I’d be lying if I said I understood what was going on between Russia and Georgia, but I’d like to take the occasion of the war to write about what is going on Russia these days.
There is a new Russia in the world now. Vladmir Putin announced that Russia will once again take its place among the great nations of the world. With their huge oil reserves, few will argue back.
The new privileged leaders are the outrageously wealthy Russian oligarchs rather than Communist Party members or members of the Tsar’s court. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the government began selling off companies that the government owned. First they sold 50% of their shares by giving vouchers to workers that could be redeemed for stock. During the economic instability of the 1990s, workers (who didn’t understand capitalism very well) traded their vouchers for food or money when their bosses wouldn’t pay them. In possibly the greatest swindle in history, a few well-connected families bought up most of Russia’s economy for dirt cheap. Then when the government was in debt and needed loans, the oligarches lent Russia (and Boris Yeltsin’s re-election campaign) money with Russia putting down the other 50% of state companies as collateral. Yeltsin was re-elected, defaulted on the debt, and gave the oligarchs the other half of Russia’s economy. See this article to learn about Roman Abramovich’s scam of Russia for more information.
The result? There are now more billionaires in Moscow than any other city in the world and, to quote National Geographic, millionaires are as common as pigeons, and nightclubs are so exclusive and expensive not even millionaires and models can cross the rope. London has seen an explosion of its Russian population with ultra-rich New Russians moving in, buying up mansions, estates, butlers, jewelry, private jets, and art with a flamboyant and drunken air that the Brits find distressing. It’s kinda like a Texas oilman in the 80s walking into an elite New York City party. He’s loud, just earned his money, and doesn’t follow the unwritten rules of “polite” society.
Meanwhile the Russian countryside dies, church and state re-marry, and Russian life expectancy falls into the toilet with the privatization of healthcare.
Despite the appearances of upheaval and revolution in Russian history, Russia always seems to go back towards a strongly stratified society with a single man calling all the shots and the vast majority of people are unthinking peasants who love vodka. Democracy is nonexistent, and “politics” consist of member’s of the king’s court fighting among themselves for who is the most favored of the dear ruler. Russia went from a czar who claimed sponsorship of God and the Orthodox Church to Communist dictatorship (“the Court of the Red Tsar” as one book on Stalin is titled) to a religious president-prime minister who the Cossacks want to crown king again. TIME didn’t joke when they titled their cover story on Putin “A Tsar is Born.” He even has his own youth wing cult called Nashi.
In George Orwell’s 1984, the main character reads a banned book that explains society and the formation of the totaltarian state. In “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” (the title of the banned book), the main character learns that society is divided between High, Middle, and Lower classes. In revolutions, the ambitious Middle Class seeks to overthrow the High Class to become the new High Class. To do this they need the support of the Lower Class who stay Lower Class even after the revolution. And no matter how many times revolution takes place in history, society like a “gyroscope” settles right back into those three divisions.
I wonder if Putin ever got his hands on that book.