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Old September 10th, 2016, 11:32 PM
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Arrow Re: The sad tale of the Light Combat Aircraft

RELEVANT INFORMATION: ONLY THE EXPERIENCED CAN CONNECT THE DOTS.

The hell of Russian bureaucracy

The Soviet Union was notorious for its endless form-filling and procrastination. Nothing much seems to have changed, as our Moscow correspondent discovered when she tried to get some dry cleaning done.


In Russia, everything can be a nightmare even dry cleaning. Photograph: Alamy

A few weeks ago, I got to a dinner party, promptly hid myself in the host's bedroom for 15 minutes and collapsed into a cascade of tears. The cause? Dry cleaning.

On the face of it, Moscow has most of the trappings of modern, European life. There are cafes, even non-smoking ones, where you can order a flat white. There are websites that will deliver your weekly supplies of hummus, fresh apricots and rich French cheeses. And there are dry cleaners which, in theory, will whisk your clothes away to some unseen locale and steam them spotless in the blink of an eye.

They key phrase here is, of course, "in theory". In practice, daily life in Russia is an endless battle against shopkeepers and waiters steeped in the best traditions of Soviet-era manners (walk into a shop and the first thing you'll hear is: "Girl! What do you want?"); those fresh fruits will probably be black by the time they make it through the city's gridlocked, muddy streets. And dry cleaning that's a whole other experience altogether.

It goes something like this. You get to the dry cleaner. There's a woman, let's call her Oksana Alexandrovna, sitting behind a low counter, row upon row of clothes in plastic wrap behind her. She's dealing with a customer. This gives you time to reflect. "Russia is amazing," you think. "The changes this place has seen 25 years ago, would I even be standing in a shop like this? The lady in front of me certainly wouldn't have been handing in a MaxMara dress to clean. A true middle-class experience. In Russia. I'm living it."

By now, about 12 minutes have passed. Oksana Alexandrovna is caressing the woman's clothes. Much paperwork is exchanged. A stamp machine is placed on the counter. You wonder what is happening but soon enough you will know.

Finally, it is your turn. You put six items of clothing on the counter. Oksana Alexandrovna lets out a sigh. This would be the point where you would normally get your receipt and go. But this is Russia. It's time to get to work. A huge stack of forms emerges. Oksana Alexandrovna takes a cursory glance at your clothes. Then the examination and the detailed documentation begins. This black H&M sweater is not a black H&M sweater. It is, in her detailed notes on a paper titled "Receipt-Contract Series KA for the Services of Dry and Wet Cleaning", "a black women's sweater with quarter sleeves made by H&M in Cambodia". Next, there are 20 boxes that could be ticked. Is this sweater soiled? Is it mildly soiled? Very soiled? Perhaps it is corroded? Yellowed? Marred by catches in the thread? All this, and more, is possible. The appropriate boxes are ticked. But that is not all a further line leaves room for "Other Defects and Notes". By now, you have spent less time wearing the sweater than Oksana Alexandrovna has spent examining it. This process is repeated five more times. Except with that white cardigan that has 11 buttons. Why do you know it has 11 buttons? Because Oksana Alexandrovna has counted each and every button. Twice.

The process is almost over. Oksana Alexandrovna asks you to sign your name. Five times. She firmly stamps each page (for your detailed receipt has now run to two). You clutch the document, hand over 1,500 roubles (32), say goodbye to that 40 minutes of your life, and go on with your day.

If only that were the end of this tale. Some time wasted, nothing more. But five days later, you must pick up said clothes. And that's where the real problems can emerge. In between the dropping-off and the picking-up of the clothes, Russia had a presidential election. Riot police, troops and military trucks poured through Moscow. Protesters took to the streets crying foul, dismayed at the prospect of living another six years under Vladimir Putin. And I lost my dry-cleaning receipt.

This is the horror of horrors. Oksana Alexandrovna was not pleased. This meant more paperwork, more signatures, more stamps. The first thing demanded my passport. "What does my passport have to do with my dry cleaning?"

"Passport!"

I handed it over. She wrote down every bit of information, making sure to note my registration (every resident of and visitor to Russia must make police aware of their residence, a Soviet holdover that shows no sign of disappearing). Next, I was to write down descriptions of each item of clothing I had handed in. "Five black sweaters and one white one." "Not good enough!" "The white sweater had 11 buttons?" "Please take this more seriously!" More signatures. More stamps. "You've stolen more than an hour of my life!" I yelled. Another passport check. "Give me my clothes!" Forty minutes later, I had them in hand. My nerves were somewhere else entirely.

The frustration stems not just from the loss of time but from the knowledge that despite Russians' love of documents, stamps, identification procedures and painstaking handwritten note-taking, it all means nothing. The country's endless bureaucracy spreads its tentacles everywhere. No good concerts in Moscow? "Just try filling out the forms to get equipment into the country," one promoter told me (not to mention the bribery needed to get things through customs). Want to order a taxi by telephone? You will be asked a series of questions that appear to have nothing to do with the order. And 20 minutes later, you will be called and asked them again. Need to use an ATM? Get ready to press a half-dozen buttons (Which language would you like to speak? Which account would you like to use? Roubles or dollars? What size notes do you need? You want to take out more than $100? Then repeat the process again because every ATM inexplicably has a cap).

What it comes down to is the bureaucracy doesn't work. Let's say I stole some other woman's clothes. Despite the forms and the stamps, the (double) passport check and notes, the woman would have no recourse. Court system? Busted. Police? Corrupt. I spent nearly two hours of my life filling out forms in order, need I remind you, to freshen up some cheap sweaters because that's simply what has always been done.

Take the students at Moscow State University, Russia's most prestigious institution of higher learning. Founded in 1755, it was home to Anton Chekhov and Mikhail Gorbachev, nearly a dozen Nobel laureates and an untold number of scientists. Last week, the university let it be known that any student fees paid through MI-Bank were lost, as the bank had filed for bankruptcy. One can imagine the endless paperwork (and stamp stamping!) required to make such payments. But all trace of the payments has been lost. The school's solution? The students must pay again.

This is what has turned many people in Moscow against Putin. It's not just him, but the system one that began corroding in Soviet times, before a flicker of hope emerged with the fall of the Soviet Union, only to settle back into a non-functioning corrupt bureaucratic nightmare that now has the added bonus of wheedling itself into the private sector. So much has changed and so much has not.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/20...an-bureaucracy
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