This Date's Issues:
Johnson's Russia List
to CDI's Home Page I Return
to CDI's Library
9 March 1998
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Thomas Goltz: New book on Azerbaijan.
2. Laura Belin: Re Kotenkov on electoral law.
3. Boston Globe: David Marcus, In Congress, NATO expansion
hit by right, left.
4. Moscow Times: A Peek Into Russia's Troubled Soul. Emily
Glentworth reviews "Open Lands: Travels Through Russia's Once-
Forbidden Places" by Mark Taplin.
5. JAMESTOWN FOUNDATION PRISM: John Varoli, RUSSIAN CINEMA
SPOTLIGHTS SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ILLS.
6. The Electronic Telegraph (UK): Moscow gets the ultimate gloss.
Much has changed in Russia since the retreat of communism - but is
it really quite ready for Vogue? Jan Moir reports.
7. Financial Times (UK): John Thornhill, Russia: Companies court
8. AP: Russian Church Condemns Conversions.]
Date: Sat, 7 Mar 1998
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (thomas goltz)
Subject: Goltz posting viz new book on Azerbaijan, M.E. Sharpe
David, I posted a longish blurb on my about-to-appear book on Azerbaijan,
AZERBAIJAN DIARY: A Rogue Reporter's Adevtnures (etc), in the hopes you
would post it but have yet to see it, possibly becuz I am only on the B list
(short list). If you found it too long to run, please inform your list
members that they can get a taste of the book via several excerpts and a
review run this weekend (March 7-9th) on Forbes Digital Tool. I am not an
expert on surfing, but if you punch in Forbes and Digital Tool on the search
engine, up it pops.
For those who do not wish to surf into the excerpts, the book is available
circa late March vis M. E. Sharpe, 80 Business Park Drive, Armonk NY 10504;
tel: 1/914/273 1800 or fax 273 2106 or via the marketing number 1/800/541
6563 Ext 145 (Susanne Beuchert). Circa 500 pages, with pictures, maps, index.
Date: 7 Mar 1998
From: "Laura Belin" <email@example.com>
Subject: re: Kotenkov on electoral law
A few thoughts on the recent comments by Aleksandr Kotenkov, Yeltsin's
representative in the Duma (JRL no. 2092).
Kotenkov thinks the composition of the Duma raises constitutional
questions in part because half of the deputies were elected on party lists
and "it is unclear whom they represent, especially those whose names were
not given on ballot papers."
That is a strange line of argument for a supporter of Yeltsin to take.
Some background: voters were given two ballot papers in the 1995 Duma
elections. One listed the candidates running in that voter's district
(Russia was divided into 225 single-member districts). The other ballot
listed the 43 electoral blocs vying for the 225 seats distributed by
proportional representation. Each of those blocs drew up party lists, but
only the top three candidates' names appeared on the ballot given to voters.
Four groups gained more than five percent of the party-list vote: the
Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Our Home Is Russia,
and Yabloko. What happened to the top three candidates nominated by each of
Yabloko's top three are all in the Duma: Grigorii Yavlinskii leads the
Yabloko faction, Vladimir Lukin chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, and
Tatyana Yarygina is the deputy head of the Labor and Social Policy Committee.
Two out of the top three Communist candidates from 1995 are in the Duma:
Gennadii Zyuganov heads the Communist faction, Svetlana Goryacheva is deputy
Duma speaker. Aman Tuleev, who in 1995 chaired the Kemerovo Oblast
legislature, declined to take up his Duma seat. He ran for president, served
as CIS affairs minister in the government for nearly a year, and has been
governor of Kemerovo since last July.
The top three candidates on the LDPR's party list are still in the Duma,
although Aleksandr Vengerovskii quit the LDPR faction in March 1996 after
quarreling with Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
None of the top three candidates for Our Home Is Russia are still in that
group's Duma faction. Viktor Chernomyrdin chose to stay in the government,
and film director Nikita Mikhalkov also decided not to take up his Duma
seat. Lev Rokhlin was planning to do the same but was persuaded to join the
Duma following accusations that Our Home Is Russia had deceived voters by
putting candidates who had no intention of serving in parliament at the top
of the party list. As JRL readers know, Rokhlin and the pro-government
movement have since parted ways, to put it mildly.
Following Kotenkov's reasoning, Our Home Is Russia's Duma faction is the
least "representative," in the sense that it contains none of the people
whose names were listed on the 1995 ballot.
Some opponents of the "Communist-dominated Duma" (in fact the Communists
and their allies have only a near-majority) say a purely majoritarian
electoral system would create a less oppositionist lower house of
parliament. It is worth recalling that the Communist Party won 58 seats in
single-member districts in the 1995 Duma elections, and the Communist-allied
Agrarian Party won 20 seats. Our Home Is Russia won 10 seats, and Yegor
Gaidar's Russia's Democratic Choice party won 9.
Scrapping proportional representation would be devastating for
Zhirinovsky and very bad for Yavlinskii too, but the Communists would likely
remain well represented in the Duma.
8 March 1998
[for personal use only]
In Congress, NATO expansion hit by right, left
By David L. Marcus, Globe Staff, 03/08/98
WASHINGTON - President Ronald Reagan used to talk of the day when the
Berlin Wall would tumble and NATO, the powerful Western alliance, could
spread east to the Soviet Bloc.
But now, as the Senate finally considers adding Eastern European
countries to the alliance, that vision is under attack from an
unexpected quarter: Reaganite Republicans.
Senators John Warner of Virginia, Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire, and
Dirk Kempthorne and Larry Craig of Idaho have broken ranks with their
party's leaders and are trying to halt NATO expansion. When the Senate
Foreign Affairs Committee voted on NATO earlier this week, the most
outspoken critic was John Ashcroft, a conservative from Missouri.
The opponents remain outnumbered and the Senate is expected to ratify
the NATO enlargement later this month, but the debate over America's
role in the world's security is just starting for Republicans. A growing
number of Republicans in Congress are rejecting the reliance on
multinational coalitions and treaties that were championed by several
generations of leaders, including President George Bush.
Deep divisions exist within the party over almost all the foreign policy
questions that Congress will consider this year, including loaning
billions of dollars to the International Monetary Fund's Asian rescue,
expanding free trade throughout the Americas, extending trade privileges
for China, and imposing economic sanctions on pariah nations.
Some legislative aides say the erosion of party unity has encouraged
members of Congress to follow their consciences on important issues,
instead of merely obeying party guidelines. But the lack of cohesion
also has made it difficult for the White House to drum up interest on
issues such as paying UN dues.
In recent debates over free trade and the Iraq crisis, prominent
Democrats also have rebuffed President Clinton. This week, two of the
party's best-known voices on foreign affairs, Senator Daniel Patrick
Moynihan of New York and John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, questioned the
NATO expansion. Like other critics, they have criticized the cost and
the timing of the project.
''These are the kind of splits you're going to see in both parties,''
said James Baker III, the former secretary of state, who identifies with
the internationalist wing of his party. ''The right wing of the
Republican Party, the left wing of the Democratic Party, and many
independents such as'' Ross ''Perot are making a loud, protectionist,
Former president Gerald Ford, former senator George Mitchell of Maine,
retired General Colin Powell, Baker, and other NATO supporters say the
expansion will ensure that developing countries enjoy democracy and
Those opposing NATO expansion say they are not isolationists. They cite
doubts about the cost of the enlarged alliance, the ill-defined mission,
and the possibility of stirring up ultranationalists in Russia.
''`People are basing their opinions on the issues, rather than partisan
or ideological terms,'' said former Republican Charles M. Mathias Jr. of
Maryland, who served on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Not long ago, Mathias said, he was surprised to see fairly similar
anti-NATO statements from two former senators: Gary Hart, a left-leaning
Democrat from Colorado, and Gordon Humphrey, a hard-line Republican from
New Hampshire. ''Now, that's an odd couple,'' he said.
These days, odd couples abound in the discussions of international
policy. The two members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee who
voted against NATO expansion were Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, perhaps
the most liberal senator, and Ashcroft, who plans to run for president
as a heartland conservative.
With the Soviet threat gone, members of Congress have increasingly
looked at the domestic impact of foreign issues. One of the most vocal
backers of NATO expansion, for example, is Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio,
who is not well known for his views on world affairs. But he represents
a state with a large population of Polish immigrants. It is no
coincidence that NATO's planned expansion would add Poland, along with
Hungary and the Czech Republic.
The splits are occurring in conservative think tanks, too. In
Washington, the Heritage Foundation declared its support of NATO
enlargement. But the Cato Institute has put out a stream of news
releases with titles such as ''NATO expansion could pull US into East
European war.'' Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato's vice president for national
security issues, dismissed expansion as little more than a ''group hug''
- despite the backing of Jesse Helms, the conservative chairman of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
On Friday, an unusual alliance of senators demanded that the Clinton
administration take a tough stance against China when the UN Commission
on Human Rights meets in Geneva on March 16. The conservatives included
Helms, Connie Mack of Florida, and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. They
were joined by liberals including Wellstone, Barbara Boxer of
California, and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin.
In coming weeks, Republicans will also disagree with each other about
whether the United States should help the IMF stabilization plan for
Asia, pay $1 billion in dues to the United Nations, and approve
''fast-track'' legislation to speed up free trade pacts with South
''Should we pay our back dues to the UN? You bet your life,'' said
Baker. ''It's outrageous that we're the biggest deadbeat in the world,
and yes, a lot of the opposition is coming from my party.''
But he said he sees a positive side to the unpredictable nature of
Republicans and Democrats on foreign policy. ''If you have a president
who will lead, who will explain issues and marshal support, there's
probably more latitude to have bipartisan backing. You don't have people
locked into a certain point of view any more.''
March 7, 1998
A Peek Into Russia's Troubled Soul
By Emily Glentworth
"Open Lands: Travels Through Russia's Once-Forbidden Places" by Mark
Taplin. Steerforth Press. 376 Pages, $29.50.
Mark Taplin first came to Moscow in 1984 as assistant cultural attaché
at the U.S. Embassy. In his office he had a map that was a blaze of red
with tiny splashes of green. The green marked the few places in the
Soviet Union -- mainly the capital cities of each republic -- where
foreigners were allowed to go. All the rest was red: strictly closed to
Secrecy and suspicion of foreigners, always present in the Soviet
system, became institutionalized under Stalin. By the late 1940s, the
need to keep the horrors of the gulag hidden and to guard military
secrets had brought on full-scale paranoia. But by the time Taplin
arrived, during the mid-1980s, it seemed that the entrenched Soviet
bureaucracy was acting as much out of habit as out of fear in erecting
barriers to travel.
Even expeditions to "open" cities could prove difficult; travel agents
would insist that hotels or airplanes were full, or that an open
destination could only be reached by changing planes in a "closed" area,
which was, of course, forbidden.
When Russia and the United States signed the "Open Lands Agreement" in
1992, permitting free travel throughout both countries, Taplin returned
to Russia with a ready-made title for his travel book. Open Lands is his
account of a series of somewhat random journeys to mostly far-flung
locations that had been hidden from foreigners' eyes for at least half a
Everywhere he goes Taplin witnesses environmental destruction and the
ugliness of the Soviet system. But the unsavory actions of humans do
not, for Taplin, detract from the might and beauty of the Russian
landscape. The fact that the chapter headings are mainly references to
landscapes, with place names serving as secondary titles, shows the
importance Taplin attaches to nature.
He describes a journey through the Tuvan Republic on the Mongolian
border: "In the ethereal light of the winter dawn, the snow-lacquered
steppes lay before us in leonine defiance of anything civilized,
anything man-touched. ... The black asphalt of the highway was the only
intrusion. ... Here in this thin dark ribbon is the role of man, it
said: the rest belongs to the endless steppe, to nature and to the
This spirit is crushed throughout the book by graphic reminders of the
gulag, which Taplin encounters repeatedly. Vorkuta, a mining town within
the Arctic Circle, is reachable only by the 1000-mile long arctic
railway, built under Stalin's orders, "by the camps, and for the camps."
Here, Taplin tells us, was the largest concentration of labor camps in
the whole of the Soviet Union. A conversation with a man he meets on his
travels provides a chillingly detailed description of the railroad cars
used to transport prisoners. Squashed in so tightly that it was
difficult to breathe, and often denied even basic rations of food and
water, many of the prisoners died even before reaching the camps.
Perhaps they were the fortunate ones. Prisoners mining the coal face in
the hostile conditions of Vorkuta had every grounds for believing that
they were in the first circle of hell. Miners died daily from
exhaustion, exposure, malnutrition and accidents.
Later Taplin relates how the commander of one of the Vorkuta camps
transformed a large kiln into "one of the most notorious execution sites
in the history of the gulag." Literally thousands of prisoners were shot
there and the commander, who was described in his personnel file as "a
good worker,"often took part in the firing squads personally.
Solovetsky Monastery, situated on islands on the White Sea northwest of
Arkhangelsk, was, according to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, where the gulag
began. Felix Dzerzhinsky, Lenin's chief of the secret police, turned
this beautiful setting into a stage for the sadistic brutality of his
Taplin was troubled that the guide who showed him and a group of
foreigners around the monastery failed to allude at all to what had
occurred there during Soviet times. Solovetsky, like many of the places
Taplin visited, may now be open on the map, but it seems there is still
much to hide. Taplin displays a dogged persistence throughout his
travels in uncovering the truth.
Wherever he goes, Taplin meets greedy opportunists, cashing in on the
free market economy as best they can: the shady silver dealers on the
train to Veliky Ustyug; the fat Russian banker in Vladivostok; the
private ship owners in Kamchatka whose ships now carry cars and other
consumer items from Japan and Korea.
Through the din of such voices comes a plaintive lament for lost values,
for former beauty. A man who has devoted 25 years to documenting the
life of Kamchatka's bears grieves for the thousands of animals who have
been slaughtered by poachers or foreign hunters. "Democracy is justan
excuse for the greedy to get rich at the expense of the people," he
says. "It's every man for himself, and no one can stop the poachers and
The artisan who has spent six years restoring a church in Veliky Ustyug
is uncertain about the future of his trade; building houses for the
nouveaux riches is much more lucrative than restoring churches on the
pittance of a state salary.
Through the blind greed of the opportunists, through the determination
of those clinging to old values and traditions, comes another voice: the
voice of a Russia longing "to understand what it once was and what it
might have been -- the first step toward restoring its true identity."
In a sense, this is the voice that Taplin is straining to hear
throughout his travels. He is also looking forward for Russia, inspired
as he is by the boundless beauty of the landscape and by the strength of
the human spirit. In his postscript, having visited the apartment museum
of Sakharov in Nizhny Novgorod, the place where the famous dissident was
exiled, Taplin writes "I see the possibilities of the human spirit
While "Open Lands" does not pretend to be a scholarly work, there is
enough research here to satisfy the historian. It is a thoroughly
enjoyable read for anyone curious about Russia in the broader sense. It
is a heartfelt evocation of lands and peoples struggling to come to
grips with their past and their future.
6 March 1998 Prism - Vol.IV, No.5, Part 3 (of 4)
THE JAMESTOWN FOUNDATION
RUSSIAN CINEMA SPOTLIGHTS SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ILLS
By John Varoli
The nomination of Pavel Chukhrai's film "The Thief" (Vor) for best foreign
film at the Academy Awards is just the latest proof that Russian cinema is
bouncing back after years of depression.
Hardly a week now passes without a new premiere. The past year has seen the
release of more Russian films than the previous three years combined. And,
in a field that has until now been dominated by the Moscow studies, this has
been a sharp increase in the number of films being produced in St.
Petersburg. This is not just a matter of quantity, but also of quality. A
new generation of creative talent is coming into its own and learning now to
survive and even prosper in a market economy.
A significant feature of many of these new films is their readiness to
confront pressing political and social problems. Though Russia is the
motherland of Dostoyevsky, who gave humanity insights into the human soul
decades before Freud, Soviet Utopia provided little encouragement for
writers who wanted to probe human psychology. Class consciousness was
considered paramount in explaining human behavior. This began to change only
with Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika in the second half of the 1980s.
Several films made in the past year -- "Brother" (Brat), "The Thief" (Vor),
"The Time of The Dancer" (Vremya tantsora), and "Schizophrenia"
(Schizofreniya) -- typify this trend toward social and political criticism.
A theme common to all four films is the pervasiveness of the cult of
violence in Russia today.
In Soviet times, the repressive police apparatus, state censorship of the
mass media, and a cradle-to-grave system of indoctrination combined to
create a degree of tranquillity in Russian society not found in most other
countries. Since the collapse of the USSR and the relaxation of state
controls, Russia has been afflicted by ethnic conflict and rising crime.
These social ills are fueled by a pathos of violence and a philosophy of
"might-makes-right" that have permeated society. People today appear far
more inclined than before to settle their differences or promote their
interests through the use or threat of force. All the four films discussed
here focus on this theme.
"Brother", directed by St. Petersburg director Aleksei Balabanov and
produced by the film company "STV" (a new studio that grew out of Lenfilm,
using Lenfilm people and equipment), was both the most popular film of 1997
and the one that received the greatest critical acclaim. Made on a
shoestring budget of $500,000, the film was technically primitive. But its
raw look into the criminal world and the origins of criminal behavior earned
it high marks with audiences and critics alike.
"Brother" tells the story of a young boy, Daniil, who leaves his village to
live with his "successful" older brother -- an assassin for hire -- in St.
Petersburg. Daniil eventually becomes involved in his older brother's line
of "work." Instead of becoming a just another hired gun, however, Daniil
sees himself as a kind of Robin Hood, serving the people by rubbing out the
evil bandits who prey upon them.
This Robin Hood image endears Daniil to the audience. He seems a "decent"
Russian boy who, though he does distasteful work, nevertheless makes the
streets safe for the common people. But then, just as viewers are about to
take Daniil to their hearts, Balabanov shocks the viewer with a stark
revelation of how Daniil has been corrupted by the work her does. His
killing becomes a drug. His reliance on force to solve his problems spins
out of control, which leads to his alienation from his friends.
As Balabanov told NTV after the film had its premier on Russian TV last
November, "This film is my feeling of what is happening in life for a number
of young men today. Daniil is the hero of our times. Whether he is good or
bad is up for the viewer to decide."
"Vremya Tantsora," made by one of Russia's most famous film duos, directors
Vadim Abdrashitov and Aleksandr Mindadze (the former a Tatar and the latter
a Georgian), chooses ethnic conflict as its main motif. The film is set in
the 1990s, somewhere in the south of Russia. While the high mountains make
it clear that the action takes place in the Caucasus region, we are not told
where and when exactly the film is set.
The first hour and a half shows the life of Cossacks victorious in some
recent local war. As part of their spoils, the Cossacks occupy the homes of
the vanquished. The lead character is a Cossack dancer who everyone, even
the indigenous Caucasian population, thinks is a "swell guy." His only
"fault" is that he missed the war. He never got the chance to fight and now
he is just a Cossack wanna-be who only dances the role in a musical
ensemble. Lacking the cruelty needed to kill, the dancer is embarrassed
before his Cossack buddies, because "real men" have no compunction about
In the film's final hour, a Caucasian doctor chased out of his house by the
victorious Cossacks, returns to take revenge on the dancer for marrying his
wife. She had left the doctor after he went off to war, because the
experience of fighting turned this sensitive, learned man into a killer. All
he now knows is how to take life, not to save it.
Pavel Chukhrai's new film "Vor" (Thief), which was produced by NTV-Profit,
offers the most sophisticated psychological analysis of the roots of the
cult of violence in Russia today. After the film's St. Petersburg premier
last October, Chukhrai told Prism that his purpose in shooting the film was
"to gain some insight into the childhood of those people who are now running
the country; to understand what they went through, in what environment they
were raised, and with what values. They were raised in a culture where
violence and militarism were the values of the day."
Set in post-war, 1950s Russia, the film tells the story of Sasha, a
fatherless six-year old boy. The film is told from Sasha's point of view and
in his own words as an adult. The main plot is about his mother, Yekaterina,
and the man she loves, a thief, Tolyan.
The Russia we see is still in the throes of recovering from the war. Times
are hard and cruel. At the beginning of the film, Yekaterina and Tolyan meet
by chance on the train. He is young and handsome, decked out in a fine
military uniform. She is a lonely young widow with a child to feed. Both his
looks and his supposed privileged position as a military officer steal
Instead of her life becoming easier, however, it becomes a living hell when
she learns that Tolyan is a thief masquerading as an officer. Nevertheless,
she cannot leave him. In post-war USSR, there are few men to be had; over
seven million men were killed on the battlefield, to say nothing of huge
civilian casualties. Yekaterina decides that life with any man, even a
criminal, is better than none.
Her decision has drastic consequences for the film's little hero, Sasha.
>From the first, his relationship with his new father is troubled. Throughout
the first half of the film, little Sasha is haunted by the ghost of his true
father; the one who died in the war before Sasha was even born.
As a stepfather, Tolyan is a bad influence in Sasha. Tolyan teaches Sasha
how to fight and to steal. Tolyan is put in prison, and Yekaterina dies soon
afterwards of a botched abortion. Sasha finds himself alone, and ends up in
an orphanage. From there he leads a life of crime. Tolyan, the thief, has
stolen Sasha's mother, his childhood, and human dignity. At the end of the
film, we see Sasha as an army officer fighting in Chechnya.
(Chukhrai said recently that he plans to change the ending of the film.
Though he has not said why, the fact that many people were upset with the
film ending in Chechnya might be part of the reason.)
Tolyan can be read as a symbol of the Soviet system, which stole the lives
of so many people, and warped those of the survivors. Tolyan himself jokes
that he is the son of Stalin. While a whole generation of Soviet/Russian men
were not literally raised by criminals, the USSR was often nicknamed
Bolshaya Zona, the "Big Prison." And the experience of growing up in state
that was, despite its low levels of recorded crime, inherently lawless and
founded on coercion, has left deep psychological scars on its citizens.
Film director Viktor Sergeyev's new film, "Schizofreniya" (Schizophrenia),
produced by Lenfilm, was panned by many of the critics. With audiences,
however, it has been one of the most popular Russian films of recent times.
In years to come, "Schizophrenia" may well be remembered as the film that
best captured the age we live in -- the age of bandit capitalism; of
financial and bureaucratic "warlords"; and of shifting alliances among the
oligarchy carving out their empires amidst the rubble of the Soviet one.
What makes the film especially interesting is the fact that it is supposedly
based on truth. Aleksandr Abdulov, the film's lead who also co-authored the
screenplay, told Prism that the film is based on a true story as told to him
by a leading Russian criminal figure.
This political thriller describes the close ties between Russian criminal
organization, law-enforcement officers, the Federal Security Service (FSB),
and top government officials. The state, in the grip of powerful interest
groups, shows no compunction eliminating its enemies. To quote from the
film's press release, "This is the story of how the System we inherited from
the totalitarian past remains intact and continues to establish itself,
destroying and maiming people's lives. Sometimes, to show who's boss and
achieve its goals, it throws down the gauntlet to society."
The film recounts the story of Nemoi (the Mute), played by Aleksandr
Abdulov, a convict recruited from prison by the FSB in order to carry out
the assassination of Mr. Lazovsky, the country's most influential banker who
has presidential ambitions. Sergeyev told Prism that his film was not aimed
against Russian President Boris Yeltsin. But the film itself makes it quite
clear that the assassination is being carried out on behalf of the
President. The FSB officer in charge of the operation tells Nemoi, "We [The
FSB] serve the President, the Constitution and the people who voted for the
President." Powerful stuff.
It's one thing for political extremists to rail against the president, but
a film made by a leading director and starring Russia's most famous actors
is a body blow at presidential dignity from the ranks of mainstream society.
It would not be an exaggeration to call this a dissident film. Audiences in
Moscow and St. Petersburg have tended to view the film as just another
action movie. But audiences in regions of the country which are in
opposition to the Yeltsin leadership have responded quite differently to the
film and are promoting it "for their own purposes," according to Olga
Agrafenina, the press officer at Lenfilm.
Schizophrenia's all-star cast, featuring some of Russia's leading actors --
Aleksandr Abdulov, Aleksandr Zbruyev, Kirill Lavrov, Leonid Bronevoi and
Armyen Dzhigarhanian -- enhances the quality of the film and adds to its
credibility in the eyes of the public.
The film's title might appear puzzling, but Sergeyev's message is clear and
simple. Schizophrenia is the most common mental illness, one with a tendency
to become chronic. Sergeyev thinks Russia is in danger of becoming stuck in
the "bandit" stage of capitalism, hatched and fostered by the old Soviet
oligarchy that has prospered through its own personal transition from
"Communist" to "capitalist." Over and over again, Sergeyev seeks to
demonstrate that the pull of Russia's totalitarian past may be too strong to
let the country evolve into a civil society.
John Varoli is a correspondent for the St. Petersburg Times and Bloomberg
Business News. He has lived in Russia since 1992.
The Electronic Telegraph (UK)
7 March 1998
[for personal use only]
Moscow gets the ultimate gloss
Much has changed in Russia since the retreat of communism - but is it
really quite ready for Vogue? Jan Moir reports
ALTHOUGH her tastes normally run to Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, the
editor-in-chief of Russian Vogue wears her chain-store clothes with
pride. "I have to tell you," says Elena Doletskaya, in a lush, husky
voice. "I went to BhS in Moscow and I saw a lovely jacket, an everyday
one for work. I put it on, it looked wonderful and then I saw the label.
Made in Russia!
"I could not believe my eyes. Clothes made in my country are now very
good quality. Everything, you know, is changing."
When the first issue of Russian-language Vogue goes on sale in
September, it will be the most vivid indication yet of the cultural
changes that have swept the country since the retreat of communism.
While Western magazines are nothing new there - Elle, Marie Claire and
Cosmopolitan have all flourished in the past few years - Vogue, with its
accent on opulence, affluence and designer labels, has always been the
first and last word in de luxe living.
Within the pages of its 10 individually edited, international editions -
from Australia to Brazil, Italy to Korea - it has served as the global
style bible for old money, new money and no money-but-I-love-the-photos
subscribers. What will be the reaction when the glossiest glossy of them
all is launched in the former USSR?
"I hope it will be shocking," says Doletskaya. "I would like it to be
shocking in the most positive sense of the word. I want it to give
people an outrageous big hit."
We meet in the London headquarters of British Vogue, where she is
overseeing preparations for her first issue before returning to the new
penthouse offices, purchased by its publisher, Condé Nast, in the centre
of Moscow. She is a tall, striking woman with chestnut hair and sky-blue
eyes, wafting around in Issey Miyake and a cloud of her favourite scent,
Pleasures, by Estée Lauder.
Lively and friendly, she has none of the chilly remoteness associated
with some fashionistas and is sanguine at the prospect of endorsing,
say, Lainey Keogh knitwear or Tomasz Starzewski cocktail dresses in a
country where the conspicuous consumption of a few contrasts sharply
with the bare, spare lives of the many - and all this from a city that
was once the very pulse of proletarian dictatorship.
"Not every second woman in London would dress in Prada or Ferre, not
even in High Street Kensington. These are expensive clothes everywhere,"
she says. "You must understand that when our country was closed, Russian
women had to live and survive in certain ways. They became inventive
about clothes; they created fantasies, they generated their own ideas.
"Many of them will look through Vogue and say: 'God, this is so much
money.' But if a woman really likes an item, she will find something
similar, or she will go to the tailor, or she will sew it herself," adds
Doletskaya, although she knows very well that her magazine is not really
aimed at aspirational Olgas cobbling together a pair of Gucci stilettos
from an old pair of slippers and a couple of nails.
The emerging Russian economy is now an important world market, bristling
with aggressive consumers tumescent with new wealth and bedazzled by
Western luxury goods. "Versace was the first to open and everyone who
had a disposable income was right there," she says, making tram lines
with her arms.
"They were wearing all Versace and then, later, the same with Moschino."
It sounds, I must say, horribly vulgar. Is pasting yourself with one
label the definition of nascent national chic? It is no secret that much
of the cash sloshing around Moscow, St Petersburg and the other major
cities has been culled from black market profiteering organised by the
so-called Russian Mafia - compelling Jonathan Newhouse, Vogue's head of
global expansion, recently to remark: "Look. We are from Condé Nast, not
Interpol. Whether a woman is a princess or a prostitute, she still has
to dress herself."
Naturally, the Russian editor-in-chief has a more polished vision of her
prospective readership. "Russian style is very elegant and decorative.
The girls are very pretty and the new generation is so bright and
experimental. They go for anything: dramatic minis, long skirts,
There is, she points out, one tiny exception: her comrades would not
wear the funky plastic jewellery that has proved an enduringly popular
staple of British street fashion.
"One has to remember that the old jewellery handed down by babushkas is
kept in the family and very highly appreciated," she says, showing me a
diamond cluster ring that was once her mother's ("not such great quality
diamonds") and her Fabergé diamond and sapphire ring, inherited from her
grandmother. "I love it, I can't live without it. I love sapphires. I
put them all over the place."
Doletskaya was "born and bottled" in Moscow and speaks excellent
English, courtesy of her studies at the Moscow State University.
"I was learning the language when Russia was a closed country. We never
met a native speaker of English - that would have been the seventh
wonder of the universe - so we sat in the language lab for hours,
listening to tape recordings from the BBC World Service and RSC
performances. I probably know the voices of Paul Scofield and Alec
Guinness better than my own father's."
Her parents were both surgeons: Stanislav Doletsky was a well-known
paediatric surgeon who performed the first Siamese twin separation in
Russia. Her paternal grandfather was a director of the Soviet news
agency Tass, and Doletskaya was briefly deputy editor of Russia's
Cosmopolitan ("I didn't find it exciting enough. I always wanted to do
Vogue; I am sorry if I sound snobbish").
She admits to being divorced but looks rather taken aback when I ask how
old she is.
"Is that question necessary? Okay, I am what I look. If I look 50 to
you, then I am 50. If I look 25, then I am 25," she says. Although this
reply is impressionistic enough to be worthy of Chekhov, I would
estimate, if pushed, that she is 38.
She did not leave Russia until 1990, when she took up an appointment as
a governmental translator in America. Until that point, her occasional
glimpses of the world beyond the Soviet Union were restricted to the
disembodied voices in the language lab and the magazines her father
subscribed to. If she was lucky enough to get hold of a copy of Vogue or
World of Interiors, she would keep it for years. The culture shock she
experienced when she first travelled abroad was profound.
"I noticed everything; all the little tiny details, from the way books
and artefacts were handled with such care and respect in museums - with
visitor instructions in different languages! - to the food supermarkets;
we never had supermarkets like Safeway in Russia. It was mind-blowing."
Back in Moscow - "I missed home, I always do" - she became an
influential figure on the arts and literature scene, organising
exhibitions and film premires. Last year, she was involved in bringing
the Almeida Theatre production of Ivanov, which starred Ralph Fiennes,
to Moscow and later worked with Fiennes again when she arranged The
English Patient première in her home town.
Like most Russians, she is passionate about literature - Dostoevsky and
Pushkin in particular - and keen to promote its popularity abroad. "I am
so excited by people like Ralph who want to discuss the merits of
different translations of Eugene Onegin, and who are happy to study the
most famous writer in Russia and try to do something interesting."
Alongside the frocks and the rocks, she hopes to include some
"excellent" journalism in Russian Vogue, but is coy about giving too
much away at this stage. "That is confidential. I am not crazy," she
Surprisingly, she does not plan to include the popular More Dash Than
Cash section, where fashion editors drill their more penurious readers
on how to achieve a designer look at a fraction of the price. So there
will be no items on 101 Ways With A Headscarf or instructions on how to
Knit Your Own Prada Handbag - not in the beginning, at least.
"The start is very special; we have to make a strong statement," says
Doletskaya. "However, I do believe that fashion is not about desiring a
£3,000 skirt. It is about taste and what makes you feel happy."
The magazine will launch with an initial print run of 150,000 - British
Vogue has a circulation of 202,028 - and will be sold mainly in the
Moscow-St Petersburg axis, although the editor-in-chief is keen to reach
such cities as Nyzhny Vartovsk in Siberia, where the oil mines have
produced a stupendously wealthy but isolated citizenry.
Russian Vogue will not, of course, appeal to all, but Doletskaya has no
fears from the 30 per cent of the population who still vote Communist.
"They are different Communists from the ones who ruled the country for
so long. They have seen the economic changes and modified their views.
"I am not a Communist myself and will never be one, but I do not look at
communism with a terrible dread. If something cosmic happened and it did
come back, I would not be running around saying: 'Oh, the Communists are
coming, what shall we do?'. In fact, we would just do what British Vogue
did when the Labour Government was elected."
"They ran a cover line saying How Shall We Shop Under Labour? Ours would
say How Shall We Shop - or Shall We Shop - Under Communism? And we would
survive. In spite of everything, they have had to endure for 70 years,
Russian women are still among the most elegant in the world."
Financial Times (UK)
9 March 1998
[for personal use only]
Russia: Companies court foreign investors
The attractions of listing abroad are obvious but investors must
evaluate the risks, writes John Thornhill
For centuries, Russia has baffled foreigners - as well as many Russians.
It continues to do so to this day. Is the country, so rich in natural
resources and human capital, the last great emerging market? Or is it an
investment quagmire, where that immense economic promise will be drained
away by scandals, corruption, and decay?
To date, such questions have troubled only a relatively small band of
adventurous investors. But they are assuming greater currency as more
Russian companies sell their shares and bonds abroad and start storming
the citadels of international capital.
Last month, Rostelekom, the dominant long-distance telephone operator,
became the first privatised Russian company to be listed on the New York
Stock Exchange, making its shares - in the form of American Depositary
Receipts - available to a far broader range of investors.
Tatneft, Russia's fourth biggest oil producer, plans to follow suit this
month. Vimpelcom, a start-up cellular telephone company, has already
gained a full listing. Three more Russian companies may be posted on the
New York board this year.
The attractions of a foreign listing are obvious. The news of Tatneft's
move lifted its shares 9 per cent. A foreign listing gives it access to
a vast pool of potential new money, increases the liquidity of its
shares, and reduces its cost of capital.
Yet is a listing equally beneficial for investors? At first glance,
Russian companies resemble all others trading on the NYSE. The US
Securities and Exchange Commission rigorously scrutinises all companies
before listing. They must have high levels of disclosure, produce three
years of accounts to US GAAP standards, and report results regularly.
If they are to achieve level 3 ADRs, enabling them to raise fresh
capital, they must report quarterly.
A leading investment bank will usually hold a Russian company's hand
during the process, giving some additional assurance that it is a
respectable client. In the case of Rostelekom, Merrill Lynch organised a
10-day investment roadshow throughout the US, exposing it to the
scrutiny of scores of fund managers.
Nonetheless, sceptics may still wonder how far a Russian company's
outward appearance corresponds to its inner reality.
There are, of course, the obvious risks attached to investing in any
country with such a fragile system of government and such a weak legal
regime. But there are also company-specific risks to evaluate.
Almost every day the Russian press recounts tales of rapacious managers
siphoning assets out of big corporations. Even honest managers can
succumb to the predations of criminal organisations or the political
pressures of federal or local government. There is no guarantee that a
company's assets or cashflow will only benefit its shareholders.
Russia's Federal Securities Commission is currently investigating
allegations that two of the country's best-known oil companies, Yukos
and Sidanco, have disadvantaged minority investors in their daughter
companies through opaque transfer pricing. In Russia's volatile business
climate, it can be difficult to distinguish between the legitimate
minimisation of tax bills and illicit asset diversions.
The advantage of both Rostelekom and Tatneft is that they are relatively
simple and transparent companies. Rostelekom accounts for 85 per cent of
Russia's long-distance telephone traffic. Tatneft, located in the
largely autonomous central Russian republic of Tatarstan, sits on huge,
provable reserves. Both companies are run by well-regarded managers who
appear to understand both the rewards and the risks of raising their
Once you have set off down the road to attract foreign investors it is
very difficult for a company to stop or turn back," says one
Moscow-based investment banker. "All their creditors would pull the
plug, their share price would tank, and they would lose three years'
hard work, if their management did something silly."
Ultimately, perhaps, the greatest protection for investors is the
management's own self-interest. Although a foreign listing commits a
company to onerous new obligations, it can also provide additional
Strong foreign shareholders can help ensure a company is run as an
independent commercial entity rather than as a quasi-ministerial
Andrew Balgarnie, head of investment banking at Morgan Stanley's Moscow
office, says the most progressive Russian managers simply want to run
straightforward commercial enterprises.
"One of the reasons Russian companies want foreign listings is to
provide protection against improper interference with shareholders'
interests at home," he says.
Russian Church Condemns Conversions
March 8, 1998
MOSCOW (AP) - The head of the Russian Orthodox Church said Sunday that any
meeting with Pope John Paul II should include an agreement to end what he
called Roman Catholic proselytizing in his church's territory.
Patriarch Alexy II noted during a news conference that the Orthodox
also confronted other churches seeking converts in Russia, Ukraine and
The leaders of the two churches have not met in more than 900 years,
so-called ``Great Schism'' in 1054, which divided Christians into the Catholic
and Orthodox factions.
``We will continue preparing for a meeting between the heads of the Russian
Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches,'' Alexy told reporters Sunday during a
visit to the Greek Embassy in Moscow.
``However, we consider it necessary that at this meeting, both sides condemn
proselytizing,'' he said.
Alexy said that a meeting planned for last summer in Austria had been called
off because the question of how to handle the Greek Catholic Church was not
resolved beforehand. Members of the church follow Orthodox rituals, but are
loyal to Rome.