Monday, November 14, 2005

Propaganda still works

Talking with a Russian from St. Petersberg, the subject of the pension privileges protests comes up. Civil servants and retired people are being asked to exchange some minimum privileges, like bus transportation, for the equivalent cash, in their salary & pension. "What's the problem with that?", I was asked. "Is something wrong with these people's arithmetic?"

No. Civil servants and pensioners in Russia sometimes don't receive their salaries & pensions. So when you take away their privileges, you may be taking away their very last possibility for survival.

Of course, in Moscow & St. Petersberg, and a few other choice places, civil servants are paid regularly, because the majority population in those cities have more money, and want civil services. But in the rest of the country ...

It reminds me of what I said to a Moscovite when I first saw the city. "Why is everything so well kept?" I said, having seen other parts of Russia first. "Well, there's 18 million people in Moscow," I was told. "The number of people doesn't matter," I said, "what matters, is the proportion they get of the resources." Which in Moscow is something like 75% of the country's wealth. "It's always been that way," an old Russian field director told me: "... you either got onto Moscow's train, or you lived in the country".

But, of course, it's still amazing that professionals in Moscow & St. Petersberg are unaware of this. Despite endemic cynicism among the Russians, propaganda still works.