From boom to busted
MIKHAIL Khodorkovsky first came to prominence during the 1980s as part of an emerging class of Russian pro-marketeers. The author of regurgitated Rand manifesto The Man with The Ruble and founder of Russia’s first Stalinist-monikered bank (Menetep, an acronym for the Centre for Scientific and Technical Creativity of the Youth), Khodorkovsky was well-placed when the Kremlin, seeking to create a new class of oligarchs, started selling on natural resources at low, low prices to new go-getter capitalists.
By 2002 Khodorkovsky was the richest man in Russia and the richest billionaire under 40 in the world. Today his former executives are hiding out in Tel Aviv and Khodorkovsky languishes in a labour camp in the Arctic Circle.
What gives? Doff your big furry ushanka to Cyril Tuschi. The German film- maker goes some way towards disentangling the hubris from the trumped up charges in this gripping, suavely made documentary on the rise and fall of a very Russian oligarch.
A charismatic man of Jewish descent, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, we’re repeatedly told, never did conform to the vulgar stereotype of the Russian billionaire. Little money was flung away on gold baubles.
He invested in various charities. Crucially, he became involved with the
opposition against Vladimir Putin. Crucially, he failed to realise that what the Kremlin giveth, the Kremlin may also taketh away.
One of the film’s most gripping scenes sees Khodorkovsky challenging a wavy-mouthed president about corruption. Putin eventually got his own back when the upstart was found guilty of corruption in 2005. Additional sentences concerning improbable amounts of missing oil have since doubled the prisoner’s stint in porridge.
There are flaws in the film. Though the monochrome animations are, for the most part, nicely done, the sequence depicting Khodorkovsky swimming through a pool of money is more than a little clunky. And, for obvious reasons, the director has found it hard to persuade representatives of the state to contribute and, as a result, the picture is somewhat skewed in his subject’s favour.
Nonetheless, a key question sounds strongly throughout the picture: why is Khodorkovsky in jail when so many equally culpable billionaires walk free?
Many of the ordinary Russians to whom Tuschi speaks seem uninterested in the answer.
“He was just a guy who was stealing money from our country,” a young, highly educated woman remarks. Others, including Dmitry Gololbov, former legal eagle at Khodorkovsky’s oil firm Yukos, suggest that Khodorkovsky was an architect of the very system that now keeps him imprisoned.
In the Gulag, no one can hear you bite the hand that feeds.