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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SEASON OF DISCONTENT: Naked Leaders Traipse About Before Slaves




I have in the past likened our leading politicians to the Roman matrons who would stroll around naked in front of their slaves. The behavior of these female patricians cannot be attributed to a lack of natural inhibition, and was in fact far more elementary: They simply did not regard the slaves as people.


We, the common taxpayers and television viewers of Russia, are held in the same regard by the inhabitants of our political Olympus, whose visages have in the recent weeks of crisis appeared before us in unbridled nudity.


"Wasn't it you who used to kiss my ...?" cried acting Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin from his lofty senatorial tribune at one outspoken regional governor. And in the State Duma, deputies brandished documents confirming that senior Central Bank officials had been awarding themselves salaries of tens of thousands of dollars a month.


There is a wealth of material for psychoanalysts in the television footage of the recent meeting of Chernomyrdin and President Boris Yeltsin. Now whether that provincial governor did any such kissing, I can't say, but Chernomyrdin has for years made a very public show of sincere admiration and dedication before the president, either respectfully perching on the edge of his seat, or throwing himself at Yeltsin for the ritual embrace.


This made the body language of the two men in their first meeting after Chernomyrdin's appointment as acting prime minister all the more striking.


Balled up rather uncomfortably, Yeltsin sat in his presidential armchair like a meek little old man. Timidly and almost in self-justification, he informed his opposite of his execution of the oligarchs' instruction to appoint the new prime minister. Chernomyrdin listened to his former (yes, now former) boss with superior disdain, bursting with impatient exultation at his long-awaited triumph.


These two men, more responsible than any for the Russian catastrophe, showed the least concern for hauling the country out of the crisis. They not only resembled their characters on the Kukly puppet show, but were in reality marionettes in the hands of modern day Rasputin Boris Berezovsky.


Having corrupted the president's family, Berezovsky scared it into believing that only a timely hand over of power to Chernomyrdin would guarantee their personal safety and the safety of their accumulated wealth after Yeltsin's inevitable departure from power.


For his part, Chernomyrdin succumbed not to the temptation of money, but to Berezovsky's promise of the presidency. It was drummed into him that only the media empire of Berezovsky and his colleagues could sell the idea of Chernomyrdin as president. For almost six months they have led him like a trained bear to and fro between Berezovsky's studio and Vladimir Gusinsky's, where he reads from the scrolling television prompters all manner of absurdities like "We must work 26 hours a day."


This is also how he spent the first two weeks of his new premiership, in which time all the markets finally collapsed. Genuinely surprised at not being met with national jubilation, he got his assistants to produce a crisis program. They came up with two, the first recommending printing as much money as possible and distributing it among the banks, enterprises and the population, the other advising a fixed ruble rate backed up by gold reserves and the strict prohibition of any more emissions of money.


He put forward both at the same time.