Civil Servants Called a New Class

Posted in Russia | 11-Nov-05 | Author: Nabi Abdullaev| Source: Moscow Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Moscow Kremlin.

The bureaucracy has emerged as a new political class with its own values and ways of life, and bureaucrats themselves acknowledge that they put their own interests above the public good, according to a study presented by a group of sociologists on Thursday.

Moreover, bureaucrats have become less efficient and more corrupt during the rule of President Vladimir Putin, even though he vowed in this year's state-of-the-nation address not to "hand the country over to ineffective, corrupt bureaucrats" who, in the words of the 1,500 average citizens and 300 low- and mid-ranking bureaucrats polled for the study, have degenerated into a "closed and arrogant caste."

"In Russia, a bureaucrat is no longer just a civil servant. They make up a caste that lives for itself and not for the interests of the people and the state," Mikhail Gorshkov, head of the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said at a news conference. "This is the most tragic finding."

The study revealed dramatic differences between how Russians view bureaucrats and how the bureaucrats view themselves.

Ordinary people considered bureaucrats indifferent, corrupt and incompetent, while bureaucrats saw themselves as professional, industrious and efficient.

"Such a negative assessment of bureaucrats by citizens does not come out of the blue. It is formed by personal experience," said Gorshkov, who headed the study.

Respondents were divided over what they saw as the reasons behind inefficient bureaucracy: Ordinary people answered that civil servants had low ethical standards and were not afraid of being punished for their actions, while bureaucrats blamed large workloads and low salaries.

The study poked holes into those perceptions, finding that bureaucrats' salaries are three times higher than that of the average Russian and that none of the polled bureaucrats complained that their social status was low.

While perceptions differed in many areas, it was where they converged that worried the sociologists. Ordinary people and bureaucrats agreed that the primary goal of bureaucrats was to keep and increase personal wealth and power, even at the expense of the people.

Only 2 percent of ordinary people and 16 percent of bureaucrats said that bureaucrats were interested primarily in the prosperity of the country.

"The fact that bureaucrats said they knew they have their own interests that are separate from that of the state and the people tells us that they have emerged as a new political class that is unfriendly to common citizens," Gorshkov said.

A total of 76 percent of ordinary people and 40 percent of civil servants said they viewed bureaucrats as a closed caste united by common interests and a way of life. About 71 percent of ordinary people considered bureaucrats a hindrance to Russia's development, rather than facilitators of it. Nearly 90 percent saw a negative connotation in the word "bureaucrat."

Recipes for good bureaucracy diverged among the two groups: Ordinary people stressed public oversight over bureaucrats and said corrupt bureaucrats should be banished from civil service. Bureaucrats, however, gave priority to stricter hiring rules based upon education and work experience, and called for salary increases.

The study polled respondents in 58 cities and towns between July and September. The margin of error was less than 3 percentage points.

Contemporary bureaucracy is presenting an ever-growing burden for the state and society, said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of the Center for the Study of the Elite at the Russian Academy of Sciences and a researcher in the study.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the number of bureaucrats in proportion to the population has grown by 14 times -- to 2 million civil servants, or 1.5 percent of the population, as of last year, she said.

"Moreover, the biggest incomes linked to corruption among the bureaucracy are enjoyed by the so-called veto groups, bureaucrats who have the power to say yes or no," she said. "In past years, the number of veto groups has skyrocketed."

While most respondents agreed that the economy has improved under Putin, many said corruption has worsened in law enforcement, the judicial system, health care and education, the areas where veto groups are most concentrated.

Studies by Indem, an anti-corruption think tank, indicate that those state-regulated areas are the most corrupt of all. The studies have also found that corruption has grown under Putin.

Indem bases its research largely on interviews with businessmen, who oftentimes have considerable firsthand experience with bribery.

Kryshtanovskaya said the problems with bureaucracy were rooted in the social and political changes of the last 15 years, which have allowed civil servants "to privatize the state" -- to swiftly and fearlessly transform the powers they have assumed into personal property.

The country has undergone a "true bureaucratic revolution" since the Soviet collapse, said Dmitry Badovsky, a researcher with the Institute of Social Systems at Moscow State University.

"Today, bureaucrats strive to own their official functions, sell them at the market price, and then pass the newly acquired property to their heirs," said Badovsky, who was not involved in the study. "This is different from Soviet times, when a bureaucrat almost always enjoyed relatively large perks, but only while he was employed in the job."

Yegor Ligachyov, once an influential member of the Soviet Politburo, recalled in a telephone interview that every time he moved up the career ladder he had to give up whatever dachas, apartments and chauffer-driven cars he had been assigned in his last post.

Ligachyov acknowledged that corruption existed under the Soviet Union, but he also spoke of a widespread fear of prosecution, naming many high-placed Communist and Soviet bosses who were sent to jail for accepting small gifts or even executed for accepting larger ones.

"The Communist Party kept tight control over our activities, and we would have lost our jobs and everything else," he said. "Comparing the two systems, I feel more strongly every day that the old system was tougher but more fair."