Thought provocations

IMG_20140804_225459_0 The famous White Nights are over for this year, and it’s no longer light at midnight. The nights are lengthening rapidly: the sun is now shining through my apartment windows at 7:45am. Only ten days or so ago it was 4am, so this development pleases me mightily. It’s a reminder that things change very rapidly in St. Petersburg, and very soon we’ll be plunged into the sunless winter freeze.

A few nights ago I sat on a cafe terrace close to my apartment, and over the course of a couple of hours – and a couple of beers – saw the moon spin from the far left of the colonnade in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, up behind the dome, and down again to the far right of the colonnade. I don’t recall ever seeing the moon move through the sky so quickly. IMG_20140804_230019_0 Like the moon, world events are shifting quickly, but that’s for another post. Still, there’s time to take pleasure in higher things, like art, and interesting people. Continue reading

Networks of gifts and obligations

Apoptosis Network

 

I wrote in my last post about my apartment here in St. Petersburg, which very likely would originally have been shared by multiple generations of the same family, despite seeming to me to be only big enough for a single person – or at most a childless couple – by contemporary western standards.

Of course, it was never designed for so many people. However, under the Soviet Union, resources such as apartments could not be built, bought or sold privately. Everything was done by the State, and allocation was supposedly done in order, according to where your name was on the relevant list. Unfortunately, of course, the State was incredibly inefficient and slow, so it would hardly be unusual to wait ten or even more years for your name to come up. Until then, you shared.

When I mentioned that, under these conditions, people got things done through personal networks instead of official channels, a friend commented on Facebook: “Isn’t any system e.g. blat, guanxi, enchufe in Spain, that is subverting the sanctioned system better known as corruption?”. It’s an excellent question, getting right to the point I wanted to talk about this week, because it brings us straight to the underlying assumption that the “sanctioned system” is itself fair. This is rarely the case, much as we might wish it to be so.

Continue reading

Living in Leningrad

I’ve been in Russia for slightly over a week now. After the initial disorientation, I’m starting to find my feet, and have worked out the essentials of how to live and work here. I haven’t really had the opportunity to relax much, or to get to explore the city, but I already know that I like St. Petersburg, and I like the Russians.

St. Petersburg, of course, was known for most of the 20th century as Leningrad, and that Soviet history is still palpable. I only realised today that a week tomorrow, the 27th of January, is a very significant date: it will be the 70th anniversary of the lifting of the siege of Leningrad.

Continue reading

Arrival in Russia

Things got weird almost from the beginning. As I was settling into my seat on the plane, the message came over the tannoy: “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome aboard British Airways flight 878 to Leningrad”.

Leningrad??? Had I fallen into a timewarp? It wasn’t a one-off either; the same message was repeated shortly afterwards. I asked one of the cabin crew about it; she denied any knowledge of it…

Continue reading

Perceptions of Pussy Riot

Free Pussy Riot

It may be that, like myself, you’re about to move to another country. Perhaps you’re engaged in some kind of international business. Almost certainly, you deal with people from different parts of your own country. You may be pondering the best way to handle a proposal, or assessing how someone will respond to a new project. It may be, as the economists would have it, that we are all rational actors make decisions according to our own best interests – but it would be foolish to deny the influences of national or group culture when individuals make choices.

Regardless of our particular situation, it would be helpful to have a method for evaluating the nature and degree of that cultural influence – it might help avoid a great deal of misunderstanding and disagreements!

There is in fact a very useful tool to do just this.

Continue reading