In Russia, Trust In Government A Scarce Commodity The Soviet legacy makes questions of trust and faith in government entirely different in Russia than in the United States. Acceptance of the government is a given, even though most Russians don't believe in the political system.
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In Russia, Trust In Government A Scarce Commodity

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In Russia, Trust In Government A Scarce Commodity

In Russia, Trust In Government A Scarce Commodity

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For the past week, NPR has been exploring the level of trust in government. So far, we've focused on the U.S. But today, we want to take you to Russia, where the Soviet legacy makes questions of trust and faith in government entirely different.

NPR's David Greene has our story.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVID GREENE: Welcome to Novokuznetsk, an industrial city in Siberia. It seems like a normal April, the snow is melting; people have emerged from winter and are chatting out in the square. And there's a corruption scandal involving the mayor, his son and a $3 million housing scam.

Ms. SOFIA PINSKER (Student): Everybody knows about it and it's not surprising.

GREENE: Not surprising, said this 22-year-old student, Sofia Pinsker, because such is life in Russia. Even citizens accept that to avoid a ticket for that illegal left turn, or to get that passport to travel abroad, it may require a bribe.

Ms. PINSKER: It's really easier to do something like that than to do something by law.

GREENE: And Russians, she said, have a history of acceptance when it comes to their leaders.

Ms. PINSKER: Even if he was bad or cruel, for example, Ivan the Terrible, it didn't matter. And it doesn't matter if he is our father, our king, and that's all. We are supposed to do what he tells us.

GREENE: In other words, for much of Russia's history, it wasn't a question of whether to trust. There were no questions - you went about your business and expected the government to provide.

Mr. VADIM RECHITSKY (Editor-in-Chief, Kuznetsk Worker): (Foreign language spoken).

GREENE: Vadim Rechitsky, editor-in-chief of the local newspaper, argues not much has changed.

Mr. RECHITSKY: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: People still want a tough hand, he said, and the feeling towards the government seems to be as long as I don't get shot in the back of the head, everything is alright.

It's a legacy Rechitsky battles every night when he sends his newspaper, the Kuznetsk Worker, to the printing press.

(Soundbite of a printing)

GREENE: The paper is independent, not state-owned, and stories spin off the presses about corruption and local officials. That's brought push-back. In 2006, the paper's offices were sealed off for several days, the doors bolted by unidentified men. Rechitsky turned to every agency he could think of.

Mr. RECHITSKY: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: We appealed to the federal government and local prosecutors. We wrote letters, he said. The Federal Security Service simply told us their job is to hunt for terrorists, it's not their case.

So when it comes to the government, this editor said, how can I have trust?

Ms. LYUDMILA BALKOVAYA(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: This drives home why Russia is different. In the U.S., trust or not, there's a belief in the system in certain rights, not so here.

Ms. BALKOVAYA: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: Meet 66-year-old Lyudmila Balkovaya. She and the pensioners in her building have spent years trying to force their landlord to make repairs.

Ms. BALKOVAYA: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: You know what judges tell us, she said. It's unlikely you'll prove your situation. That's the attitude. So we started struggling against the system and got slapped in the face.

But there is more. Balkovaya and her allies did find some help.

Mr. VIKTOR SMIRNOV(ph) (Housing Advocate): (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: This is Viktor Smirnov. He's the housing advocate who fought for the repairs they wanted. Among scores of angry residents, Smirnov became so popular last year he won a seat on city council.

Mr. SMIRNOV: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: That is, Smirnov said, until the local election board declared the vote invalid. Now that council seat is vacant, and the tenants demanding repairs have no ally in office.

I guess, Smirnov said, we Russian citizens truly don't have anybody to turn to.

But how much do Russians care?

While hanging out in Novokuznetsk's main square, I met Irina Perminova(ph). She's 49, a secretary at the university here. Russians, she said, are struggling to define what they want from their government.

Ms. IRINA PERMINOVA (Secretary): (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: Our interests are not taken into account at any level, she told me. And that kind of frustration explains the occasional anti-government protests around Russia.

Still, to an outsider, the level of anger here is surprisingly low. And another surprise: People look back on even the most difficult times with a kind of nostalgia.

Ms. PERMINOVA: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: As Perminova put it, there was a lot of good in Soviet days. We didn't know what was happening abroad. We were ignorant. But the Communist Party was helping us.

David Greene, NPR News, Moscow.

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