February 22, 2020
At the end of 2019, a long biographical documentary about Mikhail Khodorkovsky was released. You are more than likely not familiar with this name. This is not abnormal, because you have few reasons to be interested in the political life of post-USSR Russia. That said, the arrival of an atypical politician at the White House, a politician who, to remain polite, shines the boots of the current President of Russia for no apparent reason, this relationship between these two politicians will have pushed me into the theater where the documentary » Citizen K » is screened .
This film funded by Amazon, the company of Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the USA, is a defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. This documentary is also a delightful indictment of Vladimir Putin and his regime.
Looking back over your shoulder
Autocratic regimes, Soviet in the USSR, Nazi from 1933 in Germany, Fascist in Musolinian Italy; these regimes negate checks and balances and therefore they offer the comfort of the absence of criticism and or sanction. These regimes dream of being eternal. Fortunately with the wear of time, through a decisive military defeat or an institutional overthrow, the dreamed eternity shows its limits.
At the end of 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall announced the end of the myth of the march towards Communism through the dictatorship of the proletariat. Marxism-Leninism was no longer desirable. The secretary general of the Communist Party of the USSR understood it. He opened a desired peaceful transition to a democracy. At this very moment, capitalist democracy was more in line with the aspirations of the peoples of Eastern Europe than Communism. In the beginning this transition seemed to be able to progressively evolve under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. Unfortunately the supporters of the former Soviet regime attempted a military coup. This failed coup did put an end to a transition that everyone hoped to be gradual towards a peaceful democracy .
The defeat of this military coup linked to the apparent weakness of Gorbachev, will have pushed on the front stage a populist careerist of the Communist Party, Boris Yeltsin. The latter will take advantage of Gorbachev’s weakness to take power and he will launch, without restraint, the privatization of the economy. The chosen method, a method which it is impossible to describe within the framework of this article, this privatization allowed a restricted number of insiders from the seraglio to confiscate the privatization vouchers offered to the public. This phase of privatization, uncontrolled by democratic bodies, will concentrate in the hands of a few oligarchs, the entire profitable economy of the former USSR. Mikhail Khodorkovsky is one of the gangsters who, through the bank he created, took control of the oil company YUKOS.
The documentary Citizen K part one
The first part of the documentary describes the rise of Mikhail Khodorkovsky without hiding the mafia aspects of his rise to a financial fortune. The documentary then attempts to legitimize this capture of wealth by highlighting the management methods of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The aim of this management was to give the YUKOS company a form of management in accordance with Western capitalist canons. The restructuring of the company offered to the stock holders a way to enter the western stock markets. This introduction valued the company at a high value and thus allowed Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the main shareholder, to become the richest man in the new Russia.
While Mikhail Khodorkovsky strengthened his company and his fortune, Vladimir Putin, by using his position at the head of the Russian state, was enriched by buying at low prices, via shell companies, oil extraction rights that he sold at a high price.
Taking advantage of his immense wealth, Mikhail Khodorkovsky chose to enter politics through the door of the economy. Having created his fortune in a mafia jungle, he now wishes to give himself an image of defender of democracy and champion of the fight against corruption. In fact, by offering a more moral political alternative, he is trying to open a path towards a democratic takeover and overthrow the mafia that revolves around Vladimir Putin.
Sure of his fact, thinking he had the support of public opinion, he attacked Putin’s power head on. At this very moment the narration switches. Putin, who is holding the justice system of the Russian state, imprisons Khodorkovsky for tax evasion and takes the opportunity to appropriate YUKOS. The imprisonment of Khodorkovsky into Siberian prisons will last nine years. He will be released and expelled to Germany under pressure from Angela Merkel but also, and probably above all, to heal the image of the Kremlin on the occasion of the Sochi Olympic Games.
Citizen K documentary part two
The second part of the documentary is mainly filmed in London. It consists of a long interview with the exiled Khodorkovsky in which he explains his objective of overthrowing Putin’s kleptocracy and replacing it with a democracy. By choosing to finance people and opposition groups to Putin, Khodorkovsky gives himself the beautiful role of the humanist defender of democracy. Incidentally he explains that his personal fortune allows him to do so, that this objective is just and virtuous. As he is both rich and patient, Khodorkovsky expresses his certainty that in the end history will prove him right.
What about similarities found in the 2020 America
At the end of February 2020, America is experiencing, as it occurs every four years, the fever of the campaign for the presidential election. The current president, president whose mode of corrupt populist governance resembles that of his Kremlin counterpart, finds on his way a self-made billionaire, Michael Bloomberg. Michael Bloomberg spends his personal money without counting for the nomination as the candidate of the Democratic party. If as of today Bernie Sanders, a social democrat (in the European sense) a socialist-communist (in the sense of the US far-right), leads the race to the nomination, the November election could well show a contest between a bankrupt ex-billionaire and a real billionaire who managed to buy access to the election.
For both Russia and the USA, it is not reassuring to think that money powers the defense of democracy, even if the two oligarchs Khodorkovsky and Bloomberg show virtue. If money becomes the only mean of gaining power, the death of Democracy is not far away. That said, France, despite a law which limits the budgets of electoral campaigns, is not free from reproaches. The campaign accounts of a former president have been refused by the Court of Auditors. The faulty president has still not been sanctioned.
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