This Date's Issues: 4580 • 4581
Johnson's Russia List
16 October 2000
[Note from David Johnson:
1. AP: McDonald's Workers Seek Union. (DJ: This reminds me
of something that has long bothered me. Have Western organizations
worked to support and strengthen Russian trade unions? Certainly
labor organization was a major feature of anti-Communist activism
in Eastern Europe in the old days. What happened afterwards? And why?)
2. The Russia Journal: Otto Latsis, First president back on track.
3. Washington Post Book World: Michael Dobbs, Memoirs of a
Revolutionist. (review of Yeltsin's book)
4. Financial Times (UK): Andrew Jack, Yeltsin's memoirs come under
5. The Observer (UK): Amelia Gentleman, Coke's Russian invasion
fizzles out. Drinks giant goes native to halt losses as Soviet-era
6. The Russia Journal editorial: A time for serious reform.
7. Moscow Times editorial: Was Bush Wrong, or Just Blunt?
8. Chicago Tribune: Colin McMahon, SHAMANISM UNDERGOES A
SPIRITUAL REVIVAL ACROSS RUSSIA.
9. Financial Times (UK): OFF CENTRE: Civilisation retreats in the
invisible nations: A decade after the Soviet Union's end, the fringes
of its empire are returning to dust, says John Lloyd.
10. BBC MONITORING: NTV, Russian neo-Nazis relaunch as political
11. BBC MONITORING: Russian Centre TV on business tycoons' positions
weakening under Putin.]
McDonald's Workers Seek Union
October 15, 2000
By NICK WADHAMS
MOSCOW (AP) - The struggle by some workers to unionize at McDonald's Corp.'s
food production plant outside Moscow could hinge on a court ruling that is
Yevgeny Druzhinin, a forklift operator at the ``McComplex'' facility since
1992, brought the suit to challenge the company's latest reprimand in what he
says is a string of warnings designed to punish him for union activity.
Druzhinin's case focused on McDonald's refusal to recognize the union.
Russia's labor laws say as few as three employees can form a union, and they
guarantee an elected member of a union's ruling body, such as Druzhinin,
cannot be punished or fired without union permission.
McDonald's, which has successfully kept unions out of its U.S. restaurants,
contends it is abiding by Russia's laws and argues Druzhinin's group is not a
properly constituted union.
The fight has grabbed the attention of international labor groups, the Moscow
city government and the Russian parliament, and some experts say it could
tarnish the image of McDonald's highly successful operation in Russia.
Druzhinin says that before he joined the fledgling union last year, he was
praised by managers as one of the best workers at the McComplex. Since then,
he says, he has been hit with a series of warnings for such things as showing
up at work drunk and ruining equipment, accusations he says were fabricated
to punish him for union activity.
``Once I joined the union, the administration just started attacking me,''
McDonald's executives and lawyers have refused to comment on his case before
the judges issue a ruling.
Druzhinin and others claim the company has pressured them to drop the small
union, which includes just 18 of the plant's 400 workers. They say they have
been isolated from other employees and allege McDonald's has punished them
with inconvenient work hours and shorter breaks.
McDonald's says it would gladly negotiate with a union, but contends
Druzhinin's group doesn't have any official status.
Druzhinin says that is absurd. Natalya Gracheva, a security guard at the
plant for a decade, founded the union when pay and work hours slid after
Russia's 1998 economic crash, and the union contends it is officially
The group's members concede that McDonald's employees do relatively well
compared to other Russian workers. Their monthly earnings of around $100 is
above the national average of roughly $82.
But they lag McDonald's employees in many other countries. The Russian
workers earn about 15 rubles an hour, enough to buy one Big Mac every two
hours. McDonald's employees in Germany make three times as much.
The company's Moscow operation says the overwhelming majority of employees at
the McComplex oppose unionization. But it has promised to negotiate if a
union ``fulfills the legal requirements for negotiating on their own
behalf,'' the company said in a statement.
Russian unions and international labor groups have complained to the Moscow
city government, which owns 20 percent of the McDonald's operation in Moscow.
``We have a pretty long history of confrontation with McDonald's,'' said
Kirill Buketov, Moscow representative for the International Union of Food
Workers. ``Their tactic hasn't changed throughout the world and they're
dragging out the process to exert more pressure on the union workers.''
A parliamentary commission has decided to investigate whether the fast-food
giant has violated Russian labor laws. Its chairman, Andrei Isayev, said if
the panel found any violations it could then recommend that the company be
tried in court.
``All foreign investors know there are Russian laws that they must follow,
and we won't do anything except require them to follow those laws,'' Isayev
McDonald's is one of Russia's major international investors and a popular
institution that ordinary Russians have embraced. There are 58 McDonald's
restaurants in the country, and the outlet in downtown Moscow is the
company's busiest in the world.
The Russia Journal
October 14-20, 2000
First president back on track
By Otto Latsis
First President of Russia Boris Yeltsin was in excellent form at the launch
of his new book "Presidential Marathon." He was alert and cheerful, spoke
well and made a joke in his introductory speech when he thanked Prime
Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who was standing beside him, "for not getting in
the way of the book’s publication." The public applauded.
This looked like more than a farewell or melancholy and sentimental
recollections of bygone days. It all looked like a continuation of active
politics. The contents of the book itself go far beyond the traditional
memoir genre of recounting and justifying the past reading instead like a
declaration of intent to be an active player in current political life.
One of the book’s most clearly visible aims is to support President
Vladimir Putin in every way it can. Yeltsin’s account is logical the
success of Putin, his chosen successor, is his own success, and any failure
would be his failure too. Yeltsin defends Putin from the critics, predicts
success for him in his political career and tries to warn him away from
In this context, it’s interesting to follow the book’s presentation of
fresh and familiar events. It’s not the events themselves that will be new
for the reader, but rather, how they looked through the main player’s eyes.
The reader is plunged back to August 1999, when in Russia and round the
world people were saying that Yeltsin had lost his mind in appointing Putin
prime minister and making him his successor.
While the analysts shook their heads over Putin’s appointment, Yeltsin
laughed to himself, knowing what would come later. It turns out that even
as he appointed Putin’s predecessor, Sergei Stepashin, Yeltsin had already
set his eyes on Putin, but said nothing to him at the time. Putin was to be
the successor, but Yeltsin first had to calculate at what moment to bring
him into the presidential race.
Subsequent events showed that this was a good move. The previously unknown
Putin began his time as prime minister with ratings of 1-2 percent and soon
overtook all the political heavyweights and easily swept into the Kremlin.
Another well-calculated move was the dismissal of Yevgeny Primakov right on
the eve of the impeachment vote against Yeltsin in the Duma. Many observers
and advisers to Yeltsin thought the move would only strengthen the
opposition’s hand, but Yeltsin thought the contrary and was proved right as
the impeachment vote fell through.
In the past, too, Yeltsin had disproved the predictions of professional
analysts it’s enough to remember the referendum on the Constitution in
1993. It was episodes like these that gave rise to talk of Yeltsin’s famous
"intuition," which he mentions in his book.
This vague phenomenon in fact has a perfectly rational explanation. The
professional political analysts express their own views, which are the
views of a minority in society. But when choosing a campaign strategy or
predicting the outcome of a conflict with the potential to generate mass
unrest, what counts above all is the view of the majority.
Yeltsin is better at capturing this mood of the common man than other
politicians. This explains his unexpected victories in what would seem to
be hopeless situations. This also explains his concern for Putin’s future
does his chosen successor have the same kind of instinct? The events
surrounding the loss of the Kursk submarine showed that not everything is
in order on this point, and in a recent interview, Yeltsin admitted that
Putin had made a mistake.
In his book, Yeltsin comes down with his usual vigor on his political
opponents, and this is yet further proof that "Presidential Marathon" is to
serve as an instrument of active politics.
What’s interesting is that Yeltsin’s main target isn’t the Communists.
Though he describes events from 1996 through to 2000, Yeltsin is
contemptuously indifferent to Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who was
his main opponent in the 1996 presidential elections, and Putin’s main
opponent in March, 2000. He is right, because the key question today is not
about bringing back the old society, but about building a new society.
It is this and not personal reasons (though they are also present) that
explains Yeltsin’s dislike of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov. Luzhkov was at one
time an ally of Yeltsin’s, but no one comes in for as much of a bashing as
he does in the new book. Yeltsin explains that Luzhkov’s model of
capitalism is a "model based on a caste of officials, a rigid and
bureaucratic capitalism ‘for one’s own people.’"
Yeltsin sees this as being Luzhkov’s main difference with reformers like
Yegor Gaidar, whose ideas Yeltsin supports in his book, and also with
figures like Boris Berezovsky, who earns his share of unflattering words.
Yeltsin writes that he does not like Berezovsky and has never had close
personal relations with him, and describes him as a "difficult ally," but a
"definite ally" nonetheless.
Of course, there are limits to the frankness of these memoirs. Much is left
unsaid or there to be read between the lines. For the reader, however, the
book does much to shed light not only on Russia’s recent past, but also,
perhaps, on its political future.
Washington Post Book World
October 15, 2000
Memoirs of a Revolutionist
By Michael Dobbs
Michael Dobbs, The Post's bureau chief in Moscow from 1988 to 1993, is the
author of "Down with Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire."
By Boris Yeltsin
Public Affairs. 432 pp. $26
Boris Yeltsin uses a variety of metaphors to describe his role as Russian
president in the latest, and presumably final, volume of his three-part
autobiography. Sometimes he is the mariner, steering the ship of state
through storm-tossed seas. Sometimes he is the super-bureaucrat, pushing
buttons on a "presidential control panel" to communicate with far-flung
officials. And sometimes he is the man of medicine, making decisions "with
almost surgical precision."
But the image that sticks in the mind most after reading Midnight Diaries is
of Yeltsin as godfather, someone whose lust for power leads him to sacrifice
his closest colleagues. "It was too bad, really too bad," Yeltsin writes,
after firing yet another prime minister. Despite some misgivings--firing
people is "the severest kind of stress"--Yeltsin seems to gain energy from
such incidents. "I felt an unusual rise in spirits, an enormous wave of
optimism," he notes after dismissing his longest-serving prime minister,
"faithful, decent, honest, intelligent" Viktor Chernomyrdin.
Yeltsin, who stunned the world by announcing abruptly on New Year's Eve that
he was stepping down in favor of Vladimir Putin, will be remembered as the
vanquisher of communism, the man who stood on a tank in August 1991 and faced
down an attempted communist coup. The paradox is that he was never able to
rid himself of his own Bolshevik mentality, the idea that history is made by
strong-willed people who are able to ride roughshod over powerful social and
Leaders are shaped by their early experiences, which in Yeltsin's case meant
running construction sites and serving as a provincial Communist Party boss.
There is a strange dichotomy, which comes through clearly in this book,
between Yeltsin's decisiveness in personnel matters and his detachment,
almost passivity, in dealing with the Russian economy. He writes about the
economic crisis of 1998 as though it had nothing to do with him, and was the
exclusive responsibility of one of his revolving-door prime ministers. When
he does intervene, it is like King Canute trying to hold back the waves by
imperial dictate. "There won't be any inflation," he tells a journalist, days
before the ruble collapses and prices explode.
As with his previous books, there is an air of the confessional about this
latest volume. He admits that he nearly canceled presidential elections in
1996 at the urging of his security chief, Aleksandr Korzhakhov, because he
feared he might lose to his communist rival. He tells us that he himself gave
the order for Russian paratroopers to steal a march on NATO and occupy
Pristina airport in June 1999, at the end of the war in Kosovo. He even
addresses the subject of his drinking: "Fairly early on, I concluded that
alcohol was the only means of getting rid of stress." At the same time, he
insists that a severe heart attack in 1996 caused him to reduce his
consumption of alcohol to a single glass of wine a day.
Some of this candor, however, seems somewhat contrived. He is acknowledging
things we already know, and giving them his own spin, rather than letting us
in on new secrets. If he really wanted to level with the reader, he could
begin by telling us who actually wrote this book. According to well-informed
sources in Moscow, Midnight Diaries was ghost-written by a former journalist
and Yeltsin confidante, Valentin Yumashev, who served for a time as his chief
of staff. Yet Yeltsin makes it appear that he himself wrote most of the book
"in fragments over the years--late at night or early in the morning." He
concedes only (in passing, in chapter 13) that Yumashev worked with him on
So how will history judge Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin? It is clear from this
book that he would like to be remembered as the leader who set Russia on a
new course and gave it political stability, arranging a peaceful transfer of
power. He depicts Putin's election as Russian president in March 2000 as his
crowning political achievement. And perhaps it was. Against all expectations,
at a time when his own popularity had fallen to the single digits, Yeltsin
had succeeded in getting the Russian people to anoint his own hand-picked
successor. The tsar is dead; long live the tsar.
In defeating communism, along with many others, Yeltsin achieved one huge
thing. Apart from that, he will probably be remembered mainly for the many
things that he did not do, some negative, some positive. Despite his repeated
assurances that prosperity was just around the corner, he did not lead Russia
to the Promised Land of free-market capitalism. He did not create a level
economic playing field or introduce the rule of law, as the West understands
those terms. It remains to be seen whether he has succeeded in bequeathing
Russia durable political institutions capable of gaining the allegiance of
all political factions.
On the other hand, despite his authoritarian leanings, Yeltsin avoided taking
steps that could have brought the whole democratic experiment crashing down.
As we have seen, he resisted the urgings of those who told him to cancel the
1996 elections and rule by decree. Unlike Putin, who is sensitive to media
criticism, Yeltsin largely refrained from interfering with press freedoms.
Most important, in my view, he withstood the temptation to shore up his
declining popularity by playing the nationalist card.
With millions of Russians scattered all over the former Soviet Union, Russia
could easily have gone the same way as Serbia and Yugoslavia, had Yeltsin
chosen to emulate the pernicious example of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic
and depict himself as the savior of the Russian nation. (In this book, he
describes Milosevic as "one of the most cynical politicians" he ever dealt
with.) Instead he worked to defuse ethnic conflicts with Ukraine and the
Baltic States that could have resulted in an explosion. The exception, of
course, was Chechnya, which Yeltsin and other Russian leaders viewed as an
integral part of Mother Russia.
For all his love of power, in the end Yeltsin put his love of country first.
We have, at least, that much to be grateful for.
Financial Times (UK)
16 October 2000
Yeltsin's memoirs come under media spotlight
By Andrew Jack in Moscow
The memoirs of Russia's former President Boris Yeltsin - called "Presidential
Marathon" - have been on sale in Moscow for a week but there is only modest
interest from citizens of the country over which he reigned for the past
The media interest in the book, however, has been strong, with numerous
articles and several interviews over the past few days with the man who has
kept a low public profile since his surprise resignation at the end of last
While international attention has been considerable, with an initial
print-run in the US alone of 75,000 copies - there the book is called
Midnight Diaries - Russian publishers have set less ambitious targets in a
still economically depressed nation that remains highly sceptical of its
Nikolai Naumenko, editor of AST, the Russian publisher, said last week an
initial 8,000 copies on high quality paper with photographs would be sold at
the relatively high local price of Rbs200 ($7), with a second print-run of
30,000 priced at Rbs100 each to follow in the next few weeks.
Revelations in the book - his third volume of autobiography, which covers his
second elected term since 1996 - are also limited, possibly affecting sales
in Russia. Instead, the book focuses more on the former president's family
and character rather than on any great insights or attempts to explain how he
reached a range of controversial decisions.
As Alexi Konstanian, editor of Vagrius, another leading publisher which held
early discussions about publishing the book, says: "I don't think there will
be huge interest because we all know the truth behind this epoch will only be
published in 50 years."
That is perhaps one reason why much of the Russian media attention over the
past few days has focused less on the book and more in Sovietological style
on who attended the exclusive invitation-only official launch.
Coverage has focused not only on the powerful figures who attended, but also
those who were noticeably missing, including two former prime ministers
sacked by Mr Yeltsin - Sergei Kiriyenko and Yevgenny Primakov, who comes
under attack in the memoirs.
The best-selling Russian authors over the past few years are those who have
written escapist detective stories and thrillers, whose books sell hundreds
of thousands of copies.
Mr Yeltsin is scheduled to be one of two star Russian authors appearing at
the international Frankfurt book fair this week. The other is Alexandra
Marinina, one of the best known detective writers.
The Observer (UK)
October 15, 2000
Coke's Russian invasion fizzles out
Drinks giant goes native to halt losses as Soviet-era flavours flourish
Amelia Gentleman in Moscow
Kvas is it - or so beleaguered Coca-Cola executives in Moscow have persuaded
Production lines in Siberia, which once spewed out sparkling fountains of
Coke, have been converted to make a new line of traditional Russian soft
drinks - like kvas, a cloudy brown, alcohol-free yeast drink flavoured with
the peculiar aroma of fermented stale rye bread.
In a reverse of the cultural imperialism of Coca-Cola's aggressive invasion
of Russia in the early Nineties, the firm has been forced to make concessions
to local demand as it struggles to recoup huge losses in the region.
Last week's announcement of a move into nostalgic Soviet-era drinks marks the
business's latest attempt to squeeze a profit out of Russian consumers who
are increasingly apathetic towards Coke itself.
In addition to the fizzy, sugary version of kvas already under production,
the company's management are reproducing Tarkhun, also a Soviet favourite
(and an acquired taste with its electric emerald colour, acrid herbal flavour
and strange chemical smell) and Buratino, another old recipe.
The writing on the bottles is in Cyrillic script, pandering to a perceived
consumer shift towards Russian-made goods. 'Coca-Cola' is printed in tiny
letters by the ingredients.
Inadvertently revealing the issue at the heart of the company's troubles in
Russia, a spokeswoman says the new drinks are 'affordable beverages' - which
Coke, a 'premium brand', is not.
The venture is a practical response to difficult times. The past 18 months
have been unspeakably tough for the company's Russian arm. Staff in the
Moscow headquarters are believed to have been cut back to around 35, from 300
in the mid-Nineties. Between 40 and 60 per cent of Coke's workers across
Russia have been laid off in 16 months, say company sources.
Russian enthusiasm for Coke has dwindled to such an extent that most of the
11 factories are not working to full capacity. This summer a franchise plant
in Voronyezh ceased production of Coke altogether, saying it was far more
profitable to make beer.
Six years after the company triumphantly opened its first Russian factory,
management is realising that the brand's appeal - perceived from behind the
Iron Curtain as a glamorous symbol of Western freedom - has faded.
Moscow's kiosks illustrate the problem. A bewildering variety of bottles are
labelled with a bemusing range of prices: 1.5 litres of a black liquid called
FanCola costs 9 roubles; a smaller 1.25 litre bottle of Coca-Cola costs more
than double that.
A bottle of Russian beer costs the same as a can of Coke and for most Russian
teenagers (the target buyers for colas) the choice is simple: with beer you
have the added excitement of getting drunk. The beer market has doubled in
the past four years.
The company explains that the 'state of the art technology' and the
high-quality sugar and water which go into making Coke explain why it is more
expensive. But Russia's increasingly sophisticated consumers are no longer
infatuated with Western goods as status symbols, and will not pay extra for
American colas when Russian ones cost so much less.
No one within the company will confirm what everyone suspects - that after
investing around $750 million in the country, Coca-Cola's Russian arm is
running at a loss. 'Our initiatives are long term,' a spokesman said.
The reason for Coca-Cola's fortunes in Russia are manifold - the 1998
economic crisis, the growing strength of local products, and the inability of
big companies to respond quickly enough to the rapidly changing Russian
Initially, the company's attack on Russia went smoothly. Sales rose steadily
as huge geographical areas were seized by distributors. Popular Russian
drinks like tarkhun and kvas were virtually killed off by Sprite and Fanta.
More and more money was invested in ambitious expansion programmes.
The disastrous collapse of the rouble in August 1998 marked a turning point,
although problems had emerged earlier.
Consumers were suddenly poorer and sugary drinks not a necessity. Across the
board, monthly retail turnover is still far below its pre-1998 levels: in
July of this year it stood at $6.5 million, down from $12.7 million in July
1996. As Western firms struggled, Russian rivals fought back - making cheaper
drinks. They realised there was money to be made in reviving Russian
'For a while Coke represented the winds of change in Russia. It was a key
investor and the name carried great authority. It no longer does,' a former
employee commented. To begin with, Coca-Cola's influence was huge. It
sponsored the Bolshoi ballet, the Hermitage, Russia's national football team,
the Russian Olympic team; most of these have been cut back.
'Coca-Cola ignored the local market,' he added. 'And it reacted too slowly to
change. If we wanted to put a new label on a product, we'd have to wait for
permission to come through from Atlanta, which could take six months. By the
time permission had come through, Russia's government, its banking system and
its President would all have changed.'
Other big manufacturers like Pepsi also suffered from the crash, but
responded more quickly. Pepsi has already diversified into kvas-like drinks.
There was uncertainty about whether Coca- Cola's new flavours would reverse
the company's fortunes. 'If there are problems with the sales of Coke, they
should sort those out, not start making something new,' said Greg Thain, a
Moscow retail analyst.
But the nostalgia for Soviet tastes has worked for Irn-Bru, which has
recently become a surprise success in Russia. 'We discovered that Irn-Bru
tastes very like the famous Soviet soft drink, Buratino,' Jerry Labour, the
company's director in Moscow, said. 'People picked up on it straight away -
and I'm sure it's helped sales.'
The Russia Journal
October 14-20, 2000
A time for serious reform
The Russian obsession with the big picture big projects, big plans and
equally big gaffes is much in evidence these days.
Still, the budget has just been passed and, for once, the Russian
government can claim to have a genuinely decent document.
All in all, the government has broadly stuck to its economic principles,
and barring some friction over how to spend the windfall gains from high
oil prices, the polity seems to be displaying a healthy degree of common
The regional governments are being checked by the increasingly aggressive
governors general that President Vladimir Putin appointed earlier this year.
The auditor general's office, which had largely been a ceremonial post
and a playground for Communist sympathizers has been training its guns on
public sector companies and forcing them to be more accountable.
Most of the oligarchs have been distanced from power and the Kremlin
seems free of Boris Berezovsky's pernicious influence.
The new oligarchic star, Roman Abramovich, is getting over-ambitious, with
his sights now set on taking control of the country's diamond industry by
becoming governor of Yakutia. But too much visibility in Russia usually
ends in a public hanging and Abramovich might be getting too big for his
Chechnya also seems to have dropped out of the news.
All in all, Putin can feel reasonably pleased that, bar a couple of
high-profile foul-ups, his administration is making progress.
But that is where the trouble begins. Since the collapse of the Soviet
Union, the federal authorities in Russia have largely been a symbolic
branch of government. This branch has been extremely effective at spreading
the virus of corruption. It has been efficient in acting as a guarantor for
all that is wrong.
But aside from Putin's brave experiments with a new form of vertical power,
the system operating the day-to-day administration of the country, that
affecting the daily lives of the Russian population, remains completely
The men and women running the country's bureaucracy today are the direct
descendents of those who seized the reins of the bureaucracy in 1917. They
continue to spread their tentacles throughout the private sector,
government, power structures, polity and offshore havens for private wealth.
Further down the ranks, at the village and municipal level, the bureaucracy
has never been reformed. It has never been disciplined or trained in new
ways of administration. If there is democracy in this country demanding a
new system of responsibility and accountability then the local
bureaucrats know little of it and care less about it.
The decay of institutions across the country is complete, and no matter
what the Kremlin's intentions, or its resolve, the bureaucracy remains
capable of sabotaging every decision and policy impinging on its interests.
As the saying goes, "Governments come and go bureaucracy remains
forever." And it is the bureaucracy's interests, entrenched at every level
of government, particularly those involving business, that pose the
greatest danger to society.
The drama of a Kremlin under the control of a powerful few colluding to
loot the country is in fact being played out in one form or another
across the country. It is naive to believe that the only reason for
Russia's political failure is Berezovsky.
Unfortunately, even though Putin has shown good sense in appointing liberal
economic advisers and one hopes he gives greater powers to intelligent
people like Economy Minister German Gref the president has shown little
inclination toward fostering democratic institutions in this country.
Instead, Putin seems, like his predecessors, to be looking for
administrative solutions to Russia's overarching problem. He thinks that by
imposing rules from above, the existing system can be made to function for
the better of the country. To him, with better rule, a vertical system of
power, respect for law and good economic policies, Russia can become the
darling of foreign investors.
But that is not the way for the country to move forward.
Instead, the president needs to begin strengthening local democratic
institutions. Grassroots democracy needs to take hold in the country it
is the only hope. There is no better guarantee that the law of the land
will be upheld than if every individual citizen has a stake in ensuring
that this is the case.
Today, this is a long way from reality. The signals that have been going
out to the security agencies are the exact opposite. These agencies are
enforcing the current contradictory and chaotic laws at a local level with
the zeal of commissars. They are, just as effectively as the federal
government, using laws selectively to target and destroy political opponents.
At best, continuing down this path will lead Russia to a Chinese version of
democracy and the free market. At worst, lacking a binding ideology and
party discipline, it will be a recipe for arbitrary rule and, in turn, chaos.
Indeed, what Putin has achieved to date is the easy part of the job
macroeconomic reform is not hard to implement, particularly with a servile
Duma lower house and a toothless Federation Council.
If he is to really make a breakthrough, all the president's energy needs to
be directed toward grassroots reform and the implementation of policy. The
latter will prove virtually impossible without a complete overhaul of
Russia's bureaucratic structure. The government cannot simply dismiss a few
thousand bureaucrats, though that would be a good start. It needs to go for
root and branch reform.
The president also needs to make clear that the overriding principle today
is respect for the institutions of democracy. That means ensuring a free
and independent press, an independent electoral commission and an
If Putin follows this course, he will create a self-sustaining
administrative system for Russia that will demand and ensure better of
At the moment, the media is obsessed with the fate of the mighty few men
who are irrelevant in the bigger scheme of things. The details that
shade-in the bigger picture are far more important. Attention needs to be
devoted to every region, okrug, city, town and village.
That is the critical issue that Putin must address. If he fails to tackle
this priority task, then all the work he has done so far and might do in
the future will amount to nothing.
October 14, 2000
EDITORIAL: Was Bush Wrong, or Just Blunt?
"We went into Russia, we said, 'Here's some IMF money,' and it ended up in
Viktor Chernomyrdin's pocket and others.''
f George W. Bush at Wednesday night's U.S. presidential debates
Bush has been taking a beating over that comment. The International Monetary
Fund offers a wide-eyed shrug. Chernomyrdin talks of suing.
And The Washington Post, in an article about the debates that ran on the
front of this paper Friday, concluded: "Bush appears to have tangled up
whispers about possible wrongdoing by Chernomyrdin þ with other unrelated
allegations concerning the diversion of International Monetary Fund money.
While there has been speculation that Chernomyrdin profited from his
relationship with Gazprom, the natural gas monopoly privatized on his tenure,
there have been no allegations he stole IMF money."
Now, it's true there's such a kaleidoscope of corruption allegations
involving both Chernomyrdin and the IMF that it is easy to mix them up. That
in itself ought to give pause to all those piling on to condemn Bush's attack
on the Russian reform record f a record that even Chernomyrdin, on a visit to
Washington almost exactly a year ago, sheepishly admitted was very dubious:
"With such a huge country conducting such a large-scale privatization
everywhere, of course, we made mistakes," he said then.
It's not clear whether Chernomyrdin would number the 1992 privatization of
Gazprom among such "mistakes." But it's widely believed that it filled
Chernomyrdin's pockets with shares.
Chernomyrdin has denied this f sometimes. At other times, he is more playful.
We remember his coy response to a question on the floor of parliament in the
fall of 1995 f at a time when his Our Home Is Russia party was universally
being derided as "Our Home Gazprom" f about how many Gazprom shares he owned.
Chernomyrdin paused, smiled, and replied: "Next question."
In May 1995, former Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov, writing in Izvestia,
attacked Gazprom's privatization as "the biggest robbery of the century,
perhaps of human history." Fyodorov asked why the natural gas monopoly stock
had been divided up among top management insiders, with each getting from 1
percent to 5 percent of the company, or "a potential þ minimum of from $1.2
billion to $10 billion each."
It's a good question. And even as the Russian government was handing out
multibillion-dollar privatization freebies, the IMF was gearing up to fill
the empty federal coffers with multibillion-dollar loan tranches. So was
Bush's crime that he was inaccurate f or simply that he cut to the chase?
October 15, 2000
SHAMANISM UNDERGOES A SPIRITUAL REVIVAL ACROSS RUSSIA
By Colin McMahon
Tribune Foreign Correspondent
YELANTSY, Russia -- Once considered enemies of the Soviet state, the shamans
of southern Siberia are now tourist attractions.
They travel to exhibitions across Russia, sometimes to explain their complex,
pagan beliefs, sometimes just to promote tourism to Lake Baikal. Shamans post
their pictures and philosophies on the Internet and draw up price lists for
services, from seances to healing rituals.
In the land some consider its birthplace, shamanism and its oral traditions
and rituals are undergoing a revival. And they are helping some of Russia's
ethnic minorities recapture a spirituality stifled by Soviet repression, as
well as a sense of identity.
Shamanism can differ from continent to continent, from region to region,
tribe to tribe, even shaman to shaman. Non-believers, especially Westerners,
can find its concepts hard to understand.
At the core of Siberian shamanism is reverence for Mother Earth and Father
Heaven, for animals, for all of nature.
The goal of life is to live in balance with the world. Humans live in a
middle world, but there are upper and lower worlds as well. Only shamans can
find the doorways to these spiritual worlds.
Sometimes the shaman eases such transitions with the help of hallucinogenic
substances or alcohol. Indeed, alcoholic spirits play an integral role in
many shaman ceremonies. Participants drink vodka during rituals, making sure
to offer frequent drops to the gods. At some prayer sites overlooking Lake
Baikal, vodka bottles, ruble coins and cigarette butts--all offerings--litter
"A shaman should have a social role beyond the religious role," said Valentin
Khagdayev, 41, an ethnic Buryat shaman in the dirt-road town of Yelantsy.
"People would not understand me if I just cast spells and prayed for rain."
About 350,000 Buryats live in Siberia, with roots in the empire of Genghis
Khan. Having spent centuries under Russian czarist and then Soviet rule, the
Buryats have been mostly assimilated. Even the name "Buryat," is a Soviet
creation, a tag applied during the 1930s to separate them from their ethnic
brethren and their southern neighbors in Mongolia.
Many of the people speak the Buryat language, which resembles Mongolian, but
relatively few read and write it.
Khagdayev is trying to change that. In the towns and villages near Yelantsy,
about 160 miles northeast of Irkutsk and a short drive from majestic Lake
Baikal in southeastern Siberia, Khagdayev runs a museum dedicated to
shamanism and teaches youngsters about their ethnic history, religion and
language. Even in Khagdayev's house, Russian competes with Buryat as the
everyday language of his wife and children.
"Valentin is one of the most progressive shamans," said Yevgeny Sheremetoff,
who runs a tour company in Irkutsk that arranges visits to shamans. "A lot of
the older shamans are more traditional. They cannot deal as well with young
people or outsiders."
Some older shamans have misgivings about reaching out to foreigners and
tourists. They worry that ancient rituals are being commercialized. The
shaman is a priest, after all, not a showman.
But Khagdayev believes it important to explain shamanism not only to the
younger Buryat generation but also to Russians and foreigners who may be
prejudiced. Khagdayev has distributed more than 500 copies of his graduate
dissertationthat compares shamanism with Buddhism and Christianity.
Khagdayev added that reported rifts among shamans are exaggerated. In fact,
most shamans do not get too worked up about much of anything in this world.
"I do not criticize others," Khagdayev said. "Let each do what he feels is
The shaman is not special for who he is. He is special because he has been
granted an ability to navigate among the spirits. He is a kind of doctor of
souls--shamanists believe we have more than one--charged with restoring
balance when something goes wrong.
Adherents of Lenin's scientific communism did not embrace such views.
In the 1930s, Stalin had killed or imprisoned hundreds of shamans. Those who
survived went underground, and shamanism suffered a deep decline throughout
the Soviet years.
Buddhism, which in this area is influenced by shamanism, also suffered under
Stalin's purges and Soviet hostility. It, too, has made a comeback in the
region and is now the dominant religion among the Buryat people.
The descendant of a long line of shamans, Khagdayev was born with a split
thumb on his right hand, a kind of sixth finger that is considered a sign of
the shaman spirit.
As a boy, he was sent off to live in near-seclusion with some elders. He grew
up in a yurt, a traditional Mongol dwelling similar to a teepee, learning the
Financial Times (UK)
October 14, 2000
OFF CENTRE: Civilisation retreats in the invisible nations: A decade after
the Soviet Union's end, the fringes of its empire are returning to dust,
says John Lloyd
The phrase "the Great Game", from Rudyard Kipling's north-west frontier
tales, hangs over Central Asia like a miasma.
Implying a spirited contest for the glory of the nation-empire, it once
described the imperial struggle between the Russian-Soviet empire pushing
south and the British empire in India pushing north.
It lives on but is transformed in the aftermath of these empires into "the
new Great Game" - a more complex but still principled joust for influence,
hegemony, oil and gas, and security. And the new Great Game's legacy, and
effect, is more malign. It is of dependence, corruption, drug running,
civil war and, now, reduction to the misery and starvation of third world
Central Asia, composed of tribal and feudal societies formed into "states"
by the Soviet Union and liberated as "nations" by its collapse, shows an
inability to take control of its own destiny, except through a repression
modelled on - but less civil than - the late Soviet system.
The states' elites have little on which to base their rule - apart from
their experience of Soviet governance, their avidity for material wealth
and their hatred and fear of opposition.
They are right to hate and fear it: for the opposition that survives is as
wedded to the winner-takes-all, zero-sum view of politics as the governing
clan - sometimes more so. The few native democrats have, for the most part,
gone into exile, or cling on in institutes and foreign aid organisations in
Of these blighted nations, Tajikistan is the worst. The smallest and
poorest among the five republics, the "stans", of Soviet Central Asia -
beside it, Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - it was
developed as a cotton bowl.
It sent up to 1m tonnes of cotton to the mills of Ivanovo in Russia and got
back almost everything else it needed for a standard of living which, by
today's standards, was enviable. The sick had hospitals and doctors; the
poor had a wad of state provision between them and starvation; the children
had schools; the clever, universities; the ambitious, the vast reach of the
Soviet Union and its satellites as a universe in which to find their level.
I met, in the northern city of Khofend in the Leninobod region, a doctor
named Ikram Davronov, working for a western agency called Ecologia.
Born in a village very like the near-starving one I had just visited, he
had gone through the medical faculty at Dushanbe University, was sent on to
do advanced work in Moscow and joined a surgical team in a medical centre
just outside the Russian capital, before returning to take a high medical
post in Tajikistan.
He considers the end of the Soviet Union as the largest tragedy of his
life. The country fell into clan wars after the Soviet collapse, not so
much among the ethnic minorities as along regional clan lines.
The fighting went on for seven years: at the end of it, President Imamali
Rakhmonov, re-elected last year, had outlasted most of his rivals by
allowing them to kill each other.
Outside the town of Kangurt, not far from Rakhmonov's birthplace in the
Kulyab, is the weirdest cemetery. About 20 busts stand on pillars, gazing
in front of them. Above them, on a little hill, stand four more, their
elevation denoting their greater importance.
They are the martyrs of the civil war, comrades in arms against the
anti-government forces. Or supposed comrades: among the elevated ones, two
- Sanjak Safarov and Faisoli Saidov, both clan commanders - went to a party
together, fell to quarrelling, and killed each other there and then.
The civil war meant that in the 1990s nothing was repaired, maintained or
replaced and a great deal was shot to pieces. Everywhere you go, along the
rutted roads in the industrial areas - including Dushanbe - you pass
factories which have been simply abandoned, the windows shattered, the
machinery keeling over and rusting, the doors flapping. In a week, I did
not see one piece of industrial work going on in anything bigger than a
But this was never an industrial land. It lived on its cotton, and on the
wheat the peasants grew on collective farms on the higher soil not suitable
for cotton. Today, the irrigation system is largely destroyed: the channels
are broken or blocked, and the pumping engines no longer work.
The government, which takes the product of the dwindling cotton crop (for
which the world price is falling) and has bought guns with it, has no money
for seeds, fertilisers and machinery.
The yield went down everywhere, and the prices for everything went up as
the currency inflated. And then, for the past year, there has been drought.
The drought, a regional catastrophe stretching into Iran, Pakistan,
Afghanistan and several former Soviet states, hit Tajikistan worst because
of its fragility. The United Nations, which has a large presence here (and
suffered casualties last year) has appealed for funds of almost Dollars 80m
for emergency relief, seeds and other necessities from the usual national
They have garnered pledges - "and pledges are not always cash", says
Matthew Kahane, the UN station chief in Dushanbe - worth Dollars 2m. It is
the worst response to such an appeal the UN has had.
Tajikistan is not so much a failed state, or a "state of concern": it is an
invisible state. Travelling to some of the worst-hit villages in the north
and south of the country was to see a civilisation in retreat:
industrialisation returning to scrap, lands to desert, educated (more or
less) people into mute peasantry.
In a village called Pobedi - Russian for "Victories" - the population came
out to greet us with bread and salt.
The village, an Uzbek one near the border with Uzbekistan, was made up of
little concrete boxes. Passing one of them, we could hear high moans as a
woman, unassisted by any medical support, gave birth. Many of the women had
five or more children, and were single.
Talking to a group of them and asking where their men were, they said -
"we're widows, our husbands were killed" - and laughed. One woman, Salima
Karimov, holding a child of about a year who whimpered continually, showed
us her house: it had a sack of wheat, a number of melons which her father
had sent her, some carpets and bedding. Outside was a little clay oven
fuelled with cow dung.
In the arid lands around the village, women (who do much of the work) and
children pace about, looking for dry dung.
The drought, and the collapse of the water system - in a land whose
mountains and high lakes make it a reservoir for the region - meant the
first harvest of this year largely failed, and the second, the winter
sowing, is largely futile.
There is, anyway, little seed. In a village in Leninobod region called
Gozandera, the water supply is a pit at the bottom of which is filthy
water, pulled up by bucket. The water pipe works "once a month": the more
fastidious and energetic walk or take a donkey 3km to a well, in which the
water is less filthy - being grey, rather than brown. Water- borne disease
- typhoid, diarrhoea, malaria - now abound.
On the obvious level, the Tajik authorities do not care much. Two rukomats,
or district secretaries, in the Shaartuz areas, rejected any charge of
indifference by saying that "we have called in the international
organisations", and responded to questions about the people's despair by
saying - as did Rukomat Karabayev of the Bishkent district around Shaartuz
- that "people do not understand that we are in a transition period from
the Soviet system, where every-thing was provided, to one where you must
work for yourself".
It is true that the pleas of the people in the villages display an inert
quality. But they are also exhausting themselves trying to grow crops on
parched soil and obtain water from drying wells. To be accused of "not
understanding the transition period" seemed harsh.
In Dushanbe, an interview with the foreign minister, Talbak Nazarov, was
similarly dispiriting. Wearing a well-cut suit in a ministry largely bare
of bureaucratic order, he spent much of the allotted 45 minutes defending
his statement that the Tajik and Russian authorities intercepted all but 5
per cent of the drugs being trafficked through the country - a claim that
would put Tajikistan far ahead of any other country in the world in the
fight against drugs.
But his opening gambit - that the tiny Tajik economy had lost more than
Dollars 7bn from the civil war; that the collapse of the Soviet Union
instantly deprived the economic structure of any logic; and that even if
the economy could now start to grow it would take two decades to return to
the Soviet level - brooked no dissent.
And yet for all that, something had been done. In the office of Amirkul
Azimov, Tajikistan's national security adviser and most powerful
presidential official, we heard the truth about the drug trade - "we catch
perhaps 10 per cent, not more" - and a defence of a polity which, though it
may be corrupt and static (which he denied) has succeeded in suppressing
the clan wars by giving "jobs", and thus access to state revenues, to those
clan chiefs who did not massacre each other: "Peace has given us the
opportunity to build."
In its way, Tajikistan is a pioneer of consensus. In forming a shapeless
government of everyone who aspires to power - including the Islamic Revival
party, which at present is the rather pale attempt at fundamentalism -
President Rakhmonov has ended his country's worst scourge.
But the exhausted peace shows a country with next to nothing. Nearly a
decade after the Soviet flag went down over the Kremlin, Tajikistan, a
Soviet creation, lives on in its ruins. It reminds us that western
celebration of the end of Soviet authoritarianism was largely blind to the
effects on those countries whose living standards had been raised by the
Soviet Union, as against those which - as in Central Europe and the Baltic
- it had debased.
It niggles, faintly, that we have simply forgotten the "stans" as the
weakest of them plunge towards disaster. In the concrete lines of a village
called Victories, there is gathering panic as the winds grow colder and the
aid does not come.
Ten years after, the fringes of the Soviet civilisation are returning to
dust, and to the cruel rhythms of a nature over which communism had once
declared eternal victory.
Russian neo-Nazis relaunch as political party
Source: NTV International, Moscow in Russian 14 Oct 00
Russia's neo-Nazi movement Russian National Unity (RNE) on Saturday
officially announced the sacking of its long-time leader Aleksandr
Barkashov and renamed itself in a bid to achieve political respectability.
Russian Revival, as the former black-shirted group is now known, is looking
for representation in parliament, Russian NTV reported on Saturday.
Despite dropping Barkashov, who was pushed out on 21st September, and
shedding Hitlerite trappings such as a swastika-like symbol, the
organization continues to see as its main enemies "non-Russians and...
Western civilization in the person of NATO", the TV's correspondent said.
A meeting of RNE regional representatives took the decision to reform on
Saturday. They replaced Barkashov, who was accused of "Oriental occultism",
with Oleg Kassin, who told delegates that the movement had veered towards a
personailty cult and was now turning to the Russian Orthodox Church for
"The main distinction of the movement, which is being created, will be the
abolition of the cult of the leader which has lately been dominating in the
RNE," Kassin said in his speech, part of which was broadcast by NTV.
"The most important decisions on the most fundamental issues will be
adopted only after joint discussion by the central council members.
"Emphasizing traditional Orthodox and cultural values, we intend to act
strictly in the framework of the law and not give anyone an excuse to
accuse us of Fascism or political extremism."
According to the TV, Saturday's decisions have the backing of most of the
RNE's regional branches.
The RNE was banned from fighting Russia's parliamentary election last year
when it fielded candidates in a Spas (Saviour) bloc.
Russian Centre TV on business tycoons' positions weakening under Putin
Text of report by Russian Centre TV on 14 October 2000
In autumn 1996 [Russian financial and media magnate] Boris Berezovskiy
solemnly declared in his interview to 'The Financial Times' that seven
financial groups would rule Russia from then on. After [President Vladimir]
Putin came to the Kremlin, it became clear that Berezovskiy had been too
hasty. Now the oligarchs are in disarray.
Two of them, [Media-Most head Vladimir] Gusinskiy and Berezovskiy, have
been totally removed from the Kremlin. Gusinskiy has already lost his media
empire. Berezovskiy actually lost control of the ORT [Russian Public
Television]. [Interros industrial group head Vladimir] Potanin and [Yukos
oil company head Mikhail] Khodorkovskiy cannot directly influence the
supreme power any more. [Unified Energy System of Russia top executive
Anatoliy] Chubays seems to be more and more alienated [from Putin]. As we
know, offices in the Kremlin have recently been taken away from Yeltsin-era
grey eminences and close partners of some oligarchs, [Yeltsin's daughter]
Tatyana Dyachenko and [former head of the Kremlin administration] Valentin
[Sibneft and Russian Aluminium main shareholder] Roman Abramovich, who
always seemed imperturbable, now also shows growing concern. Until recently
he was a persona grata in the Kremlin chambers. The lost battle for the oil
company ONAKO has become a warning signal for him. His friend Aleksandr
Mamut recently said that Abramovich was going to run for the Chukotka
[Autonomous Area] governor. Why? Maybe, the time has come for Abramovich to
maintain his defence. The Duma immunity is probably not enough for him.
The [Russian] Security Council is standing behind the unfavourable changes
for the oligarchs, John Lloyd says in the article "The Autumn of the
Oligarchs", recently published in 'The New York Times Magazine'. The
Security Council, almost completely staffed by former KGB officers, is a
sword of Damocles over the oligarchs' heads.
The end of this year and the beginning of 2001 will probably be a decisive
period for many of them. Only those, who learn to stay in shadow and not to
tease the power, will survive. However, even they have no guarantee that
some day the state does not get them for the old sins of the epoch of
robber capitalism and audacious privatization.
to CDI's Home Page I Return
to CDI's Library