Corruption, Bribery Leave Ordinary Russians Aghast Bribery is now so endemic in Russia that some experts think it's a necessary part of the economy. But for many ordinary citizens, the fraud and corruption they see all around them is a source of frustration and embarrassment.

Corruption, Bribery Leave Ordinary Russians Aghast

Corruption, Bribery Leave Ordinary Russians Aghast

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Bribery is now so endemic in Russia that some experts think it's a necessary part of the economy. But for many ordinary citizens, the fraud and corruption they see all around them is a source of frustration and embarrassment.


NPR's Gregory Feifer reports.


GREGORY FEIFER: Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking foreign language)

FEIFER: When members of the Vitroganski family gather in the kitchen of their central Moscow apartment, they all have stories of official corruption. Olive Vitroganski, a doctor like her husband, says bribery is an inescapable part of life.

OLIVE VITROGANSKI: (Through Translator) You have to give bribes whenever you want anything: a document, an official stamp, anything. It's a rare day when you don't have to pay something to someone. Without a bribe, all doors will be closed to you.

FEIFER: Vitroganski's son Sacha(ph) is a medical student who says many medical school applicants pay thousands of dollars in bribes to pass their entrance exams and continue giving gifts to insure good grades.

SACHA VITROGANSKI: (Through Translator) Something wrong can always be found on our tests and reports. To pass, you have to take along - at the very least - a box of chocolates and a bottle of liquor. You force yourself to smile and hand them over to your professor.

FEIFER: But Vitroganski said he doesn't mind bribery. Like some Russian economists, he believes it's a necessary system of paying for services in a country whose population still demands the state provides them free. Vitroganski's mother doesn't agree.

VITROGANSKI: (Through Translator) We used to be embarrassed and frightened to give bribes. Now it's all in the open. No one is afraid to give or demand bribes. There is no shame.

FEIFER: Transparency International ranks Russia among the most corrupt countries on its Corruption Perception Index, right down at the bottom at 121st out of 163. Businesses have been especially hard hit by bribe takers ranging from fire safety inspectors to financial regulators. Russia's booming oilfield economy has emboldened the country's bureaucrats to demand a bigger slice of the pie, something scrap metal billionaire Victor Makushin says has helped officials become Russia's biggest criminal group.

VICTOR MAKUSHIN: (Through Translator) Officials have amassed huge powers recently. They're the largest threat to business, and you can't turn to the courts because judges are afraid of ruling against the authorities. It's a huge blow to the Russian economy.

FEIFER: While it's impossible to calculate the total amount paid in bribes each year, the think-tank INDEM estimates businesses pay an annual average of $150,000. INDEM's President Georgiy Satarov blames bureaucrats' monopoly on power.

GEORGIY SATAROV: (Through Translator) President Vladimir Putin's strategy has been to eliminate any public control over the state bureaucracy. It's his attempt to create a vertical power structure concentrating control in the hands of the Kremlin that's brought about the growth of corruption.

FEIFER: But some politicians say they are doing something about the worsening situation. Mikhail Grishankov, who chairs parliament's Anti-Corruption Committee, praises Russia's recent ratification of the United Nations Anti-Corruption Convention, which he says will help stigmatize bribery in Russia.

MIKHAIL GRISHANKOV: (Through Translator) Russia's situation requires international control. It's impossible to force our bureaucrats to change any other way. Ratification of the U.N. convention was a very important political step forward.

FEIFER: Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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