The Governor-General of the Ryazan Province, who is introduced to readers in Chapter IV of The Estate of Wormwood and Honey, is a deeply corrupt man. His first instinct is not simply to look down on the people beneath him, but to use them in any way he can, and to abuse his power as thoughtlessly as possible. But how unusual is that? Not at all. In fact, most Russian Imperial officials were thoroughly corrupt.
In Hadji-Murat, Tolstoy’s great novel, his last major work, he digresses from telling the tale of a lonely Caucasian rebel to imagine Nicolas I, the Emperor of Russia meditating on the corruption of his underlings. He knows that they are all corrupt and he realizes that he couldn’t do anything about it because if he fired anyone, his replacement would as corrupt. Finally, Nicolas I has an illumination that he is the only honest government official in all of Russia.
Are things different now? Not much at least based on this recent article in the NYTimes which begins:
Corruption in Russia is so pervasive that the whole society accepts the unacceptable as normal, as the only way of survival, as the way things “just are.”
The whole article is worth a read.