Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 6
14 February 2000

Sam Vaknin A   B A L K A N   E N C O U N T E R:
Rasputin in Transition
The cold con-men of Central and Eastern Europe

Sam Vaknin

The mad glint in his eyes is likely to be nothing more ominous than maladjusted contact lenses. If not clean shaven, he is likely to sport nothing wilder than a goatee. More likely an atheist than a priest, this mutation of the ageless confidence artist is nonetheless the direct spiritual descendent of Rasputin, the raving maniac who governed Russia until his own execution by Russian noblemen and patriots.

They are to be found in all countries in transition. Wild and insidious weeds, the outcome of wayward pollination by mutated capitalism. They prey on their victims, at first acquiring their confidence and love, then penetrating their political, social and financial structures almost as a virus would - stealthily and treacherously. By the time their quarry wakes up to its infection and subjugation, it is already too late. By then, the invader will have become part of the invaded or its master, either through blackmail or via tempting subornation.

This region of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the Balkans provides fertile grounds. It is a Petri dish upon which cultures of corruption and scandalous conduct are fermented.

Alien exploitation

The typical exploiter of these vulnerabilities is a foreigner. Things foreign are held in awe and adulation by a populace so down trodden and made to feel so inferior in every way - not least by foreign tutors and advisors. The craving to be loved - this gnawing urge to be accepted, to be a member of the club, to be distinguished from one's former neighbours - is irresistible.

The modern Rasputin doles out this unconditional acceptance, this all encompassing affinity, the echoes of avuncularity. In doing so, he evokes in the recipients such warmth, such relief, such fervour and reciprocity that he becomes an idol, a symbol of a paradise long lost, a golden braid. Having thus completed the first phase of his meticulous attack he moves on to the second chapter in this book of body snatching.

Armed with his new-found popularity, the crook moves on and leverages it to the hilt. He does so by feigning charity, by faking interest, by false "constructive criticism." To his slowly forming army, he recruits the media, the flower children, the bleeding hearts, reformers, dissidents and the occasional freak. By holding old authority in disdain, by declaring his contempt for the methods of the "tried and true," by appearing to make war upon all rot and immorality - this creature of expediency emerges as a folk hero.

Cynics sign up first

It is the more cynical, world-weary and "sophisticated" members of society that lead the way, succumbing to his ardour and conviction, to his child-like innocence, to his unwavering agenda. He cleverly thrusts at them the double edge of their own disillusionment and disappointment. Thus mirrored, they are transformed and converted into his camp of renewal and clean promises by this epiphany.

They hand him the keys to every medium, the very codes and secrets that make him so powerful. They pledge their alliance and allegiance and render to him the access they possess to the nerve centres of society. The castle gates thus opened from inside, his victory assured, the rogue moves on to consummate this unholy marriage between himself and the deceived.

Always in fear of light, he surreptitiously and cunningly begins to interact with the foci of power and money in the land. However loathsome he is to them, however repulsive the experience, however undesirable the effects of their surrender they are made to recognize him as their equal.

With the might of the media and a large part of the people behind him, he can no longer be ignored. Their conspiracy-prone mind, awash with superstitions and their attaching phobias, tries to comprehend his meteoric rise, the forcefulness with which he treads, his unmitigated, inane, self-confidence. Is he a spy? A member of a secret order? The latent agent of a hyperpower? The heart of a world conspiracy? Has he no fear of retribution and no remorse?

Before this great unknown, they kneel and yield, an atavistic reaction to atavistic fears. Now all doors are thrown open, all deals are made available, all secrets are revealed. The more he learns, the mightier he becomes; the more his might, the more he learns. To him, a virtuous cycle; to his hosts, a vicious one.

One aim

In all this tumult, he does not lose sight of his original goals - power, money, fame, all three. It is a relentless pursuit, an obsessive hunt, a ruthless and unscrupulous chase. In his war, no prisoners are taken, no price too dear, no human in his orbit left untouched. He will manipulate and threat and beg and promise and plead and blackmail and extort to accomplish that which he set out to achieve, decision-making powers, wealth, clout, exposure and resultant fame.

It is at this stage that the latter-day Rasputin emerges from the shadows and joins officialdom or concludes lucrative transactions based on favourably deflated prices and insider dealing. By now, his shady past is no longer a hindrance. His prowess far exceeds his invidious biography. Well installed, he ignores both media and the people. He brushes aside contemptuously all criticism and enquiry. His true, narcissistic, face is exposed and it is hideous to behold. But there is nothing to be done and all resistance is futile. The con-man now is in a haste to maximize his hard earned profits and exit the scene, on his way to another realm of guile and naivety.

Dr Sam Vaknin, 16 February 2000

The author is General Manager of Capital Markets Institute Ltd, a consultancy firm with operations in Macedonia and Russia. He is an Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.

DISCLAIMER: The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author.

Sam Vaknin's articles for Central Europe Review are archived here.

Sam Vaknin's Website is here.


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