How Russia Really Works: The Informal Practices That Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business / Edition 1

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During the Soviet era, blat—the use of personal networks for obtaining goods and services in short supply and for circumventing formal procedures—was necessary to compensate for the inefficiencies of socialism. The collapse of the Soviet Union produced a new generation of informal practices. In How Russia Really Works, Alena V. Ledeneva explores practices in politics, business, media, and the legal sphere in Russia in the 1990s—from the hiring of firms to create negative publicity about one's competitors, to inventing novel schemes of tax evasion and engaging in "alternative" techniques of contract and law enforcement.

Ledeneva discovers ingenuity, wit, and vigor in these activities and argues that they simultaneously support and subvert formal institutions. They enable corporations, the media, politicians, and businessmen to operate in the post-Soviet labyrinth of legal and practical constraints but consistently undermine the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. The "know-how" Ledeneva describes in this book continues to operate today and is crucial to understanding contemporary Russia.

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Editorial Reviews

Foreign Affairs
Any society applies grease, some of it less than pure, to make its institutional gears mesh efficiently. But when the gears do not match up -- when institutions, including laws, are discrepant, dysfunctional, or fragile, and superabundant grease serves to compensate -- efficiency comes at a cost. "Informal practices" are the grease that interests Ledeneva, and in Russia they are the material that fills the gap between formal legal institutions and informal extralegal norms. They operate in politics (through illicit electoral manipulation), where business and politics meet (in insider mutual-protection societies), and in the economy at large (through barter, double bookkeeping, and "privatized" government agencies and services). Each has roots in Russian and Soviet history but with the important difference, as Ledeneva notes in her thoughtful exploration of both their nature and their effect, that informal practices in today's Russia are of, by, and for the few, not something accessible to the uninitiated.
From the Publisher
"This is an excellent account of informal practices that characterize and shape the political and business spheres of activity in contemporary Russia. . . . an important addition to our understanding of contemporary Russian affairs."—Graeme Gill, Russian Review, April 2007

"Alena V. Ledeneva has not only observed Russia's transition at first hand but is also a resourceful researcher. Her first book, The Russian Economy of Favours,dealt with usages which arose in the later Soviet period, particularly blat—payments made in favours between friends and associates. Since then she has broadened her focus and developed her tools. In How Russia Really Works she manages to prise open the cover over the secret world a little more to peer at the scurrying life beneath."—Philip Longworth, Times Literary Supplement, May 11, 2007

"How Russia Really Works covers a fascinating topic—a cultural analysis of the transformation of economic activity in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet state. Alena V. Ledeneva focuses specifically on the nature and implications of informal practices. This book is important and innovative, providing a unique ethnographic perspective on rarely visible informal economic activity and dispelling a number of commonly held stereotypes about corruption and illegality."—Alexei Yurchak, University of California, Berkeley

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801473524
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2006
  • Series: Culture and Society after Socialism Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 799,615
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Alena V. Ledeneva is a Reader in Russian Politics and Society at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. She is the author of Russia's Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking, and Informal Exchange and the coeditor of Economic Crime in Russia and Bribery and Blat in Russia.

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Table of Contents

1. Why Are Informal Practices Still Prevalent in Russia?
2. Chernyi Piar: Manipulative Campaigning and the Workings of Russian Democracy
3. Kompromat: The Use of Compromising Information in Informal Politics
4. Krugovaia Poruka: Sustaining the Ties of Joint Responsibility
5. Tenevoi Barter: Shadow Barter, Barter Chains, and Nonmonetary Markets
6. Dvoinaia Bukhgalteriia: Double Accountancy and Financial Scheming
7. Post-Soviet Tolkachi: Alternative Enforcement and the Use of Law

Appendix 1. Pravda versus Istina
Appendix 2. Profile of the Leading National Media Outlets in the 1990s
Appendix 3. "Bound by One Chain" by Nautilus Pompilus
Appendix 4. List of Legal Documents Related to Barter Transactions in the Russian Federation, 1990-1997
Appendix 5. List of Respondents
Appendix 6. List of Questions


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