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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Corruption Stays on the Menu

The day after President Dmitry Medvedev’s article “Go Russia!” appeared, I stopped by a little restaurant I know in the center of Moscow. The owner of the establishment had also read Medvedev’s article. Her gut reaction was, “Rather than compose articles, the president should read the laws that he signs.”

I discovered this restaurant during the peak of the 1998 crisis. For some inexplicable reason, its prices remained lower than at neighboring establishments, and the food was always tasty. Not long after, I learned that the owner and I had attended the same school as teenagers, and ever since, I have taken as much pleasure from her success as if it had been my own. Whenever I’m in the area, I always drop in to get a taste of what small business owners are thinking.

The day after Medvedev’s article came out, I found the owner in a bad mood following another hassle with bureaucrats.

“Medvedev deserves a statue in his honor,” she said. “After his call to officials last year to ‘stop nightmarizing businesses,’ the police and other regulatory agencies really did stop hounding us over the old rules. In the past, I never would have believed that could happen.

“Now, however, they have dumped a whole new set of rules on us,” she said. “We must reregister our business, and that costs money. We must pay to obtain certification for each work position we maintain.

“What’s more, if we have only one cook working at any given time, but two people work that job in shifts, then we need to pay for two certificates. And now we are required to conduct an expert appraisal of every dish we serve to make sure it contains the correct proportions of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

“Taking the official route, certifying a single meal usually takes about three days, so it will take two years and 200 headaches to certify our entire menu. The result is that we pay the official fees to fulfill the new requirements, plus unofficial fees to get them done faster. And no doubt Medvedev will still hold forth on ways to help small business.”

Her tirade reminded me of a song made popular by the rock group Voskreseniye in the 1970s, when she and I were both young. They sang, “If your pain subsides, tomorrow another will come along.”

I said to her, “In his article, President Medvedev asked all of us to identify what specific measures could be taken to stop corruption. How would you answer that?”

“You know,” she said, “at home, next to my Bible, I have a book by Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin titled ‘The History of a Town.’ I like to reread it from time to time because it reminds me that Russia has always been like this — and I take some comfort from knowing that. So I won’t give the president any advice but will just keep on obeying the laws and paying bribes to stay in business.”

“And what if the government begins executing corrupt officials, like they do in China?” I asked, trying to provoke her.

“That would sure solve a lot of problems,” she replied without hesitation.

At this I recalled that the Kremlin had recently announced it would not lift a moratorium on the death sentence when it expires on Jan. 1. This led me to think for the umpteenth time how lucky we are to live in a country that is not ruled by democracy but by an authoritarian regime that can act against the will of the people.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of WAN-IFRA-GIPP Magazine for publishing business professionals.