Adventures with Russian Bureaucracy, Round Two

Posted: September 10, 2016 in Uncategorized
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The rest of this past week has been filled with more bureaucratic nightmares. On Wednesday morning I returned to the international office at 11:00 AM to get my student ID and create the letters of invitation for the various archives. Unfortunately, the student ID was not ready as it hadn’t either been stamped or signed (or both?). Irina, the woman who works in the international office, then proceeded to draw up my archive letters from a list that I gave her. She made sure to double check the names of all of the archives, as they sometimes change, and sternly told me that it is now called the Russian State Library, and has been called such for a number of years, despite the fact that everyone colloquially still refers to it as the Lenin Library, or Leninka for short. Irina printed off my letters and led me down the hall to some office at the opposite end of the building, where someone would sign and stamp the letters. Not surprisingly, that person was not in her office and it was unknown when she would return for the day. Thus, Irina told me to come back the following morning to get my finalized letters and student ID.

Thankfully both my student ID and letters were indeed ready Thursday morning at 11:00, so I immediately set off for the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF), which also is the same reading room for the Russian State Archive of Economics (RGAE). Registering for these was once again an ordeal. First, I had to go to the pass office to get a temporary pass to get past security and into the reading room. To do this, I had to show my passport and letter of affiliation. Next, I took my temporary pass and passport to the police officer near the stairwell and was allowed up to the second floor to register. I went to the GARF window and saw that the same two people I dealt with two years ago are still there. There is an older woman of about 50 who scares me and a man of about 35, who is always very helpful. Thankfully I mostly spoke with the man. Registration for GARF is now completely on the computer. I filled out a standard form with information such as my university affiliation, research topic, and location of registration and residence in Moscow. This took an annoyingly long time as I had to type everything in Russian, and I don’t actually know the real Cyrillic keyboard. I stupidly learned the phonetic one, which causes massive issues in times like these where I’m forced to hunt and peck for the letters that I need.

After filling out the electronic registration, I went back to the GARF desk to get a pin number for the computer system. GARF has now transitioned to requesting documents electronically. I had to have the guy from the desk show me how to use this new system. However, not everything has been input into the system. I wanted to order some folders that I had seen two years ago, but only about half of them showed up. We then had a very interesting exchange in which he asked where I had found those numbers, to which I responded that I had read the folders there two years ago. He then shrugged, said they were probably partially secret, and then told me that I would have to order them on the old paper form. I also had to initial the print out of the electronically requested documents.

I then took my temporary pass from the GARF window to the RGAE window to register there. Once again, I basically filled out the same form on the computer. I was then given another pin code. Both GARF an RGAE will create long term passes that I can use to enter the archives. The woman at RGAE reminded me that I need to specify also at GARF that I will use my laptop in the archives, and there will be something like that written on my passes, which should be ready to get from the pass office on Monday. Unfortunately, the passes for GARF and RGAE are only good for calendar years, meaning that I will have to completely re-register with new letters of support from the university in January. Joy.

Just a sample of everything that I have to carry with me: passport, student ID, dorm pass, dorm registration, RGVA registration, and metro card.

Just a sample of everything that I have to carry with me: passport, student ID, dorm pass, dorm registration, RGVA registration, and metro card.

As I finished registering at GARF and RGAE early enough, I headed off to another part of the city to register at the Russian State Military Archive (RGVA). The travel itself is slightly complicated by the fact that the Frunzenskaya Metro stop, the one for GARF, is closed for renovations. Thus, to get to that archive, I take the circle line from my stop, Novoslobodskaya, to Park Kultury, where I would normally switch to the red line. Now I exit at Park Kultury and take a free bus to the Frunzenskaya stop. Thankfully these replacement buses seem to run almost as frequently as the metro itself. So leaving GARF, I took the bus back to Park Kultury and switched to the green line to go to the penultimate northern stop, Vodnii Stadion, for RGVA.

Registering at RGVA was its own series of ups and downs. For example, the pass office immediately generated a card for me that is good for an entire year, or until September 2017. The last time that I worked in the archive, I had to meet with the director and get his permission to research there. This time, that step was avoided and I was able to go directly to the reading room to register. Unlike GARF, the registration at RGVA is still done on paper. Additionally, I handed a blank sheet of printer paper as was told to copy a  form letter to the director to ask for permission to use my laptop in the reading room. After spending some time with the finding aide, I was given a series of opis guides in order to determine which folders to request. Annoyingly, at RGVA, I can only request five folders at a time. They also told me that my folders wouldn’t be ready until Wednesday, unlike GARF which said Monday. I foresee this as being a bit of a problem as the majority of the documents I need to research are in RGVA, so the limits and long waiting period might cause some issues and frustrations.

While leaving the archive, I had to return a mysterious call from a number that had called me twice while I was registering in GARF. I called the number and asked who called me, because I didn’t recognize the number, but the person on the other ended wanted to know who I was. I said I was Susan and it turned out to be Irina calling about the payment for the multi-entry visa. She told me that I should give the receipt to the visa office. I responded that I tried to give it to them on Monday, but that they told me to wait until I return from Ulyanovsk. Irina said that she heard otherwise, and that I was to hand in the receipt. I said that I would do it the next morning, when I went to pick up my Moscow registration from the passport office. Irina said that that was acceptable, and I headed back to the university to relax in the dormitory. While walking near the university campus, I was surprised on the street by Irina, who once again told me to hand in the visa receipt. I told her that it was 5:10, and that I was unlikely to find anyone in that office by that time of the evening, and that I would first have to get the receipt from my room. I told her again that I would hand it in Friday morning. She apologized and said she forgot and that that would be okay.

Friday morning I headed to the visa office at 11AM to get my registration. There was a man in the office who I hadn’t met before. He searched through the registrations and said that mine wasn’t ready yet, and to return at 2:00. We then had a quick discussion about the payment receipt for the multi-entry visa. I told him that I was originally told to hand it in when I return from Ulyanovsk, but that I was called the day before and asked to hand it in. He said that I shouldn’t have been called and to keep the receipt in a safe place because I should hand in the receipt with my photos, application for the multi-entry visa, and passport when I return. With that I left and returned again at 2:00 to finally acquire my Moscow registration.

Not everything here is a bureaucratic nightmare, though. I’ve managed to have some fun around my waiting. Without the ability to go to the archives as planned on Wednesday, I decided to do something for myself and headed off to Moscow’s celebrated Novodevichy Cemetery, where the likes of Yetlsin, Prokofiev, Gogol, and Mayakovsky are buried, among others. In Soviet times, this was the most important place to be buried after the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. While I made sure to see some of these important graves (some for the second time as I had been here in the winter of 2009/2010 on a Lafayette interim trip), the real purpose for my excursion was to visit my great-great-uncle’s grave. He, Ilya Selvinsky, was an important Soviet poet. I did not realize until a few days ago that he was buried in Novodevichy Cemetery. When I get back from Ulyanovsk, I will call his daughter Tatiana again, my grandmother’s cousin, and see if she is willing to meet with me.

The grave of Ilya Selvinsky in Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetry.

The grave of Ilya Selvinsky in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetry.

I’ve also begun to have some fun with the other foreigners in the dormitory. On Tuesday night I got back to the dormitory after strolling around the banks of the Moskva River with a friend named Masha. Earlier in the day I was in a bad mood because I had purchased two packages of salami, which were stolen from the communal fridge. I somewhat ranted about it on Facebook, and due to the goodness of social media, my downstairs Canadian neighbor informed me that she found a package of salami in her kitchen that did not belong to her or her neighbors. Thus, I was reunited with half of my food. Then, Friday night, I had a fun moment of cultural connections with the two Canadians on the eight floor. They said that it looked like there were bullet holes in the wall. Being an American, I should be able to tell them if they were indeed bullet holes.

I mean, it does look like someone fired at shotgun at this wall.

I mean, it does look like someone fired at shotgun at this wall.

I also noticed the frightening lack of fire safety on their floor. The end of my floor has some terrible chute/fire escape device. Their floor has a diagram for using some sort of block and pulley to repel off of the building in case of a fire. However, there was no sign of the block or pulley anywhere on the floor, though the anchor points are visible on the outside of the building.

The diagram shows what to do, but there is no explanation or indication anywhere on the floor if the tools to do this exist.

The diagram shows what to do, but there is no explanation or indication anywhere on the floor if the tools to do this exist.


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