Letter from Germany - It isn’t just in Germany that I’ve found myself for lengthy stretches of business: in the mid ’90s it was Russia for nearly a year, when premier Viktor Chernomyrdin, who died yesterday, was in his pomp. A sort of a cross between John Prescott and Gerald Ford, his centre of gravity (if that's the right word) was the mighty Gazprom – formerly the old Communist Ministry of Gas - and he never quite made it at the top of Yeltsin-era politics. .
After Gazprom became a joint stock company, if you took all the listed shareholdings they added up to 99%, and it was often rumoured that Viktor disposed of the balance. That's quite a wedge. In 1995, trying to forge his own political power base, he formed a short-lived party called Наш дом Россия – Nash Dom, our house, Russia. In Russian, the possessive pronoun is very possessive indeed, and ‘ours’ means ‘come hell or high water’.
At that time Gazprom’s logo was a stylized gas flame in the shape of an isosceles triangle, and the roof of its big tower in Moscow the same. Curiously, Nash Dom’s logo was also such a triangle – formed from a corner of the Russian flag: and in his poster-portraits, Viktor would sit at a desk with his steepled hands forming a triangle too … the symbolism was not subtle, and the party was generally referred to as Nash Dom, Gazprom - which sounds nicely in Russian, as the correct emphasis is on the –prom.
In true Prescott style, Viktor was known for his mangled prose, Sam Goldwyn-type half-intended jokes and homespun wisdom. "We wanted better, but it turned out like always" – that was one of his. An archetypal Russian sentiment – from the land where the reaction to hard times and still harder times is the shrugged, fatalistic “it’s normal”. And Chernomyrdin was in many ways a typical big Russian bloke.
Farewell, then, Виктор Степанович. You did your best, in crazy times.