The Tragedy of Property
by Maxim Trudolyubov, Polity, 226pp, £17.99
In the mid 1990s I did a stint in the BBC’s Moscow bureau. It was high summer, some of the resident correspondents were away on leave and nothing much was happening. They were dog days, stiflingly hot, and Moscow seemed a defeated, depressing and occasionally violent place. Boris Yeltsin was the man in the Kremlin’s high tower but it would be stretching a point to say he was “in charge”– he had a serious drink problem and it seemed to me that Russia too was suffering from a permanent hangover.
In the first flush of power, Yeltsin had decreed that Russia would henceforth be a “market economy” – but such an entity is not created by the stroke of any politician’s pen: doing business in Russia in those years was a precarious, sometimes deadly, activity. I remember attending the funeral of one short-lived entrepreneur, gunned down in his office in a property dispute.
As I struggled to make sense of what was happening around me, it dawned on me that one of Russia’s great problems was the lack of a functioning legal system, particularly regarding property rights. This was why I found The Tragedy of Property: Private Life, Ownership and the Russian State so fascinating.
This is a book which might appear off-putting to the general reader but for anyone who has ever wondered about Russia, that “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” in Churchill’s famous phrase, it offers some useful insights.
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