Opinion polls show that Russians' attitude to oligarchs is consistently deteriorating.
However, if a poll were conducted in the Polar city of Norilsk, where most of the population works at a nickel plant owned by oligarch Vladimir Potanin, then 80% of those asked would probably give a positive answer, which is not surprising.
In Soviet times, the "closed" city had high living standards. But the plant deteriorated to the point of near-ruin during perestroika and immediately after it. The situation only changed when Russia opted for market development and Potanin's group took over. The plant was modernised and wages quickly soared there to nearly $1,000 a month, which is a lot in Russia. The new management launched major social programmes, including the construction of housing for retired workers in the central and southern regions of Russia.
The grateful people associate these positive changes with Vladimir Potanin, a graduate of Moscow State Institute of International Relations and ex-vice premier. Ordinary Norilsk residents take pride in the fact that Potanin bought a platinum and nickel deposit in the US for nearly $300 million and his holding accounts now for over 90% of the world's platinum output.
Ex-Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky created good conditions for his personnel, too. An analysis of the Russians' attitude to the oligarchs shows that most of them did not gloat over Khodorkovsky's arrest. Many people even sympathised with the man, thinking that the Yukos CEO, who created Russia's largest oil company, had made a great contribution to the progress of his country.
Although there is a widespread belief that Russians dislike oligarchs and other rich compatriots, this is not quite the case. According to polls, the top values in Russia are the family (over 70%), law and order (nearly 70%), human interaction (67%), and freedom (57%). The striving for prosperity, one of whose elements can be envy of the affluent, comes next. Regrettably, this latter value has 1% more supporters than such vital virtue as morals.
The survey that provided these figures was carried out by the Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences over the past 12 years, which means that the appearance of super-rich people in Russian society did not provoke public hatred of them or their alienation from their compatriots.
However, the problem is that not all of these super-rich people, who are called oligarchs in Russia, have morals and human and life experience that correspond to the role they were destined to play in their country's life. Such irresponsible, from the viewpoint of the Russian man in the street, actions as the purchase of the Chelsea FC by Roman Abramovich can initiate a powerful wave of public discontent.