OBITUARY : Stanislav Sorokin

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The Independent Online
For nearly a decade Stanislav Sorokin was president and complete boss of a Russian national institution, Gum, the State Department Store opposite the Kremlin and Lenin Mausoleum. The giant shop supplied the Kremlin leaders with fresh Russian caviar, Stolichnaya vodka and the best Georgian wines, and the appointment was made by President Gorbachev himself.

Sorokin came of humble origins. He was born in south- eastern Siberia, at the centre of the gold-mining industry. After local schooling and national service he went to Moscow, and was accepted into the lite Plekhanov Institute of National Economy, graduating in 1964, a young economist with no connections, not even a Moscow residence permit. He started his career at the Ministry of Trade, and by 1973 he was an assistant to the deputy Minister of Trade.

Sorokin spent nearly 20 years at the ministry at the most difficult time, the stagnation period of Soviet history under President Leonid Brezhnev, when the Soviet Union was forced to buy grain from Canada and the United States, butter from the EEC, shoes from Italy, industrial and agricultural equipment from Britain and the Federal Republic of Germany, electronics from Japan, vegetables from Bulgaria and chicken from Poland.

In 1983 he became a student again, this time at the Academy of National Economy attached to the Soviet Council of Ministers; he graduated in 1985, as Mikhail Gorbachev took over. Gorbachev wanted to restructure the Soviet economic system, which was about to collapse and was in need of new people in order to get rid of old-type apparatchiks. He noticed the 46-year-old economist, and early in 1986 appointed Sorokin as the director of Gum, a national institution alongside the Bolshoi Theatre, the Pushkin Museum and the Trekiakov Gallery.

The two-storey building stretches along the whole length of Red Square. On its right is the Museum of Revolution and on its left is St Basil's Cathedral (the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed). Originally known as the Upper Trading Stalls, the Gum building was designed by the architect Alexander Pomerantsev and erected in 1890-93. Before the 1917 revolution it contained some 200 shops. After Stalin's death in 1953 it was completely reconstructed. The premier store in Russia, it had special shops supplying the Soviet lite and foreigners living in Moscow with virtually anything they wanted - from food, videos, cameras, refrigerators and clothes from the West to the best Russian furs and Georgian wines, caviar, Caucasian carpets and tickets to the Bolshoi, all things that were unavailable to the Russian people.

In 1988 Gum became a public company and Sorokin was elected its president. He ran the business well, despite strong opposition from the old-style apparatchiks, and invited foreign companies to rent space. Gum now houses some 100 foreign shops and boutiques, and several cafs, bars and restaurants, and is open to anyone who has money.

Sorokin's obituary appeared in many Russian newspapers, signed by government ministers and the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, who worked closely with Stanislav Sorokin.

Stanislav Vladimirovich Sorokin, economist: born Nerchinsk, Chita Oblast 1939; died Moscow 25 February 1995.