A Note from the Translator: Some people in Russia – sadly few in number – see and understand the ever enlarging whirlpool of madness into which the country is being engulfed. Here are three ‘fun’ items from last week’s Novaya Gazeta, a special issue subtitled “Encyclopedia of Bureaucratic Idiocy: Can there be any hope for a country where such stupidity reigns?”
The Whirlpool of Russian Madness
Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel
Sergei Kuzhegetovich Shoigu [TN: Russia's Minister of Emergency Situations] has proposed that that it be made a criminal offence to deny that the USSR was victorious in the Great Patriotic War.
We have chosen Mr. Shoigu as our ”Man of the Issue,” in particular because Yuri Chaika, our Prosecutor General, seconds the choice. Shoiga has done well to take this matter so much to heart: it’s a very serious thing to entertain doubts about Russia’s victories nowadays! Shouldn’t we be doing more than he proposes, however? We suggest that there should be a 2-year sentence for denying that Russia is rising up from its knees, one year for each lying rug-burnt knee! It should also be a criminal offence to deny that Zenit won the European Cup and Bilan the Eurovision contest. A suspended sentence would probably do in the latter case – on condition that the accused expresses regret.
We also hope that millions of Russians will inform the proper authorities should any negatively-inclined citizens indulge in denigrating Russia or the USSR in the privacy of their kitchens, saying things like “Stalin was a bad manager” (5 years’ jail or 8 years if the person said “very bad”).
This denial issue is vitally important. There should be need a law on passive denial, too! Let’s say someone is engaging in a flagrant act of denial and you stand by and quietly nod. Isn’t that good enough reason for you to be sent off to help Khodorkovsky sew mittens? No mollycoddling!
Once all this is put in place our country will at last be neatly divided into two camps – jailbird bastards who don’t believe in Russia’s greatness and the patriots guarding them.
Novaya readers meanwhile had sent in their own stories of bureaucratic idiocy. What in my view makes them especially Russian is the element of malice that is always present in these clashes with the bureaucracy, the term ‘civil servant’ being totally inappropriate for a Russian state employee.
Reader Igor writes of his adventures in cancelling his private trader’s licence:
In response to my question as to how to set about this, the tax inspector said:
“In order to cancel the licence, you need to write an application and take it to reception on the fifth floor. In order to FULLY cancel the licence, you need to take this approval signature sheet and go to the 8 offices listed for them to sign off that you have no tax outstanding. And in order to TOTALLY cancel the licence, you need to bring the signed-off sheet back to that office over there.
Of course there was a one to three-hour queue to be seen in each of these offices. And in each of these offices there was a computer terminal on which the respective tax inspectors accessed their particular window of one and the same programme then looked at me and rubber-stamped their allocated box on the approval sheet. (Of course, it could all have been done by one person. but let’s forget about that.)
At the fifth or sixth office, it was found that I owed money to the revenue: a fine of SIX KOPECKS for a late payment. [TN: my FX converter says that 6 kopecks is worth US$0.00 as it only shows two decimals!]. Of course, one cannot pay in money at the tax office: one has to go to a bank. So I take a bus to one and go in with 10 kopecks in my hand. The cashier looks at me and says: “Do you really know what you’re doing?”.
“Not really, no. I was given a payment slip (charge 50 kopecks) and it’s cost me several roubles to get here in order to pay 6 kopecks. So frankly, NO, I don’t understand.”
“Don’t bother me with your philosophy. I’ve got to find change to give you!”
“This is a bank, not a market stall. Don’t take the change if you don’t want it, but I’ve got to give it to you.”
“Where am I supposed to find the 4 kopecks to give you?
In the end, the cashier had to chase all round the bank to find 4 kopecks. All the customers laughed their heads off.
After that, the tax office demanded I give them sight of my savings bank book, and ensure there was 10 roubles in the account. Then I had to write a request for the balance of the licence fee to be refunded to me. That took another three queues…
Reader PassingBy writes about a hole-punch:
An amusing thing happened to me when I was privatising my apartment.
First of all, the working hours of the office dealing with this business were from 9am to 2pm. In that time, they could see 5-8 people. So if you were 6th in the queue, you could not be sure you would be processed that day.
That meant going at 5am to take a place in line. After a week of being put through the wringer with questions such as “why is the date in numeric format here and in words here”; “roubles and kopecks are separated by a comma here and it should be a dot” and so on, I brought in my documents once again for a final review. These documents were from the government archive and had of course been bound into a folder.
The lady pored over the documents lengthily. Suddenly, she brightened up and you could almost her her shouting “Eureka!”. She turned to me and said: “Young man, have you got an official chit to certify the hole?”
My mind couldn’t grasp what she was on about. “I’m sorry, a chit to say what?”
“The hole,” says my tormentress. “Look, your document has had a hole punched in it and so I can’t tell that there was nothing written in that spot. Go to the department which issued it and get a chit from them stating that there was nothing on the paper there.”
Stunned, I leave the office and go to the department from which I had obtained the document. Of course, there is a queue there and it takes until the next day to reach my turn.
“Good morning,” I say cheerfully to the receptionist. “I need a chit about the hole.”
“What?” says the bemused girl.
“The hole,” I say, smiling brightly.
“What hole?” asks the girls nervously, edging away from me in case I bite her.
I show her the documents and explain what sort of hole I’m talking about. The girl looks at me as if I must be out of my mind and informs me that they don’t provide chits on such matters.
I tell her that I’m not leaving her office until I get a chit. The girl writes something up for me on a piece of paper along the lines that this certifies that there was nothing written on the piece of paper removed by the hole-punch.
Happy at last, I go home and recount the story to a friend. After a laugh, he looks at me and says:
“I don’t know – a hole-punch makes two holes. Did you get a chit to cover the two holes?”
I realise that my chit only refers to one hole. Hoping against hope, I nonetheless go back to the privatisation office with my chit and hand it to Cerberus, who, of course, demands a chit to cover the second hole.
So I go back to the other office. The girl who gave me the first chit seems to reach into her handbag for her pepper spray just in case as I begin informing her that now I need a chit to certify the second hole.
She does write out the chit, however.
Four days of such idiocies later, I become the proud owner of a privatised apartment.