In This Review

How Russia Really Works: The Informal Practices That Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business
How Russia Really Works: The Informal Practices That Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business
By Alena V. Ledeneva
Cornell University Press, 2006, 288 pp

Any society applies grease, some of it less than pure, to make its institutional gears mesh efficiently. But when the gears do not match up -- when institutions, including laws, are discrepant, dysfunctional, or fragile, and superabundant grease serves to compensate -- efficiency comes at a cost. "Informal practices" are the grease that interests Ledeneva, and in Russia they are the material that fills the gap between formal legal institutions and informal extralegal norms. They operate in politics (through illicit electoral manipulation), where business and politics meet (in insider mutual-protection societies), and in the economy at large (through barter, double bookkeeping, and "privatized" government agencies and services). Each has roots in Russian and Soviet history but with the important difference, as Ledeneva notes in her thoughtful exploration of both their nature and their effect, that informal practices in today's Russia are of, by, and for the few, not something accessible to the uninitiated.