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Donkin's World: Russian oligarchs - a glossary of terms

So what exactly is a Russian oligarch? Author and journalist Richard Donkin explains all.

Do please visit Richard's well-stocked Web site
http://www.richarddonkin.com/

Details of his book Blood, Sweat and Tears which is acclaimed world-wide can be found here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Sweat-Tears-Evolution-Work/dp/1587990768/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1214554429&sr=1-2

Why do we only ever seem to hear of Russian oligarchs? What is an oligarch anyway and why aren't there British or American oligarchs?

If my dictionary is correct the definition that seems most applicable for its media use is: member of an oligarchy - a small clique of private citizens who exert a strong influence on government.

Who in the UK might fit that clique definition? I suppose government advisers and the heads of business and banking bodies could be said to be part of the British oligarchy. But we would never describe Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England or Richard Lambert, director general of the Confederation of British Industry as oligarchs. Nor would we talk about a British oligarchy.

So there must be new connotations, new assumptions, associated with media use of the phrase "Russian Oligarch". Do I detect the whiff of corruption? Gangsterdom, even? I think so. I think that the phrase, as used in the popular press, has come to be regarded by some of us, possibly most of us, as a codeword, a euphemism, for "dodgy individual". That, I believe, is the intention of those who use it and the conclusion of those who read it.

So when we read allegations that George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, has been trying to solicit a Conservative Party donation from a Russian oligarch while enjoying hospitality on the oligarch's yacht we are being invited to interpret certain words and phrases.

For Russian Oligarch read: "rich and powerful but dodgy individual who gained his vast wealth by various nefarious means, including favours and patronage, but certainly not through hard work, scholarship and academic diligence."

For yacht read: "Expensive, lavish, decadent, wasteful, ostentatious luxury possession beyond the means of most people that today is even eschewed by Royalty, however reluctantly, as an unjustified drain on the privy purse." Do not, under any circumstances, read: "A boat with sails."

For Conservative Party read: "Grubby, nest feathering, opportunists prepared to sell their own grandmothers, not to mention hitherto strongly held principles based on thrift, hard work and individual freedoms, for a chance to line their party coffers."

For Corfu read: "Tacky Mediterranean haunt of new money, "celebrities", smooching politicians, gas-guzzling motor launches misleadingly described as "yachts" and the occasional Russian oligarch.

For George Osborne read: "Numpty."

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