MOSCOW, July 24, 2005 – The goal of Russia’s bureaucracy is to make the lives of its own people as miserable as possible, but now they’re going out of their way to make misery an equal opportunity tradition shared with the ex-pat community.
Effectively immediately, all foreigners applying for work permits must undergo testing for six contagious diseases – TB, HIV, syphilis, Chlamydia, herpes, and leprosy -- before they can be approved for jobs here.
Leprosy? When’s the last recorded case of leprosy in the civilized world?
What’s more, the tests can be taken only in Russia’s dilapidated, underfunded, often unsanitary, usually overcrowded, and always incompetent and inefficient state clinics. You can’t get the tests from your own doctor or from the British or American clinics.
And you have to go to three different clinics for TB, leprosy, and venereal diseases!
It’s state harassment pure and simple, intended, not to make the population safer from imported diseases, but to make life more difficult for the foreign worker. Xenophobia is reasserting itself in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
Or, as my British fellow teacher Bill Skyrme contends, a means of financially shoring up the povertied state clinics. Not only will the testing itself cost about 0 for every foreign worker, but the bribes that will be required to get the results back in less than a month – you won’t be able to work in the meantime -- will be many times that. A windfall for the impoverished state health workers!
The good news for me is that teachers – at least for now -- don’t need work permits. Otherwise, I’d miss probably at least a week of classes going to all the clinics, standing in all the lines, paying all the money, and fraying all my carefully pampered nerves.
This exemption is probably just another oversight of the inept and inefficient bureaucracy. May they stay that way a little while longer.
Bribery for “free” health care is just one small part of the 9 billion Russians spend every year to get everyday things done, according to a new study released by Indem, described as an “anti-corruption think tank,” and Romir Monitoring.
Health care accounts for a little more than one-tenth -- 0 million -- of the total. Students and their parents spend 3 million a year to get into and graduate from the nation’s universities, and more than 0 million a year to try to get justice in Russia’s courts – actually, a decrease of nearly one-fourth from the last study four years ago!
Bribes to doctors and military officials to keep Russia’s well-ogled teenage boys out of the Russian military have skyrocketed from million four years ago to 353 million! Apparently a lot of Russian parents agree with me that, considering the prison-like conditions of Russia’s Army and the possibility of getting your brains blown out in Chechnya, no price to avoid it is too great.
Traffic cops, of course, come in for their share, which has actually dropped to a mere 3 million a year from 8.4 million after Putin announced a high-visibility “anti-corruption” campaign a year or so ago.
The average businessman – that means on average every single businessman – pays 5,800 a year in bribes to keep his company’s doors open! Three-fourths of it goes to local officials – licensing bureaus, health and safety inspectors, tax agents, etc.; 20% goes to regional authorities; and the last 5% goes to the feds.
But if he were of a mind to, Putin could brag that things in Russia aren’t so bad. It’s only the 90th in corruption out of 145. There are still 55 countries worse than his!
An unexpected call from Vanya last night after a silence of more than six months interrupted the nostalgia of my “Jeeves and Wooster” videotape. He sounded sober – and sexy as ever. He still has his “dream job” of investment counselor with the bank. His first question was, “who’s living with you?” Anton, Yegor – though I rarely see him – and maybe after today, twin Sergei and his little brother Zhurik.
Vanya said he is going for his usual vacation to the Crimea on the second of August, but has left the return date open in the event I’d like to have him come to Moscow for a few days.
I was very happy to hear from him. Despite my anger and disgust with him over his drinking, self-centeredness, and money demands, I still care for him – let’s face it, love him -- and still have fantasies about his provocative ever-ready piska. I would guess from his phone call that he is still fond of me as well. I would really like to see him. I told him I’d let him know my plans after Sergei and Zhorik arrive.
Is there a new fantasy on the horizon? I’ve been needing one, especially with Denis in Moldova and the twins and Zhorik in Stavrapol. I’ve been having to prevent an awful lot of prostate cancer without any help from my friends!
Yegor has actually suggested that I cruise Kitai Gorod or look for somebody on the Internet. But I’m reluctant to do either – especially until I see what the Sergei/Zhorik episode brings.
So my curiosity was pleasantly piqued yesterday afternoon when I got a call from Ivan Petrovich – “the equivalent of ‘John Smith,’ chuckled Basil in the background – from Stavropol asking if the twins were here.
No, but I think Sergei and his brother Zhorik are going to arrive tomorrow, I said.
“I’ll call back then. I have a couple of boys here in Stavropol who would like to come visit you.”!!!!
What the hell does that mean? Can’t wait to find out.
It’s “tomorrow” and Zhorik has arrived – sans Sergei. I was asleep when he came, and woke up to see him standing at the foot of the bed. We hugged and kissed gleefully.
He said he didn’t want to talk about Stavropol. But everybody is living separately now -- Andrei by himself and Sergei by himself. He and his father, Valentin, are on better terms, but still a bit estranged. Valentin has bought a gold cross for Zhorik’s gold chain he was holding “for safe keeping” and is now wearing it. Sister Anya and Zhorik are back in each other’s good graces, Zhorik has invited her and her husband-to-be Dima to visit.
I asked about his phone conversation about Sergei and the ,000. He said that Sergei had taken the ,000 and opened a slots casino and is going to try to make enough money to pay me by the first of August. But if I understood him correctly, bandits got half of his ,000. I asked him why, if the cigarette deal was successful, they didn’t do another cigarette run. He didn’t know. Andrei is working with his truck in the Stavropol area.
I said I was disappointed that Sergei had taken the ,000 and put it into a casino before paying me back.
Shorik strongly disagreed. He said that Sergei has made a radical change. He is acting responsibly, doesn’t gamble, and is very aware that he needs to get the money back to me by the first of August. The two of them – Zhorik and Sergei -- are getting along much better now and actually enjoy spending time together.
He desperately wants to find a job. And I desperately want him to. He says he doesn’t want to go back to Stavropol. He wants to live here with me. I like that idea – I think.
He also wasn’t successful in getting his passport, so he’s unable – at least now – to go on any vacation trips with me. I’d still like to take the trip to Bulgaria with Basil, but we’ll have to see how time and money go.
With my discussion of Basil’s marital problems, I am bumping up against an ethical problem. Basil is not only a dear friend, but he’s the designer and administrator of this web site and reads every word before it goes on the site. But I vowed early on to be completely candid and to not edit these columns because of sensibilities.
It’s why almost everyone’s name is fake.
Basil is as concerned with fairness as I am, and he thought some of my remarks and assessments of Katya and the psychologist in my last column were unfair to them. On re-reading what I had written, I had to agree that in my rush to defend Basil, I had bent too far in the other direction. So I toned them down a little.
He still felt I was being too partial to him:
Why didn’t I do it?....I didn’t have enough experience. I didn't have enough experience to realize that I didn’t have enough experience and to tell her I wanted to stop the relationship.
Also I agree with another psychologist whose book I've read. He is a man; he has a weekly television program and a couple of medical degrees. His opinion is that the woman is always right. Of course not in questions of how to better reinstall Windows or how to hammer in a nail. But in the global question of the human race in the local scale of her life (and her family) as the inheritrix of the human race. It is not a deliberate rightfulness, it's an instinct. And in this regard everything is okay with Katya.
Everything that she did was her love and wish to realize herself as a woman, to find a better male, to get a better lair, to protect her posterity. And if she was a shrew, it was only because she didn't feel any love from me.
I can't understand the depth of my own soul yet. But seems to me there are many complexes, or it's like Prince Myshkin's (Dostoevsky’s The Idiot) fits. :-)
.... So my sin is that I didn’t say what I felt early enough, but not "His only sin is that he let himself be dragged."
So my respect and love for him is only intensified. I complimented him on his wisdom.
“Funny,” he replied. “Now I'm wise, but not then...
Better late than never – for us all.