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New York Times
January 13, 2003
At a Reunion in Moscow, Tales of Economic Change

MOSCOW, Jan. 12 In the first year of the new Russia, a group of students enrolled in a new Western-style graduate school to learn a long-forbidden academic discipline market economics.

They were heady days. The Soviet Union had just collapsed. Economic reforms were beginning, sending prices spinning. New social classes of the fantastically rich and painfully poor were beginning to emerge. The students, 20-year-olds from Moscow universities, wanted to understand it.

Now, 10 years later, the graduates of the New Economics School have grown into some of Russia's most promising young leaders. One became the youngest deputy minister in the government at age 29. Another was hired by the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as one of the few women to teach there. Yet another is chief executive officer of a large investment fund in Moscow.

The first graduating class gathered for its 10th reunion in Moscow late last month. The event, held as a conference on the Russian economy, was attended by many leading policy makers, including the Russian finance minister and the former No. 2 official at the International Monetary Fund. Even President Vladimir V. Putin sent his congratulations.

The 34 graduates of the first class, now in jobs in business, education and government, were the first to receive a Western-style graduate education in economics after the Soviet Union fell apart. Many went on to receive advanced degrees from American or Western European universities. Those who returned brought fresh ideas and outlooks to Russia, and now are a powerful force for change.

"Their worldview is much wider than ours was," Oleg V. Vyugin, 50, first deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank, said during the reunion. "They are not afraid. They are capable of working here or anywhere. It's all the same for them. That's new."

They were a generation on the cusp of change. The one just ahead of them, already in the work force at the end of the Soviet Union, produced the young reformers of the 1990's, who taught themselves economics from textbooks and set Russia careering toward capitalism. It also begot the business tycoons who profiteered during the free-for-all that followed. The generation after them barely remembers communism.

"Our generation has a mix of old and new," said Arkady V. Dvorkovich, a New Economics School graduate who is now a deputy minister on the government's economic reform team. "We still had Marx and Pioneer camps. For students several years younger than us, that didn't exist. For those who were older, it is all they knew."

The graduates are also distinctly less cynical than the preceding generation. While tycoons were grabbing oil companies and reformers were dismantling the economy, Mr. Dvorkovich and many of his fellow students were trying to understand it.

After receiving a master's degree from Duke University, Mr. Dvorkovich returned to take a job in government. At 27 he became one of the architects of Mr. Putin's economic program. His current position as deputy minister pays less than he could expect in private business, but he lives frugally, helped by savings from previous consulting work.

"We can think in Soviet ways or in new ways," he said at his office recently. "It leads to easier compromise, but sometimes it creates conflict inside yourself. We see that it is not right to smash everything from the past. Some of it was good."

Other graduates have also influenced public policy. The Economic Expert Group, a research organization run by former students, provided the first reliable economic statistics to the Russian government, an important service in a country where the state of the economy had long been treated as a state secret.

The New Economics School brought leading economics professors from American and other Western universities to teach the equivalent of the first two years of a Western-style doctorate in economics, with a certificate at the end that is comparable to a master's degree. It was started by an Israeli economics professor with a grant from the American philanthropist George Soros and is based in a drab Moscow high-rise that once housed the Soviet Union's top mathematicians.

"The change was already in the air," said Yekaterina Zhuravskaya, 30, a graduate who is now a director at the Center for Economic and Financial Research here. Russian colleges, she said, "taught the same old stuff political economy, socialism, weird things like that. There was a lack of something new."

Lifestyles also differ from a decade ago. Graduates travel abroad freely, speak foreign languages and change jobs easily. Ms. Zhuravskaya, who shares a two-room apartment with her husband and baby, rarely cooks, buys groceries over the Internet and drives to work.

She went on to receive her doctorate in economics from Harvard and had her pick of jobs, but chose to return to Russia, in part, she said, because she saw more opportunities here. Since returning, she too has had a hand in shaping the Russian economy. A World Bank-financed study of small business that she led has shown Moscow officials the shortcoming of their policies for reducing red tape for small businesses.

Other graduates, however, stayed abroad. Anna Pavlova, now 29, joined the Sloan School's faculty in 2000. She said she had not returned to Russia to work because her field finance is not an academic discipline here.

Back at the reunion, young people packed an auditorium. Under the lights, top policy makers were debating recipes for economic growth. Among them was Mr. Dvorkovich.

"Sooner or later probably sooner they will come to take over the reins of power," Andrei N. Illarionov, 41, one of the other panelists and an economic adviser to Mr. Putin, said of the young graduates. "They will do a better job than my generation. I certainly hope so."

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