The Gucci Archipelago

MOSCOW: By following Western economic advice - devised in good faith to bring Russia to democracy and prosperity - Yeltsin and Co., true to the national character, created yet another form of dictatorship, with the leader ensconced in the Kremlin utterly indifferent to his subject's well-being. The difference between today's Russia and the old Soviet Union is that the Gulag archipelago of labour camps has been shunted aside in favour of what can only be called a "Gucci archipelago" or a casino camp.

Under communism, Soviet citizens were locked in. Russian citizens under today's sham market economy are locked out: locked out of the normal conditions of life; out of decently paid jobs, or what is even more common, out of paid jobs altogether. Most importantly, they are locked out of hope to overcome the everlasting Russian curse. Former prime minister Victor Chernomyrdin conveyed this dilemma in his usual lethargic way. By privatising state property "we wanted things to be better, but it still ended up ‘like always'."

"Like always," in Russia means a never-ending gulag-type arrangement for the average Russian citizen. The power of the KGB was simply replaced by the power of corrupt private oligarchs and an even more morally bankrupt state apparatus. Nowadays, the well-guarded marble facades of Russia's (often insolvent) banks and businesses have assumed the role in domestic demonology once played by the frightening "Big House" on Lubyanka Square in Moscow where the KGB did its night work.

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