Russia -1

Why Smile?

                       06 Dec 2007



Breaking out of 70 years of Communist rule has given the whole of Russian society new opportunities and new freedom.  The fresh air of freedom has allowed flowers to bloom.  Behind this cheerful mask, however, lies a country still burdened by its past -- a dark inheritance of poverty and corruption.  Unseen by most visitors are the small towns and rural areas gripped by wrenching poverty.  There is little to smile about when a third of the population lives on a dollar a day.  In addition to the discouragement of poverty is the lack of integrity in law and order.  Bribery, at all levels, is accepted as a national way of life.  It is estimated that Russians spend about half of the value of their national budget on bribes.  It appears that Russia has a long way to go to enter into the 21st century.

 Corruption is part of every fabric of the Bashkir society.  Nowhere does corruption show it’s self more than in the practice of tax evasion.  The extremely high taxes are a great impediment to business success.  The average business owner avoids much of the taxes by keeping two sets of books -- one for their own use and one to show the tax authorities.  This deception occurs even though Ufa is one of the most heavily policed cities in the world.  As one moves around the city, rarely does 10 minutes pass without seeing an officer in uniform.  Some of these officers are students from the large Ministry of Internal Affairs training facility in Ufa.  Others are officers of the Road Police Service. They are the Russian version of the Highway Patrol. 

These highway patrolmen, seem to be everywhere at the same time.  … You see them in dark blue uniforms with bluish white stripes, wielding a short black and white stick.  If they point the stick at you, pull over to the curb immediately. Once they have you on the side of the road, the officers will check your documents, … ask you a few questions, … and let you go, or … you will be invited to the officers’ car.  Once in the car, possible violations of the law, … both real and imagined, … are alluded to.  The motorist … without even asking what the violation is … will begin negotiation of the bribe … “skol’ko?” – How much? … “100 rubles,” the officer will reply. 

When missionaries are pulled over by the DPS, It is important that they remain courteous, that they have their papers in order, … and that they not pay the bribe.  Rather, this inconvenience can be seen as a witnessing opportunity. 

 The intimidation of seventy years of state-sanctioned fear makes life hard.  People often say. …“What is there to smile about?” Instead, they wear an expressionless, unapproachable face. The Bashkir populace is a people that live somewhere in between a public mask and a private openness. On the streets … on public transportation … no matter where one travels … one quickly learns that smiling in public is considered strange.  A bus ride can be uncomfortable for an American used to smiling.  Not only are you viewed with suspicion … but at times you are made to feel very unwelcome.  For not only is it taboo to smile … but to approach someone in public and speak to them about anything other than the time or ask directions is seldom done.

 Years of oppression have left their mark on the people of Bashkortostan. They are suspicious and it takes time to gain their trust.   Once taken into their confidence, however, a friend for life is made.  They are a people caught in between two opposing roles out of historic necessity to subdivide their lives into public and private spheres.

YOU can bring the Bashkir people the message of hope! … The Gospel message can break the bonds of oppression.

The time is NOW to become involved in this work in Bashkortostan.  Come and share the love of Jesus with these people.  Bring them Jesus.  Bring them hope.  Bring them a reason to smile. 



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