Trendwatcher: Cyprus Bailout: March Madness for Russia’s Rich

© RIA NovostiNatalia Antonova
Natalia Antonova - Sputnik International
For as long as I can remember (so basically for the last three years or so), March in Moscow has consistently sucked. Perhaps you would like me to put this in a different, more profound way - but no, it just sucked. And will probably suck for many, many years to come. No point in pretending otherwise.

For as long as I can remember (so basically for the last three years or so), March in Moscow has consistently sucked. Perhaps you would like me to put this in a different, more profound way - but no, it just sucked. And will probably suck for many, many years to come. No point in pretending otherwise.

I’ll get over the obvious reason first, which is the weather. If there is something that Moscow truly and firmly does not believe in, it is the whole notion of a calendar spring. March is pretty much a lost month, in that sense. The March equinox means little in terms of weather as well.

Every year, someone will predict an early spring. It may be a hedgehog (Russia’s answer to the groundhog) - or it may be some guy at a train station, telling you that if you drop coin in his outstretched hat, flowers will bloom early - but it will happen either way. Nobody wants to fall for it either, but a part of us does, every time - some soft, hidden, boneless part.

In terms of the news, March is not usually disaster month in Russia (that title has been held by August for some time now). In fact, it is usually the month of small news and dull mosaic pieces. You may point to Vladimir Putin’s presidential victory last year as some kind of big news, but who doubted that outcome?

When it comes to bad luck, this time around, March is sucking for a bunch of Russian billionaires. The Cyprus bailout is turning into a surprising bit of suckage for them for them, and for anyone else who has over $100,000 in bank deposits over there. When the banks open on Tuesday, they will see an instant ten percent tax.

Being a nishebrod (the Russian word for those distasteful poor people - a.k.a. pretty much anyone who can’t fill a Jacuzzi with hundred-dollar bills and set them on fire, just because) these days myself, I find it hard to be able to muster up any genuine sympathy. I don’t feel particularly self-righteous towards Russia’s rich - most people around here have to play dirty to get ahead, as many other people have done throughout world history, so forgive me if I am blase about it  - I just don’t regard ten percent as some sort of catastrophic figure, considering the other possibility, that one total financial meltdown.

I suppose when you add all of the money that will be drained out of the deposits up, it does make for a stunning figure. From an economist’s point of view, the bailout will have major repercussions. Such moves always do.

What’s truly interesting is all of the bizarre prognoses out there, such as the one that claims that the Russian mob will now “go after” Cypriot officials that authorized the bailout, or perhaps the German officials who pushed for the controversial tax. Right.

You know, I get the fact that people tend to think of Russian mobsters as supervillains in Brioni. This is a commonly held view.

But I’m fairly certain that what will actually happen is that those of them who are still young and sprightly enough to kick around the world some will just find a different place to stash their money.

According to some Russian observers, Russian companies - both the shady and the not-so-shady kind - will begin leaving Cyprus. No Russian observers tend to believe that some all-powerful mafia conglomerate (which exists in the minds of Hollywood writers more surely than in real life) is going to start causing real trouble there. If anything, the trouble will be of the economic kind.

And not everyone will pull up stakes, of course. Even people with ill-gotten or somewhat-ill-gotten gains tend to slouch toward complacency and conservatism as they age. Some are just as likely to dejectedly shrug at the news of the bailout as they are to explode in a fit of fury. Fits of fury are bad for the digestive system, anyway. Russia’s rich lead stressful lives in many respects - just like everyone does in Russia (only instead of looking for money, they’re thinking about how not to lose it all). Stress is bad for the lining of your stomach, on top of everything else it affects. Perhaps if everyone keeps that in mind, the Cypriot pill will be easier to swallow.

Trendwatching in Russia is an extreme sport: if you’re not dodging champagne corks at weddings, you’re busy avoiding getting trampled by spike heels on public transportation. Thankfully, due to an amazing combination of masochism and bravado, I will do it for you while you read all about it from the safety of your living room.

Natalia Antonova is the acting editor-in-chief of The Moscow News. She also works as a playwright – her work has been featured at the Lyubimovka Festival in Moscow and Gogolfest in Kiev, Ukraine. She was born in Ukraine, but spent most of her life in the United States. She graduated from Duke University, where she majored in English and Slavic Literature. Before coming to Moscow, she worked in Dubai, UAE and Amman, Jordan. Her writing has been featured in The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Russia Profile, AlterNet, et al.

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