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 her new book, Alena 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. She
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 pracical
constraints but consistently undermine the spirit, if not the
letter, of the law. The "know-how" described continues to operate
today and is crucial to understanding contemporary Russia.
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 co-editor of Economic Crime in Russia and Bribery
and Blat in Russia.