XVI. CRIME and PUNISHMENT
The notion of crime is somewhat blurred in Russia. For what, after all,. is a crime? If you are a factory worker and before going home you pocket a few items you have made with your own hands, surely it is not a crime. There is special terminology for this: people do not steal, they ‘carry spare parts out ’ which is a quite different thing. And what secretary will buy paper for her own use when there is such a lot in her boss’s cabinet? And it pays off, you know. Today you bring home one wheel, tomorrow another and in a little while there’s a car.
In Soviet times there was more punishment than there was crime; now crime has taken an impressive lead. In the days of Stalinist rule, you might meet in prison very respectable professors, world-famous scientists, philosophers, philologists and army generals.
Russia is still behind the United States in crime rate statistics but is making good progress and given a chance will soon catch up. Most crime is connected with encroachment on other people’s property which is not surprising: when someone is poor, his first thought is to make the richer man share, by force if necessary. If Bolsheviks did that with the whole country, why shouldn’t you imitate them on a smaller scale?
The days when you might leave your house without locking your door are gone and gone for ever. The most eloquent sign of the changing times is metal latticed ground-floor windows in every city. Some of the lattices are quite attractive but this is not their chief aim.
Other kinds of crime are not far behind. Alcohol abuse has acquired a good companion, use of drugs – not as much as in Amsterdam but the Russians do their bit.
Russian police are called militia and are the object of endless jokes, especially by criminals and frustrated drivers. People are beginning to realize that the police may sometimes be of use, though the police themselves make every effort to dissuade them. The most noticeable section of the police is OMON, an abbreviation for the special detachment sent whenever something out-of-the ordinary happens, such as a scuffle between football fans or a minor war on Russian territory.
Every year thousands upon thousands of Russians are stopped by police for drunk driving. Road accidents and casualties are multiplying and the harsher the punishment, the more defiant the drivers become. Every Russian is fond of driving fast and fast driving is so much more fun when you’re tipsy. The chief reason why the traffic police are so hated is that they don’t appreciate this.
Thugs of the Al Capone type have always been present on the Russian stage. But with the swift change of political regime, they have multiplied and become very noticeable.
Many of them make money by racketeering, with the owners of even the smallest kiosks having to pay for protection. About half the national income is said to be controlled by illegal enterprises.
There is every reason to believe that if a villa is bought by a Russian somewhere on the Mediterranean coast, it will belong to one of 3 types: a superstar, a political figure, or a thug. Too often the distinction between the three is minimal.
Date: 2015-04-20; view: 337