Friday, July 10, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russian Bureaucracy in Some Ways Worse than Soviet Predecessor, Kagarlitsky Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 10 – Not only is the Russian bureaucracy now larger than the Soviet one it replaced, but it is more Kafkaesque, with those who must deal with it far less certain about who decides what or even whether there is anyone who can decide anything, according to a leading Moscow social critic.
In an article for the Orthodox portal, Boris Kagarlitsky, the director of the Moscow Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, notes that everyone knew “that the Soviet Union was a bureaucratic kingdom,” in which “power belonged to the functionaries” with whom Russians hated to have anything to do.
But it had two chief virtues in comparison with its post-Soviet Russian variant: It was smaller, and “what is the main thing, each [Soviet citizen] knew precisely where to go with his questions. The addresses were clear, the spheres of competence were precisely delimited, and [even] the arrangements for lodging complaints written down.”
What is “strange,” he continues is that now “the number of bureaucrats has become much larger than in former Soviet times” even though the country has “escaped from the terrors of ‘bureaucratic totalitarianism’” and even though contemporary technology should have reduced the bureaucratic burden (
The number of government bureaucrats in Russia alone is now “larger than in the entire USSR under L.I Brezhnev,” and they are increasing remarkably quickly, Kagarlitsky points out. In 1996, there were one million bureaucrats of 0.8 percent of the population but by the beginning of 2008, there were 1.62 million, amounting to 1.14 percent of the population.
But the worst thing, the Moscow social commentator says, is not the growth in the size of the bureaucracy but the fact that “now no one knows” including the bureaucrats themselves “who is authorities to decide something and who is not.” And as a result individuals and questions pass from office to office without any resolution, just like in the novels of Kafka.
Recalling a Chinese story he read in his youth, Kagarlitsky says that “from time to time” he is a citizen of a country which is “completely organized but has “totally lost any reason for its existence. Everyone is occupied, but the goals and tasks of this activity have long ago been forgotten or do not exist.”
“Our bureaucratic stratum has achieved the remarkable ability to correctly formulate goals,” Kagarlitsky says, “and then take steps which do not lead to the achievement of these goals.” The reason? “A deep conservatism of thought, a certainty that tomorrow will be just like yesterday was.”
And when the contemporary Russian bureaucracy does act, he continues, it behaves in the following way: A lot of activity, much moving about, and no real changes. The education reform was typical. After many promises, the reform was reduced in ways to eliminate complaints, not be improving things but by making it hard to know whom to complain to.
Any attempts by citizens to point out where the bureaucracy is going wrong, how some of its decisions contradict others, are met with “sincere” anger. And then the new and larger bureaucracy adopts additional measures not to resolve the contradictions and improve things but rather to “defend the offices of the bureaucrats against visitors and complainers.”
The goal of the Russian bureaucracy, Kagarlitsky concludes is to create a situation in which the residents of Russian “sooner or later will give up and leave [it] in peace,” an arrangement that makes it even worse than its Soviet predecessor not only for those who have to deal with it but also for those who hope for a better future.

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