A Culture of Fear
In previous blogs I have reported that one the characteristics of the Russian managerial culture is fear.
Take Mr. X, head of department Y. When department Y meets, he is the only one to talk. The rest listen and if they participate they would never say anything that can be interpreted as criticizing authority.
But when Mr. X attends the meeting of HIS boss, now he is totally quiet like his subordinates are quiet in his department meeting.
The repercussions of this behavior are that there is low flow of information from the bottom up. It is as if the head is detached from the body. The head imagines what is going on but he or she does not really know for sure and no management by walking around helps.
(I am trying hard to break this culture by instituting Adizes hard rules. As I control the dominance of the meeting that Mr. X exhibits and create a safe environment for others to talk, I am starting to see results: people are starting to talk more freely.)
But I noticed another phenomena.
On 1st of May, over hundred thousand people marched to the Red Square celebrating the day of the worker. They marched with slogans: “Stop corruption”, “For better living salary“, “In unity is our strength” etc. People were holding balloons or flowers, and for the first time that I am in Russia I saw accordion players in the crowd.
I walked up and down the march. For over two hours. NOT ONCE DID I GET A PERSON TO SMILE AT ME, OR ALLOW ME TO HAVE AN EYE CONTACT. No one person said hello to me. I did ask people questions. Got a short answer and they moved on. They could have asked where am I from, anything. But no contact.
It is not that they were busy marching. They were standing for more than an hour waiting for the march to start.
But this phenomenon is not just during the march. People do not smile. A bank teller told me that she decided to smile, to be friendly, to be different. People felt threatened by her behavior. They even told her so. She was different and thus rejected.
What is normal is not a question of ethics. It is one of statistics. If the mode of behavior is not to smile, that is normal. And the one that smiles is abnormal.
I asked her, what she thinks is the reason for not smiling, not having eye contact.
“Because when you smile the other person will wonder what is it you want from him or her? They will feel you are trying to manipulate them. That you want something from them and they resent it. “
I reported in a previous blog that I looked and looked, asked and asked where can I find accordion playing in Moscow.
A small accordion with buttons on both sides is the national instrument. Look at Russian paintings of celebrations and you will see an accordion being played.
There were over twenty accordion players I counted in the march. They played well. But no where in Moscow can you find a restaurant, a coffee shop with live accordion music.
Take Serbia for instance. Many restaurants in Belgrade have live music and the guests sing as food is served. Community singing. Same in Mexico. Or Greece (used to be?). Same in Israel. Even in USA one can find piano bars where people stand around the piano player and sing melodies from musicals. But not in Russia.
“Don’t you ever get together and sing?” I asked. “Oh, we do sing in the kitchen” a secretary told me “or at a wedding, but otherwise no.”
There is singing in Karaoke bars. Lots of those bars around. But spontaneous, non directed by some screen, no, there is none.
What is going on, I wondered. Russia has a romantic culture. There is no other country I know where there are flower shops every two hundred yards, open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.
I know no other country where they worship their poets like they do in Russia. The sculptures of Pushkin and Mayakovski are everywhere. Plaques are posted on houses informing passerby’s that a certain musician, composer, painter, poet, author, lived and created there during such and such years.
Moscow has lots of cultural life. Classical music is performed in multiple locations almost every night. Theater is thriving. Ballet. Opera. Lots of restaurants. Still there is no spirit. No soul. I cannot explain it. It has to be experienced. It is something you feel when you land in say Rio de Janeiro during the carnival. It is something you feel when you enter a Mexican restaurant with playing mariachis.
I was in Guadalajara for the Mariachi festival. The opera house where the festival was held had over thousand people seated. More than once the audience joined the mariachis on the stage with singing. I felt the roof was going to come off.
Two days ago I attended a celebration of Russian national dances in Moscow. National folk dancing groups were dancing or singing the folk dances of the various regions of Russia. No one ever joined the musicians or the singers on the stage with singing. .
The audience watched, clapped hands and that is it.
I do not believe this is the genuine Russian culture. Read their literature describing life in the pre communist era. They were dancing and singing.
So what is going on? Why no community singing? Why no smiling?
My explanation is that the communist system “killed “ the spirit of Russians. Destroyed their communal soul.
It destroyed the family unity; Monogamous behavior was considered to be ‘very bourgeoisie. “
Communism instilled fear. Fear from strangers. Fear from differences. Fear from authority.
It is the communist regime with the rule of fear that took the soul out of the Russian culture. The communist regime made brothers spy on each other and report suspicious political behavior to the secret police. It educated children to spy on their parents and listen to what they say and if a parent expresses any criticism of the regime, to report it immediately to the police.
Communism instilled fear and lack of trust in anybody and anything. Husbands could not trust their wives. Parents their children. Brothers were afraid of each other.
By breaking trust, communism created a culture where one has to be all the time on the watch, not knowing where the threat to your existence will come from. It may be coming from a smiling person???
Communism was defeated forty years ago. But the culture of fear still lingers. Communism was, I think, like the Chernobyl disaster. It will take some generations for the toxic environment to change and soulful life come back to Russia.
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes