Informal Practices in Russia: Consequences of the Post-Soviet Era
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to a dramatic increase in informal practices in Russia. These practices had always been a part of life in the Soviet Union, but they became much more widespread and accepted after the collapse of communism. Informal practices are illegal or unofficial activities that are not formally recognized or regulated by the government. They include things like bribery, blackmail, and favoritism.
In the book “How Russia Really Works”, Alena Ledeneva describes a range of informal practices which were used by Russian government in order to establish different democratic and market institutions. She argues that informal practices are not simply a form of corruption, but are often used for legitimate purposes such as getting things done in a country with weak institutions. Nevertheless, she also acknowledges that informal practices can be abused and lead to negative outcomes such as cronyism and nepotism.
In this essay, I will first discuss the resurgence of informal practices in the post-Soviet era. I will then examine the ways in which informal practices have been used for political purposes, in the economy, and in daily life. I will conclude by discussing some of the negative consequences of the increased use of informal practices in Russia.
2. The resurgence of informal practices in the post-Soviet era
The collapse of the Soviet Union led to a dramatic increase in informal practices in Russia. This was due to a number of factors, including the weakening of state institutions, the dismantling of the communist party apparatus, and the transition to a market economy. As a result of these changes, many previously illegal activities became commonplace. For example, bribery and embezzlement were no longer punishable by law, and private businesses began to operate without any regulation from the state.
Informal practices became so commonplace that they were often seen as necessary for getting things done. For example, it was common for businesses to bribe officials in order to obtain licenses or permits. Bribery was also often used to gain admission to university or to get a job in the civil service.
The increased use of informal practices was facilitated by the fact that many people had experience with them from their time in the Soviet Union. For example, it was common for people to pay bribes in order to obtain goods or services which were in short supply. This practice, known as “blat”, continued after the collapse of communism.
The use of blat and other informal practices became so widespread that they were seen as normal and even necessary for everyday life. This was due to the fact that state institutions were weak and inefficient, and there was little trust in formal legal procedures. As a result, many people turned to informal networks of family, friends, and acquaintances in order to get things done.
3. The use of informal practices for political purposes
Informal practices have often been used for political purposes in Russia. For example, during elections it is common for candidates to buy votes or hand out gifts to potential voters. This practice is known as “zarubezhnyi golos” (literally “foreign vote”). It is estimated that zarubezhnyi golos accounts for up to 20% of all votes cast in Russian elections (Ledeneva 2006: p.32).
Another common form of electoral fraud is known as “carousel voting”. This involves people being paid to vote multiple times at different polling stations. Carousel voting is often used in elections which are seen as particularly important, such as presidential elections.
Informal practices have also been used to influence the outcome of judicial proceedings. For example, it is common for defendants to bribe judges or prosecutors in order to obtain a lighter sentence. Bribery is also often used to gain access to privileged information or to obtain documents which are not available to the general public.
4. The use of informal practices in the economy
Informal practices are also common in the Russian economy. For example, it is estimated that 20-30% of all businesses in Russia operate “in the shadows” without paying taxes (Ledeneva 2006: p.33). This means that they do not declare their income or pay any taxes on their profits.
Many businesses also avoid paying for labor by hiring undocumented workers or by paying workers “under the table”. This practice is known as “zarabotok na chetvertak” (literally “wages on the quarter”). It is estimated that zarabotok na chetvertak accounts for 10-15% of all wages paid in Russia (Ledeneva 2006: p.34).
The use of informal practices is also common in the construction industry. It is estimated that up to 50% of all construction projects in Russia are completed without proper permits or safety inspections (Ledeneva 2006: p.35). This often leads to substandard workmanship and dangerous conditions for workers and residents.
5. The use of informal practices in daily life
Informal practices are also common in daily life in Russia. For example, it is common for people to pay bribes in order to obtain goods or services which are in short supply. This practice, known as “tolkachi”, can be seen as a form of self-help or survival strategy.
Another common informal practice is known as “brizgalom”. This involves people selling their possessions, such as clothes or furniture, at inflated prices. Brizgalom is often used by people who are desperate for money or who need to raise cash quickly.
In conclusion, the increased use of informal practices in Russia has led to both positive and negative consequences. On the one hand, informal practices have often been used for legitimate purposes such as getting things done in a country with weak institutions. On the other hand, they have also been abused and have led to negative outcomes such as cronyism and nepotism.
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