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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

RED TAPE: Summing Up Year's Winners In Bureaucracy




Everyone is summing up the year: movie critics listing the best movies, theater critics reviewing the most significant productions. Why shouldn't a bureaucracy critic look back on the year in bureaucracy? No reason she shouldn't.


In the Bureaucratic Blooper of the Year category, the hands-down winner is the new Russian passport. It wins our appreciation for scooping an entire new age group (those between the ages of 14 and 16 will now have their own personal red certificate of the country's failure to break with its past by abolishing the internal-passport and propiska, or residence permit, systems) -- but it doesn't even exist. That is, something like 1,000 of these new documents have been printed and issued, but they bear state symbols that have yet to be made official. Not until after the first new passports were issued did the State Duma start deliberating what should be included in the documents -- and the entire lot briefly risked being withdrawn for not containing the "nationality" (meaning ethnicity) line. The crowning touch is that the new passports are being issued only to adolescents: Those of us over 16, if we lose or damage our passports, will be given the old Soviet ones with a hammer and sickle -- there are still hundreds of thousands of these in the warehouses, and the state is naturally loathe to waste them (even if they do say we are citizens of a nonexistent country -- hell, they are for internal use only, and we all know where we live anyway).


Talking of symbols brings us to the denominatsiya, or denomination of the ruble, which wins the Bureaucratic Success of the Year award. If you don't count the hordes of people who have been withdrawing their money from banks, the recent plunge of the ruble when the population stormed currency-exchange points, and the fact that everyone who has an ATM account with a Russian bank will be denied access to it over the holidays, everything is going remarkably smoothly. All the stores posted new prices alongside old ones right on schedule, a month before the new money is actually due to emerge, so now we all have to scrape not one but two sticky price labels off holiday gifts we get for others. And no one's even raised an objection -- not one that's been heard, anyway -- to the fact that the new coins bear the same yet-to-be-approved state symbols as the new passports.


But in all this denominatsiya excitement, have the Central Bank and other concerned officials remembered to thank Mayor Yury Luzhkov for paving the way? It was he, after all, the winner of our Bureaucrat of the Year award, who pioneered ordering private shops to design their price tags as he, Luzhkov, wanted to see them. To this day it is possible to buy an item that's marked, say, Condoms Moscow 850 12000 apiece. And that's not all: Luzhkov succeeded in forcing stores to adorn their windows with his holiday symbols and change their names from "foreign" to "Russian," as in "supermarket" to "gastronom." And these are just minor examples of the great successes of our Bureaucrat of the Year. Monuments to his skills can be found throughout the city: Peter the Great, a monument to Luzhkov's ability to squash popular unrest; the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a monument to Luzhkov's ability to secure federal funding for self-aggrandizement; and, of course, the Moscow City Duma, a monument to Luzhkov's ability to just plain get what he wants.