Blat (term)

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For other uses, see Blat (disambiguation).

Blat (Russian: блат, blat) is a term which appeared in the Soviet Union to denote the use of informal agreements, exchanges of services, connections, Party contacts, or black market deals to achieve results or get ahead.[1] The system of blat can be seen an example of social networks with some similarities to networking (especially Good ol' boy networks) in the United States, Old boy networks in the United Kingdom and the former British Empire,[2] or Guanxi in China.[3] Accordingly, blatnoy means a man who obtains a job or gets into a university using connections, or sometimes bribes. In the Soviet republics, blatnoys were very much in demand as it was difficult to gain a post or enroll in some prestigious majors in universities without proper connections.

Usage[edit]

The word was primarily used to describe business networks, when people made each a favour in exchange for another favour. Because in the Soviet Union, the Gosplan wasn't able to calculate efficient or even feasible plans,[citation needed] enterprises often had to rely on people with connections, who could then use blat to help fulfill the quotas. Eventually most enterprises came to have a dedicated supply specialist - a tolkach (literally pusher) - to perform this task.[4]

Origin[edit]

According to Max Vasmer, the origin of the word blat is the Yiddish blatt, meaning a "blank note" or a "list".[5] However, according to both Vasmer and N. M. Shansky, blat may also have entered into Russian as the Polish loanword blat, a noun signifying "someone who provides an umbrella" or a "cover".[5] The word became part of Imperial Russian criminal slang in the early 20th century, where it signified relatively minor criminal activity such as petty theft.[5]

Blatnoy originally meant "one possessing the correct paperwork", which, in the corrupt officialdom of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union indicated that the blatnoy was well connected. The word blatnoy came to indicate career criminals because they had a blatnoy or special status in the Russian criminal underworld. The use of the word to indicate association with the criminal underworld (e.g. "blatnoy language"/Fenya, "blatnoy behavior", "blatnoy outlook") is a relatively recent development and is technically incorrect, though it is increasingly prevalent.[citation needed]

The adverbial usage of the word is po blatu (по блату), meaning "by or via blat".[5]

Russian prison[edit]

Definition

In the world of Russian prisons, blatnoi or blatnoy (Cyrillic: блатной) (plural: blatnyie) is one of the criminal castes and is considered the highest one of four, others being muzhyk, kozel, and petukh. Blatnyie are professional criminals and do not call themselves blatnoi, instead they use words such as arestant (arrested), bratva (brother[hood]), bosyak (barefoot), zhulik (hooligan), putyovy (traveller), and others. Words such as zhygan and people has grown to be archaic.

Requirements

A life in prison is a stage requirement for every respected criminal. Doing a crime does not necessarily get a criminal accepted in the criminal underworld. Any relations with authorities even coincidental, particularly political affiliation (such as political parties, organizations), closes the door for a person to the "blatnoi" (criminal) world. Beside his/her "blank resume" the candidate to blatnoi must adhere to the "correct understandings" (ponyatiy) which may change with time.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ledeneva, Alena V. (1998). Russia's Economy of Favors: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange. Cambridge Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies. Cambridge University Press. p. 1. ISBN 0-521-62743-5. 
  2. ^ Ledeneva, Alena V. (1998). Russia's Economy of Favors: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange. Cambridge Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies. Cambridge University Press. p. 52. ISBN 0-521-62743-5. 
  3. ^ Yang, Mayfair Mei-Hui (January 1989). "The Gift Economy and State Power in China". Comparative Studies in Society and History (Cambridge University Press): 47–48. JSTOR 178793. "In blat, there is a 'personal basis for expecting a proposal to be listened to,' while bribery is conceived of as a relationship linked only by material interest and characterized direct and immediate payment. In the Chinese cultural discourse, there is on the one hand often a fine line between the art of guanxi and bribery (xinghui)." 
  4. ^ Ledeneva, Alena V. (1998). Russia's Economy of Favors: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange. Cambridge Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies. Cambridge University Press. p. 25. ISBN 0-521-62743-5. 
  5. ^ a b c d Ledeneva, Alena V. (1998). Russia's Economy of Favors: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange. Cambridge Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies. Cambridge University Press. p. 12. ISBN 0-521-62743-5. 

Further reading[edit]