This is precisely the point for the Russian public at large and for the country’s business elite. The public cannot forgive the privatization, which it views as the looting of the nation’s wealth. Therefore, the business elite cannot forget how tenuous its property rights are. The status quo is unacceptable for all, because the public feels that the wrongs of the 1990s should be righted, while the business elite wants its property rights secured.
The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the leading organization representing big business interests, has campaigned for a “new social contract” – greater social responsibility on the part of the business community in exchange for official state recognition of the results of privatization.
Not a single Russian political party is willing to endorse the oligarchs’ deal, even though many business groups are contributing heavily to parties in the run-up to the Dec. 7 Duma election.
The oligarchs’ “new” deal would legitimize the giveaway of the nation’s most prized industrial and natural resources to the few, who exploited their power and privilege without the slightest regard for the effect it would have on the well being of their compatriots. In the eyes of the Russian public, long accustomed to false promises of a better life, amnesty for the ill-gotten gains of privatization would legitimize an injustice of historic proportions.
Despite recent Russian economic growth, male life expectancy still hovers around 60, infant mortality is comparable to that of a third-world nation, quality medical care is available only to the rich, and the elderly survive on $50 per month or less. But according to this year’s Fortune Magazine “40 under 40” list, Russia boasts seven of the world’s richest men under 40. Mr. Khodorkovsky – currently the richest Russian – is not even on the list because he turned 40 this year. The combined fortune of these seven 30-somethings is nearly $18 billion. All of them are prodigies of the 1990s privatization.