By Stephen Wilson
Moscow -- "Yes corruption is the number one problem in Russia. It is the main issue. We will never have a normal country until this problem is seriously addressed", stated a Russian teacher who prefers to be unnamed. She informed me her husband had attended the Navalny demonstration against corruption two weeks ago. He had narrowly escaped being arrested by sprinting down an alleyway.
She joked that school children who are attending such rallies would be wise to learn how to run faster!
She is not alone in lamenting the almost undisguised corruption which is seeing Moscow's perfectly made roads and buildings taken apart so that the city council can make more lucrative deals with construction companies and real estate agencies. According to a recent Levada survey, an overwhelming 89% of Russians condemn corruption in state organs. As many as one out of five Russians have admitted using bribes to resolve problems. They claimed that they had given bribes to traffic police (GAI) who had stopped them, to
get the right to registration, for medical treatment in hospitals and as well as for allowing them to enroll their children in local schools. Bribery therefore makes a blatant mockery of any obsolete claims that Russians provide a system of free medical care and right to education.
The level of corruption is so bad in the medical training that doctors can buy their 'qualifications'. But when they practise in hospitals and health centres, they can't even make a basic diagnosis. One of my 19 year old students, Dasha , informed me of how she had gone to five doctors in the space of a day.
One doctor asked her : "What am I supposed to do ?" She answered, "I thought you were supposed to advise me and not vice versa."
Two doctors informed me how they were distressed by poorly trained doctors that can't make a diagnosis because they never undertook serious training but spent their student years having parties while their parents bribed officials.
But the two old questions remain : 'Who is to blame ? ' and 'What is to be done?'
Most respondents in the survey claimed that both the person who gives and takes bribes are equally to blame. However, one third believe that those who accept or demand bribes are more to blame.
As many as 43% polled believed the scale of corruption remains largely unchanged while 31% state it has risen over the past years. As few as 15% believe it has decreased. Concerning what can be done to stamp out corruption, almost 60% believe it is impossible but believe it can at least be lessened.
However, many foreigners appear to be unaware of how the law sharply makes a distinction between what constitutes a gift and a bribe. Any gift given to a businessman over the value of 50 dollars counts as a bribe.
Some people think it does not matter and that there is no real law code or enforcement in Russia . But this is a serious misjudgement of law which confuses caprice with anarchy. There are existing laws in force to curb and punish bribery.
A second myth is that practically any Russian official can be bribed. They believe everyone has their price and can be bribed. This foolish advice is even given by a few Russians. But this is nonsense. Some officials and policemen can't and won't be bribed. There are actually honest officials or people who don't see the point of risking their secure jobs. A journalist called Deirdre Dare was turned back from crossing the border precisely because she had no exit visa . She had to return to Moscow. Bribery or sweet talk would not suffice.
In recent days the Russian government has suggested getting to grips with the problem by offering special courses for school children at an early age where they are brought up to believe that bribery is wrong. This is important because some people believe paying bribes amounts to 'an honest crime' or that they feel they have no choice but to pay a bribe in order to solve a problem.
Corruption can easily be viewed as the normal and natural thing to do because 'everybody else is doing it '.
However, one of the reasons why Russians pay bribes is because of the huge red tape which is strangling people from doing anything. They feel they have no choice or are literary 'forced to pay a bribe' or nothing happens. They won't pass this exam or get this permit unless they pay a bribe. In fact , they could quite frankly claim they are not paying bribes but being robbed ! So there is a gray area where the illegal acts of officials could be viewed not as taking bribes but blackmail and robbery. Since bureaucracy has mushroomed over the
past twenty years then it is highly likely that bribery and corruption has also increased. Since the highest organs of state are tainted with corruption, any campaigns against corruption are doomed to fail. Officials who accuse other
officials of bribery is like the kettle calling the pot black. So bribery is most likely to remorselessly rise!