Out of Russia: Moscow's father of capitalism sires a political party

Click to follow
MOSCOW - The office might have been in Manhattan. It was white and grey and black, and full of mirrors and expensive works of art. Computers were clicking, fax machines purring and an enormous bodyguard in a suit filled the double wooden entrance doors. Limousines waited outside. A photographer from Time magazine was setting up his arc lights and a white light-diffusing umbrella ready to shoot a leader of Russia's new class of businessmen-politicians, Konstantin Borovoi, the head of the four-month-old Economic Freedom Party, a group of smiling libertarians desperate to see Boris Yeltsin's reforms succeed so that they can take over one day.

Six years ago Mr Borovoi was a maths professor, teaching computer graphics at the Architectural Institute. 'It was a wonderful life,' he recalls. 'Two hours' work a day, nice girls.'

But the then 37-year-old was bored. He wanted to take advantage of glasnost and perestroika to become rich and famous so he experimented with capitalism. He opened the first Soviet Stock Exchange in 1990, then the first clearing bank, then an investment company and then the first business-news wire. He became seriously rich. It was easy for him. 'There was no competition; a janitor could start a successful business here.'

When the emerging market economy looked as though it was getting bogged down, Mr Borovoi changed to politics. Businessmen needed their own party, he thought. Five thousand entrepreneurs and workers 'with normal jobs' signed up, according to the party's propaganda. The target is 40 million. Mr Borovoi's office next to the Polytechnic Museum and opposite the old Central Committee building became the Economic Freedom Party's headquarters where images are everything.

The party flag - all colours of the rainbow - is draped behind Mr Borovoi's desk. A photograph of Alexei, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, shaking Mr Borovoi's hand hangs on the wall. 'I received his blessing for moral business,' he says. He shows it to people who allege that he is too close to the Moscow mafia.

'Which mafia?' he asks. The old administrative-command system that controlled the state monopolies was the biggest mafia of them all, he says. 'The state administrative system is the real mafia. It's the real enemy.' He claims they take 20 per cent while the other mafia, the gangs, take only 1.5 per cent.

He met a mafioso the other day and told him: 'Why don't you start a normal business?' The man replied that it was too difficult. 'You see, I know he tried to go straight, but he failed. You have to have brains. Not all the problems can be solved by force and threats.' Mr Borovoi says he does not pay bribes - it is against the rules of his Moscow Convention of Entrepreneurs. 'The state administrative system is the real mafia. It's the real enemy'.

He has been called the father of Russian capitalism, but he says that is not so. 'I'm the father of the idea that normal business is possible in this country, I mean moral business.'

The Time photographer starts to shoot as Mr Borovoi delves into his American cigarette packet. 'Don't take one of me smoking,' he told the photographer. 'Americans wouldn't like that.' Wrong image.

Will the Yeltsin reforms survive and one day allow someone like Mr Borovoi or the other new Russian entrepreneurs to have a chance at serious party politics? Mr Borovoi quotes Pushkin: 'The restive steed and the timid deer must ne'er be harnessed to the same cart.' He means the Yeltsin government is hobbled by having some who want to go fast towards the market, and others who want to slow down reforms. There is no general commitment to reforms, so the government is stuck, still run largely by the old party nomenklatura.

'The problem,' he says, 'is that all the other parties - and Yeltsin's government - are just offshoots of the old Communist Party. The most important thing is to fight Communists and not become a member of the team. It would be playing football with monkeys . . . we want to create the only civilised party capable of participating in elections.'

Mr Borovoi is fond of calling old Communists names, but he was not averse to hiring one to help him set up his new party. He asked the Russian prosecutor if the former prime minister and last August's coup plotter, Valentin Pavlov, could be let out of jail to advise him on the Russian economy. 'I need these people, they are experts,' said Mr Borovoi. The prosecutor refused.

Would Mr Borovoi like to be prime minister one day? 'No, I am very good in a specific area. You may call me a 'doer', or a 'systems analyst'. I am creating systems.'