Ex-Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation Alexei Ulyukaev gave his first interview after his release. He served five years on charges of accepting a $2 million bribe.
The topic of the interview on the YouTube channel “Find a mammoth” by Alexei Mamontov was “reincarnation as a creative person.” Mr. Ulyukaev spoke about what inspires him to write poetry and shared his impressions of life in prison and after it.
About poetry and creativity
The former official began to write poetry at the age of 17-18, in the second half of the 70s he was published in the journal Historical Meridian. After that, there was a break of 30 years, but not so long ago, the ex-minister returned to creativity again.
– Money loves silence, like poetry, – said Ulyukaev. – Poems come from internal disorder, lack of order and harmony within yourself, between yourself and the world, disbelief in your own strength, in the fact that you are able to achieve something. At first you think that some details can be rearranged like chess pieces, but the pieces fall off, nothing happens. And nothing works around, you live wrong and everything around is wrong. And then something starts to be born out of all this inner disorder.
The former official drew an analogy with a steam boiler: in order not to burst from internal pressure, it must be dumped “through the lid, open the valve, throw out 15-20 lines and it’s already easier.”
– It matures over time. And at first you hope that this is some kind of mild ailment that will pass or you will overcome it. Or the world will change for you. But the world does not change, you also kind of bend, but there comes a moment when it seems that you can’t bend any further, and there’s no point. And there is a need to play off this pain, – he explained.
Alexey Ulyukaev called himself an unprofessional poet, he is also convinced that “it is impossible to learn this” and, remembering Brodsky, he believes that “this is from God or from nature.”
– At a young age, of course, you also experience pain. But you believe that you can move mountains, or she will roll herself, frightened of you. Sometimes in this direction something even turns out. But, having lived life, you understand that everything is in vain, you came to the same place from where you left, and everything that you built turned out to be a sand castle or a house of cards. And nothing will happen, – shared Ulyukaev.
In his opinion, the only thing that remains after this is the belief that “you can leave a verbal trace.” He said that he does not imitate anyone in poetry, but argues and discusses using the technique of centonicity (Centon is a poem composed entirely of lines of other poems known to the intended reader – approx. BV).
– You are in constant dialogue with world culture, you take pieces from there. There are only seven themes in the world, and one way or another you are within the framework of these seven themes, you follow the path that the great ones have walked. You can argue with them, sometimes bow, show your education, – he explained.
About patriotism and family
The interlocutors remembered the poem “Go, my son, go away.” Ulyukaev recalled that during his civil service, the verse “was properly presented to the authorities,” causing a kind of “movement of waves on the water” and questions about patriotism.
– I want to say that the eldest son (Dmitry, cameraman, producer – approx. BV), to whom the poem is dedicated, lives and works in Russia. And so he did not begin to look for another place “on the ball”. Although many of those who reproached me then, the children dispersed perfectly throughout the “ball”, – Alexey Ulyukaev stated.
Giving a definition of the current stage of life, the ex-official stated that now he is dedicated to loved ones and paying them off for those debts “that he has accumulated over the past 5-6 years.”
– My parents became very old and sick. My children have grown up and need to “discover” them anew. And every time I prove my need to my loved ones and the world around me. In this sense, this is a new life and a new challenge. Of the interesting – finally, I felt like a private person. I was either detached from life, or a big boss, or a convict, and now I am a man among people. An amazing thrill – just walking the streets, acting like everyone else, – shared the former minister.
The interlocutors recalled the Soviet film “Private Life” with Mikhail Ulyanov about the dedicated “red director” who retired, who finally met “face to face” with members of his family, but received an offer for a new position.
Alexey Ulyukaev agreed with the presenter about the “luxury of human communication” and that “no one else asks for anything, no one expects anything from you and does not try to improve their condition due to your location.”
At least it’s much less common now. There are still some strange people who are trying and think that I can still do something. But there are fewer of them,” he remarked with a laugh.
About personal growth and new realities
He said that now, in the status of chief expert, he is collaborating with the Economic Policy Fund.
“You have to do something to make a living. I am not a professional poet, creativity does not bring me money, – he noted with humor.
Commenting on the lines from a ten-year-old poem, Alexey Ulyukaev wondered what success is and how it is measured.
– Money, rank, number of publications, likes? Success is the external reincarnation of happiness. But there are successful and unhappy, happy, but unsuccessful, this is a contradiction of internal and external. There is always a numerator and a denominator: the numerator is what you have achieved, the denominator is what you want to achieve. Of course, you can humble yourself and reduce the denominator, and then you seem to be satisfied. And you can not reduce the denominator, but then there will be a small numerator and a large denominator and you will suffer, – he believes.
The host, referring to the highest echelons of power, stated that Alexei Ulyukaev is considered one of the most effective ministers of economy in modern Russia. But at the same time, he noted that “professionalism is not in honor and its significance is beginning to give way to other qualities,” and Ulyukaev himself, in his opinion, was ready to leave the system.
– Prison, according to Brodsky, is a compensation for the lack of space with an excess of time. This is a great thing – you suddenly get time, you are given several years by the verdict of the court. Previously, you would have occupied this time with fuss. What can you do with it? You can try to understand yourself and the world, how Munchausen raises himself by the hair to some higher level. It’s a challenge. If you accept it and are ready for it, this is your resource that you manage, – Ulyukaev shared his thoughts.
Speaking about the lack of space, he recalled the words of Hamlet “Shut me in a nutshell, and there I will be the ruler of the world.” Ulyukaev believes that “it is not necessary to travel on ships and planes to get to know the world – you can recognize it in a small space.”
– On the other hand, you understand that life goes on, frames were cut out of the film, it was then glued together, but the failure remained. It’s like in science fiction novels: a year has passed for an astronaut, and 30 years on Earth, life is different, everything is different, he is out of place, not needed and cannot fit into the new realities. And this is the second side of the conclusion: you as a person can grow, but you may not get into the course of time and the course of life, he concluded.
About the prison society
Aleksey Ulyukaev noted that the punishment for him was not imprisonment – there was not much of it in the ministerial position anyway.
– Punishment is an imposed society: you have to live with those people with whom you do not want to live. And you can’t live with the people you want to live with. It’s a colossal dissonance that tears you apart. Plus, you are in plain sight in prison: a barrack is a room of 90 sq.m. for 45 people. You have two square meters. You live on these two square meters and constantly run into other people. You have absolutely no personal space – and this is very hard for me. But then the optics is adjusted, you begin to distinguish that all people are different and you find people who are consonant in spirit and interests, – he explained.
He had two outlets – work as a librarian: in the work book now, immediately after the position of the Minister of the Russian Federation, there is a “auxiliary worker”, and now the chief expert of the fund. At the same time, he called books his friends, “who will never leave or let you down,” and he read there more than in the previous 30 years.
– The second outlet is that you can be useful to people, readers. 500 people signed up, 100 of them are active book readers. There I met people who read Plutarch. And he was in the library, like Seneca, Plato, Aristotle. I considered myself very in place, helping readers up the stairs, mastering the more complex layers of literature. He also led an economic circle for people who were interested in their future or wanted to understand the life situation – a loan, a deposit, and so on. People there are developing, learning, striving for something,” he explained.
Speaking about life after prison, he stated that he was not ready for a lot of what he had to face.
– I walk, I look, I try to comprehend new things. Everything is different and it’s not about technology, but about ethics, people’s attitudes, what is accepted, what is not accepted, how to behave. How to understand these people – they seem to be the same as me, but already different. And this is very noticeable, – concluded Mr. Ulyukaev.
Reference. Aleksey Ulyukaev is a native of Moscow, graduated from the Faculty of Economics of Moscow State University, defended his Ph.D., has a doctorate in economics from the University of Pierre-Mendes France (Grenoble). In 1982-1986, he was an associate professor at the Department of Political Economy of the Moscow Institute of Strategic Studies, in the 90s he served as director of the Yegor Gaidar Institute for Economic Problems in Transition, in 2000-2006 he was a professor at the Department of General Economics at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, in 2007-2010 he was the head of the Department of Finance and Economic Credit. Faculty of Moscow State University. A member of Yegor Gaidar’s team, in the early 90s he was an economic adviser to the government of the Russian Federation, then – an assistant to the first deputy chairman of the Gaidar government. In 2000-2004, Ulyukaev served as First Deputy Minister of Finance, then he was Alexei Kudrin. From 2004 to 2013, Ulyukaev worked as the first deputy head of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, then Sergey Ignatiev held this position. From the Central Bank in June 2013, Ulyukaev moved to the ministerial chair and occupied it until his arrest in 2016 on suspicion of receiving a bribe of $ 2 million for a positive conclusion on the Rosneft deal, which acquired the shares of the Bashneft company. The court appointed him 8 years of strict regime, but the ex-minister was released ahead of schedule – in April 2022 – for good behavior.