photo by John Ranard
photo by John Ranard photo by John RanardLook ! This is shitocracy.

Another investor I met had lost everything, the equivalent of $500.

He was an elderly gentleman, and his business card stated his name was Dr. Rostislav A. Shakhov, an employee of the Russian Research Institute of Geology of Foreign Countries. He had not received a salary for five months.

"First my institute went bankrupt, now I am bankrupt. Every day we are told capitalism is the future and every day we learn it only hurts people."

He then waves his arms and points to the crowds of people moving around us, pensioners writing letters to Movrodi asking for their money back, people waiting in line to buy their R950 "new" shares inside the headquarters, black marketeers buying and selling shares on the street.

He makes a pun of the Russian word for democracy to make it sound like shit : "Look ! This is shitocracy"

Yet this does not prevent Rostistav from working the black market himself. Throughout our conversation he was selling "old" MMM stock shares. I indicated the discrepancy. "I must feed my mother, my wife, my children. Do you know how much meat R8,000 will buy? How many tomatoes, maybe two kilos?"

Later, I am surprised to see placards held by Movrodi supporters in front of MMM headquarters reading "Hands off Movrodi," or "long live MMM" shortly after Movrodi was arrested in August for suspicion of tax evasion. He is never formally charged. In a published photograph documenting his arrest, Movrodi stands next to his tarantula collection.

It was a weird sort of Patty Hearst affair where the kidnappers and the hostages join forces against a common enemy - the government. It is explained to me by a student. "We knew this was a gamble all along but why did the government allow this to continue and then suddenly change the rules at the last moment.

They stopped Movrodi only because he was making money, lots of money!" The student himself is a small-time operator. He is able to eke out a good living buying dollars in Moscow and selling them in the country. "My money works for me!" He tells me.

"Capitalism!" His buddy agrees with a smile.

"Yes," I say, "but Movrodi is a crook, a thief," as all businessmen are referred to in Moscow. "'Why continue to invest in MMM when you know the shares represent nothing but dreams?"

"And what is Yeltsin?" he asks me. "The day after Yeltsin bombed the White House he drove to the Kremlin in a limousine!"

"What do you mean? Yeltsin never leaves his dacha," his friend interrupts.

The newspaper Izvestia asks in an editorial during the crisis: "Even if the Government defeats the MMM Company, what will it do with Lyonya Galubkov?"

photo by John Ranard