Nearly everything has price in Russia Money: Russia's new rich will buy anything, no matter how expensive. And many things are for sale.

October 31, 1997|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- Money doesn't talk here, it shouts. And when it does, everyone listens. Today, nearly everything has a price tag, from the famous red-velvet seats of the Bolshoi Theater to a certificate from the mayor of Moscow testifying to your &r exemplary character.

And if you feel like it, why not buy up some advertising on the Mir space station and send your own message from outer space?

Today's New Russian -- as the new rich are called -- will buy everything, no matter how expensive. They have made their fortunes legally and illegally and somewhere in between since a free market economy replaced communism.

When they go to the Bolshoi, they buy every ticket in the hall.

"The whole theater is rented for the night," says Valentina Dmitrenko, spokeswoman for the Bolshoi. "First they eat and drink, and after that they like to enjoy a performance."

The cost? Prices start at $14,000, depending on the number of guests and the performance required. And someone rents Moscow's most famous theater about once a month.

"Now we lease the boxes next to the czar's box to VIPs," says Dmitrenko. "Rich people can rent one for the whole season or just for a few months. They have their own cloakrooms and bars, and everything has been renovated. The price for the whole season is $48,000."

Interested in the Kremlin's marble-and-gilt-laden St. George's Hall, where President Boris N. Yeltsin greets presidents and royalty and where nobles once bowed to the czars?

"Let me think about it," says Yevgeny Kolibelnikov, director of the Kremlin buildings.

"Sorry," he replies the next day, "that's only for presidential receptions. People can damage the treasures there. Perhaps the Kremlin Palace?"

The Kremlin Palace, the large theater within the Kremlin walls, seats 6,000. The banquet hall holds 4,500. The 22nd, 23rd and 24th Congresses of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union convened there.

"Send two application letters," says Vladimir Mikheyev, the superintendent. "You can rent a banquet hall or the performance hall." The price is about $28,000.

A Russian banker, deciding he needed to burnish his image, moved into the dacha that formerly belonged to Alexei Kosygin, the former Soviet prime minister. The banker told friends he pays $250,000 a year for the house, in a compound just outside of Moscow.

Donate $10,000 to the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg and you can bring along 100 friends and dance all night in the Marble Hall, surrounded by priceless Russian paintings. You provide the champagne and caviar.

For $30,000, you can rent part of Nevsky Prospect, closing off a few blocks of St. Petersburg's grand boulevard for your own private event.

Then there are the plush railway cars once used by Russian dignitaries. "You can rent as many carriages as you like," says Sergei Chistyakov, who oversees the lavish train compartments. They are very popular, he says, and cost from $150 to $175 a

day.

"Of course if you want to move you have to pay more," he says.

Tourist agencies in Murmansk arrange arctic safaris on nuclear-powered icebreakers, carefully scheduling stops for iceberg picnics and time to feed polar bears. The price is negotiable.

Last summer, cosmonaut Vasily Tsibliyev filmed a commercial for an Israeli brand of long-life milk from aboard the Mir space station. The 90-second spot shows Tsibliyev drinking a mass of milk that's floating through space. The commercial cost $450,000 -- plus an undisclosed fee to the Russian Space Agency, according to news reports.

The Russian Space Agency now is looking for an agent to represent it in arranging advertising deals in space, says its press secretary, Sergei Gorbunov. "We're negotiating with an American company," he says. "They will look for clients and deal with them on our behalf.

"The prices should be set like in any business, so whenever a customer turns up he can be offered a price list."

Many journalists also have their price, says Masha Gessen, a writer for a newsmagazine that itself prohibits the practice. But many newspaper writers are in the pay of various special interests, she says, and price lists for various kinds of articles are well-known to those in the field.

Konstantin Borovoi, a member of the State Duma, enraged his colleagues recently when he reported that the deputies' votes are up for sale. One writer referred to the practice as the "privatization" of the Duma.

"We live in a market economy," St. Petersburg's Nevskoe Vremya newspaper wrote, "and the vote of a deputy is just another commodity that is subject to the laws of the market -- it can be bought and sold."

Trying to raise money for the city, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov decided to sell "diplomas" conferring honorary citizenship on the buyer and imparting an air of great respectability. They're said to be quite popular with criminals and foreigners. And they only cost about half a million, rubles that is, which is close to $90.

All of this sort of commerce saddens some Russians.

"Culture cannot be given over to the market, especially the wild market we have here," says well-known writer Valentin Rasputin. "But they [museums and artists] are pressed to do it.

"It's a barbarous way of treating culture."

The problem, says Maria Labuzova, a member of the Culture Committee of the Council of the Russian Federation, is that formerly well-subsidized institutions are getting little government help today. They're desperately trying to stay afloat in an unpredictable economy.

"They have to survive somehow," she says. "This helps them stay alive."

Pub Date: 10/31/97

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