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Russia's oligarchy
by Thanos Kalamidas
2009-06-25 09:06:28
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Russia is a huge country, and equally huge are the differences and the particularities of the different aspects of Russian life. Perhaps the 80s marked the nation’s history with the changes that brought democracy, changes that meant the escape of a regime that had not only left the country in ruins, but also left the spirit of the people in ruins.

However it brought along two new realities, in a very Russian way, and with this I mean the unique talent of the Russian people to be the best or the worst. These two new realities was the new style mafia, a capitalist mafia that expanded through prostitution, blackmails and black-market, to nuclear weapons and international terrorism, and the new billionaires or as the Russians call it; the new oligarchy.

There are plenty of rumours and perhaps gossip about the connection between the two groups, and there are some evidence that both sides have used each other in many ways, mostly lost in a labyrinth of interests and perhaps offshore companies. Another thing the two groups have in common is the frequent and radical change of their brighter stars, and of course their efforts to help the mother land.

After the fall of the wall, Russia quickly became the land of opportunities for risk takers. This was natural if you remember that the political system was in ruins, the economy was shattered, and the people were thirsty to enjoy all the things they thought that capitalism would have brought them, and which was something they had envied for so long. People in their early thirties, some of them in their late twenties, who were totally unknown a few months ago, became world known for their unbelievable profits; their names were suddenly in Forbes magazine and their daily incomes were enough to pay the whole of Africa’s debt.

But this has happened everywhere over the last decades, especially after the introduction of internet reality. The founder of Facebook is not more than a teenager and he is on the Forbes list. He is a billionaire, and don’t forget Bill Gates who is on every list of the world’s billionaires, he was also a billionaire in his early thirties. So what’s the difference? The difference in this case has a dual identity. First of all, everybody finds it hard to believe that this takes place in the former communist Russia, and they forget the ones who lost. It is difficult to see the losers a decade after a victory. Somehow, the feeling of victory provokes a series of reactions that make others feel like winners too.

The other thing is the suspicious circumstances of this wealth. Not that there is any billionaire who made money in an honest way. Honesty and wealth have never gone hand in hand, and by honesty I’m not talking in legal terms. You see these people are very careful to go about legally doing whatever they do. They just find small legal windows in the law that will help them turn thousands into billions. But what kind of law does a nation have that for nearly a decade was controlled by the mafia, the very same mafia Yeltsin made his partner. This perhaps created, without wanting it, a reality for the future leadership; one that Putin has tried to fight hard and long.

The Russians Oligarchs - the newly rich, the creation of a meta-Yeltsin era - made one mistake; the same mistake their foster brothers made a decade earlier: they wanted part of the power. They want their political share, and they like the manipulation ability that political power can give them, but here the oligarchs found the emperor. Putin is not going to make the same mistakes as Yeltsin did. After all he doesn’t need them, and he can deal with them the same way he dealt with the mafia. It was his way or the …highway. And Putin’s highway is well planned and made for these kind of cases. Amazingly, the international economic crisis worked in Putin’s favour in this case, because the oligarchs had to fulfil another dream of their Russian soul: to conquer the west financially!

According to Forbes magazine, the number of Russian billionaires is dramatically dropping this year. From 74 last year, now there are only 27, and of course their powers are limited. The worst fears might come true and Putin can move forward with his plans of having the emperor manipulating the oligarchy!


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Emanuel Paparella2009-06-25 15:00:03
"Corruptio optima pessima" said the Romans and the wisdom of that statement is still true today: the corruption of the best is always the worst kind of corruption. To corrupt the very foundations of a humanistic approach to social life is to become a worst monster than to simply be a pragmatic technocrat unconcerned with moral issues and ideals.

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