There are more USA-dollar billionaires in Russia
than in any other country on Earth.
RICH RUSSIANS LIKE LENIN
The average monthly wage in Russia is $150.
Lifestyles of the rich and Russian,
by Paul Tadich, Globe & Mail, Oct 1, 2005
MOSCOW -- Past the full orchestra playing on the concrete apron outside the front doors and beyond the last of no fewer than 10 metal detectors, the carnival begins. As you enter, a photographer who looks like a 1930s newsman snaps a digital picture. Meen in tails and jodhpurs glide around on penny-farthing bicycles. An actor dressed as Charlie Chaplin offers to pose with you for photos. Then a platinum-blond pop diva concludes her opening speech to great applause, a cascade of glitter falls from the ceiling and the doors to the first annual Moscow Millionaire Fair are flung open.
For four days this week, the Crocus Expo Centre in the northwest fringe of the city was home to this trade show for the super-rich, held in Russia for the first time. The spirit of the event is best summarized by quoting directly from the press release: "This is not an exhibition -- this is a lifestyle," says Yves Gijrath, the founder of the fair, which began three years ago in Amsterdam. "When you visit the Millionaire Fair, you immerse yourself in a different world -- something between Harrods and Disneyland."
The Crocus Expo Centre squats monstrously beside a 16-lane highway. It looks like a cross between an airport hangar and a particularly gaudy casino. Here, far from the countless, run-down roadside stalls -- hawking everything from flowers to pirate DVDs -- that festoon most Moscow thoroughfares, it's hard to believe that the average monthly wage in Russia is $150 (U.S.). So how many people could possibly be in the market for ostentatious extravagance? Quite a few, actually.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the behemoths of state industry were auctioned off to private investors (generally Boris Yeltsin's cronies) for a song, and some people got very, very wealthy, almost overnight. These are the so-called oligarchs, who include Roman Abramovich, majority owner of petroleum giant Sibneft and chief of the top-ranked Chelsea Football Club in London.
There are more U.S.-dollar billionaires in Russia than in any other country on Earth.
As they say, you need money to make money, and the nouveau-riche benefactors of this enormous wealth now have a lot of spending to do. It's these well-heeled "minigarchs" who are milling around the entrance to the Crocus Expo Centre at the fair's grand opening, draped in fox stoles and pulling on Dunhills. Incidentally, the cigarette company is sponsoring a booth where one can sample a hand-rolled cigar, fashioned from chocolate-brown tobacco leaves in front of your very eyes. At one end of the spectrum is the Bentley stand, where punters can pick up a Continental GT for a mere €220,000. Those with deeper pockets may want to consider the Bell 407 helicopter with all-leather interior and a top speed of 256 kilometres an hour, perched like a gilded insect on plush red carpeting. The socialites with palatial backcountry dachas may opt for his 'n' hers lime-green and banana-yellow off-road vehicles, while those plutocrats imbued with wanderlust will no doubt want to stock up on boutique luggage seemingly crafted entirely of sterling silver and mint-green snakeskin. In the back of the main hall is a 12-metre-wide, earth-covered pit surrounded by white fencing in which a gorgeous, exquisitely groomed thoroughbred horse trots in a perfect circle, reversing direction on command. Watching is an editor for an upscale Moscow restaurant magazine. He spreads his arms, gesturing to the fair at large. "This is good, but not good enough." The catering, he says, referring to the sushi bar upstairs, rates only 2 out of 5, and he hasn't seen nearly enough celebrities for his liking. But things are looking up, he says. "In Russia, we have a saying: 'Sometimes, when you cook it for the first time, you spoil the dish.' As Moscow gets richer, this event will get better."
Kevin, an American who works for an Internet company in Moscow, wears a grin as wide as the gull-wing door of the white Ferrari up for grabs a few metres behind him. He has already put his name down for a BMW motorcycle, and before the week is out, he plans to pick up a boat. "But I'm really here," he says, eyes a bit glazed, "to get lots of chicks." There are lots and lots of chicks here for Kevin, mostly blond, stick-thin and draped in designer gowns and furs, and nearly all are chattering away non-stop into top-of-the-line cellphones. They weave past builders of $10-million, 2,000-square-metre mansions ("It was for some rich businessman," the proprietor says. "It's like a spaceship on the Earth"), through the Hummer Bar, serving 18-year-old whisky to adolescents in expensive suits paging through sales pamphlets for H2s with blacked-out rear windows, and past the Laser Aesthetic booth. Erwin Kettman, the managing director of the plastic-surgery firm, has flown in from the Netherlands. Why is Moscow such a good market, especially for liposuction? "There are a lot of idle people here. The people who are coming in now don't ask about the prices."
Punters and exhibitors alike all agree on one thing: The more rich people there are in Russia, the better it is for everyone. But the gap between rich and poor is widening. According to state officials, the richest 10 per cent of Russians earn 15 times as much as the poorest.
Lenin, resting a few kilometres to the southeast, must be spinning furiously in his glass sarcophagus. A Belgian businessman disagrees. "Lenin would be okay with this," he says. "He would think it was just a fantasy." He wears a lapel pin featuring a profile of the revolutionary, having picked it up at a souvenir stand near Red Square. "It is a sign Moscow is getting better and better. You should have seen it 10 years ago. Thirty years ago . . ." -- he rolls his eyes -- "let's not even think about it." But surely the rich life is no fantasy to the builder of $10-million mansions. "In Soviet times, we lost our traditions of living in private houses. Now is the time for building them," he says. Apparently, even regular Russians hunger for private jets, "technogyms" and 575-horsepower yachts.
The Millionaire Fair markets itself not just to the rich, but all those "who enjoy the luxury lifestyle." Over the course of the week, 7,000 ordinary Muscovites stumped up the 1,000-ruble (about $40) admission price -- a small fortune for many. It seems the redefinition of what it means to be Russian is to want to spend money just for the sake of it. As the house band starts into a lite-jazz version of the Rocky theme, the cummerbunded members of the elite -- well lubricated with complimentary champagne -- shakily sway their hips. The lead guitarist picks up the mike to engage in some banter. "You know," he says, "you can have a lot of money and still be totally miserable." A giggle floats up from the crowd, like bubbles in a crystal flute of Dom Perignon.
Russian oligarchs tighten grip on London (home to 300,000 former communists; $100-billion buying real estate etc; where did they get the money?). Telegraph, Aug 5, 2008
Communst Party tycoons' new wealth (like Versaille & St Peter's Square). Telegraph, Oct 27, 2005. Go to CHINA'S SLAVE WORKERS
RUSSIA IS HELL'S INFERNO
CHINA'S COMMUNIST CAPITALISTS and CHINADA'S SOVIETIZATION
9.Keeping Masses Down and 10.The Rulers and 7.Systems of Thought
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