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Vsevolod A. MarinovVsevolod A. Marinov
Moscow, Russia

Tell our readers a little bit about yourself.

Well, I have several hats. My number one hat is that I am a senior researcher with the institute of Sociology, Russian educational sciences. I am also a Ph.D. in history.  (In addition,) I am doing public opinion polls for various market researchers. And I also work for the Russian Parliament. They pay peanuts but you have the prestige and a chance to rub shoulders with the right people there. The Parliament (building) is in my backyard. I am living very strategically placed and it takes me only 50 meters from my entrance (of my home) to the parliament entrance. It’s very convenient. They serve good coffee and have a good men’s room. This compensates for poor pay.  (we laugh)

Vsevolod A. Marinov speaks on RussiaThen I work for the Voice of Russia World Services - former Radio Russia World Services. Every day I am there. I have small talk show of talking about anything at all - from adultery to high politics. I am doing business consulting because I am in market research. These are closely connected. I am also working with different business people on different projects. Now we are working on joint project of orphanages to provide potential American parents high quality children to adopt. (We want) to make it a clean business. We would like to make it kind of a Duma sponsored Russian/American semi-official non-profit organization.

I like different challenges, I feel uneasy when I am short of challenges. My dream is to be a tennis coach when I am retired. I also do a lot of moonlighting.


With your background, you would probably be an excellent person to answer a few questions about the average Russian. I say this knowing that in the U.S. there is no such thing as an "average American".

Lets start with your opinion on what the advent of capitalism will mean to the "average Russian".

Vsevolod A. Marinov speaks on RussiaWell it is hard to talk about the average Russian because the average Russian is as elusive as the average American. Besides, Russia is such a huge county. It is not homogenous. As for capitalism, we have no capitalism in Russia, we have rather a kronie capitalism – Indonesian style. Some scholars call it Russia’s virtual economy. The problem is we are trying to build democracy and a market economy at the same time. Middle class makes the breeding ground for democracy. And to grow middle class you need a what? You need a market economy. (Although) not necessarily. Market economy is very flexible , and it may exist with dictatorship. Anyway, the democratic personality is set up and organized by the free market economy.

As a free businessmen you are inevitably free minded. Sooner or later free market economy will overwhelm any totalitarian regime. This was the case in South Korea, Latin American, countries and so on. But so far, we are doing it at the same time. Building both democracy and new market economy. That makes a very difficult balancing act. We have no middle class. With no middle class we cannot talk about sound democracy. What we are having now is the post-totalitarian regime in Russia. Because democracy is a plant of slow growth and may be fluff and papers in the minds of people, it takes two or three generations to sustain a sound democracy.

So Russia now is in an unbalanced and unstable situation because the old Soviet middle class disappeared, and the new capitalistic middle class has not yet emerged. The democracy is again in a very shaky state. In Russia we have rudementals of democracy, mostly on paper. That makes like a ship without a ballast. What makes a ship stable in rough waters is a ballast, and the middle class makes our ballast. We have some attributes of democracy such as free and fair elections, but this means maybe nothing. Because free and fair elections works only with a sound middle class.

I used to talk about Germany of the 1930’s, 1933 exactly, when a large percentage of Germans elected Hitler in free and fair elections. It was Germans humiliated by the defeat in the first world war, by inflation, by economic crises. Our society is as humiliated with this, our latest economic crises. So far we managed to pass the second stage of our revolution peacefully.

Vsevolod A. Marinov speaks on RussiaI believe this is a great achievement. Besides, the difference between us and Germany is that the political environment is difficult. We are surrounded by democracy. Also, we have experience with a totalitarian regime and no longer are we willing to repeat it. I am optimistic of the future of Russia. But again, democracy is plant that grows slow. It will take time and generations to set it up.

 

On that note, how are the Russians finding their new freedoms? Not only with political choice, but also expanded options of how to spend their earnings as they see fit?

Vsevolod A. Marinov speaks on RussiaChoice is a responsibility, and too many Russians are not prepared. Because, so far, we have been living in a totalitarian state where you had a security net. Free education, free medical care. I am not talking about quality (here). (In addition) your work and your occupancy was insured. You needn’t worry about your pension plan. The pay was poor and the Soviet Union was a country of artificial economy. It was based on plundering of oil & gas reserves. In ten years we spend $800 Billion oil money just to sustain this semi-paradise. When Gorbichof came to power, the Soviet Union was on the verge of bankruptcy. It cannot survive the arms race. It cannot sustain the support of the social insurance system and the safety net. So, in fact, the Gorbochov paristroyka was nothing else but the last ditch attempt of the liberal wing of the communist party to support the communist system. Its not because Grobochov was a nice, benevolent leader. It was just a matter of survival for Communist leaders. Gorbochov believed he could patch here and there, facelift the system, kick out bad guys, and bring in good guys and the system would start working. But the 100% state operated business was un-operational so it was doomed. And that was why paristroyka was doomed too by the way. The unpopularity of Gorbi was exactly for the reason that he failed the deliver the promises of a great life. The economy was plunging to the crises further and further. So when the Soviet Union disintegrated, and Russia found itself with only $50 Million of gold reserve, the county was on the brink of bankruptcy. Gorbochov initiated the process that started doing its own job. Anyway, there was no plan for paristroyka it was kind of a Pavlov reaction to what was coming next at any second.

Vsevolod A. Marinov speaks on RussiaThis all happened in a very short period of time – less than 30 years. Most people over 50 were brought up, they were programmed, by the former regime. It’s like imprinting. When doing public opinion poll we see a great watershed between those younger than 30, and those older than 50. The communist party electorate is made up of people over 50. They believe that old life may somehow be restored. But younger people who tasted the new economy, the possibilities, the big money, they have all their life ahead of them. They make up the Yelsin fan club.

 

We talked about the watershed between the older generations and the younger generations. When these people wake up in the morning and get out of bed, what is the single thing that most motivates each group?

Vsevolod A. Marinov speaks on RussiaThe first thing both groups do is to switch on the radio or TV and learn about the exchange rate between the Dollar and the Ruble. Russian economy is a Dollar economy. We have a joke; remember the song "Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend"? We are saying that the Dollar is the Russian’s best friend. The dollar is where we secure our money. Second thing is people try to learn what’s new with banks, because or banking system nearly collapsed. Money of many people got frozen in the banks. Then they look at the prices because prices are going up. The Ruble went down 2 times. The prices started climbing up and the salaries are not yet going up. So the people make calculation on how to survive. In Moscow the average pension is 450 rubles a month ($30 US dollars). Fortunately most Russians are living in big families and receive support from their relatives. Many also have Duchies down in the country with a patch of land where they grow potatoes. A lot of Russian’s time is not spent reading Puskin, but rather keeping track of bread and butter issues.

 

Do you think this will be the same for the next generation?

Vsevolod A. Marinov speaks on RussiaNo. Russia is the #1 richest country in the world. And if you divide the potential value of all reserves by the number of people, we are #1. But as for living standards we are 78th. (Russia), the largest real estate in the world is poorly managed. The crises here is a system crises. We are fortunate to be #1 in oil reserves and #2 in production. We are #1 in both gas production and reserves. #1 in timber. #1 in coal and so on. But we are also blessed with hard working people. They are also well educated. Because the Soviet system was bad, but also good - as far as education. So we have the basic ingredients of a sound economy - people and natural resources. Though the agricultural conditions are not really good, it needs better management. This is our problem. We are brought up in the old regime, we need to reeducate people in new types of management. We need to introduce the new information revolution into Russia. We need to revamp the educational system. Again these are only the technical problems not the principal problems. We need foreign capital, know-how, and technology. We need to renovate our industry which is outdated. Our industry fell victim to the state run economy where foreign trade was a state run monopoly.  The production of domestic food stuff, was in fact pampered and protected by the state. What’s happening now is a classical textbook example of why the protection is bad. The Soviet Union is an extreme example of protectionism. Now we have many of our consumer good industries eliminated by worldwide competition. Twenty years from now Russia will be the fastest developing nation in the world. We will be the locomotive of the world economy.

 

With that said, there are a lot of different things that need the attention of the government, if you were to pick just one, what would it be? In other words what is the biggest challenge facing Russia?

Vsevolod A. Marinov speaks on RussiaRight now we facing a severe economic crises. Russia defaulted on State Treasury Bills and the reason for that is that the bills were issued to cover the gap in the state budget. The original budget was introduced by the communist dominated parliament.

Anyway, this financial crisis is a blessing in disguise because now we will know how to remake our financial system. While the banks were just playing big money games with these high yielding treasury bonds, and other securities and the interest rate was up to 200%. In addition they were ignoring real industry. The banks were collecting population income and sending it into the furnace of treasury bills. So when these treasury bills were frozen the banks were halted. So we need a new banking system which will serve interests of industry-where the actual wealth of the nation is produced.

So now we have a new government, it is a coalition government. Before we had more of a one man show. The Russian Constitution was custom designed for Mr. Yelsin. For example, he has the right to dissolve the Parliament if they refuse to accept his nominee for Prime Minister three times. He hand picked his ministers and now he is giving them more freedom to these ministers. We are moving towards a more balanced democracy of checks and balances. So far, our government was like a chair with one leg. The President was elected by a majority but was not the product of a party system. Russian statehood is still very unstable. So it was kind of a moment of truth for Russian economy because too many foreigners believed "Oh Russia they are doing so well and building their market economy. 80% of their economy is privatized". We are sobering up to reality. We a actually making a U-turn from a state run economy to a market run economy. This U-turn is not a smooth groove we are going from one crises to another. That’s how history is developing. Now we have made one more turn through crises into the right direction. So I would say this crises is a blessing in disguise for Russians even though it is really hard on them.

 

How would you like the rest of the world to perceive this county and the changes it is going through?

Vsevolod A. Marinov speaks on RussiaI would like the world to take a sober view of Russia. I remember at the start of perestroika, there we so many starry eyed American business men coming to Russia with overblown expectations. Thinking that something great is happening and that they should be here. Most of them coming over for a quick buck. They need to take a realistic look, Russia is a place where you have to work twice as hard but if you do you will reap twice the benefit. I truly believe that Russia is one more frontier for pioneer spirited Americans. I am not talking about Europeans. But rather for Americans it is a new challenge to make Russia a new democracy and make it not only a partner but an ally and if these countries can be of the same making it terms of politics and economics it will insure the safety and stability for the rest of the world.

 

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