Nothing gets tongues clacking more fervently in the more liberal Russian media outlets than two topics.
Vzyatki – bribes – are as quintessential a part of Russian life, just as not saying what you really think is in Britain.
A close second to bribes come dorogi – roads – and the appalling state they are in in Russia.
Bring the two together – and you get the thing that really gets on people’s wicks: road patrol officers fabricating reasons why you’ve broken the law and why you have to hand over a small fortune.
As I’ve written about before – their small salaries don’t justify the situation, but do go some way to explaining it.
Today bribes are again in the news because Russian sociologists have concluded after asking 17,500 people from around Russia that the size of the “average bribe” in Russia has doubled in the past five years and is now somewhere around the 5,000-rouble mark (US$180).
And this is far from business bribery. These are everyday bribes – the money people are forced to cough up to live a normal life.
Those carrying out the research assume that this figure is lower than the actual amount, as people felt guilty talking about giving larger bribes.
According to the report, doctors, police officers and university lecturers are particularly guilty of taking a back-hander – or “getting it in the paw” as the Russians say.
It comes as no surprise to those of us who have lived in Russia.
If you want anything out of the ordinary – or sometimes firmly within the ordinary (my experience of registering myself at a residential address in Moscow cost me 500 roubles – a smallish bribe but it’s the principle as registration is something that is required by law) – you can bet you’ll reach a brick wall at some point that will only be circumvented by crossing someone’s palm with silver. Or preferably in Russia, with a wad of notes.
If you need the official stamp or series of signatures – it’s just much easier to give a bribe. It’s pretty much expected. It’s certainly rarely complained about.
But this is nothing compared to what I’ve heard about people going through the higher education system – which is estimated to handle some 20.7 billion roubles’ worth of bribes every year.
A friend of mine’s dad – who’ll remain nameless – worked in Moscow State University (MGU). The end of the academic year approaches – and where people in most universities are worrying whether they’re revising enough, students in MGU are left worrying whether they have enough money to pay for their results.
Basically, the guy had a price list. You want a 1st-class degree? That’ll be $x. You want to pass? That’ll be $x.
When you mention this, you’ll often hear people retort that we have bribes in the UK.
“What do you call it for when you want your post to get to its destination more quickly or more definitely? We call it a ‘bribe’, you call it an ‘expedited service’. What about if you want to be seen quickly by a doctor? We call it a ‘bribe’, you call it a ‘private hospital’.”
It goes on. And to be fair it’s a pretty weak argument.
The main difference is that you have the right to offer this money if you have it – but in Russia there is little consideration given to whether or not a person can afford it or not. And yes, if someone is known to have a few more roubles to their name, they’re of course likely to be squeezed even more tightly.
And there have recently been calls in Russia for the ingrained bribery system should be given one legal concession, bringing it one step closer to a slightly fairer system.
The idea is to allow bribes to be given legally – but only that. It would only be legal if they are proffered.
I don’t see it working, somehow. Cynical of me, perhaps.
People are now starting to complain about bribes and misappropriation of publics funds – and are reporting them more, including through a series of websites by famous Russian blogger Aleksei Navalny, including the widely blogged-about RosPil.
But there’s a suspicious attitude towards these do-gooders in Russia – and certainly it is early days.
Despite both PM Vladimir Putin and president Dmitry Medvedev condemning the country’s bribe culture, it is still very much alive and kicking.
It’s often said that…
Russia has two problems: idiots and its roads
But who does “idiots” refer to? The politicians taking bribes? The people being forced to give them? The Western companies who can’t set up shop without giving an enormous bribe – flying in the face of their usual principles. *Cough* Ikea *Cough*.
Or is it the entire system that has no intention of giving the population at large the opportunity to change the system themselves?
It then begs another question: would people take the opportunity were it given? Or would they prefer to keep the mediocre status quo – something they’re used to, rather than fight for a more democratic, fairer future?
Welcome to the majority of the Russian blogosphere debates today…