Boris Berezovsky: The death of a post-Soviet dream

World and We
Sergey Strokan is a journalist, essayist and a poet. He is also a political commentator with Russia's “Kommersant” Publishing House. Mr. Strokan hosts “Red Line”, a weekly analytical program broadcast by The Voice of Russia in New York City. He is the author of three poetry collections, a winner of the Maximilian Voloshin International Literary Award (2010) and a member of Union of Russian Writers.
Boris Berezovsky: The death of a post-Soviet dream
The passing of Boris Berezovsky, contemporary Russia’s most controversial tycoon-turned-politician, has led to conspiracy soaked media coverage while trying to unwrap the riddle of his sudden death.

As London has already built up a reputation as a Mecca or safe heaven for many wealthy Russians, who often find themselves at odds with Russian authorities, Berezovsky’s story is seen through the prism of many other related issues. It is another example of Russia and Britains love hate relationship, the Litvinenko case, the fate of troubled Russian opposition figures and the twists of contemporary Russian politics, which at some point were masterminded by people like late Boris Abramovich Berezovsky.

Was it Sartre who in his “Being and nothingness” asserted the individual’s existence as prior to the individual essence? From the logic of existentialism Mr.Berezovsky’s life can probably be seen as a strange mix of “good and bad behavior“, as defined by Sartre -- a Molotov cocktail that eventually can make your head explode. Accordingly, his death comes a highly emotional moment of truth, a curtain razor, which enables us to make a leap to a reality, hidden in a day- to-day life and to identify where all of us, Russians, are. 

Today, as we are snowed with a flurry of comments on Berezovsky it is not easy to avoid certain clichés like “vocal opponent of Putin”, “dark genius”, “shadowy Kremlin powerbroker”, etc. However, I would rather identify Boris Berezovsky as a manifestation or an embodiment of a “post-Soviet dream”, which captured the hearts and minds of many Russians shortly after the collapse of the USSR.

The phenomenon of Berezosky was brought to life by perestroika and the dark age of the post-Soviet development of early 90’s, it matured in the troubled waters of the transition period of the first years of Russia’s independence.  In fact, as the Soviet Union collapsed, Boris Berezosky emerged as a by-product of its dissolution. 

A known Soviet scholar, academic and wizard in mathematics Boris Berezovsky could have remained a quite researcher, writing books and delivering lectures for a modest honorarium just enough to buy basic foodstuff and inexpensive clothes. It is high time to recall that the break-up of the Soviet Union at one point put Russian fundamental science on the brink of extinction. All of a sudden deprived of state funding and abandoned by many of its bright personalities post-Soviet science was dying away in the dilapidated buildings of academic institutions – once a world-famous nursery of scientific research.

This was a time when everyone had to face a painful dilemma – whether to start a new life, to start from a scratch or to stick to old experience which looked more and more obsolete and irrelevant. This was a time when everyone had to invent his own survival kit. So did Berezovsky. He decided to make an abrupt departure from the Soviet past. Relying on his high intellect, outstanding communicating skills, ability to find yourself in a right place and at a right time during the years of the so-called “wild privatization” of Soviet state property he ventured to use what was seen as “disadvantage of new times” to his own personal advantage.

This is how Russia has seen a magic transformation of a modest Soviet scientist into a post-Soviet oligarch with a newly-discovered taste for the life of billionaires. This is how post-Soviet dream named “Boris Berezovsky” came into being. While his former colleagues could hardly afford themselves to buy a modest Lada car, he controlled the whole LOGOVAZ – Russia’s major car dealer company. Throwing lavish parties, buying expensive real estate abroad along with Russia’s leading media outlets and seen his name at the top of Forbes list of Russian oligarchs he basked in publicity. Not only that – he also developed a distinct taste for big politics. At one point under the rule of Putin’s predecessor Boris Yetlsin Berezovsky was appointed Head of Russia’s national security council. Articulate in winning President Yeltsin’s ear and sidelining his rivals he developed a reputation of the grey cardinal of Russian politics. It seemed that there were no limits to his wealth and power.

However, with the end of the post-Soviet transition period Berezovsky’s magic of Faustus faded away. His conflict with Putin was rather a conflict with the history of his own country – he was simply not able to cope up with the pace of change. While in London the exile, growing more and more abandoned and isolated and watching his billions melting like snow under the April Sun, he was reported to write a letter to Putin apologizing for his past mistakes. If such a letter exists, he probably tried to make a deal with Putin, thinking he could do it the way it was done in the time of Yeltsin, when politics was done through such behind-the-scenes deals - unofficial understandings - between oligarchs and politicians.

He was obviously one of the most bright and controversial figures in post-Soviet Russian history. His name came as a trademark of Russian business and politics in the 90s, when there was the official power of the president and PM and an unofficial power of what we called the 'semi-bankirshina' (the rule of seven all-powerful bankers, Boris Berezovsky being one of them). This time has luckily gone forever.

Let him rest in peace. Let the post-Soviet dream finally give way to the new Russian dream – more decent, more humane, friendlier and with better morals.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.