“So what’s been going on?” I asked Olga, the friend who picked me up at the airport this afternoon.
“I try not to know,” she answered somberly. “It nauseates me.”
I could understand that. I’d had that reaction to the Wall Street Journal story I’d read on the plane. It was a very good story, actually: Andrew Higgins wrote about the waning power of the oligarchs. Considering how good Berezovsky has been at manipulating Western correspondents into crediting him for everything that ever happens in Russia (except the weather: Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov takes credit for that), it was refreshing to read a more-critical story. But toward the end of the piece Higgins noted that Vladimir Gusinski, founder of Most Bank and president of Most Media, has relocated to an “undisclosed” European country. This nauseated me because Gusinski pays my salary. Or he used to, anyway. The magazine where I work belongs to Most Media, as does a daily newspaper, a couple of other publications and NTV, the television network (the ‘N’ doesn’t stand for ’nezavisimoye,’ or ‘independent,’ by the way; it doesn’t stand for anything, in fact).
This wasn’t the first indication I’d had that Gusinski was not doing very well. Before she resolved to divorce herself from the outside world, Olga had told me something disturbing. She manages an art gallery that specializes in the whims of Russia’s rich and famous. In August she put together an arms collection at Gusinski’s request, only to be told that the oligarch didn’t have the money to pay for it. “It wasn’t that much,” she told me at the time. “Just $30,000.” Pathetic, really.
I went directly from the airport to work, dreading what I would find there–only to encounter an unsettlingly normal atmosphere. This is the new normalcy, of course. There are certain things missing from the picture: We no longer have a security guard on our floor; we have a chronic shortage of paper for the laser printer and the copier; we get only enough copies of our own magazine for each editorial staffer to take one. But, unlike many other publications, we still exist. And we even get paid sometimes. Sort of. It’s too complicated to explain, but it’s close enough to getting paid to have some of the city’s best journalists beating down the door asking for jobs. People we couldn’t have even dreamed of hiring a few months ago. Come to think of it, we can’t dream of hiring them now either.
As for your subscriptions, Paul, I have to tell you something: It’s only going to get worse. The subscription system has indeed collapsed. If you haven’t subscribed to anything for next year, don’t: It won’t get to you anyway. The post office, which managed to maintain a virtual monopoly on subscriptions, running a shocking inefficient and user-unfriendly system, is finally giving up: The rubles collected today, at prices set months ago, won’t buy a single newspaper come January. At least that’s what we’ve been told by our top management. Of course, we’ve been told a lot of things by our top management recently, and some of them haven’t exactly proven true. And we hadn’t been told that Gusinski has moved to an undisclosed European country.