Banker's spat with author reveals Russia's rifts

Wed Dec 17, 2008 7:37pm EST
 
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By Gleb Bryanski

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A billionaire banker has locked horns with a poverty-stricken left-wing writer in a rare public debate over social division in crisis-hit Russia, revealing growing antagonism in its ostensibly well-controlled society.

The debate, which quickly spread over the internet but has not been reported on state-controlled mainstream television, has evoked memories of pre-1917 Russia where hatred between the ruling class and the poor sparked a Communist revolution.

The row started when Pyotr Aven, the wealthy and well connected CEO of the country's largest privately owned bank Alfa, wrote a damning review of "Sankya," a novel by Zakhar Prilepin, a member of a banned radical political party.

It tells how Sasha Tishin, a disillusioned young Russian from a provincial town, joins a radical party hoping to change the political system by force, and leads an attack on a local administration headquarters.

"Most of what one needs to hate in life, from my point of view, can be found in writer Prilepin's book," Aven wrote in the Russian Pioneer glossy magazine, which targets wealthy educated Russians and has a circulation of 20,000.

The revolutionary views of the book's protagonist, he added, made him "reach for a pistol."

Tishin takes part in violent protests, fights with police, plots killings of officials in neighboring Latvia, and is subjected to brutal torture by security agents.

"Why, instead of bringing order -- planting a tree, building a house, washing socks or reading a fairytale to a child -- does one need to engage in doing nothing, then after a good booze, taking up a club and smashing everything?" Aven wrote.   Continued...

 
<p>Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin poses for a picture in his flat in Nizhny Novgorod in the Volga region, in this December 6, 2008 photo. A prominent banker and a popular leftist writer locked horns in a public debate over a social divide in crisis-hit Russia, revealing a growing social antagonism in a seemingly controlled Russian society.REUTERS/Mikhail Beznosov</p>