Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Last Train Out for 'Haves'

In Britain, in the old days, the Conservative Party used to put it about that, if the Labour Party were to win an election, then all Britain's money would immediately flee abroad. In a new wrinkle on this theme, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, I see, has recommended that Moscow's airport should be closed for a period following the June elections.

I suppose this means he thinks he will win; and that this way all the moolah, as well as the guilty parties, will be forced to stay at home when he does. Confiscation -- and those cattle cars to the camps he continues to talk about -- will presumably be the order of the next day.

The problem is, though, that most of the money has already fled for sanctuary, not to mention half the people Zhirinovsky assumes guilty. Those who've had the good fortune to hoover up all the goodies of the Soviet Union after it was turned into cash are not only not dumb. They know that though Zhirinovsky isn't going to win, those who seized on his rhetoric about derzhavnost and narodnost -- the Commies -- stand a pretty good chance. And though the Commies may talk nice in Davos, Washington and New York about how they wouldn't dream of turning the clock back, that's already -- even under Yeltsin -- the way the clock is going.

The inheritors of the moolah also know the truth of what liberal democrat Anatoly Shabad said the last time around. After Zhirinovsky got the biggest slice of the electoral cake, he was asked by journalists how the West should respond. "Wait," he said in his infinite wisdom, "and tremble." Even as we speak, then, St. Kitts-Nevis in the West Indies is doing a roaring trade in passports and residencies at $150,000 a throw (with nary an intervention by Interpol). The island of Mauritius is presumably doing another, for its no-extradition-and-no-questions-asked guarantee. The London property trade, meanwhile, is being boosted by all those good-natured Russians carrying the full price for houses (via Aeroflot) in suitcases. And everywhere from Canada to Argentina, Sierra Leone to Florida, they can't wait for the next jet from Russia to touch down. Foreign banks these days are making only the vaguest of gestures in the direction of their money-laundering investigators. They're happy just to celebrate all those lovely new additions to their country's so-called "invisible" exports.

It's certain, in all this, that the tycoons are in no mind to spend money nowadays in Russia when it's not strictly necessary. One with major interests in the media and banking recently denied promised funds to a Western film company for a series of films about Russian culture. Sadly, he said, though he'd still love to help, the law now prevented him from transferring money abroad. Ha!

But it's not only the major players who are making these days for them thar foreign hills. It's also those with just enough money not to want to lose it. Of a rock band I know, one member has recently applied for asylum in a country not a million miles from here; another has hired a country house abroad for his family "for at least six months, to give us some time away from all this madness."

Another friend has sold his dacha to buy a residency abroad. Yet another -- though he still visits Moscow -- has moved his whole family to Canada. And as for recent London arrivals, a builder friend of mine there says that today he's making a fortune in cash, having joined the now thriving, exported version of the old Russian black economy.

These new emigr?s, one way or the other, are the "haves." And it's the "have-nots" Zyuganov aspires to represent, with his "every other working man is not paid on time," his "6 million refugees" and his "the longest queue today is for the cemetery." Among these "have-nots," his Slavophilia and hatred of the West strike a reverberant chord. So do his resanctification of Stalin and his vision of a new Soviet empire, bringing revenge and renewed greatness with it.

But what the West sometimes fails to understand, I think, is the degree to which this sort of (half-buried) xenophobia, Big-Brotherism and a leveling egalitarianism are actually buried deep inside the Russian psyche. Yes, the intelligentsia has always flirted with foreigners and with foreign ways. And contemporary bureaucrats -- who were all once Commies, remember -- love to travel abroad and feast at the foreign trough.

When it comes to winning elections, though, they know what's a selling line. And there's no evidence at all that if they come to power, they'll not implement it. In the meantime, then, the money is going walkabout: and so are many of my friends. They know exactly what happened the last time the "have-nots" came to power.