Don’t ask them, tell them!
Balakhna, May 2004. I was sitting at a long table in the main meeting room of a Russian paper company. Volga paper in Balakhna, near Nizhny Novgorod. They used to deliver paper to Pravda, ‘The Truth’, at least the officially approved truth. Now they delivered paper to many clients, including clients in Germany. Opposite to me a handful of Russian managers, who only spoke Russian. Left to me my Scottish friend and colleague, who had worked for the Volga company and spoke enough Russian to do the translation during this meeting. I was asked to present my idea to the managers. It was about corporate social responsibility and communication to paper clients in Western Europe. I started to explain what our proposals were and formulated some questions for discussion. At that moment, I felt, coming from the left, a painful kick against my legs under the table. My colleague explained why he did that. With his charming Scottish accent, he whispered in my ears: “Reinier. For God’s sake, do not ask them questions! Tell them what to do! We are in Russia here, not in Holland”.
It’s in Russian Forestry Law!
Novgorod, September 2004
We were walking in the forests of Novgorod, 200 km South of St Petersburg. The issue was ecologically responsible forestry. With us were representatives of NGOs, including WWF and Greenpeace, people from the forestry industry, paper users from Germany and some Russian forestry experts.
One of the Russian forestry experts hinted at a row of rather young spruce trees.
“Look, he said, they have been planted on a low ditch. The problem here is that water levels can be rather high, drowning the young trees. So we plant them on those ditches.”
I said: “Yes, that looks like a sensible solution to the problem.”
The expert: “No, there is a severe problem. We save them from drowning, but with the first storm – there are many storms here in October and November – at least half of them will not survive. They will fall over. The ditches don’t give them enough support with these strong winds.”
My reply: “But why are you continuing to use this method then? It apparently does not work. They may be protected against the water, but they become much more vulnerable to strong winds …”.
The expert: “Why should we change it? It is in Russian forestry law! This is the way we do it.”