Essays > The World of the Soviet Citizen > Blat (connections) in contemporary Russia
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How blat has changed in the post-Soviet context.
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In post-Soviet Russia, traditional blat (connections) is rare, and the word itself is falling out of use. In the Soviet Union, blat was first and foremost a way of compensating for the scarcity of consumer goods, which is not a problem in contemporary Russia. However, a kind of blat continues to compensate for lack of cash. For example, stores now have every kind of paint, but if I don't have money I have to put off my renovation. In the Soviet era, it was possible for stores to have no paint at all, though it would not be hard for me to "get" (dostat') some at work, either by taking it without anybody noticing (that is to say, by stealing it) or by giving a present to the person who would do the stealing for me. Today, it would be difficult to get paint without paying for it. However, I could use connections to get the paint wholesale and also to hire some Tajik laborers who would do my job cheaply and reliably and not drink.

A typical example of contemporary blat is getting a child into a good school. This can happen with no payment involved if you yourself were once a student in that school and you know some teachers, or better yet, the principal. Without knowing anyone, you would almost certainly have to follow the rules of the grey market and pay the equivalent of several months' salary.

As in the Soviet period, contemporary blat is linked to the informal economy and in part to corruption, when the services provided are in some way illegal or are rendered through illegal means.

While contemporary blat has moved from the realm of goods to that of services, it has not come close to creating a parallel black market. The most important motivation for using it seems to be the desire to do business with people who are known and therefore reliable rather than strangers. It is a matter of trust.

Turned into nothing more than "acquaintanceship," contemporary blat allows people to overcome the anonymity of the marketplace (either the legal or illegal one). Everybody knows it's better to go to a doctor who is the friend of a friend; if you have to pay, then it's better to pay someone like that. The point is that you trust such a doctor. In Russia there is not a direct link between price and value; a doctor who gets a big fee is not necessarily worth the money. In general, there's no direct correlation in Russia between the cost of a service and its reliability and quality.

Another example is investing money in a bank or in construction of a place to live. Until very recently, anyone who put money into something had information, obtained through acquaintances, that the deposit would be in safe hands and the investor would not be fleeced.

expand/collapse this text box Further Study
Borocz, Jozsef. (2000). "Informality Rules." East European Politics and Societies. 14(2).

Fisher-Ruge, Lois (1993). Survival in Russia: Chaos and Hope in Everyday Life. Boulder Colo.: Westview Press.

Glad, Betty, and Eric Shiraev (1999). The Russian Transformation: Political, Sociological, and Psychological Aspects. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Granville, Brigitte, and Peter Oppenheimer (2001). Russia's Post-Communist Economy. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Ledeneva, Alena (2006). How Russia Really Works: The Informal Practices that Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Manning, Nick and Nataliya Tikhonova (2004). Poverty and Social Exclusion in the New Russia. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

Piirainen, Timo (1997). Towards a New Social Order in Russia: Transforming Structures and Everyday Life. Aldershot, England; Brookfield, Vt., USA: Dartmouth.

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