Who Are The Russian Oligarchs? Essay

2109 words - 9 pages

According to Aristotle, oligarchy refers to the concentration of the supreme power in the hands of a few. However, oligarchs usually achieved the leading role by their wealth instead of their eminence. The first written evidence about this autocrat political system appeared around 411 BCE in ancient Greek masterpieces, when a small group of influential and prosperous people abolished democracy in Athens (Herber et al. 24). Throughout the history of mankind the oligarchs were present in the Western as well as Eastern kingdoms in Europe. Since the middle ages, they usually wielded power simultaneously with the legal ruler. Although this phenomenon has been diminished in modern political history, it is still actively present in one country: the Russian Federation. Russia has always been seen as an exceptional country with its bizarre history and unfathomable politics, where the oligarchs are believed to possess most of the wealth of the Russian society. Their case is more than intriguing as they exercise enormous influence both on the economy and politics. How did these privileged people come into power? What is their actual impact on the economy and to what extent was their political influence restricted in the past few years in the Russian Federation?
In modern context, the term Russian oligarchs refers to extremely wealthy business magnates. Prior to the disintegration of the USSR a relatively small group of influential people had already existed within the borders: the ’nomenklatura’. Many of the former oligarchs held strong positions as Soviet-era functionaries, such as deputy ministers, department heads, who were either working for the Soviet government or supervising several enterprises (Braguinsky 316). After the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the already influential figures “converted their de facto control into ownership rights” (Guriev and Rachinsky 139). Nevertheless, this was only the dawn of the rise of the so-called oligarchs.
The last decade of the 20th century indicated the end of communism which went hand in hand with the transition from centrally planned economy to market system. During the Soviet Union, the economic structure was mainly dominated by centrally-planned methods, which meant that the state made decisions about the quality and quantity of production that were generally determined by political goals. In the early 1990s Russia had to adjust to open market economy which was proven to be successful in Western parts of Europe. This economic system has been driven by the demand for profit as most of the means of production are privately owned. Since the open market economy is massively dependent upon the capital, the first democratically elected president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin’s aim was to sell state-owned industries in order to raise some money. Therefore, the process of dividing the previously state-owned assets began which meant media, oil, engineering and steel companies. These...

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