A real quick take on Petr Aven’s “Time of Berezovsky”

Currently there seems to be no English review of the recent book in Russian “Time of Berezovsky” by Petr Aven, save for this short excerpt. So I just wanted to drop in my own two cents.

Immediately after opening the book we learn that its major goal is to review the history of Russia’s 1990s by discussing Boris Berezovsky’s activities. The book is divided into six major chapters, describing Berezovsky’s life in chronological order — from 1980s to 2010s. Each chapter starts with an introduction written by Petr Aven, but the real meat is a series of interviews with various key business and political figures who have massively interacted with Berezovsky.

I sought to read this book with the hopes to learn precisely how much influence did Berezovsky exert during two key events of Russia’s 1990s — the 1996 Presidential election and the 1999-2000 campaign which involved both a parliamentary and the presidential election. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Berezovsky has indeed played a major role in the both campaigns, while his influence was often overstated. He himself was overconfident of his abilities to play politics, with his ambitions set as high as being a shadow ruler of Russia. Berezovsky thought that since he had helped to bring the Unity party to power and thus ensure Putin’s victory, he was also capable of overthrowing the “regime”. That was a tragic mistake, which has led him into exile and contributed to his ultimate state of misery.

On the topic of Berezovsky’s death, Petr Aven and most of his guests — except for two of them — agree it was a suicide.

One of the major drawbacks of the book is that the criticism of 1990s is rather muted — and since it involves conversations among people who were better off in 1990s, sometimes it is actually a praise. However, in the current Western political climate each non-hysterical book about Russia is a good news.

A great quality of the book is the sense of continuity between 1990s and 2000s — something just non-existent in the Western coverage of Russia. A key point expressed by Aven is that Russians’ dislike of liberal values is due to the fact that reforms in 1990s were performed in utterly illiberal ways. The lesson learned is that the ends do not justify the means.

Overall I have found the book to be a great non-fiction volume, the scope of which surpasses narrowly defined historical topics and stretches into psychology and sociology. Since it involves discussions among key Russian figures, it’s a must read for any Westerner seriously interested in Russia’s recent history. On the other hand, perhaps there’s no urgency to read it in Russian and you might safely wait for the English translation.

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