Friday, April 23, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Soviet-Style ‘Nomenklatura Paradise’ Continues in the Kremlin, Angering Many Russians

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 23 – Senior Russian leaders continue to have access to “a nomenklatura paradise” of special schools, food and book stores, and resorts, according to a Moscow journal. But now ordinary citizens for a fee can partake of some of these facilities, an experience that is feeding popular anger about privileges the powers that be continue to assume are theirs by right.
Anger by Russian drivers against the use of “migalki” – the blue lights on the top of cars that allow their occupants to ignore almost all traffic rules – has attracted media attention around the world, all the more so because automobile owners in Russia have been one of the groups that has proven its ability to mount public demonstrations.
But one reason for their anger has attracted less attention: they are outraged, their leaders say, because in addition to senior Russian officials who might have some justification for such special treatment, an increasing number of oligarchs and other wealthy Russians now have them without any justification at all (
That class-based anger suggests that an article in the Moscow magazine “Sobesednik” this week about the survival of Soviet-style serving of senior officials and the spread of such otherwise inaccessible services to those with money could presage a broader protest against the confluence of power and class privileges (
“Sobesednik,” a magazine with a mass readership, noted in its current issue that “the Kremlin has traditionally been separated from eh people not only by a real but also virtual wall,” a place with “its own stores, its own doctors, and its own cooks,” all supplied by the Administration of the Affairs of the President.”
The top leaders of the country are supplied with foods imported from abroad or raised in a special “presidential collective farm” in the Kolomensky district of Moscow oblast, a farm set up in Soviet times and one where at the present time as its operators say, “not a single milligram of harmful chemicals” are used.
This kolkhoz supplies the restaurants of the top officials in the Kremlin and at Staraya ploshchad, restaurants which have extremely rich menus and very low prices. “Simple mortals” can gain access but they have to pay much higher prices, although when doing so they can be sure that what they will get will be of the “highest” Kremlin quality.
If one wants to organize a banquet there – and some of the oligarchs apparently do -- and of course has the necessary funds, the “Sobesednik” journalist continues, he or she can choose “the basic menu” or have “any caprice” satisfied, with a meal reflecting French, Italian, Mediterranean, or some other cuisine.
This special Kremlin administration, the magazine reports, has its own hospitals, dry cleaners, and even dormitories, although officials say, one can stay in the latter “only on order from there,” officials say. But with enough money, that can be arranged, and apparently, many of Russia’s richest manage it.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this Presidential administration is the work that it performs to provide “food for the mind.” Among its subdivisions, the administration provides a special book service, sending out a list of books each month to Duma deputies, senators and higher bureaucrats and a total of 8,000 people.
These “potential readers, while sitting in their offices, can indicate what interests them and after several days, their order will be filled. Looking at a recent list, the “Sobesednik” journalist found that “the main ‘shelf’” was devoted to military history, with such titles as “The Special Services of Russia” and “The Hungarian Rhapsody of the GRU.”
Among the “philosophical” offers were the works of Machiavelli (“where would anyone in politics be without him,” the Moscow magazine asks). And the handbook section includes books like “An Atlas of Ski Resorts,” “Cigars,” and “Strong Alcoholic Drinks,” all obvious areas of interest for the elite.
The list also offers a wide variety of fiction and of psychology, with the latter section including works like “The Psychology of the Lie,” “the Power of Mimicry and Gestures,” and the “Art of Controlling One’s Fate.” According to “Sobesednik,” it is clear that “the servants of the people are reading some of the recommended books especially carefully.”
The prices of the books on the list distributed to the 8,000 top people, the magazine helpfully notes, are “lower than in book stores but a little higher than in Internet ones.” The extra charge, it suggests, “certainly goes to the compilers of this ‘correct’ list of reading materials” for the elite.
“The Kremlin today,” the article concludes, “is not only a small historically valuable section in the center of Moscow. It is an entire state within a state, one which if necessary can exist absolutely autonomously and without problems whatever is happening in the country and in the world.”
In sum, “Sobesednik” says in terms that will anger many Russians and worry many of the powers that be, “the Nomenklatura paradise [of Soviet times] exists just as it did in the past. But if in Soviet times, entrance to it was completely closed, now, at the gate [to this special world] there is a ticket office” – and those with enough money can get in as well.

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