4. The state

1. Introduction
2. Corruption in transitional Russia
3. Corruption as a phenomenon of the transition
4. The state
5. Measures taken against corruption
6. A basis for change
7. Conclusions

Grassroots corruption in Russia penetrates into all spheres where a citizen has contact with the state. Below we set out the main aspects of the problem. Polls show that people consider the housing and communal system to be the most corrupt part of the government administration. The emergence of the housing market might have been hoped to suppress corruption in this domain. However, corruption proved to be strongly entrenched.

The law enforcement bodies and, first of all, the police, occupy a disgraceful second place in terms of public perceptions of corruption. One quarter of those convicted for bribery in recent years had been law enforcement officers. The highway militia makes the largest contribution to this figure. Citizens make corrupt deals with the law enforcement bodies when obtaining drivers’ licenses, permission to keep firearms, and more.

Taxes and custom fees are an ‘‘active culture medium’’ for grassroots corruption. Polling of seasoned Russian ‘‘shuttle-traders’’ reveals that there is not a single one of them who has not offered a bribe to a customs officer at least once.

Conscription to the army service has been very problematic. According to preliminary estimates, more than half of the young men exempted from the military service obtained the exemption by means of bribery.

In addition to the cases listed above, there are other situations where people confront corruption with high probability. These include collection of fines and other payments from the population by various agencies; the issuing of licenses for various business activities; the granting of permits for construction and distribution of land lots; and the control of activities of various state agencies fire and sanitary inspections, etc. .

The interaction of state authority with the citizen occurs in two ways. The first takes place when the state provides the citizen with some legitimate service, in the form of applying regulations that require permission or the issuing of a document.

A wide range of activities requires an official permit. Citizens are unaware of their rights to obtain the permits and the officials’ duties in rendering the service, and information is concealed for profit of the state officials. The second circumstances of contact occur when the state, in exercising its normal regulatory function, sets fines for violations of regulations. Then the payment due to the state is turned into a private payment to the state official. The citizen does not know how to pay the state, which is presented as a complicated bureaucratic procedure, as opposed to a simple private payment that ends the matter.

Morality and the psychological climate in society affect the level of corruption. The majority of officials are sooner or later faced with circumstances in which they have to choose whether or not to benefit from decision. Corruption is often viewed as compensation for losses suffered by an official in relation to his government service. A decline in morality may be a response to a number of considerations - a feeling of social instability, a low salary not commensurate with the skills and the scope of responsibility of a public servant, injustice in promotion to higher posts, and boorishness or incompetence of superiors. A corrupt decision may also be considered by an official as an act of sabotage against the new system. A corrupt official may consider himself a champion fighting against the ‘‘criminal regime’’, while actually he is but an ordinary money-grabber.

At the same time, corruption, especially grassroots corruption, is considered ‘‘by default’’ as a routine element of everyday life. Accusations of corruption become so routine that the division between the norm and an aberration gradually disappears. An official may become corrupt as a result of a smooth transition from ‘‘boundary’’ activities to clearly criminal ones. This transition is facilitated by the absence of clear-cut rules of management and decision-making, which blurs the scope of rights and responsibilities. In the transition period, obsolete but still active traditions and cultural stereotypes facilitate a smooth descent into corruption.

For instance, in the old system there existed special kinds of ‘‘securities’’: documents with a collection of visas, permissions and authorizations ranging from a village in Soviet to the Politburo. The necessity of obtaining these permissions allowed the informal conversion of administrative capital into economic capital. Such practices existed in all branches of authority and at all levels. The tradition has persisted.

Similar effects arise because of the existence side-by-side of old and new stereotypes of administrative behavior. The Soviet system allowed the legal conversion of authority into personal comfort and the illegal conversion of authority into personal wealth. Forbidden, however, was the conversion from economic to political authority. There were some exceptions. However, these were unacceptable and from time to time punished. One could gain shadowy influence but it was impossible to legally buy political authority for money.

A normal democracy allows some conversion of economic wealth into influence over the state, through electoral mechanisms and the political influence of special interest groups. However, in its developed form, democracy is inconsistent with the conversion of political authority into economic wealth.

A feature of the transition is the combination of traditions and cultural stereotypes that allow the personal freedom of virtually unhindered conversion of one form of capital into another. Public officials consider their posts to be a continuation of the market. Democracy is seen as the freedom of conversion from the normal market into the market for corruption-based services.

Absence of opposition to the conditions creating corruption allows expansion in both horizontal and vertical directions. Corruption captures new offices and spheres of influence, promotes the formation of networks and groups, and allows policy making to be captured for private interest. As economic and political inequality within society increase, social tension increases as well. The very existence of constitutional order is put under threat. Corruption evolves into a problem threatening the country’s national security.

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