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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BOOKWORM: A Russian Tradition:Officials Who Steal




When asked to give the shortest possible description of Russia's administrative system, Nikolai Karamzin, the great Russian historian and courtier to Emperor Alexander I, said: "They steal."


These words are still valid today, nearly two centuries later.


When KGB Colonel Valery Streletsky was appointed in late 1993 to head the anti-corruption department inside the government, his new bosses, generals Alexander Korzhakov and Mikhail Barsukov, greeted him with the following words: "Your job will be a difficult one; a heavy burden ... Bureaucrats have become truly brazen. They don't hesitate to take bribes, they lobby the interests of commercial structures. Your job is to establish order in the government machinery. But you have to move carefully. Thereare some decent people in the government, too."


Scenes such as this, as well as details of Streletsky's investigative work in the White House from 1994 to 1996, are presented in his new book Mrakobesiye. The title is formally translated as "obscurantism," but the Russian word conveys the image of devils and darkness, which conforms more closely to the spirit of the book.


Streletsky's most famous act was probably his arrest of two presidential campaign workers who were leaving the White House with a box full of money in June 1996. In so doing he inadvertently caused the dismissal of Korzhakov and Barsukov.


The book hit the market earlier last week, and street vendors are selling it for the comparatively hefty price of 50 to 65 rubles ($8-$11). The initial print run of the book, which has 300 pages of text, as well as many color photos and black-and-white reproductions of incriminating documents, is also rather high -- 25,000 copies.


It is rumored that many publishers refused to work with the book. A new publishing house, Detective-Club, was established for the task. I personally do not see what all the fuss is all about.


However gloomy the contents, there is nothing new here. Practically all of the book's revelations have been previously published in newspapers, particularly Moskovsky Komsomolets.


But it is a very convincing text that will be widely read by the general public and by foreign correspondents, as it is much easier to use than dozens of clippings from different periodicals.


The book will never attain the fame of Korzhakov's best seller "From Dawn to Dusk." It has no similar literary merits and is, in fact, simply dull. But when I took the trouble to write down the names of the high-ranking bureaucrats accused by Streletsky of corruption, the index was a virtual Who's Who of government officials: Boris Berezovsky, Sergei Filatov, Alexei Ilyushenko, Viktor Ilyushin, Sergei Shakrai, Vladimir Shumeiko, and many other Russian officials of the highest rank.