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Oligarchs as Nation's Saviors? Berezovsky Justifies Himself

Published: October 20, 2000 (Issue # 613)


A GROUP of House Republicans in the United States has assailed the Clinton administration for supporting Russia's former president, Boris Yeltsin, whom they accuse of fostering corruption and allowing undue influence to big business during his time in office. Similar views are expressed by some reviewers of Yeltsin's memoirs, just published.

Unfortunately, these people neglect the context of Russian history. As a participant in a major business privatization deal of that period - for which I have been labeled an "oligarch" - I would like to put what happened in Russia in historical perspective.

When the Bolsheviks abolished private property in 1917, they put all expropriated wealth under the management of two organizations that were to become pillars of Soviet totalitarianism: the Communist Party and the secret police (eventually known as the KGB). To accomplish this end, the new managers physically eliminated the previous owners - tens of millions of them.

Three-quarters of a century later, in just a few years, Yeltsin carried out the reverse of the Bolshevik Revolution - and he did so bloodlessly and efficiently. By 1998, 75 percent of the property had been transferred to private hands.

Critics say that privatization was unfair - that the "oligarchs" got major assets for a fraction of their real value. To put this claim in context, I recall the events of the pivotal year 1996, which began with Communists having a majority in the State Duma and Yeltsin's popularity slipping below 3 percent while that of his Communist rival, Gennady Zyuganov, rose to nearly 30 percent.

It was at that time that Yeltsin and Anatoly Chubais decided to sell off a great many state assets quickly so that it would be difficult for the Communists to renationalize private property after Zyuganov's expected victory in the race for president. This was the background for my decision to bid for the oil company Sibneft.

For the auction, my partners and I needed at least $100 million but had only $60 million on hand. So we invited foreign investors - in the United States, Western Europe and Japan - to participate in our bid. No one gave us a penny, and George Soros, who always understood Russia better than others, told me: "The risk is too high. The Communists will take everything back. Russia is slipping into a black hole, Boris. Don't be a fool, take your family and get out, before it's too late."

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Nov. 27


The Customs and Transportation Committee for AmCham meets this morning at 9 a.m. in their office on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.


Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg’s showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the team’s website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literature’s most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poet’s birthday. The tragic tenor’s work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russia’s greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Join table game aficionados at the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test one’s intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only man’s best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during today’s reenactment titled “Winter War: How it Was.” More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie “Black Cat, White Cat,” as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of “Takoy Festival,” a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonight’s festival finale is “Fathers and Sons,” a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenev’s classic about familial relations.



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