Trendwatcher: Old Farts & Pointless Papers

© RIA NovostiNatalia Antonova
Natalia Antonova  - Sputnik International
“That’s it, it’s over. Russia is over,” my friend Misha said. Dramatic organ music then swelled in the background.

“That’s it, it’s over. Russia is over,” my friend Misha said. Dramatic organ music then swelled in the background.

OK, I’m lying about that last bit, but I don’t think that Misha would have minded the organs. Like many Russians, he’s depressed over new legislation aimed at punishing protesters with ridiculous fines (this legislation now means that trying to cover up the massacre of 12 people, like Sergei Tsepovyaz did in the Krasnodar region, is now preferable to expressing political dissent on the streets - as Tsepovyaz was only fined 150,000 rubles, while protesters stand to lose as much as 300,000) - and he doesn’t even go to protests.

Misha is a conservative corporate lawyer-type. He is suspicious of the protest movement. He has a weird soft spot for Russia’s reigning showbiz dinosaurs and views corruption as “mostly inevitable.” And he’s depressed about what he calls his Duma representatives “poor work ethic.”

“If you’re going to do anything, do it well,” Misha told me. “They can’t even write a reactionary bill on the protests well.” He said this without a trace of irony.

There are many explanations about why Russian politics are so complicated, or about why Russian society can be so hard on its various members, or why Russian bureaucracy is so convoluted. For Misha, it comes down to one simple answer: “Too many people don’t know how to do their jobs properly.”

I can see his point. In an extraordinary inside look at how local government bodies operate, businessman and local politician Maxim Katz (yes, I realize I’ve mentioned him recently. He’s quite a good source of information, you know), explained to Muscovites why their yards and sidewalks, to give one salient example, remain largely tasteless and poorly maintained.

Quoth Katz:

“The mayor of Moscow demanded that all courtyards in Moscow must be spruced up. In the bowels of obscure institutions, dominated by old farts who don’t know anything about anything, formed a plan to spend the entire budget on new asphalt and lawns. It looks that at some point, the plan was halted, when someone told the old farts that new technologies have been around for two decades or so, and children’s playgrounds should be paved with a new rubber pavement - that point was added to the plan. But the rest remained the same: an expensive, sh***y lawn, which you can’t walk on, idiotic little fences done in green and yellow, and the asphalt.”

Katz fought valianty to have this plan rejected in his own constituency. But most of his fellow councilpeople have long been accustomed to vote как надо (“as required”), as to not upset anyone. Their presence on their local council is completely symbolic - because they have no idea that serving their constituents is actually a part of their job description.

The same malaise, Misha reckons, is rampant in the State Duma, though he thinks the situation there is getting better. At least there we have dramatic arguments nowadays - as well as a live feed to enjoy said arguments (I use the word “enjoy” loosely here). The really sad work ethic is often displayed within those organizations that are largely closed to the public.

“Do you know how many pointless papers I have to sign just to get through my working day?” Misha wailed. “And it’s happening all over the country.”

What can be done? According to Misha, there is a one-word answer: accountability. “The best companies in Russia have long been familiar with the concept,” he said. “But they’re dealing with a bureaucracy that is not. The real battle of good and evil will be waged between those who can do their jobs, and those who cannot.”

I’m going to add that anti-depressants will play a role in there somewhere. I’m tired of the gloom and doom. And DO NOT tell me: “Oh, Russia’s all about the gloom and doom.” The cheerful (if tasteless) little fences in green and yellow prove otherwise.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Trendwatching in Russia is an extreme sport: if you’re not dodging champagne corks at weddings, you’re busy avoiding getting trampled by spike heels on public transportation. Thankfully, due to an amazing combination of masochism and bravado, I will do it for you while you read all about it from the safety of your living room.

Natalia Antonova is the deputy editor of The Moscow News. She also works as a playwright – her work has been featured at the Lyubimovka Festival in Moscow and Gogolfest in Kiev, Ukraine. She was born in Ukraine, but spent most of her life in the United States. She graduated from Duke University, where she majored in English and Slavic Literature. Before coming to Moscow, she worked in Dubai, UAE and Amman, Jordan. Her writing has been featured in The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Russia Profile, AlterNet, et al.

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