Anti-hypocrisy law

 

Few things can ignite society as much as reform of public services. When this reform involves 328,000 state funded organisations including schools, hospitals, and universities – actually, everything that is the government’s responsibility, people are bound to get anxious.

The result is a barrage of news stories that the general public doesn’t fully understand but which creates a widespread feeling that the change is an unprecedented in scale and in impudence cut in social funding and even the privatisation of public institutions.

On May 8, President Dmitry Medvedev signed the federal law that will transform most public bodies into autonomous organisations, legally separate entities that operate at arm's length from the government. Their funding will depend on the demand for services from the state and on money generated from commercial activity.

The change aims to bring into light a deplorable reality in today’s Russia: nominally free but steep medical services, charges in state nurseries, schools and universities accompanied by growing corruption and deterioration of quality.

What we actually have is a nation-size hypocrisy, the pretence of living in a country which no longer exists. Medvedev’s reform is just a way to legalise and advance what has already become a historical fact.

Institutions that were fully state funded for 90 years are now expected to run as businesses. It is difficult to imagine how such a transformation can be done on such a scale and so quickly in the country of 142 million people, of whom at least 15% live in poverty and where medical insurances are few and far between.

In theory, the public is in favour of some fundamental change. Russians, in their absolute majority, do not like the way health care or education work. The people’s skittishness about overhauling the system reflects something else: the deep seated fear that any change will only be for the worse.

This fear is not totally irrational. The law, instead of changing things, acknowledges something Russians don’t want to accept - that one of the most generous countries in social spending, as the Soviet Union was, has been transformed into one of the meanest.

 

May 12, 2010
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