|Vsevolod A. Marinov
Moscow, RussiaTell 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.
Its very convenient. They serve good coffee and have a good mens room. This
compensates for poor pay. (we laugh)
Then 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
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".
Well 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 Russias 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
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 1930s, 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.
I 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
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?
Choice 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
neednt 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.
This 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. Its 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?
The 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 Girls Best Friend"? We are saying that the Dollar is the
Russians best friend. The dollar is where we secure our money. Second thing is
people try to learn whats 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 2½ 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
Russians time is not spent reading Puskin, but rather keeping track of bread and
Do you think this will be the same for the next generation?
No. 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.
Whats 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
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?
Right 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. Thats 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
How would you like the rest of the world to perceive this county and the
changes it is going through?
I 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.