even though ideologically I am an ‘antagonist’ to both Anatoly and yalensis, I often agree with them in their evaluation of Russia, the West, China and teir international relations. Being a Christian, one would think I’d automatically support the USA and the Republicans…the fact is I often am against American policies and neither support the Republicans nor Democrats(of course with no political effect as I am not American).
    2. I am of Chinese descent, live in South East Asia, am not an American and my current country and motherland of my ancestors(i.e. China) had experienced living under Western yoke and hegemony in the past. I am a watcher, but do not ever wish to participate politically(I have political views but is practically apolitical except expressing my political views and voting in my own country), of political events on and off. I’ve never been to Russia nor the USA. I have to admit that I feel oftentimes sorry for Russia which is often vilified by the West…and I have some reasons why I think it is so(see my comments later below).
    3.”The West beat Japan into submission, and although once you dared not say the word “Japanese” in small-town America unless you spat at the same time, they’re now the best of friends. America never beat China, and in fact is heavily indebted to China – but again, the two are on friendly and respectful terms even though the West claims to be the champion of human rights, and China has one of the worst human-rights records on the planet. There’s fertile ground for an ideological confrontation right there….but nothing happened. Only Russia lives on as the West’s whipping boy for every social evil, every perversion of justice; every transgression that can never be forgiven. ”
    a.) I fear that China, in its quest to become a superpower, will become like the Japan of today in terms of its societal mores even as the Chinese youth unquestioningly embrace Western ‘values'(or the lack of them!)! I guess I am a conservative and cannot bear to see Chinese culture degenerate to Japanese culture of today(a proud culture ‘submissive’ to Americanism yet actually does not wish to be so which accounts for its degeneracy). Even now, Chinese culture is so degenerate, thanks to the Communist Government in China! No, I am not pro-Kuomintang or pro-Taiwan, they are too subservient to the USA. I wish that we Chinese can resurrect our culture and civilization again without the intrusion of Western hegemonism. I hope you understand what I mean. It’s quite surprising that many of us Chinese with ‘Western education’ don’t really like the USA. I feel the USA wants the world to have American ‘values'(I call it ‘Americanism’) and that those values are the yardstick to ‘evaluate’ all other nations. Nothing short of political-ideological arrogance.
    b.)Japan doesn’t get much bashing anymore because politically it’s like an American puppy.
    c.)China gets on and off ‘bashing’ because America needs to ‘remind’ the world over that America is the moral bastion of that oft-used word called ‘human rights’. But not as much bashing as Russia because:-
    i.) Corruption. The political elites of both sides ‘gain’ – cheap Chinese labour, maximal profits for our international super-rich business moguls(who are deeply entrenched in the Western political system). American leaders must irritate China on and off as a show to the domestic audience in the West who have been brought up with the dogmas of ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’. But not too much. Russia has not that demographic numbers for this form of modern-day slavery.
    ii.)The West eyes lustfully for Russian natural resources(which is abundant) and wants to get them as cheap as possible- the obstacle to that is a powerful Russian state. Hence, the almost constant attempt to destabilize and ’emasculate’ the Russian state.
    I remembered during the Yeltsin years, I used to read comments in a website called I think ‘Russia Today’ or something of that sort(I’ve forgotten, to be honest) and Western commentors(especially from the USA, UK and EU nation states) were talking about dismembering Russia so that European Russia gets absorbed into NATO and/or EU while Siberia can be ‘given’ to the Chinese or divided into ‘independent states’. They were of course rabidly anti-Putin(he’s a former KGB! he’s a former KGB!) probably knowing that Putin ‘knows’ the West’s real intentions and religiously pro-Chechen, anti-Serbian and pro-Bosnian and pro-Albanian. Their view-points opened my eyes to how dishonest the West can be.
    iii.) I feel there is something ‘racist’ about the Western preoccupation with Russia-bashing. I think why China does not get as much bashing is partly we Chinese are not Indo-European. We are probably considered ‘less civilized’ in the eyes of our arrogant Western political elites. Our ‘lack of human rights’ and ‘barbarian behaviour’ is ‘understandable’. Whereas, Russians are Indo-Europeans and to the ‘racist’ ideology of our Western ideologists, considered ‘rogue’ members of the white race in the sense that they do not subscribe to the ‘freedom’ and ‘enlightened’ ideas thought of by Germanic and Anglo-Saxon intllectuals. “Why can’t Russians have values like us , they are Indo-Europeans too!”. Hence, that preoccupation to bash Russia almost continuously to ‘Westernize’ it. I think the Western political elites probably feel that the size of the Russian state and its nuclear capabilities and (still immense) demography are obstacles to its much-needed ‘Westernization’ and submission to ‘superior Western values’ and thus ‘unite the great White race’ . Strangely, these same political elites talk about multiculturalism and assimilation, which ultimately will destroy European cultures(and of course traditional American ‘culture’ which is an extension of European cultures). It’s more of American political elites and their European allies(the formation of EU , a United States of Europe, to me , has a distinctive “American” flavour to it) desperately wanting Russia to become assimilated into their grand Utopian ideas. Putin and the Russians stand in the way because they want to maintain their distinct ‘Russian-ness’. This, I think, is another hidden motive for the continuous Russian-bashing. They’ll bash ’till the Russians get it right’.

    What do you think?

    sinotibetan

  35. sinotibetan says:

    A few amendments:-
    “I am a watcher, but do not ever wish to participate politically(I have political views but I am practically apolitical except expressing my political views and voting in my own country), of political events on and off.”
    “b.)Japan doesn’t get much bashing anymore because politically it’s like America’s puppy.”
    Also I wish to say that I do not ‘hate’ America, although I think I’ll be accused of such. In fact, it’s the perogative of American politicians and Americans to decide what’s good for themselves. I just don’t think that what they think might work for America wil necessarilyl work or be applicable for China, Russia or other nations as we have differnt histories and situations. Also, America’s political elites practice hypocrisy, duplicity and double standards when they ‘evaluate’ other nations. America is a ‘young nation in the making’ compared to Russia, what more China. American values are evolving because it’s trying to conceptualize a nation always in ethnocultural flux. We shouldn’t be forced to accept values that are differnt from our psyche, current requirements and histories, especially when many of us from other nations don’t necessarily think these values are applicable to our communities.

    sinotibetan

    • marknesop says:

      Hello, Sinotibetan! I don’t hate America either: it’s a great country, as well as being our biggest trading partner. I wouldn’t say our economy would collapse without it, but better than 85% of our trade goes south to the USA. Also, if we lost that market, although we could find others, the shipping would hurt. We share the world’s longest undefended border with the USA, and the vast majority of our trade just goes in trucks or by rail. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, for every American who swaggers about boasting of America’s greatness while directly linking that greatness to the superiority of its people over those of other nations, there are three who wish he would shut up and stop embarrassing them.

      Living where you do, you must speak at least one language other than English, and so I salute you on your mastery of it. Really, it is better than that of most native English speakers. You sound as if you were the beneficiary of an excellent education.

      When I say that China has one of the worst human-rights records on the planet, I am quoting sources such as Transparency International, Amnesty International or one of their indexes, and mean no direct insult. I have visited China a couple of times (Shanghai in 1998, and Quing Dao about 10 years before that), before China really took off as a great power, and although there was much that was strange to me, I have visited many other regions that seemed more violent and cruel than China. I will say, however, that in both China and Japan I felt a sense of “otherness” that I have not felt anywhere else – a consciousness of my race, and of being a curiosity, not always in a positive way. Maybe that’s what everybody feels when they are a decided racial minority, and perhaps it’s occasionally a good reminder for whites who seldom leave their own land.

      Perhaps Japan and America are joined at the hip politically, but I’ve always enjoyed visiting Japan and never noticed any slavish obedience to American culture on the part of ordinary Japanese. Japan remains distinctly a foreign country for North Americans, and I don’t know anyone from here who thinks they could just move to Japan and not have to make any adjustments. Perhaps that’s our best measure of how westernized any other country is. To be fair to Japan, it’s always seemed to me that most of the talk which suggests how cozy the American-Japanese relationship is has come from Americans.

      I don’t really have any political ideology. As I probably mentioned, I customarily vote liberal, and in many countries that would make me a socialist; but I don’t necessarily support traditional socialist values. The present Canadian government is Conservative, and I would have to acknowledge it has provided good governance and leadership during its tenure. I am most definitely not a Marxist, and my views of Russia and its leadership argue in favour of everyone minding their own business, and helping out when they’re asked, rather than constantly critiquing and imposing their own values and solutions.

      It’s only my opinion, but something you said strikes a familiar chord – “We are probably considered ‘less civilized’ in the eyes of our arrogant Western political elites. Our ‘lack of human rights’ and ‘barbarian behaviour’ is ‘understandable’. Whereas, Russians are Indo-Europeans and to the ‘racist’ ideology of our Western ideologists, considered ‘rogue’ members of the white race in the sense that they do not subscribe to the ‘freedom’ and ‘enlightened’ ideas thought of by Germanic and Anglo-Saxon intellectuals. “Why can’t Russians have values like us , they are Indo-Europeans too!”. This reflects my own views better than I could express them myself, except for the suggestion that North Americans consider the Japanese and particularly the Chinese to be savages. I don’t believe that, and I don’t know anyone who does. As the planet’s oldest society, the Chinese have always commanded a sense of mystery, a suspicion of mockery even when they pretend to be serious, as if everything is a complicated game. While it’s true the early Chinese in North America were treated abominably, and I can’t pretend it had nothing to do with their race, I don’t know anyone of my generation or later who believes Chinese are inferior in any way (except height – sometimes they’re pretty short). However, your point about the west’s dissatisfaction with Russia because they are a white race who refuse to get with the program is exactly what I believe.

      You obviously know a great deal more about China, particularly modern China, than I. However, I see no tendency at all toward westernization of China as it modernizes, beyond the orientation of its manufacturing toward production of goods for western markets and the building affluence of the middle class. These, from a western viewpoint, have not altered China’s Chineseness in the least.

      Russia’s preoccupation with preserving its territorial integrity is poorly understood in the west and particularly in America – for no good reason I can see, since every American feels a sense of jealous guardianship of every inch of American soil, and would never willingly cede any of it. That’s why I find it difficult to understand all the happy talk about this piece of Russia merging with Europe while that portion goes to China. All the support for that kind of partitioning is in the west – while you will find many Russians in favour of greater alignment with Europe, you won’t find many who are interested in being absorbed by it, any more than you will find much Canadian interest in merging with the United States to form a single country.

      Thanks for your extremely interesting comments and views.

      • marknesop says:

        P.S. If you go back to the article, “Are Slavs Stupid?” (which was not one of my best moments), you will find an extremely interesting response from an Estonian. You’d not likely ever know it was there because comments are presented in a different format to the blog administrator, so I see even new comments to long-past articles. Although that post was from some time ago, the reply I’m talking about (from “ini-itte from Estonia”) just arrived today. It would prove extremely interesting to anyone interested in the origin of peoples, migration patterns, evolution of languages and the blurring of ethnic lines. I’m looking at you, Yalensis. I did not reply in detail because the comment was addressed to you, Sinotibetan.

  36. sinotibetan says:

    Dear Mark,
    Thank you for your very interesting comments and views. I greatly respect your opinions, even where we don’t agree. I have many things to say but I think I’ll just say a few things first in this is about racism.
    Regarding some of the less-than-positive experience you had in China, I have to admit that some Chinese are racists. For that, I truly am sorry. However, I am sure you do know that not all of us are like that. We are more ethnic-conscious perhaps especially compared to Westerners with a ‘liberal’ upbringing but I have to say that ethnic-conscious is not the same as being racist. I actually it’s alright to accept our ethnic roots and even want to maintain our identities. I don’t agree with racists though because they think they are the best group and wish to dominate others. I had similar less-than-positive experience(being treated less well and outright rudely because I am not white) as a tourist in the Czech Republic recently, although on the whole, the Czechs were OK. Where I live, racism is government policy and being a minority ethnic group, I do understand racism very well indeed. Strangely it may seems to you, my experience of racism and my wanting to maintain my roots and ethnic identity led me to disagree with multiculturalism(within a country) that Western nations like the USA preaches and prescribes especially to their allies(especially their European allies). It’s an unworkable and unrealistic ideal that can only work if human beings are holy angels which we decidedly are not!
    I think the West has gone from one extreme to another. Initially it was racism and Hitler was the epitome of that. I find it strange that white supremacist adore Adolf Hitler. Because of his atrocities, racism is (correctly) debunked and demolished as a philosophy. On the other hand, it led the West(especially white Americans and western Europeans) to go towards the other extreme – i.e. a kind of racial self-hatred. I find this phenomenon pretty weird although in the long run it is probably self-destructive. Unlike the Western understanding of nationhood, I believe in the traditional one – nationhood is an ethnocultural construct. That’s how traditional nations come about. True, there were intermarriages but oftentimes these were due to conquests and oftentimes amongst phenotypically similar groups. I don’t know if the Western elites are truly lack of racism though. I construe their racial self-hatred as a form of racism in itself and especially when it applies to others they deem as ‘whites'(eg Russians or Ukrainians etc.), they probably think this philosophy of racial-denial as a form of self-enlightenment and moral superiority which they wish the Russians(the ‘rogue whites’) would embrace. You can see blacks in American media say the most racist statements about whites and get away with it and then you hear blacks complain about Avatar the movie that the hero was white but the movie took from ‘African culture’. I don’t know if Americans and Europeans at large notice this phenomenon. Hollywood is like in a propaganda mode to uplift blacks and debunk whites. Interesting!
    Fortunately, we Asians have not embraced such a self-destructive ‘Western value’ …not even the Japanese. I hope we never will. It’s a recipe of self-genocide in my opinion. It’s a path that Russia should not embrace.

    sinotibetan

  37. sinotibetan says:

    Dear Mark,
    Some more thoughts on your comments.
    1. I remaked :”Fortunately, we Asians have not embraced such a self-destructive ‘Western value’ …not even the Japanese.”
    And you remarked: “I will say, however, that in both China and Japan I felt a sense of “otherness” that I have not felt anywhere else – a consciousness of my race, and of being a curiosity, not always in a positive way. ”
    I have to retract somewhat(partly and not wholly) what I’ve said about us not embracing this , in my opinion, self-destructive ‘Western value’. Some Asians….at least in my country and neighbouring Singapore, Chinese and non-Chinese, almost worship whites. There are ‘sarong party girls'(I find the Malay spellings in Singapore archaic! It should be correctly spelled ‘sarung’)) in Singapore for example – they are Singaporean Chinese ladies who ONLY consider white males to be dating/husband material. An interesting phenomenon and I have my own thoughts on a subject I call ‘racism and sexuality’ – I might discuss it later if you’re interested. At least in my country, whites tend to be treated as an upper class even though he/she may be a ‘nobody’ in their country! Indeed, some Asians treat other Asians second class if there’s some whites around- this is from my observation when I visited Bali, Singapore and South Korea; in my own country also. I’ve only visited Guangzhou as a ‘respresentative’ of China and did not observe this phenomenon but from what I’ve heard, in Shanghai, it’s the same as well. So, your less-than-positive experience in Shanghai was quite a surprise. But as you’ve said, that was back in 1998. My friends have recently visited Shanghai. I think you meant Qingdao in Shangdong Province when you mentioned ‘Quing Dao’? Needless to say, I do feel it when I am treated less good by fellow Asians when there are whites around and for no reason but my being Asian. On the other extreme, you have the Asian racists who not only dislike non-Asians but also Asians of a different ethnic origin(eg Japanese vs Chinese, Vietnamese vs Cambodians, Malays vs Chinese etc.).
    2. “I don’t really have any political ideology. ”
    In this sense, I feel we are almost of ‘kindred spirit’. I am more of a political realist and ‘pragmatist’; with no political ideology. I do not believe in being dogmatic with regards to politics(as politics is a human construct and thus, imperfect). In fact, sometimes I feel that America and the Western world are so dogmatic in preaching their ‘political gospel’ that it seems almost quasi-religious. Perhaps, I sometimes feel, Westerners who are nowadays generally irreligious and have dismissed their previous religiosity only embraced some political dogmatics which are in a sense warped from Christian doctrines. For example , secular ‘freedom’ replaced spiritual freedom of the Bible, human-built Utopia as a warped understanding of an eschatological Paradise, ‘democracy’ replaces the ‘gospel’, muticulturalism in a country replaces ‘brotherhood of believers’ in the Bible,’evangelizing’ these political dogmas vs ‘evangelizing in the Biblical sense’ etc. …There is something ‘Christian-like’ in Western political dogmatism and yet not quite. Religious dogmatics were debunked but instead replaced by quasi-religious political dogmatism coupled with a religious fervour to shove these dogmas down the throats of all those ‘political-pagans’. To be honest, I don’t think democracy is a cure-all for many-a-country’s ills…and I live in a rather ‘democratic’ country. I sometimes feel that many Westerners do not see the dichotomy between political system and sound economic wisdom. Iceland , Ireland and Greece – and I would say Iceland is even more democratic than the USA- yet democracy failed to save them from economic turmoil(and bankruptcy) because of their lack of prudence in the economy. Less-than-democratic Singapore fares better than democratic(and almost mob-like) Philipines. Undemocratic China due to Governmental volition economically fares better than democratic India which remains mired in ‘democratic inaction’. My position is the populace must have some way of having their say become part of governance, yet it’s logically and rationally absurd to believe in a ‘pure democracy’ – a so-called ‘people power’ ‘pure democracy’ which I think does not even exist in the West. Another example of why I don’t think democracy is not a cure-all:let’s say, hypothetically, 90% of the population may believe in the wrong values or choices which are detrimental to the nation and elect leaders who believe in these values/choices, what would happen to the nation? Is such a scenario possible? I say it is. Most people are having difficulties making choices(and often making wrong ones) even with regards to their own lifes – what makes anyone think they have wisdom in choosing the best leaders? Far too often, I see in democratic countries, buffoons and pedants rise up as ‘leaders’ because of this element of ‘populism’ in democracy. Sometimes, the nation needs unpopular policies to develop it – these will never be well-executed in democracy in my opinion. Also, many Western nations like Holland, the UK, and Germany at their heyday in the past, were not modern democracies – in fact many were absolute monarchies. Yet , they were powerful economically and politically. Sound policies and execution of such policies are more important to the health of a nation than dogmatic adherence to one form of political system/dogma.
    4 “Russia’s preoccupation with preserving its territorial integrity is poorly understood in the west and particularly in America – for no good reason I can see, since every American feels a sense of jealous guardianship of every inch of American soil, and would never willingly cede any of it.”
    Perhaps, many or some Americans have come to see Russia is ‘an evil nation’ and that it’s alright to diminish Russia in this sense because ‘it will be for the good of the world and the West’. Also, a Russia reduced in geographic size and demographic size would perhaps satisfy the conditions for assimilation and annexation of the Russians “into the Western fold”. A Russia with nuclear weapons matching the USA, or an economy that is self-reliant, or a demography that is too big(at least it should ‘shrink’ to less than Germany’s) would be too big to be absorbed into the EU/NATO. Russia should be reduced to the level of Poland at the very least so that it can be ‘finally Western /European’. America’s political elites will continue bashing Putin because he stands in their way in realizing this almost Utopian ideal.
    5.”(except height – sometimes they’re pretty short). ”
    The Chinese who came to North America in earlier times came from Southeastern provinces like Guangdong and Fujian(I think mostly the former). We are pretty short people(my ancestors were from Guangdong and Fujian). There are differences in temperaments, psyche and physique between the Northern and Southern Chinese. We southerners have more “Yue” ancestry. The Northerners have more Manchu-Tungusic racial elements and are thus taller(some as tall as whites) – some from Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning even look Korean to me(I read somewhere that the Buryats[who live in Russia], Manchus and Koreans share a common ancestry in the remote past).
    6. “..and my views of Russia and its leadership argue in favour of everyone minding their own business, and helping out when they’re asked, rather than constantly critiquing and imposing their own values and solutions.”
    Agree. Criticism is alright but not imposing values and solutions to others. American political elites love critisizing other nations but will they accept criticism from others(especially non-Western nations)? In fact, do they have the insight, or perhaps the humility, to accept that they may be sometimes wrong / mistaken in their views?

    Sorry for my lengthy comments. Happy new year and decade to you and others here!

    sinotibetan

    • marknesop says:

      I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said – and, once again, your English is excellent – regarding our both being pragmatists, although I’ve yet to learn to stay serene when I see the same old criticisms and tropes trotted out that have been decisively debunked over and over. Still, it’s what keeps me posting.

      Democracy is probably the best government model we have; the problem is that so many countries that use it are such poor examples of it. A properly-working and responsible democracy depends heavily on an informed and aware electorate, and in too many of the “old” democracies, bread and circuses (cheap entertainment that panders to the lowest common denominator, so like Rome after terminal rot had set in) dumb down the electorate to the point of anesthesia. We deceive ourselves that we are voting, so everything must be ticking along the way it should, but often we are just making the best of a bad slate of choices and there is little to no difference in the way leading parties govern. Mass media helps muffle the squawking when something outrageous happens, and soon everyone forgets it and goes back to watching reality shows or situation comedies.

      Shanghai is a great city, and I may have left the wrong impression – that was my most recent Chinese visit, and it altered many previous Chinese stereotypes: flat-faced girls with moon faces, for one. The young women strolling on the Bund were fashionably dressed and extremely attractive, not to mention friendly and polite. The early signs of an emerging middle class were evident, and it was generally cleaner than my previous visit. That was, as you guessed, Quindao, although I’ve seen it written “Quing Dao” and even “Tsing Tao” when the writers were all speaking of the same city. I should mention that a full ten years separated the visits, and Quingdao was in 1988. Things have probably changed a good deal since then, but I found Quingdao very rundown and dirty, astonishing lapses like a staircase that climbed to the third floor of the North Sea Fleet hotel (where there was a large meeting room that was being used for a meet-and-greet dance) that had no safety rail at all, so it was a straight drop to the lobby floor. Steam trains were still common (China has huge reserves of coal, and these were the kind of large-wheeled steam locomotives you only see in old films nowadays), bamboo scaffolding rising 14-15 floors on new apartment buildings, and bucket brigades handing up hot rivets and construction materials like it hasn’t been done in the west since the 1920’s; that sort of thing. The Chinese navy was pitiful; antique-looking domestic designs featuring ancient Soviet radars and huge clumsy missiles and guns, all painted an outlandish shade of electric blue. It’s not like that now, of course, and new Chinese naval construction is enviably modern-looking. Anyway, it was in Quingdao that I felt the strange sense of otherness; Shanghai was much different, although there were still very few westerners there, so you did stand out. You might be interested in the blog of Alterismus, who runs a blog called “Shanghai Blueprints”, accessible from my blogroll. This is a young Russian girl who lives in Shanghai and is generally very positive about it.

      The Japanese were the ones who made me feel second-class, although it would be difficult to call it racism, as they were so polite and careful to avoid insult. However, the prostitutes just looked through you as if you weren’t there, and you have to imagine they’re pretty far down the scales of being choosy about the company they keep. Our Japanese hosts were uniformly friendly and charming, and if they felt we were savage monkeys from another planet, they gave no sign of it.

      The part about Chinese being short was just a mood-lightener, another stereotype like Japanese all being buck-toothed and nearsighted. Of course it isn’t true, although I find short-leggedness in Chinese girls to be quite common, the part between the knee and hip. But there are plenty of tall Chinese just as most Japanese have excellent eyesight and don’t need dorky industrial-frame glasses. Besides, at 5′ 8″ I am not going to be towering over too many, of any race.

      I don’t know if you’ve seen the reply – addressed to you – from an Estonian to one of your comments on the post “Are Slavs Stupid?”, but he seems to have a real challenging intellect without being confrontational. I think you’d enjoy and be very interested in his remarks. Best regards!

      Mark

  38. sinotibetan says:

    Dear Mark,

    Thank you for your comments.
    Although I am not so certain about democracy being the best system, I think there is the right time and circumstance for such a system to take place. Unfortunately it has been used more too often by (especially) American pol;itical elites as an excuse to ruin other nations.
    The Japanese prior to WW2 felt they were superior racially to all other Asians….and they especially thought of us Chinese as mere dogs and Chinese ladies as mere sex toys. I suspect(but am not too sure) if deep down inside they still despise us. Other Asians(especially Chinese and Koreans) have also complained as being treated ‘second class’ in Japan.
    As for the Chinese ladies being short-legged….hmmmm I am not so sure! Haha. I don’t think my wife wants me to check that out! haha
    OK…I’ll read the Estonian reply to me. Thanks.

    sinotibetan

  39. Dasha says:

    Hello!Im from Russia!Who has learn in Russia!!!e-mail.dasha.kirillova2011@yandex.ru only 12-13years!!!

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