Frontline World

About the Series


Tonight on FRONTLINE/WORLD, two stories from a small planet.

ANNOUNCER: In Moscow, a city transformed by the young and wealthy, the Kremlin has just arrested one of them, the richest man in Russia. An exclusive interview with New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise.

In post-war Afghanistan--

SARAH CHAYES, Afghans for Civil Society: My destiny is tied up with the destiny of this place.

ANNOUNCER: --NPR’s Sarah Chayes gave up reporting and started helping.

SARAH CHAYES: We’re trying to rebuild a village that was destroyed in the American bombing.

Afghanistan: A House for Haji Baba

Reported by: Brian Knappenberger


BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER, Reporter: [voice-over] The road from Kabul to Kandahar is one of the oldest in the world. I’m here to follow Sarah Chayes.

SARAH CHAYES, Afghans for Civil Society: If this road could talk, you know, what a tale it would-- it could tell us.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Sarah is a former war correspondent who covered the campaign against the Taliban here for National Public Radio.

LINDA WERTHHEIMER, NPR: NPR’s Sarah Chayes is following events in southern Afghanistan.

SARAH CHAYES: None of the forces that oppose the Taliban in southern Afghanistan--

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: For years as a reporter, Sarah had come and gone from war zones, increasingly with misgivings about the devastation she’d left behind. But this time, in Afghanistan, a chance conversation would change her life. It was at a dinner with the uncle of President Karzai.

SARAH CHAYES: We had, you know, a wonderful meal and a wonderful conversation, as always. We were looking ahead. Now the Taliban have fallen, Hamid Karzai has been named interim premier, and it’s, like, What are the prospects for the future? As I got up to go, he kind of cocked his head and said, "Wouldn’t you come back and help us?" Just like that. And it was, like, the signal, you know? It was really incredible.

AZIZ KHAN KARZAI, President Karzai’s Uncle: She was thinking that she can do something and she must do it. So we liked that from the very beginning.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: The uncle introduced Sarah to the president’s brother, Qayum Karzai, and he proposed that Sarah come back to help in the reconstruction of the country.

SARAH CHAYES: I wanted to make sure he meant what I thought he meant. And I said, "Not as a journalist." And he said, "Yeah, not as a journalist." And I said "Yeah."

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Sarah gave up her job at NPR. On this trip, she was coming back not to report, but to rebuild.

SARAH CHAYES: I’ve made a couple of major changes in the direction of my life. And sometimes I’ve made changes away from something that didn’t feel right. This time, it was making a change towards something that did feel right.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: After 14 hours on the road, we are nearing the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. There’s a wedding in the Karzai family tonight, and we’ve been invited to join Qayum, his uncle and the new president. But what we didn’t know is that afternoon, as Hamid Karzai made his way through the streets, and just as a young boy leaned in to greet him, an assassin opened fire.

In an attempt to save the president, the boy had jumped on the gunman, but in the confusion, the American special forces assigned to guard Karzai opened fire. Three were killed in the melee-- the assassin, another guard and the boy who saved the president’s life. That night, under stepped-up security from U.S. special forces, the president decided to go ahead with the wedding as planned.

QAYUM KARZAI, President Karzai’s Brother: It was a very strange, strange night. You know, on one had, you were struggling to be happy. On another hand, there was this reminder that an assassin-- major, major assassination, point-blank assassination plot just failed. He’s the symbol of peace. If he’s not here, peace is not here.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Inside, we meet a surprisingly calm President Hamid Karzai.

SARAH CHAYES: He was gracious. He was playful. And I was very touched. To have canceled that wedding would have been to give power to the people who tried to rattle him.

QAYUM KARZAI: He didn’t want to tell the extremists and the Taliban that they could disrupt the peace process.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Kandahar remains a dangerous place. Here loyalty is to warlords, not to the central government in far-off Kabul, and there is still deep support for the Taliban. In the late days of the war, the Taliban fled along this road out of Kandahar. They made their last stand in small villages to the north. We’re headed to one of them now.

This is Akokolacha. It was hit hard by U.S. bombing.

SARAH CHAYES: It really got hammered, you can see. It’s right near the airport, which was basically the last stand of al Qaeda. It was, like, the last hold-out, where the last major battle was fought. And these villagers all had run away, obviously, by that time. It’s quite likely that

al Qaeda fighters had taken up positions in these houses, and so it just got plastered.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: More than half of this village was destroyed in the bombing, 13 homes in all. Sarah is here to rebuild them, using private aid money she helped raise back in Concord, Massachusetts, for Qayum’s foundation. It’s a story in the small about the big challenges this country faces after decades of war.

SARAH CHAYES: The bombing of Akokolacha was justified. We’re not trying to say this was a mistake, and therefore the United States should pay for it. Whether it was wrong or whether it was right, these people deserve to have their houses to live in.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Before any construction can begin, there are some decisions to be made. Sarah and Qayum hold a shura, a meeting of village elders who are considered to be the tribal leaders. This is democracy Afghan-style. Voices can get loud, but here they will decide how the homes will be built.

QAYUM KARZAI: I told them that this money is not government money, and because of that, we are only able to put standard houses together-- three rooms, each room with one window and one door.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: It is decided at the shura that the villagers will provide the workers. And Haji Baba, the oldest of the village, will have his house built first. Everyone accepts the outcome.

QAYUM KARZAI: In the end, the community agrees to find a way, a consensus emerges, and those who disagree keeps quiet.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: As a woman, Sarah’s presence at the shura is far from normal. Women are not allowed, but she is playing a primary role. As she goes about her daily life here, Sarah always attracts attention.

SARAH CHAYES: I kind of pile it on, right? I’m non-Afghan, I’m female, I’m wearing men’s clothes, including a turban, and I’m driving a car. That does attract a lot of attention. All the time, people wonder if I’m a man or a woman. I’ll hear kids say, "That’s a woman!" You know? And then I’ll turn around and say, "Yeah, yeah, it’s a woman".

[ Where are the Afghan women?]

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: The next morning marks the first day of construction, but already there’s a problem. There are no workers. In spite of what was agreed at the shura, only a handful of villagers showed up.

SARAH CHAYES: Where are their family members?

ENGINEER ABDULLAH: [subtitles] Where are your people and workers? You told us they would be here.

VILLAGE FOREMAN: [subtitles] I don’t know. I didn’t get the news.

ENGINEER ABDULLAH: [subtitles] What do you mean? Last night you were told about this.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Sarah and the man who everyone calls Engineer Abdullah listen to the local foreman’s explanation, but they’re not satisfied with what they hear.

VILLAGE FOREMAN: [subtitles] When the work starts, the workers will be here. I told the two workers to come tomorrow.

ENGINEER ABDULLAH: [subtitles] What happened? We requested workers.

VILLAGE FOREMAN: [subtitles] You showed up suddenly, and we are not prepared.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] I told you we don’t have any workers.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Engineer Abdullah decides he needs to bring in some men of his own, but that won’t happen until tomorrow. In the meantime, Sarah’s impatient to get started.

SARAH CHAYES: Come on, guys. Let’s go!

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: She rounds up some of the local villagers and begins clearing the rubble.

VILLAGER: [subtitles] Give me.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] Give me!

SARAH CHAYES: [subtitles] More?

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Haji Baba is 85 years old. After almost a year, his new house is finally under way.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] He has been filming me for a while now.

VILLAGER: [subtitles] They are collecting information from you. They think you are the leader of al Qaeda. [laughter]

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Haji Baba is in a joking mood, but when we leave, he turns more serious. That night, Sarah learns that Haji Baba wants a change in plans. The next morning, she returns to Akokolacha to find him.

SARAH CHAYES: [subtitles] Where is Haji Baba?

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Sarah’s learned that Haji Baba wants bigger rooms in his new house. He’s insisting on 7 meters, not 5.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] One rug will not fit in a 5-meter room.

ENGINEER ABDULLAH: [subtitles] We haven’t enough money.

SARAH CHAYES: Look, we said in the shura that the rooms will all be 5 by 3-1/2.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] Then forget about it. If they don’t want to build it, then just go!

SARAH CHAYES: What we can give them is 5 by 3-1/2.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] Six meters.

SARAH CHAYES: Now he’s down to 6. He’s getting 5, and if he wants-- if he doesn’t want 5, then we won’t build his house. It’s that simple.

TRANSLATOR: [subtitles] If you want 5 meters, they will build your house. If you want 6 meters, you will have to pay for it yourself.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] If I had money, why do I need her?

SARAH CHAYES: If he doesn’t want five meters, then we’ll do everyone else’s house.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] Fine! Go ahead and start anywhere you want. Five meters! I swear, no one would agree with this!

SARAH CHAYES: Tell Haji Baba I’m very sad because we really wanted to make his house, but--

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] I swear to God, you are not going to build it unless it is 6 meters!

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Haji Baba’s hold-out drags on, and the whole project is stalled. But then another of the village elders finally steps in.

ELDER: [subtitles] Don’t worry, God will give you a bigger house. Don’t argue with them.

VILLAGER: [subtitles] What if they change their mind?

ELDER: [subtitles] Tell them to start working.

VILLAGER: [subtitles] Do you want me to tell them to start working?

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] All right. Whatever he says. Go ahead and start.

SARAH CHAYES: [subtitles] Is it OK?

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] Will you build a porch, as well?

VILLAGER: [subtitles] Haji Baba are you happy now?

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: On the morning of the sixth day, with the rubble now removed, it’s time to start construction by laying down the stone foundation. Or at least, that was the plan.

SARAH CHAYES: The stone came from where?

AID WORKER: They-- from some-- some private place.

SARAH CHAYES: Did we buy the stone?


SARAH CHAYES: We bought it?

AID WORKER: Yeah, we buy it.


AID WORKER: They needed the stone.

SARAH CHAYES: What do they need the stone for?

AID WORKER: They use it in their stone crusher.

SARAH CHAYES: They want to make gravel out of our stone?

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: The local governor is blocking the villagers’ shipment of foundation stone. Sarah didn’t know why, but she did know who, Governor Gul Agha Shirzai. He’s a former warlord, pictured here on the left with President Karzai. Shirzai and his troops seized Kandahar after the war, and Karzai reluctantly named him governor. Now, at gunpoint, some of Shirzai’s soldiers were seizing the quarry just outside of Akokolacha.

SARAH CHAYES: What did he do? He said he grabbed his shirt?

QUARRY WORKER: [subtitles] He grabbed my shirt and threatened me.

SARAH CHAYES: Did he have soldiers with him? How many men did he have?

QUARRY WORKER: [subtitles] There were two of them.

SARAH CHAYES: So one soldier in uniform?

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Sarah’s suspicions are confirmed. Governor Shirzai and his brother-in-law, Razak, have taken control of the quarry.

SARAH CHAYES: And Haji Saab is your friend? The owner is your friend?

QUARRY WORKER: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: The owner of the stone quarry is Haji Abdullah. Though Sarah and the engineer need their stones, Haji Abdullah has problems of his own. He has been forced out of his own factory.

HAJI ABDULLAH: [subtitles] There are about 100 people working here. They told me not sell any of the big stones.

SARAH CHAYES: But they asked him. Did they show him a government order saying he’s not allowed to do it anymore?


[subtitles] Are they offering you money for your business, or do they want to throw you out by force.

HAJI ABDULLAH: [subtitles] Maybe that is their plan, to kick me out.

SARAH CHAYES: With no compensation, no nothing?

ENGINEER ABDULLAH: No, no, nothing. Nothing.

HAJI ABDULLAH: [subtitles] You know that they plan to use this land because it has water available for making cement.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Now we know why Haji Abdullah’s quarry is so important to Governor Shirzai.

The notorious road from Kabul to Kandahar is about to be repaved with funding from the United States government. A recipient of the lucrative cement contract? Governor Gul Agha Shirzai and his brother-in-law, Razak.

Without the foundation stone they need to begin, the work at Akokolacha is at a standstill.

SARAH CHAYES: Gul Agha’s brother-in-law, Razak, has obtained a concession to, you know, have all the gravel and stone, you know, to provide the gravel and stone, stone in that same place.

QAYUM KARZAI: I wish-- I wish I was not the president’s brother.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: The Karzai government has been struggling to control local governors like Gul Agha Shirzai.

QAYUM KARZAI: I’m not against Gul Agha. I’m against these things.

SARAH CHAYES: You’re against his practice.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Qayum’s upset about what happened to the quarry owner.

QAYUM KARZAI: He’s not really a victim of the American bombing.


QAYUM KARZAI: He’s the victim of a corrupt government in Kandahar.


QAYUM KARZAI: That’s what the problem is.

SARAH CHAYES: But is it-- the problem--

QAYUM KARZAI: A government that is-- a government that is setting up small businesses and monopolizing, and evicting other people, evicting other people not to conduct business. I see it as an impediment to the whole legitimacy of the government reconstruction process.

SARAH CHAYES: Absolutely. Absolutely. Right now, I mean, in a very concrete way it’s impeding the reconstruction process because we have a village to build, and we can’t build it because we don’t have stone. What could we do?

QAYUM KARZAI: One problem after another problem after another problem.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: During the bombing campaign, Haji Abdullah’s machinery was seriously damaged. He had just made the repairs when the governor shut him down. Now, if he can’t sell the stones legally, his family and his employees will go hungry.

Late in the day, Sarah and Engineer Abdullah return with a proposal. The plan is to sneak the stones out of the quarry without the governor finding out.

HAJI ABDULLAH: [subtitles] Yes, I am ready. Let’s do business. God willing, it will work out.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: When the sun comes up the next morning, it begins to look like their plan may have worked. They managed to smuggle at least a tractorful of the precious cargo out of the quarry-- not enough for the entire village, but stone enough to at least start Haji Baba’s foundation.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] That foundation is not wide enough. It’s not wide enough.

FOREMAN: [subtitles]_ It’s plenty wide. See for yourself. What are you talking about? Look here.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Haji Baba’s house is under way, but the next attempt to get stone ends badly. The workers gather the next load, but as their truck tries to leave the quarry, Shirzai’s soldiers once again intervene.

SOLDIER: [subtitles] We can’t let anyone leave the quarry with stone.

MALE: [subtitles] We have already discussed this with Haji Abdullah, the owner.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: In post-war Afghanistan, even the stones are worth fighting for. Sarah and the Engineer are left with only one choice, to confront Governor Shirzai directly. Because of her status as an American and her alliance with the Karzais, we don’t have to wait long to get an audience. Other people with grievances wait outside the gate for days or even weeks.

SHIRZAI AID: [subtitles] Oh, it’s a female.

ENGINEER ABDULLAH: [subtitles] Yes, her name is Sarah.

SARAH CHAYES: [subtitles] Yes, my name is Sarah. Gul Agha knows me.

SHIRZAI AIDE: [subtitles] Excuse me. I will go check for you.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Sarah is made to wait as the governor eats his lunch. ...

[ Read behind-the-scene stories]

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: This is Governor Gul Agha Shirzai.

DEPUTY MINISTER: It is specified for cement, yeah? We are going to establish here a factory for making cement.

GUL AGHA SHIRZAI: [subtitles] We have prohibited taking stone from two places. One is in the old part of town where there are ancient writings we must preserve. The other is in Shurendom, the place you have named, because we are creating a cement factory.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: The governor tells Sarah which parts of the mountains are off limits for stone and why. Then he urges her away from stone altogether.

GUL AGHA SHIRZAI: [subtitles] If you want a stone foundation, then it will be more expensive. But if you use cement, it will be cheaper and better.

SARAH CHAYES: The only thing is, we promised this village that we would rebuild it the way it was before. And they had stone foundations before. And it’s just one village.

DEPUTY MINISTER: There is no other place. No, there is no other place.

GUL AGHA SHIRZAI: [subtitles] We will give you stone tomorrow.

DEPUTY MINISTER: Yeah. Yeah. We will give you. Yeah.

SARAH CHAYES: But we need it now. We need it tomorrow. It needs to be on the site tomorrow. So maybe one order for two houses worth for tomorrow, because we’re in the process of building now.

DEPUTY MINISTER: Tomorrow we will have our-- I mean, we will make our delegation--

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: The deputy minister tells Sarah to meet him at his office the next morning to work out the details.

SARAH CHAYES: So between 8:00 and 8:30, inshallah.


SARAH CHAYES: Yeah, bricks with cement, and buy my cement. God, it’s the same everywhere!

That mountain has to be saved for using on cement from his goddamn factory, and nobody is allowed to have stone for foundations. He’s cornering a market completely, and he’s the governor and he’s the part owner of this factory, of this new cement factory. So he’s using his governmental power to protect that monopoly.

[ Read an interview with Sarah Chayes]

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Meanwhile, at Akokolacha, the workers have run out of stone.

WORKER: [subtitles] I have no stone. I have no water. I cannot work. Look at the foundation. Look at what we have done so far. It’s half done. We don’t have enough stone to finish. If we have the stone, we can finish tomorrow.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: The next morning, Sarah heads to her meeting with the deputy minister. This time, however, getting through the gate is not so easy.

GATEKEEPER: [subtitles] You had permission yesterday, but today is a different day.

SARAH CHAYES: Why don’t you come with us? Ask him to come with us. We had an appointment yesterday, and they are waiting for us.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Eventually, Sarah is not only denied access, but we are physically threatened by one of the governor’s higher-ranking guards. It takes hours for Engineer Abdullah to finally negotiate their way to the deputy minister.

SARAH CHAYES: Remember, yesterday, you said this morning that you would bring people from Mines and Industry to find us stone from a quarry near-- in the south, near the base? Remember, that’s what we agreed on. So?

DEPUTY MINISTER: Yes. And when I am back, then yeah, I well, I mean, our administrator. He will--

SARAH CHAYES: Do you remember the quarry that the governor said to get it from?

DEPUTY MINISTER: Yes. Yes. Of course.

SARAH CHAYES: So-- wait. I can’t let you go until-- so what do we do now so that we can get this stone in there?

DEPUTY MINISTER: Yeah. I mean, when-- when-- yeah I will tell to--

SARAH CHAYES: Why don’t you tell the person--

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Instead of approving Sarah’s order for stone, the Deputy Minister gives her yet another turn in the bureaucratic maze, the director of Mines and Industry. Sarah quickly finds herself back where she started.

MINISTER OF MINES AND INDUSTRY: These mountains is just for cement.

SARAH CHAYES: We’re trying to rebuild a village that was destroyed in the American bombing, OK? The villagers have no houses. They are-- you know, their-- winter is coming. This is what everyone said, "Rebuild our houses, rebuild our houses, rebuild our houses." Now we can’t rebuild the houses because we have no stone. So can you find us another place nearby for stone? That’s what that letter says, right?

MINISTER OF MINES AND INDUSTRY: [subtitles] I must go with you to see the area from which part of the mountain you can take stone from.

SARAH CHAYES: Come. Let’s go. Yeah. That’s fine.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: On our way to the quarry, Engineer Abdullah notices some tractors carrying stone. It turns out that these men have bribed their way past the governor’s soldiers at another quarry.

SARAH CHAYES: Who are they paying?

ENGINEER ABDULLAH: [subtitles] There are soldiers.

SARAH CHAYES: And the soldiers are taking the money?


SARAH CHAYES: Well, tell me which-- where is it illegal to take stone from, this entire mountain? This whole mountain? All these mountains belong to this one little cement factory? It’s not normal, is it? What do you think of that?

MINISTER OF MINES AND INDUSTRY: [subtitles] If we give permission for one person or two or three, all the people will take this stone.

SARAH CHAYES: But-- but do you think they can-- do you think they can take down the entire mountain?

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: They finally end up at the original stone quarry, talking to its owner, Haji Abdullah.

MINISTER OF MINES AND INDUSTRY: [subtitles] No one should be allowed to take the stone except you. If you have some stone, you may give it to them.

SARAH CHAYES: He wants to give us stone, but the one who stops him is--

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Sarah’s persistence pays off. Just a short drive away, the minister ignores the governor’s orders and tells the workers at the quarry to let the stones through.

SARAH CHAYES: And no guns and no intimidation, huh?

MINISTER OF MINES AND INDUSTRY: [subtitles] Here’s the letter. Give them the stone.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Meanwhile, Haji Abdullah is still out of business.

SARAH CHAYES: What is he supposed to do with his life, his house, his business, his workers?

MINISTER OF MINES AND INDUSTRY: Find another job for himself. Take his workers and families and--

SARAH CHAYES: He has to move. Don’t you think he should get compensation for-- for being obliged to move?

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Haji Abdullah would get no money for his land or his equipment. Worse, the soldiers of Governor Gul Agha Shirzai would arrest him and throw him in jail. And when he was let out 10 days later, the stone he had stockpiled for years was gone. Now he would need to start all over again.

The next morning, stone arrives as scheduled at Akokolacha. They now have the stone they need to finish Haji Baba’s foundation and begin his house.

FOREMAN: [subtitles] Bring the mud for here and over there.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: For the walls of Haji Baba’s house, the workers make traditional sun-baked mud bricks.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] With these small stones and this kind of brick, you can’t build a good house. This is a joke. You can’t even build a wall with this brick.

QAYUM KARZAI, Afghans for Civil Society: Afghans have enormous energy for construction. They are very hard working people, very individualistic and would like to improve their lot. I think the reconstruction and the peace process would be very easy to achieve if it wasn’t for these warlords. Warlords are in control of the government and of the resources of the society. They are sucking the blood and the flesh from the society. This vacuum that occurred after the Taliban, they have emerged and they are here. They are basically bandits.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Who controls things here in the south is increasingly uncertain, especially now, as members of the Taliban slip back into their former home. In recent months, the Taliban have killed construction crews and ambushed international aid workers.

SARAH CHAYES: There is murder. There is greed. There is corruption. This is still a very volatile place, particularly in the south. And there are people with a lot of different agendas, and it’s going to take a long time for mindsets to change.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: But even with these dangers, there are signs that life here is getting better.

SARAH CHAYES: The Taliban banned kite flying. Right after the Taliban fell, there was, like, a week’s hiatus, and the kites just filled the sky. And it was, like, in clouds like this. It was like swallows. And to me, it’s the real symbol of the liberation of this country.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] I have seen a lot of pain and suffering. I have seen it all. Governments come and governments go. They change so fast. The most important thing in my life is to live in peace. All that I ask for is food, water and shelter.

VISITOR: [subtitles] Your house is looking really good today.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] Yes, it looks good.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Haji Baba’s house is almost complete. But even in this one village, there are still 12 more houses to be rebuilt.

SARAH CHAYES: Somebody said, at some point, this is like trying to clean up a nuclear disaster with a toothbrush. It’s been a really emotionally kind of roller-coaster of an experience, which means that there are moments of incredible euphoria, and there have been times of-- you know, I’ve cried. I have cried, you know?

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: It’s taken about three weeks, but now the finishing touches are being put on Haji Baba’s house.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] Put the mud on a little thicker. You can put on two coats.

WORKER: [subtitles] No, it’s fine the way it is.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] Come on. It will be better if you put on more mud.

SARAH CHAYES: I do believe that as they come to have more faith in me that I am building them their houses, and I am really going to do this and I am a person-- they see me as dollar signs, and that’s perfectly legitimate. I totally understand that. They see me as dollar signs, and it’s only over time that they’re going to start to see me as a person, as a human being.

I’m not ready to leave this country yet. I feel like my destiny is bound up with the destiny of this place-- for a little while, anyway.

HAJI BABA: [subtitles] Yes, I thought they were only joking about building my house. Now I have a house!



ANNOUNCER: Next, New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise meets the richest man in Russia, who now finds himself in a jail cell.

Moscow: Rich in Russia

Reported by: Sabrina Tavernise


SABRINA TAVERNISE, Reporter: [voice-over] I spent eight years in Russia, most recently as a reporter for The New York Times in Moscow. That’s the Kremlin wall. Behind it the czars once ruled, then the Bolsheviks, and now democratically elected presidents.

Outside the wall, a new power has emerged: money. The new money has created opportunities for Russians that never existed before. Thirty-year-old Vladislav Dudakov is part of a new generation of business managers. He grew up in a run-down Russian village and came to Moscow as a soldier in the Red Army. He was a guard at Lenin’s tomb. He remembers entertaining tourists with his exaggerated march.

Then McDonald’s came to Moscow, and Vladislav switched allegiances. From floor sweeper, he quickly rose to store manager. Ten years later, he went to work for a Russian investor wanting to open Starbucks-style coffee shops. Today Vladislav manages a chain of some 30 coffee houses in Moscow. I ask him what he thought of his McDonald’s boot camp.

VLADISLAV DUDAKOV: [subtitles] I was different than my peers. They would say, "Why don’t we extend our break a bit?" "Why do we have to scrub so hard?" My answer was, "You must fulfill the task." At McDonald’s, we were always getting achievement awards. At one point, they sent me to Hamburger University in Chicago. The American style of management became my education.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: Western business ideas are reshaping everything here. For Vladislav, that even comes down to getting the waitresses to let go of old Soviet habits, and, he says, learn to smile, smile, smile.

In today’s Moscow, as traditional Russian culture mixes with the new capitalist culture, entire new professions have emerged, like advertising. My friend Andrei Gnatiuk owns advertising and political consulting companies. He’s part of the young generation trying to bring a new order out of the chaos of post-communist Russia.

ANDREI GNATIUK: [subtitles] Entropy, if you remember from school, is a concept of disorder. It says chaos is the prevailing force in the world. We call ourselves entropy busters.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: Andrei is the founder of the Russian Advertising Association. Tonight it celebrates its 10th anniversary.

Russian capitalism is still in its wild phase. For those with money, Andrei says, everything is for sale, even sometimes the law itself.

ANDREI GNATIUK: [subtitles] The first money in Russia was made very fast and without much respect for the law. Russia is trying to achieve in 10 years something that took the United States hundreds of years. We still don’t have a society governed by the rule of law.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: In the 10 years since Russia chose capitalism, Moscow has become a party for the young and rich. The nouveau riche are famous for their indulgent excesses. Moscow, once a city of darkness, is now a city of light. My Russian friends brag that nightlife here rivals Paris and London. Beyond the lights of Moscow, the rest of Russia lies in shadow. The average salary is just $4,000 a year. Moscow is where the fortunes are being made.

Rafael Filinov, age 33, made his millions in real estate. In Soviet times, the land around Red Square had no commercial value. In the new economy, it’s worth billions. As the city sells dilapidated historic buildings, Rafael snatches them up. Only the vestiges of the old Soviet system remain.

POLICEMAN: [subtitles] You cannot enter without permission.

RAFAEL FILINOV: [subtitles] What are you saying? My people are working there!

SABRINA TAVERNISE: This former storage space will be a million-dollar room with a view.

RAFAEL FILINOV: [subtitles] You’ll be able to see the Kremlin from here, but better from upstairs.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: Rafael’s office is located in an exclusive section of Moscow. He tells me about the booming real estate market. When he closed a deal on an apartment with a Kremlin view, someone immediately offered him $100,000 more. A week later, someone offered $200,000 more, then $600,000 more. The market is wild, he says. For Russians who made quick fortunes in mining and oil, cost is not a concern. They’ll pay anything for a view of the Kremlin.

RAFAEL FILINOV: [subtitles] Don’t be confused. Moscow and Russia are two different countries. I’m afraid that if I tell a Russian babushka that one square meter in Moscow costs $11,000, she will think I’m talking about the price for an entire apartment. She will not survive the news that in the city she lives in, one square meter costs $11,000. She will have a heart attack.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: When people in Moscow throw a coin for good luck, the money doesn’t stay on the ground for long. It’s hard to be old in the new Moscow.

At last count, Russia had 17 billionaires, most under the age of 40. In this exclusive enclave of boutiques in the heart of Moscow, there are as many bodyguards as shoppers. The super-rich keep to themselves, spending like there’s no tomorrow, increasingly cut off from the lives of their countrymen.

[ Read the reporter’s NY Times articles]

Beneath Moscow’s glitz, ordinary Russians struggle to survive. Most Russians are poorer since the fall of the Soviet Union. They despise the rich and powerful for having grabbed the crown jewels of the Soviet economy: factories, oil fields, gold mines.

The profound changes have left most Russians disoriented. Their country is no longer a great world power. Their economy has shrunk to the size of Poland’s. Doctors have to moonlight as cab drivers. It is as if they are immigrants in their own country.

The worst off are the elderly. Pensions do not begin to cover the cost of modern life. So the poor sell their belongings on the streets-- scraps of fur from family coats.

[on camera] [subtitles] What is it you’re selling?

OLD WOMAN: [subtitles] Everyone has a little secret.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: [voice-over] This woman was a foreman at a Soviet shoe factory. Now, at 70, she is embarrassed about what she has to do to supplement her $70-a-month retirement check. I asked her what she thinks of Russia’s wealthy.

OLD WOMAN: [subtitles] Every country needs rich people. They have a lot to contribute. We just wish they would give a tiny bit back to us.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: The Kremlin has been trying to keep control of Russia’s tycoons. President Vladimir Putin told the oligarchs that they could keep the wealth they had grabbed, as long as they stayed out of politics.

This is the headquarters for Yukos, Russia’s biggest oil company, valued at $32 billion. This empire is at the center of a new power struggle between the Kremlin and big business. The government raided the company’s offices, accusing top oil executives of tax evasion and fraud, charges they deny. The principal owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is the richest man in Russia. At age 40, he’s worth an estimated $8 billion.

MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY: [subtitles] I like conducting business in an open way. This is what I tell myself: I will not only obey the law, but also adhere to good business ethics.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: It was just 3 weeks after this interview that Khodorkovsky would be arrested himself and thrown in jail.

MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY: [subtitles] I admit that prior to 1992, I functioned differently. I was not breaking Russian laws, but I was still careless. At the time, Russian law allowed us to do things that were unthinkable in the Western business world.

[trailer for "Tycoon" courtesy of New Yorker Films]

NARRATOR: Out of the darkness of a devastated country, a shady underworld arises, and the Russian oligarch is born.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: Recently, a Russian movie called Tycoon dramatized the life story of another oligarch, Boris Berezovsky.

"BORIS BEREZOVSKY": [subtitles] It occurred to me that if we can’t beat the Kremlin, we can become the Kremlin. You’re not born a president, you’re made a president. The guy on Channel 4, the governor in the fur hat, we’ll make him president, all right?

SABRINA TAVERNISE: Berezovsky was a political power broker who clashed with Putin and lost.

MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY: [subtitles] Berezovsky was no longer interested in business. He went into politics while still doing business. This got him in trouble. His mistakes that followed were political mistakes. And I don’t want to get into it. You can do business or you can do politics, but you cannot play both games.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: In fact, I had met Berezovsky. On my way to Russia, I stopped in London, where he lives as a fugitive from Russian law. The British government just gave him political asylum. At the peak of his power, Berezovsky owned a television network, Russia’s biggest car company and its national airline. He is wanted in Moscow for fraud.

BORIS BEREZOVSKY: We pass through absolutely special time in Russia. We pass through revolution. And never a revolution happened without mistakes. For sure, we did a lot of mistakes, and we need to improve that. But step by step, in an evolutional process, business and power have to cooperate, and very close to cooperate. Let’s say, for you, it’s not surprising that, let’s say, very rich man, Rockefeller, one day become vice president of the United States. It’s nothing.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: Berezovsky fears for his life. He says Scotland Yard alerted him to three assassination plots, the last one involving a private hit man hired to stab him with a poison-tip umbrella. He insists he’s innocent of everything the Kremlin accuses him of.

BORIS BEREZOVSKY: [subtitles] We didn’t break any laws. But if you call giving bribes a crime, then all oligarchs were criminals.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: Berezovsky explained how he acquired his assets during Russia’s wild early days of capitalism.

BORIS BEREZOVSKY: [subtitles] The Soviet bureaucrats didn’t believe that capitalism would prevail. You would give an official $10,000, and he’d give you the property title. Not for one second did he expect this factory to stay private. He was convinced that the Reds would return and take it back.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: I asked Berezovsky if he felt guilty about his fortune. "I don’t regret being rich," he told me. "I only regret that there are so many poor."

BORIS BEREZOVSKY: [subtitles] I believe oligarchs are true heroes. Because of us, Russia was put on a new course.

[ Meet other Russian oligarchs]

SABRINA TAVERNISE: The oligarchs may have put Russia on a new course, but what’s threatening to Putin and the political establishment is the sheer economic power they hold in their hands.

MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY: [subtitles] We are, of course, influential people, with our own views on how the country should develop. Should we follow the American model or, for example, the Venezuelan one, with private property as the economic base, but all political life controlled by the government? A country cannot become rich unless it is democratic.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: In Moscow, people say his problems with the government are not about business. Putin has been sending a message about who’s in charge, a warning to stay out of politics.

MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY: [subtitles] Personally, I don’t deal in politics.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: But in fact, he has been financing opposition political parties.

MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY: [subtitles] It’s one thing to sponsor politicians who support us. It’s something else to directly participate in politics. One requires money, which I have. The other requires effort and time, which I don’t have.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: Despite Khodorkovsky’s cautious denials, in the new Russia, politics and business have always gone together. It depends whose side you’re on. Consider Vladimir Semionov, a communist agriculture minister turned capitalist. He suddenly gained control of this collective farm in the economic chaos of the 1990s. The farm does $50 million of business a year and supplies most of the vegetables to McDonald’s.

Semionov is also a member of parliament, with a politician’s knack for rhetoric. He’s a rich man warning the oligarchs about a populist backlash.

VLADIMIR SEMIONOV: [subtitles] You remember your President Roosevelt during the Depression. He said to big business, "Be aware that you can wake up tomorrow in a different country." Today Russia finds itself in a similar situation. In my view, we must act on behalf of the poor to prevent them from taking the situation into their own hands. Russia will not survive another revolution.

SABRINA TAVERNISE: It’s a political season in Russia. Elections are coming soon. As one friend said to me, "Putin needs to spear an oligarch." Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s arrest and jailing on charges that could be brought against most of Russia’s super-rich is a high-risk tactic, threatening businessmen and foreign investors. But it will play well with most ordinary Russians, who feel left out of capitalism’s rewards.

Leaving Moscow this time, I wonder how long it will take for the country’s wealth to reach down to ordinary Russians. It will pass many of them by, especially the old. If there’s hope, it’s with the young, who are more independent, more worldly and more sure of themselves than their parents ever were.



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