Russia hopes giving $4.8 billion to its people spurs capitalistic activity

October 02, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- For Nina Y. Yerokhina, it was an unprecedente day -- she got a gift from the Russian government.

The 79-year-old Muscovite, whose only child is dead and who must fend for herself on a tiny pension, was one of the first Russians yesterday to receive a freshly minted voucher entitling her to 10,000 rubles' worth of state property.

"This is the first time in my long life that I am getting something free from my government," marveled Ms. Yerokhina, who wobbled along on her cane after picking up her certificate -- equivalent to about $32 -- at a savings bank.

"This a very pleasant feeling, as if somebody up there in power really does care about us old people," she said. "This voucher thing is my only chance to have my crumbling apartment repaired, so I can spend the remainder of my days in relative comfort."

Taking what it hopes will be a giant leap toward creating a nation of capitalists, President Boris N. Yeltsin's government launched a three-month, nationwide program yesterday to distribute an investment voucher to each and every one of Russia's estimated 150 million people for a government outlay equivalent to about $4.8 billion.

Bearers of the scraps of paper will be able to sell them to speculators for cash, as the stooped, bespectacled and careworn Ms. Yerokhina said she intends to do. Or they can use them until the end of 1993 to buy shares in one of more than 5,000 state-owned industries now being privatized.

The latter is what the government hopes most Russians will do as it guides this economically shattered country from price reform into the next great phase of market-oriented change -- the massive selling off of state holdings into private hands.

"Remember, we live in conditions of inflation," Acting Prime Minister Yegor T. Gaidar stressed on television Wednesday, urging people to resist the yen to cash in their vouchers -- whose face value is about six times the average weekly wage.

But the chance to quickly obtain money to parry Russia's spiraling inflation may largely defeat the scheme.

One recent poll found that 80 percent of the residents of one Moscow neighborhood intend to unload their certificates fast for rubles. If that happens nationwide, ownership of much of industry could be concentrated in a small circle of speculators.

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