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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Privileges of Officialdom

In 1990, Natalya Trubitsyna came for help to Sergei Stankevich, then deputy chairman of the Moscow City Council. Her problem was the following: Trubitsyna was the daughter of Nikolai Patolichyov, a former Soviet foreign trade minster who died in 1989. He lived in a large apartment in a prestigious area of Moscow. He had been about to sign the apartment over to his daughter but died before he found the time. and so Trubitsyna turned to democrat Stankevich in the hope that he would help her family move to her father's apartment.


Stankevich listened attentively and promised to examine the case. He went to look at the apartment that had not been signed over to Trubitsyna by her father, and after a while the family moved into the flat.


I remember well how Stankevich led a pre-election campaign in 1989 for the right to become a deputy of the Soviet parliament. One of the winning slogans of his team had been to promise that if elected, he would wage merciless war on privileges. In order to convince the electorate that he was not a member of the nomenklatura, Stankevich invited anyone who wanted to come and listen to his arguments in his small apartment. Indeed, he and his family lived in a diminutive apartment, in a building constructed in the Khrushchev era, the type called Khrushchev blocks.


Privileges were a characteristic part of the Soviet way of life. Under the Communist regime, the majority of people had a more or less identical lifestyle. But privileges did exist for the party elite; they were introduced by Lenin, and polished to perfection over the decades. The nomenklatura had the possibility of buying decent food and products at low prices from distributors who were inaccessible to the general public. These same top officials lived in excellent apartments and took vacations in the choicest sanatoria and rest homes.


Nikita Khrushchev tried to make this system accessible to the average folk - which became one of the main reasons for his removal from power. Yevgeny Chazov, the head of the medical institute in which the Communist elite used to receive treatment, remembers what Brezhnev told him, in 1966: "Khrushchev undid everything, destroyed what had been created over a period of decades in the Kremlin medical service, worked on his public, and for what? Did the people actually start living better for this? "


Ordinary people knew that the nomenklatura - the apparatchiki - lived a lot better than they did, but under the conditions of a totalitarian regime open protest was not allowed. Only with perestroika did it become possible to demand the abolition of the system of privileges. This became the key point in the campaign promises of candidates running as democrats for parliament seats. The fact that Boris Yeltsin traveled on trolleybuses and received treatment in ordinary district polyclinics made a great impression upon the man in the street.


But the trolleybus, the ordinary polyclinic, the apartment in the Khrushchev block, only lasted until the democrats came to power. As leaders, the democrats have gradually reinstated virtually every aspect of the system of advantages and privileges. For Communist deputies, the reinstatement of the systems of privilege was a continuation of their former life in the nomenklatura. and Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, who said in an address to the Supreme Soviet that he lived modestly, in fact enjoyed and still enjoys all manner of privileges.


All of this is the source of deep disappointment in ordinary people. One of the best fighters of corruption, prosecutor Vladimir Kalinichenko, has left the Interior Ministry to go into business, the main reason being his low salary. But not only that.


Kalinichenko says: "I cannot say that I left just because of money. People in the new government and parliament are grabbing the best dachas, the best cars. It's just the same as it was under the old government. Why should I struggle for the glory of Russia when the country is ruled by such leaders? If they had set a good example, maybe I would have stayed".


The last case that Kalinichenko undertook involved bribery among parliament leaders and the purchase of Western goods for special checks that were guaranteed by the gold reserves of the Russian Federation. But he was not allowed to take this case to its conclusion.


Boris Yeltsin has stopped making himself out to be a man suffering all the hardships of life along with the common man. Now when his car is on the streets, traffic is blocked, just as it was when Brezhnev traveled about Moscow.


The film director Alexei Simonov told the following story: "My friends, parishioners of the Yelokhovsky cathedral, could not worship on Easter Sunday although they arrived early, because their places had been reserved for the expected president. If the president is a parishioner he should have arrived at the cathedral along with everyone else. If he is a believer, let him build himself a separate model in the Kremlin". Simonov views the fact that leaders are demanding privileges everywhere, even in a cathedral, as a sign of an absence of morals that, in turn, signifies a low level of morality in Russia.


The politicians of the new wave have failed to renounce the temptation to indulge in privileges and advantages. and this means that Soviet power has been preserved in Russia by the distribution of privileges, one of the typical signs of an inequality unwritten and unfixed by law. These privileges are not earned but are received depending on whether a person enters into the hierarchical administrative structure or not. Unfortunately, to this day, this system has been preserved almost to the point of total inviolability.


Nikolai Andreyev is the editor of the Moscow weekly Obozrevatel.