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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Citizen K

Citizen K is a documentary that will fill the mind and satisfy any fan of post Communist Russian history with detailed information about its attempt's to become a democracy, albeit under the current economic leadership of wealthy oligarchs and Vladimir Putin. The stories are told thought the use of historical narration, archival footage and interviews profiling the rise and fall of Mikhail Khodorkovsky from young oil tycoon to exiled political dissident, via the changing political and economic climates following the fall of communist Russia in 1991.

After the collapse of the old guard in 1991, Russian leader Gorbachev and eventually Boris Yelstin, who Khordorkovsky liked and admired, attempted efforts to turn a communist economy/government into democratic one. They failed miserably, amid the emerging presence of individuals who had a great desire for power, had greed and were part of organized crime. Yeltsin worked for economic and political freedoms. But the rise of capitalism was occurring via this wide spread crime and frequent murder. Turns out it wasn't going to be quite so easy to shift from communist rule, where the government owns and controls everything, to a free market, capitalist economy. The needs of the people were not being met. They had no way to earn money and there were not enough necessities and basics for the population. Eventually, seven opportunistic oligarchs controlled 50 percent of the economy, all financed with vouchers purchased for far less value than they were worth. They were modern day robber barons, not unlike those who built up the US economy.

Khodorkovsky, the main subject of this doc, was at one time the richest man in Russia, through the oil company he bought and built. He had begun his career in the 90's by founding the first commercial bank and admitted in interviews that he was fueled by greed. As Putin was rising to power, the two became adversaries in that Khodorkovsky threatened Putin, who wanted control of the economy back into the hands of the state or under the supervision of his own minions. K observed the power of the media, which Putin took control over, further illustrating his personal support for free and unbiased media. So in 2003, K was charged with fraud, theft, embezzlement and tax evasion, tried and sentenced in court, through sketchy means, and imprisoned for 10 years in a Siberian prison, but gaining an eventual pardon from Putin. He was considered a "prisoner of conscience" by Amnesty International. In doing so he became a public figure for human rights and for democracy. He self exiled to London and eventually lost billions from his failing company, became an outspoken critic of Putin, including his rather seedy rise to power. His concerns centered around what Putin's government was and is doing to Russia. K is currently wanted in Russia on alleged murder charges, from 1998, and has a price on his head. While he would like to return and help his country, he cannot. London is not much safer, where several high profile Russians have met their ends under suspicious circumstances.

With a handful of men controlling the Russian economy and the continued spread of corruption in Russia, which some believe is spilling into and influencing the US government, this is an eye opening look into how the Russian government most recently and currently is working. Some of the images of Russia are rather terrifying with respect to free speech and free press. Directed by Oscar winner Alex Gibley, the work is solid, chock full of information, and detailed to a T. There is alot to unpack here and at times it can be a little but dry at 2 hours and 8 minutes of complex history, and the film may be hard to follow for some viewers. There are two previous docs out on Khodorkovsky (2011, 2015) should one want to check them out as well.

In this version, "Citizen K" himself is telling a large portion of his own story, via interview. He has begun an organization called Open Russia and has a long term plan intended to rid Russian of corrupt despots. It shows a clear picture of a society that we do not want to become. The film is primarily in Russian with subtitles, especially in the news reports and archival footage, as well as the first half.
(Review by Cheryl Wurtz)

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