Editorial: Will we ever understand Russia?

A recent trip to Moscow taught me a few things. One is that Russians are hugely generous and welcoming hosts, and great fun to be with. The second is that, against the backdrop of the Litvinenko affair, suspicion and an addiction to procedure and bureaucracy are alive and well in modern Russia. This was borne out when I was stopped and asked for my passport by a policeman for no good reason other than being with a party of tourists in Red Square. Proceeding through immigration is accompanied by much theatrical rubber stamping and long, hard stares - and that's just to leave the country. Old habits die hard.

The third was that Moscow is not exactly a relaxed city. It isn't just the volume of traffic constantly fighting for room through Stalin's grand boulevards or the people drinking wildly on the streets, it's a feeling that if it wasn't for an authoritarian government, the place would drift into lawlessness. This was borne out by a Sunday demonstration by the rump of the old Communist Party. The actual number of demonstrators couldn't have been much more than around 500, yet the authorities had seen fit to barricade off entire blocks and deploy not just police but militia with fierce dogs.

I would need to read a lot more Russian history to fully understand the Russian psyche. In an article for the FT, the country's president, Vladimir Putin, speaks of the diversity of European civilisation; that it "would be wrong to try to force artificial "standards" on each other". He may have a point.

While Russians (and many other nations) accept carrying ID and showing it on demand, we in the UK treat the idea with suspicion, as alien to our culture. But at the same time we accept being monitored on CCTV almost as soon as we step out of our front doors. This issue of privacy is the subject of Steve Gold's feature Private Matters (p38) where, as he makes clear, some are starting to question the ethics of data collection, particularly by the state. The distrust of government is further demonstrated by the suspicion surrounding the NHS's new data "spine" designed to bring new "efficiencies" to the monolithic state-run heath service, ironically described as "Stalinist" in some quarters.

Related to this theme, Rob Buckley investigates the emergence of biometrics (Brave new world? p32) to see whether this particular technology's time has come and whether its shortcomings have been ironed out enough to make it a useful tool for business.

We travel to another nation rarely out of the news, Israel, for our cover interview this month. Nissim Bar-El is the CEO and founder of Comsec Consulting who, after 20 years building the firm, is now ready to make it the McKinsey of the IT security world. See page 24.

Finally, this month we welcome Ed Gibson as our new columnist. Ed will be taking you on a journey through his world. Those who know Ed will not be surprised that his first column is, in the words of his PR minders, "very Ed". Which is just fine for us here at SC. Have a good month, comrades.

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