Book 2. Ringing cedars of Russia (1997)
Fellowship of Russian
The idea of a Fellowship meant that it would be open to any entrepreneurs who had been active in the Russian market for at least a year, and were sincerely striving to develop honest relationships not only with each other but with their clients and employees. Representatives of various non-profit socie-ties tried to persuade me that today’s entrepreneurs were cool to the idea of any form of organisation, that the age of faith- based euphoria had passed, and that membership in societies one could join simply by paying a modest fee had diminished catastrophically They argued, furthermore, that the idea of organising a Fellowship with additional requirements involving the ethical standards of both the entrepreneur and the enterprise was simply absurd.
My old friend Artem Tarasov, having heard about my arrival in Moscow and what I was up to, came to one of the ‘round tables’. He set to work on drafting documents, including an appeal to entrepreneurs. He laid out several thousands of dollars so I could make up glossy brochures to give out to delegates at a small-business congress being organised in Moscow.
But the congress organisers decided not to allow any bro-chures on the Fellowship to be handed out, no doubt fearing competition from us. As a result, secretarial staff and stu-dents positioned themselves just outside the entrances to the Rossiya Hotel, trying to hand delegates folders containing the brochures. They stood there withstanding both the cold and attempts to chase them away by the militia, who thought some kind of illegal selling might be taking place. Artem Tarasov still managed to take a package of brochures into the Kremlin Palace of Congresses, where the congress was being held — though, unfortunately, only a rather small quantity
The operation we had placed so many of our hopes on ended in failure. Organising the Fellowship was proving to be an impossibility The difficulty was that getting the necessary information out to all the entrepreneurs across the country required a huge outlay of roubles on printing and postage costs, since favourable responses were coming in from only ten percent of the people we managed to reach. The required funds were simply not available.
Besides, the League executive kept back a portion of the membership fees as office-space rent, as they had no other source of funds. Sensing some sort of snag, the League stopped giving out money for organisational expenses alto-gether, in spite of the fact that the membership fees had been specifically earmarked for organisational expenses.
The League needed to use the entrepreneurs’ membership fees just to cover operating costs, they explained. Then they began holding back wage payments for the secretarial staff. I was obliged to vacate the League’s premises, leaving behind my second computer which had been purchased with funds from the entrepreneurs who had joined the Fellowship.
“How come?” queried the students in bewilderment — students who had spent hours working out computer programmes at their own expense. “We’ve been doing the work which this non-profit organisation, according to its own constitution, is supposed to carry out, and here they’re treating us like tenants, and spitting on the entrepreneurs in the process.”
The League executive argued: “The office rent must be paid.”
With what was left of the secretarial staff, I tried to carry on the work out of one of the entrepreneurial trades union offices, but the same situation repeated itself there.
After getting to know the leaders of several non-profit or-ganisations, I suddenly realised that they all had titles, but no membership, something like the so-called ‘sofa parties’, existing only for the benefit of their executives. While this was not true of the Farmers and Peasants Association, headed by Vladimir Bashmachnikov (and there may be other exceptions), this was the general state of affairs at the time.
Even today there is no non-profit organisation in Russia bringing together any significant number of entrepreneurs, and those that do exist are of the ‘sofa party’ variety Why? Among the possible causes I would include the anonymity of membership fees.
For some reason it always happens that once an executive body is created, it starts making decisions on behalf of entre-preneurs without consulting the majority
Walking away from the trades-union office, I now found myself without any means of communication and without an-ything to live on. Artem Tarasov had by this time emigrated to London. He had tried to get himself on the ballot for the
Russian presidency and had spent billions of roubles collect-ing the required signatures, but when the Central Election Committee invalidated most of those signatures, Artem was obliged to look after repairing his own financial affairs.
The local residents working in the secretariat, not receiv-ing any pay, were obliged to quit.
I was left all alone. Or rather, I thought I had been left all alone. But three Moscow students weren’t about to abandon the work they had started: Anton, Artem and Lyosha. Anton actually used his own holiday savings to pay the monthly rent on an apartment for me. They were willing to wait until I sought and found a way out of my present circumstances and could continue my work on creating the Fellowship. They had got caught up by the whole idea. They believed in it. But I could see nothing ahead but a dead end.
It was right at this time that some news arrived from Novosibirsk.