Kafka’s castle is collapsing

You can’t reason with the absurd, as IKEA found when it tried to build a model business in Russia. Institutional corruption is out of control, says Andrei Loshak in Open Democracy. Kafka’s Castle is finally collapsing. This is good news, as Russians, ordinary Russians are losing their fear.

And the Swedes are losing their hair, their face and the last vestiges of their Protestant work ethic and unanswerable logic. Having learnt tough lessons in Moscow (local utility company turned off the power just because they can), IKEA execs then installed a farm of generators in advance of the St Petersburg opening as a contingency measure, only to discover months later they were overcharged millions of dollars by corrupt officials, effectively wiping out 2 years of profit from their East European operations. From that moment the Swedes did all they could to minimise their dependence on local authority whims, when building their stores in Russia.

Then came Samara. This store was built three years ago, but its opening was postponed 9 times, says Loshak. The company has opened 230 stores all over the world, but was unable to overcome the implacable cupidity of the Samara officials. Their last complaint was that the building was insufficiently hurricane-proofed. The Swedes were unable to obtain any information about destructive tornados wreaking havoc on the left bank of the Volga and took umbrage. IKEA’s legendary founder Ingvar Kamprad announced that investment in Russia would be scaled down. But local officials were unlikely to be fazed by such trifles. Their actions are, after all, not dictated by narrow personal interest. They are supporting the normal functioning of an irrational system.

The Swedes had repeated the mistake of the surveyor K in Kafka’s ‘The Castle’, who tried to use the powers of reason to overcome the absurd. A fruitless attempt. Reason has limited possibilities, whereas the absurd knows no limits.

Read the full essay in Open Democracy …