Sep 26, 2014

Перерыв (A non-post)

My dear readers,

This week, in lieu of a blog post, I wrote a political screed for the left-wing magazine Jacobin.  I am waiting to hear if they will publish it or not; if so I will link to it.  Please do not interpret this to mean either a) that I myself am left-wing, or b) that I think people should read more.  I was simply worn out from the rigors of writing silly blog posts, and decided to try my hand at foreign policy commentary.

For your patience, please enjoy this photograph of a woman dancing with a goat on a temporary stage outside the metro:


Sep 6, 2014

Bureau-crazzzy (О бюрократии - pt. 2)



Smile!  



*CLICK*




This is what I look like after five rounds of writing my name (surname, given name, patronymic), my advisor's name, my occupation, my employing institution, that institution's address, my personal address, my phone number, the topic and period of my research, the "goal" of my research, my level of education, my citizenship, my passport number, my passport serial number, the name and location of the passport-issuing agency, and the passport's expiration date.  As the photo shows, Russian bureaucracy leaves people aggressively bored, like the orcas in the swimming pool at SeaWorld. Today's post is about bureaucracy.

If you'll recall, I last discussed this topic while waiting for my visa in Maine - fortunately, that situation resolved itself just in time, before the Russian foreign ministry gave me enough red tape to hang myself.  That post described the rich heritage and traditions of Russian bureaucracy, placing it in its historical context.  Today I will focus on how bureaucracy is experienced in reality; that is to say, on paper.


These are all the documents I carry on my person at all times.  Please note their numbers for your reference later in the post:

1) Registration card.  
2) Passport and visa.
3) Immigration card.  (Described previously here)  
4) Library card for the Lenin Library, the central state library of Russia.
5) Official letter from my academic advisor requesting that I be granted access to archives; validated with gold sticker (see below).
6) Pass for the municipal archives of the city of Moscow.
7) Pass for the state archives of the Russian Federation.
8) Student ID.

To get a pass for any archive or library, the procedure is more or less the same.  I walk into a tiny room called the Biuro Propuskov, or the hassle office (translation mine).  I approach a small cashier's window, behind which sits a dour Russian woman named Irina, between the ages of 55-75, in a black and gold shiny patterned dress, who simply cannot believe I don't understand how the hassle office works.  I'm given a four-digit number to dial on the internal phone system, which connects me to the reading room, from which a slightly younger and friendlier woman in a black and gold shiny patterned dress has to come downstairs to greet me.  I present documents #2 and #5 to this woman, who fills out a temporary pass, which allows me past the security gate and into the reading room, where I can fill out the paperwork for a permanent pass (e.g. documents #6 or #7) that will expire on December 31, even though I'll be here through May.  

Once I have this pass, the system is different everywhere, and to describe the procedures at each archive would put excessive strain on my wi-fi connection.  I will just give one example: the Moscow city archives.  There, I walk in the front door and show documents #2 and #6 to a police officer in a giant, mirror-plated box.  The police officer takes my passport, compares the photo to my face with one eyebrow raised, and reluctantly gives me a key to a locker and an Order Slip, on which I have to write my last name and my pass number.  I go to the locker and deposit my bag and outerwear, and then get waved through the gate into the reading room.  When I leave the archive, the gate is locked, and I'm not allowed to exit until a woman inside stamps the date in two places on the order slip and initials it, even if I don't order anything. This is the key point, I should have told you that earlier - feel free to skip everything you just read. The point is, you cannot leave the archive without getting this order slip validated by a woman inside and giving that validated slip to the police officer; there is a locked gate at the exit.  There were at least 15 researchers in the archive when I was there on Thursday, and it's the off-season.  If the building caught fire, there is absolutely no way they could process and issue enough Temporary Single-use Short-term Life-threatening-emergency Exemption Cards, even if we all qualified for the expedited process.  We would all die, either in the inferno or by the hand of the police officer after jumping the turnstyle.  

~~~

There are, however, workarounds.  Recall document #5, the letter from my academic advisor:


See that gold sticker, bearing the seal of the University of California?  They cost $3.50 at the university bookstore in Berkeley for a pack of 75.


















These stickers, not unlike the revered circular stamp, certify, verify, validate, and expedite every process at all levels of administration inside the Russian Federation. At least, that is the legend among researchers.  As I understand it, gold stickers are assumed to come from levels of administration above the hassle office, while unadorned foreigners obviously fall below.  As such, the sticker absolves the women in the shiny dresses of their responsibilities to hassle me, after which they are quite content to let me go wherever and do whatever - like anybody, they'd rather not be hassled.  I put those babies on everything.

To take one example, the stickers render Western food imports exempt from the current embargo. Here is a jar of pickled fish I bought, imported from Sweden:


Here I am at work, writing my dissertation.  The stickers certify that my work meets the rigorous ethical and methodological standards of my discipline:


And here I am, gold-stickered letter in hand, seeking access to the Kremlin, where I discovered a medieval hassle office built into the fortress wall.




That hassle office, by the way, dates from the mid-12th century - one of the earliest of its kind.

Fittingly, I was stopped by a police officer after taking these last photos.  The officer, as per the hassling protocols of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, asked to see documents #1-3.  But for all its flaws, the system works - I produced the documents, gold stickers-a-blazing, and was on my way.