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In Russian, blat (Russian: блат) is a form of corruption which is the system of informal agreements, exchanges of services, connections, Party contacts, or black market deals to achieve results or get ahead.
Along with "blat" there existed a term of "protektsiya", which literally means protection, but with more incline to patronage. Similarly in semantics there exists a term "krysha" which derived from criminal environment and literally means a roof.
In the USSR, blat, a form of corruption, was widespread because of the permanent shortage of consumer goods and services due to the fact that the price of consumer goods was dictated by the state rather than set by the free market. The networks of blat would make it easier for the general public to gain access to much-coveted goods and services. Unlike normal official privileges (depending whether one is party official, member of intelligentsia, factory worker or toiling peasant (Russian: трудящийся крестьянин)) that would be provided to eligible group, among which are "commodities like dachas and housing in a ministerial apartment block and were in extreme short supply, being in eligible group was not enough to secure the prize. To get privileges, one would needed contacts with somebody higher up (like a patron)".
An example of such patronage was depicted in a fantasy sketch by the writer Mikhail Bulgakov:
- "Motorcycle.... brrm!!! In the Kremlin already! Misha goes into the hall, and there sit Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Kaganovich, Mikoyan and Iagoda.
- Misha stands in the door, making a low bow.
- Stalin: What's the matter? Why are you barefoot?
- Bulgakov (with a sad shrug): Well... I don't have any boots...
- Stalin: What is this? My writer going without boots? What an outrage! Iagoda, take off your boots, give them to him!"
The system of blat can be seen as 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, or guanxi in China.
However, the noun blatnoy (блатной) has a criminal meaning in Russian and it relates to a status in the criminal world. It usually means a member of a thief gang, (blatnoy/блатной) itself means professional criminal in Russian.
The word was primarily used to describe networks, when people made each a favour in exchange for another favour.
According to Max Vasmer, the origin of the word blat is the Yiddish blatt, meaning a "blank note" or a "list". 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". 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.
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.
In addition, the word blatnoy came to indicate career criminals because they had a blatnoy or special status in the Russian criminal underworld. The word is used to indicate association with the criminal underworld (e.g. "blatnoy language"/Fenya, "blatnoy behavior", "blatnoy outlook").
A notable operation of blat system was the institution of tolkachs. Because in the Soviet Union, the Gosplan wasn't able to calculate efficient or even feasible plans, 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.
- Compadrazgo – a similar phenomenon in Latin America
- Guanxi – a similar phenomenon in China
- Sociolismo – a similar phenomenon in Communist-run Cuba
- System D – a more or less similar concept of informality from European French
- Reciprocity – generalized concept used by anthropologists
- Social capital
- The Blonde Around the Corner – a Soviet 1984 film, which illustrates the concept
- You to Me, Me to You – a Soviet 1976 film, which illustrates the concept
- Blatnaya pesnya – "criminals' song", Russian musical genre influenced by the criminal underworld
- Sistema (Russian politics)
- 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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Žiliukaitė, Rūta (2014). "Analysis of Blat Relations During the Late Soviet Period in Lithuania". Sociology. Thought and Action. 35: 252–270.
- Ledeneva, Alena V. (1998). Russia's Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fitzpatrick. p. 109. Missing or empty
- Fitzpatrick. p. 111. Missing or empty
- 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.
- Yang, Mayfair Mei-Hui (January 1989). "The Gift Economy and State Power in China". Comparative Studies in Society and History. Cambridge University Press. 31 (1): 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).CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- 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.
- 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.
- Shelia Fitzpatrick. Everyday Stalinism: ordinary life in extraordinary times; Soviet Russia in the 1930s. Oxford University Press 2000. ISBN 0195050010; ISBN 978-0195050011
- Prison casts of Russia
- Velez‐Calle, A., Robledo‐Ardila, C., & Rodriguez‐Rios, J. D. (2015). On the influence of interpersonal relations on business practices in Latin America: A comparison with the Chinese guanxi and the Arab Wasta. Thunderbird International Business Review, 57(4), 281-293.