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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Poll Points to Apathy on Voucher

Your government gave you a piece of paper to do with as you please. You got it for free. Now you can sell it for the price of a meal at Pizza Hut or invest it at promised rates of up to 600 percent a year. What are the odds that you'll do nothing of the sort -- in fact, that you'll do nothing at all? In Russia, the answer is a little less than one in four. According to a poll commissioned by the "Itogi" news program from the Public Opinion Fund, 24 percent of respondents either gave away their vouchers or have yet to do anything with the security. In total, the poll showed that 54 percent of respondents did not take well to the voucher program. In addition to the 24 percent, another 30 percent sold their vouchers without investing them. Forty-six percent of Russians have invested their privatization vouchers in formerly state-owned enterprises or one of the many voucher investment funds that have sprung up. The vouchers, issued in August 1992 with a face value of 10,000 rubles, now fetch about 27,000 rubles from street traders and securities brokers. On June 30, vouchers will become invalid as Russia's privatization program moves into its second stage and shares in state enterprises will be sold off for cash. "It will be impossible to determine how many vouchers were not used even after the deadline," said Igor Yerokhin, an official at the State Property Committee, which runs the privatization program. "Some grandmother may just wave the whole thing away and never tell anyone." According to Yerokhin, the Property Committee does not keep official statistics of the number of vouchers that haven't been used because "there is no way to check on that." The Itogi poll of 1,201 people across Russia, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent, found that 18 percent invested in companies: 10 percent in the company where they work and 8 percent in other firms. Twenty-eight percent invested their privatization checks in investment funds. But 30 percent, the largest single group, said they sold their vouchers, distrusting government coaxing to invest them in securities. The amount they have received in cash has fluctuated from a minimum of 3,600 rubles last summer to this March, when the voucher traded at 42,000 rubles. Twelve percent said they had given their checks away, while another 12 percent said they would do nothing. President Boris Yeltsin has said that he gave his voucher to his daughter to use at her discretion. "I didn't care because nothing would come of it anyway," said Tatyana Mudretsova, 25. "I gave my voucher to my mother, she said she was going to invest in some mafia structure that wasn't about to go bust." "I wasn't going to play these games," said Alla Burakovskaya, 45. "But my father said he wanted to invest it, so I gave it to him." These stories seem to run counter to the widespread notion that the younger generation has adapted to the new market economy faster than their parents. But Andrei Podderigin, 34, a Moscow wholesale trader, believes there is no contradiction. "Our parents are, as a rule, poorer than we are and they play these games seriously," he said. "So they push their children to do something with the vouchers and the children just let them deal with it because they're too lazy." Even the Russians who have used their vouchers are not enthusiastic about the privatization program. "This whole thing is ridiculous," said Andrei Dubrovsky, 32. "Your voucher will never make you a millionaire. But I've invested mine and I let the interest pile up. I guess my children or grandchildren will be able to use it." If many of those who do not believe in voucher privatization have used their checks anyway, it could be a result of the aggressive advertising campaign conducted by the State Property Committee. One of the latest commercials shows a skeptic smirking at a bustling crowd of people trading in vouchers. As the crowd dissolves, the skeptic's grin is replaced by a forlorn expression. He takes his voucher out of his pocket and stares at it. "You're alone now, buddy," a sarcastic voice chides him.