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In Russian culture, blat (Russian: блат) is the system of informal agreements, exchanges of services, connections, Party contacts, or black market deals to achieve results or get ahead. 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. Accordingly, blatnoy means a man who obtains a job or gets into a university using connections, or sometimes bribes. In the Soviet republics, blatnye were very much in demand as it was difficult to gain a post or enroll in some prestigious majors in universities without proper connections.
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.
- Sociolismo - a similar phenomenon in Communist-run Cuba
- Social capital
- Blatnaya pesnya - "criminals' song", Russian musical genre influenced by the criminal underworld
- Blatnoy language
- 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.
- 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: 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).
- 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.