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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

Friday, Aug. 22


Get ready to pledge allegiance to the flag during National Flag Day, paying tribute to when, 23 years ago today, the iconic hammer-and-sickle was replaced with the tricolor that now flutters in the wind. Petersburgers will be treated to a free concert on Palace Square, a military parade and a culminating air show featuring Russias Russian Knights stunt pilots.



Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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