Steamy Business

Steamy Business

March 17, 2010

Making the Chapter:

If there is one image that encapsulates the realnost of post-Communist Ukraine it is that of the oligarch rising to prominence as a result of opportunism and thuggery, whilst the beleaguered proletariat are traumatised by change they cannot understand or control. In Steamy Business I venture into the male bastion of the bathhouse, or banya. This informal venue – host of many business decisions – was informally banned to government officials during the Yushchenko presidency. There, I take a longer view on the rise of the rich and uncover how people became secret millionaires under Communism, and how money, and the desire to flaunt it, was a driving force in bringing down the Soviet Union. We also take a look at where the Austrian economists, who feature so much in the debate about the world’s current economic problems, really came from.


I recalled that with hindsight it was now clear that Perestroika fed two contradictory demands that were its downfall. Civil society had hoped that it would bring greater democracy, whereas the rich thought it would legalize their privilege and enable them to live openly. The tension created by the open display of wealth quickly led to a rise in criminal violence and gangs that nowadays so epitomizes the post-Soviet republics.

Andrei continued, saying, “Most of those who became businessmen after World War II had been marginalised by the Communist Party. Perhaps they were Jews who were prevented from taking responsible positions in Government or others that didn’t have professional or academic standing. As the Soviet archives continue to be opened, legal cases are now coming to light of businessmen who amassed millions and were arrested, tried, and in some cases executed. In a society where everything was regulated, knowing that you had achieved something provided a tremendous inner freedom and defined who you were.”

“But how did they become rich?” I wondered.

At that moment one of the older men opened a hatch and threw water into the opening. The roar of steam being created temporarily drowned our voices and moments later a wall of heat hit my body, searing my skin. Surely this was how the universe had originally come into being, I thought.

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