Volgograd Forum, January 1, 2003


Last year has been not a bad one for Russian people. In spite of the recent hostage taking in Moscow and the ongoing guerilla sallies in Chechnya everyday life here is more stable than it used to be under President Yeltsyn. The standard of living is slowly but constantly rising and it has recently reached the level of pre-crisis year of 1998. But the improvement was achieved not thanks to speculation and money-borrowing as with Yeltsyn, but due to the real growth of the economy. For this obvious reason the public support for President Putin is high.

The situation in the world is favourable for Russia as well. The Taliban regime represented a real threat for us and I think that sooner or later Russia would have to interfere. But thanks to the US involvement we solved this problem, at least for now. I have the feeling, though, that things are not getting well for Americans in Afghanistan. There are more and more reports about casualties and that Hamid Karzai government does not control the situation in the provinces.

Again due to the possible US involvement in Iraq oil prices remain high, which gives us an opportunity to accumulate some funds for investment and development.

George Bernard Shaw once noted, "No Englishman would bother about politics as long as he could keep a motorcar". Analysts in many countries have derived a conclusion, the higher standard of living is, the less people are inclined to be interested in politics. This regularity is now obvious in Russia. If we take early nineties when people attended public meetings and other political events by crowds and the present period, the comparison will be striking. We sensed that to full extent at the Volgograd Free-Speech Forum. For this reason we have to be innovative and make our agenda more attractive for different social groups.

Our last Forum of the year 2002 was organized in cooperation with the Volgograd business weekly newspaper "Delovoye Povolzhie" ("Business in the Volga Region").

It took place December 20, and the theme for the discussion was "Competition (in Business) and Government". Many leading members of the Volgograd business community attended the event. There was no formal speaker but Mrs. Sofia Zhilina, head of the Volgograd branch of the Moscow "Vozrozhdenie" Bank made introduction, which was followed by an open discussion. Many participants of the panel discussion complained that the authorities still heavily interfere in private business activities trying to influence them for their own purposes. For example, it is not a rare case when the regional government openly takes sides with one group of shareholders trying to ouster another or tries to ban or, on the contrary, push through different business deals. Panelists called to all members of Volgograd business community to form a united front to withstand such pressures of the government.

The discussion was covered by two local TV channels, "Delovoye Povolzhie" Weekly and other media.

Alexander Yevreinov
Director, Volgograd Free Speech Forum


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