Magazine article New Internationalist

Doing Business: Olivia Ward Explores the Seamy Side of Life through the Travails of Her Friend Galina, a University Professor

Magazine article New Internationalist

Doing Business: Olivia Ward Explores the Seamy Side of Life through the Travails of Her Friend Galina, a University Professor

Article excerpt

Doing business

Olivia Ward explores the seamy side of life through the travails of her friend Galina, a university professor.

THE grand high official overseeing crime and corruption was in fine form as he addressed his audience of journalists. Corruption, he drones, would be fought in places high and low, ferreted out of its slimy burrows. And before you know it, the country would be leading a 'normal civilized life'.

I recounted this inspiring scene for Galina, my closest Moscow friend. Not surprisingly, at the end of the recitation, she laughed.

And how exactly are we to begin leading this normal civilised life?' she asked.

There were, of course, no answers. Least of all from the grand high official.

For four years now I had watched the steel net of corruption spread over the country, strengthening and thickening since described a century ago by Nikolai Gogol in his classic chronicles of malevolent officialdom.

Life copies art, and less gloriously. Nobody in this country is safe from falling victim to corruption, not even Galina, a university professor who works long hours for little but the satisfaction of the job.

Keeping up with Galina's travails has been a breathtaking journey through the dark side of the new Russian system.

In one of the latest woes, she spent her life savings on a third - hand car to transport her gravely ill mother to and from the country. But that was only the beginning.

I paid $1,000 for driving lessons,' she said grimly. 'I'd been warned it would be expensive so I bought the cheapest possible Lada and held some money back.'

It wasn't enough. After the first hour's lesson the instructor - a slovenly man who was equally indifferent to her and the road - began to complain bitterly.

Time's up,' he declared.'That's all you paid for.'

She had paid, she thought, for the two - hour lessons written into her contract. But only a 'gift' would force him to continue.

Her funds exhausted, Galina rebelled. Gritting her teeth, she continued the shortened lessons, and with the help of a friend managed to scrape together the hours needed to pass the test.

You'll need to hire a guide if you want to get through,' said the shameless instructor. …

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