The Boss: How Yuri Luzhkov Runs Moscow

By Jensen, Donald N. | Demokratizatsiya, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

The Boss: How Yuri Luzhkov Runs Moscow


Jensen, Donald N., Demokratizatsiya


Since his appointment as mayor in 1992, Yuri Luzhkov has transformed Moscow from a drab, oppressive colossus into a gaudy symbol of post-Soviet Russia. More than ever before, Moscow is the economic, political, and cultural hub of the nation. Banks, politicians, cultural and intellectual institutions, information and media centers, fashion trends, and popular culture all center in the city.

Luzhkov has been instrumental in making Moscow far richer than other parts of Russia. The monthly cash income of the average Muscovite is more than fifteen times greater than that of the average inhabitant of Ingushetia, the country's poorest region. Although the city has only 6 percent of the country's population, in 1998 Moscow accounted for 13 percent of Russia's gross national product and 80 percent of its financial resources. Approximately $6 billion in foreign investment flowed into Moscow in 1998--about half the total for the country as a whole. Foreign investment in Moscow in 1998 was approximately $683 per resident compared to a national average of $80. As a result of these accomplishments, Luzhkov is widely regarded an effective manager, a reputation in which he revels. When former mayor Gavriil Popov appointed Luzhkov to a high post in 1990, members of the Moscow City Council asked him whether he was a democrat, a communist, or perhaps an independent. "I have always been loyal to one platform and will remain loyal to one platform" he stated, "The administrative platform." In 1997 the mayor told a British journalist that his role model was former Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley.(1)

Luzhkov's accomplishments have made him a national political figure. The mayor is one of the few major non-Communist politicians who have a political base independent of President Boris Yeltsin. In Luzhkov's first try for reelection in 1996, he received almost 90 percent of the vote.(2) In June 1999 polls by the magazine Ekspert, Luzhkov was selected as Russia's most influential businessman as well as its most influential politician.(3)

As the end of Boris Yeltsin's term in office approaches, Luzhkov has positioned himself to run for the Russian presidency. Nationwide public opinion polls consistently show him to be one of the leading candidates. At the founding of his Fatherland Party in December 1998, Luzhkov cited his success in Moscow as demonstrating that he is the best man to lead Russia out of its economic crisis.

In this article, I examine Luzhkov's record as mayor and try to determine whether the way he has run the city might serve, as he claims, as a model for governing the country. I argue that, in addition to Luzhkov's effective leadership, there have been four keys to his success:

* The unique circumstances of the Soviet Union's collapse, which enabled Moscow's leaders to take over the resources previously controlled by the Communist Party

* City hall's extensive involvement in business entrepreneurship, facilitated by its patrimonial control over property

* The massive inflow of resources from Russia's regions, the federal government, and abroad resulting from Moscow's unique importance in the Russian Federation and Luzhkov's alliance with Yeltsin, as well as the high concentration of major domestic and foreign businesses

* The highly criminalized political and business climate in the city, which has brought millions of dollars of "dirty money" into Moscow, and ensured that organized crime plays an important role in policymaking

I conclude that the circumstances are unlikely to be duplicated at the national level, and that since the August 1998 economic collapse, they in large part no longer obtain in the city itself. Luzhkov's policies would be unlikely to slow Russia's economic decline, ameliorate its acute social problems, or halt the fragmentation and erosion of the state's authority.

Yuri Luzhkov: A Profile

Short, burly, bald, blunt, and tough, Luzhkov, who is what Russians call a real muzhik (a man's man), has created a large personal following. …

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