I have frequently asked both civilian and military officials: How come Vladivostok is such a squalid, miserable city? Why is it that in the 144 years since it was founded no purification facilities have been built and no normal water supply system put into shape? The answers have always wound up leading to one conclusion: because the city is constantly under the rule of fly-by-nighters. They came, they stole what they could, they left. Other fly-by-nighters came to take their place.
Broadly speaking, this prescription for governanceyou come, you steal, you leaveis characteristic of Russia in general. All those colossal Soviet-era projects of reversing the flow of the Volgaand now, building an international nuclear waste repository in the countryare baked by the same old recipe. Why wouldnt such a drive-through official in the Russian government doodle his name under the repository project if he knows for a fact that his twilight years, and the lives of his children and grandchildren, will be spent on the shores of the Mediterranean? A fly-by-nighter does not have to be a professionalit is quite enough for him to have at least a superficial idea of what he is dealing with. A fly-by-nighter, as a rule, does not have to account for anythingneither by his salary, nor by his freedom, nor by the riches he has amassed. A fly-by-nighter knows he is guaranteed impunity.
In fact, fly-by-nighters of our days have their comfortable living ensured by their very own guarantorthe countrys president, who has chosen his drive-through officials by his own standards known to him only.
Let me give you a concrete example. Not so long ago, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said officially that he likes the idea of possible construction on the territory of our country of an international nuclear waste repository. For all we know, to Fradkovs knowledge, radioactivity may as well be the sprightly chirping of DJs on the FM-receiver on his way to workbut he sure does like the idea! That means somebody had to put this idea into his ear. Somebody had to make certain that Fradkov liked this idea.
But Alexei Yablokov, president of the Russian Center for Ecological Policy, does not like this idea. Because he is an academician and because he, most likely, knows the subject a little better than the prime minister But also, apparently, because he does not have the mentality of a fly-by-nighter. And thank God, we still have a lot of people like him. Although the level of their influence on the decisions made by those at the helm of the country is decreasing day by day. Thats because todays fly-by-nighters are not just illiterate, theyre plain aggressive.
Environmentalists warned: Russia would only lose from the import of radioactive waste. There is no international market for reprocessing and storage of spent nuclear fuel, they said, nor are there any economic gains to be had from importing it Four years have passed. Since then, three laws have been amended, a presidential decree issued, a specially created commission convened and adjourned Not a kopeck has dropped into the state coffers from this whole nuclear waste import project. Because the very project was about the politics and the bottom line to begin with, slapped together by fly-by-nighters.
Look at other projects of our drive-through rulersthey are just as rotten to the core as the SNF imports. Take, for instance, the abolition of social benefits and exemptions and their replacement by cash equivalents. They are persuading people that they, the poor benighted people, will certainly, sometime in a few years, appreciate the full depth of the touching care that the dear party and motherland is providing to them, the poor benighted people. And will say Thank you.
And what if they wont? What if therell be nobody to say a thank you to? Dont expect a fly-by-nighter to stay and wait for a thank you from who was that again? Oh yes, the people. Après nous, le déluge! has been in the dictionary of fly-by-nighters for centuries. The tenacious creed for a pertinacious breed.
I am amused by the naiveté of our people, who entrust themselves, again and again, to the hands of avaricious fly-by-nighters. Coveting power, fly-by-nighters will promise candy mountains, rivers of milk and lands of honey. Grabbing the power theyve craved for, they will instantly forget everything but lining their own pockets. In this respect, Vladivostoks experience is quite telling: Every candidate for the post of the head of the citys administration vows to build purification facilities and upgrade the cold and hot water supply system. This will be the 21st year that Ive been witnessing this marathon of pledges, but its always hot airand never hot water.
The remarkable thing about all this is that a fly-by-nighter is easily spotted, and does not have to be elected, much less re-elected. But such, it seems, is the Russians nature: They believe in magic and they believe magicians. Its just that sooner or later, it turns out that the Wizard of Oz has already left for greener pastures, and those who stood with their mouths agape waiting for the magic tricks will have to laugh on the wrong side of those mouths. Having little left than their own straw brains to blame.
Environment & Rights #15, June-July 2004