This site is our response to everyone who has ever asked us what Russia is like, and for anyone who might have never wondered, but should have. It’s an attempt to put into words Russia as we see it; our go at explaining that big old riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, that in fact, never went away. It’s about understanding the views, opinions and psyche of a nation that hits our headlines daily, without many of us ever really knowing why. And ultimately, it’s about providing a picture of Russia, as seen first-hand by two people, who think that although the journey they’re on to try and understand this country might never end, the process itself is worth sharing.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Whistle While You Work (If You Dare)

Artwork: 'Conversation' by Aleksandr Zhernokluev

Last November, Aleksei Dymovsky, a former Russian police officer from Novorossiik, publicly disclosed the widespread corruption that sits deep in the militsiia. His six-minute YouTube film has received over a million hits and caused quite a stir in Russia. These brave whistle-blowing tactics resulted unsurprisingly in his immediate dismissal from the police force, and last month, Dymovsky was arrested on fraud and corruption charges – revenge for his actions, some say. However, is there hope for this young policeman and others who want to disclose the dirty work of those entrusted with power?

Dymovsky’s bold but clumsy YouTube post has proven to be something of an inspiration. His arrest has led to a flourishing internet campaign, causing others to step forward in support and talk about their experiences of corruption. It would appear that this one whistleblower has lead to a newly assertive citizenry, unwilling to allow bribery and bullies triumph over integrity and truth…

Another hope for the battle against corruption lies with the Kremlin. President Medvedev has always vowed to address the issue more seriously and more concretely. Over the past year, several new federal laws have been introduced, namely ‘On Counteracting Corruption’. All these laws are based around Medvedev’s long-term national anti-corruption plan. In addition, the president’s State of the Nation Address last November pledged to stamp out this ugly problem. Surely there must be something of substance here?

As well as provoking an internet following, Dymovsky’s arrest has attracted much international media attention, forcing the rest of the world to address Russia’s appalling corruption record. Will lifting Russia’s shady profile onto the world stage shame the country’s leaders into addressing the situation properly?

However, neither Dymovsky’s case nor the battle for transparency is this simple. Although his arrest has inspired others to talk, this could be viewed simply as an online fad. The likelihood that Dymovsky will endure a long spell in Russia’s notoriously brutal prisons is simply going to deter others from speaking out in the long run. Many equate doing time in some of Russia’s worst prisons to a death sentence. The story of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who accused the Interior Ministry of corruption, died during a period of incarceration. Surely sometimes it’s better to sit down and shut up?

Furthermore, there is much criticism of the effectiveness of Medvedev’s grand anti-corruption plans. What has actually been achieved? Much of his electoral campaign prior to the 2008 victory was built upon promises to rid Russia of corruption and bring about change. However, as is seen all over the world, electoral promises do not always translate into policy. The death of Magnitsky and the arrest of Dymovsky are just two more chapters in the sad corruption saga that seems to have no denouement in sight.

It has also been pointed out that the successful media coverage of the case is nothing to celebrate. Since Dymovsky’s case converges with the Kremlin’s preferred policy of the month – championing the fight against corruption and reforming the Interior Ministry – the story has garnered much more interest and support than would otherwise have been the case.

What needs to be done?

Firstly, legislation protecting whistleblowers needs to be enforced. Future Dymovskys need to know that if they do speak out, they will not wind up in a prison cell.

Secondly, Messrs Medvedev and Putin need to act with true political will. As mentioned, anti-corruption policies are a vote-winner, but they need to be much more than this.

Thirdly, something must be done to alter the culture of tolerance that surrounds corruption in Russia. Last year, Caroline wrote an excellent post about university students achieving their grades by stuffing essays and exam papers with thousands of roubles. Even the young and intelligent are happy to buy their way through life, simply because this is the way that things are done in Russia.

This is not to say that Russians necessarily find corruption acceptable, but in order to survive and keep day-to-day living ticking over, people are prepared to put up with it. But how do you go about changing something that is so deep-rooted in daily life – the famous Russian byt’?

1 comment:

Katie said...

I'm not sure that its only in Russia that corruption is seen as a necessary part of day-to-day life. We were debating Medvedev's anti-corruption policy in class the other day and the conversation took a somewhat unexpected turn when some of the Italian students started asking what was so wrong with corruption: 'in my country, Italy, we have corruption and sometimes and it makes systems more efficient, no?' Our lecturer was at a loss for words. The general lack of condemnation of corruption in the class (of mostly EU citizens) was pretty shocking. Small scale corruption may make everyday life a little smoother but its always a sign of a corrupt system.