Last summer in France I met with a Russian emigrant. His name is Sergey. He’s in his fifties. A wealthy person. A successful businessman. But… he is receiving French citizenship.
“Why did you decide to emigrate?” I asked him.
“You see, Marat, life is hard for businessmen like me in Russia. The atmosphere is unbearable.”
“How is it expressed?”
“Well, for example, my business was grabbed. They just took my working poultry farm.”
“How? Who? Racketeers?”
“Well, no. Worse. People in uniform.”
“I don’t get it. How is that?”
“Do you remember, how it was in the 90’s: every more or less large entrepreneur had a criminal “protection”? You pay your “protection” a certain fee every month, and then no bandits will bother you anymore. And if they do, you do not worry, just call your “protection”, and they will have a showdown. And at the showdown the main thing is how many “fighters” and how many guns each side has. The side that has more of those, wins.
“Now it’s pretty much the same. Only now the showdown is not for the bandits, but for the businessmen themselves and it’s not the number of guns that matters, but the position of their “protection”. Whose “protection” has a higher position, wins.
What was it like in my case?
I built a poultry farm in my own area. I worked quietly, did not bother anyone, did not go into politics, did not treat my competitors badly. I had the prosecutor of the region as my “protection”.”
“Easy. About five years ago I started getting lots of inspections from the regional prosecutor’s office. They got to one issue, then to another. Well, I’m not a child. I understood everything. I went to see the prosecutor. We talked about this and that. And then I said that my lawyers were not really good, they often made mistakes, that’s why we were breaking the law. By ignorance. So, I needed a good law firm. Maybe he could he recommend someone? And I learned in advance that his son had a law firm. Well, of course, he recommended his son’s firm. The next day I signed a contract for legal support with that firm with a monthly payment of a fair amount of money. That’s it. From that day, I didn’t break laws. The prosecutor’s office didn’t have any questions to me. In general, I got a “protection” better than that of gangsters. I lived in great comfort.”
“And then what?”
“And then, a year ago, some guys came to me and say: one serious Moscow firm decided to expand and buy up large poultry farms in all regions close to the capital. As far as I understand, they want to create a monopoly on eggs and then dictate their prices. It was my turn. Well, of course, I sent them to my “protection” and said: consult with my lawyers first. And you know what? The next day the prosecutor of the region calls me and says: “Why don’t you sell your poultry farm? The buyers seem to be good.” And adds: “The Prosecutor General’s Office recommended them to me.” That’s how we found out whose “protection” is cooler. If they had made a decent offer, I’d be OK with that. But they offered me half a price for my breadwinning business.”
“And then what?”
“Why? I did not agree. I wrote to all instances, complained. The prosecutor of the region took offense at me. All the inspecting bodies, as agreed, lashed out at me, like jackals. They found a lot of violations, my accounts were blocked, my property was arrested. I almost got myself put into prison.
“And then what?”
“What? Between going to prison and the Cote d’Azur, after much thought, I chose the Cote d’Azur.”
“What about the poultry farm?”
“How should I know? This is not my poultry factory anymore. The Moscow holding bought it for a pittance at a judicial auction. And all the proceeds from its sale went to pay off my debts to the budget for the entire time it was idle. I am still in debt.
So this, Marat, is what can happen when you go against the system.”
“Sergey, why didn’t you fight to the end for your property? Why didn’t you go to the very top?”
“Yeah, right. To the top security officer and oppressor? Do you think he knows nothing? He built this system himself and was a role model to the others. Now in our country, the most important people are not workers or businessmen, but security officials. People in uniform. They are the most respected and rich people.”
“For some reason I did not see Russian security officials on the Forbes lists.”
“Well, they are not that stupid. And if you are interested, then ask these very millionaires from Forbes about who protect their businesses and who they share their millions with. You will hear many familiar surnames. By the way, both sides have holidays here, on the Cote d’Azur, together.”
“How are you going to live now?”
“Well, thank God, at one time, I transferred some of the money here to France. And I still have something left in Russia. I hope I won’t starve. Maybe I’ll open something here.”
“It’s hard to run a business in a foreign country.”
“Marat, difficult is what I went through in Russia. And what can scare me in France? Think about it. When I talk about Russian “kickbacks” and illegal requisitioning, local businessmen cannot even understand me. Some still think of opening businesses in Russia. Naive people.”
“I think, Sergey, that the situation is actually not as gloomy as you described. Probably, you just had bad luck.”
“You can think whatever you want, Marat. I don’t have any desire to convince you.
By the way, why are you so surprised all the time? Is it the same in Kazakhstan?”
“No, Sergey. It is not…”