Morale: Stealing From The Past


August 22, 2011: Corruption in the Russian military has been around for centuries, but now a major effort is being made to greatly reduce it. This effort is helped by some of the corrupt officials, who often carry out truly atrocious acts, which lead to their getting caught. A good example was a recent theft of $2.4 million. This was accomplished by using Photoshop to edit a pictures to show that a firm contracted to manufacture and install 3,000 gravestones for recently deceased World War II veterans, had done the job. Apparently someone informed on the thieves, who can get up to six years in jail for this sort of thing.

But this crime is more than stealing money from the government. That’s because what the West calls World War II, is known as the Great Patriotic War in Russia. There the war is still a very big deal, for reasons Westerners have difficulty comprehending. But consider this. The conflict killed 18 percent of the Russian population, a figure that was a state secret until the Cold War (and the Soviet Union) ended in 1991. Before that, the Soviet government downplayed their wartime losses, which were about twice what the Soviets would admit to. They did not want their Cold War foes to know how badly Russia had been hurt during that war. To put it into perspective, during World War II, a Russian was 57 times more likely to die as a result of military operations than an American. The U.S. lost 305 per 100,000 people during the war, while Russia lost 17,566.

The Great Patriotic War was a catastrophe for Russia in other ways, destroying much of the economy, in addition to causing widespread hunger and privation. It took decades to repair most of the damage, and the annual victory celebrations are still held as a reminder of all that. But things change. By the 1970s, older Russians were beginning to complain that memories were starting to fade. Younger Russians were put off by the forced celebrations and constant propaganda extolling the efforts of the Communist Party in defeating the German invaders.

When the Cold War ended, the annual parades continued, but without the forced attendance. Nevertheless, the government is trying to maintain Victory Day as something important for most people. Thus the big parade in Moscow this year, which cost a record $43 million. It's become less a celebration of how great the Communist Party was, and more about how the Russian people came together to defeat a common enemy. This still resonates with many Russians, even though the veterans of that conflict are now dying at a rapid rate. And when many of those veterans die, they are too poor to afford a headstone. Thus, since 2008, the government is paying for them, except when a corrupt official gets in the middle and steals the money.



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