May 7, 2001
Russia's James Madison Opts for Mars Bars
By Natasha Shanetskaya
Oleg Rumyantsev wakes up at 6:15 a.m. to the sounds of Ekho Moskvy radio,
brews himself a cup of coffee, puts on a tailored suit and slides into his
Ford Taurus to drive to work.
Once he walked the corridors of political power and was called Russia's
James Madison for his efforts to give the country a democratic
constitution. These days, though, he works at Mars, promoting the interests
of the U.S. confectionery and pet-food giant.
As a young parliament member and legal scholar, Rumyantsev had drafted a
version of a new constitution for a new Russia. But that was a decade ago.
His current job as Russia and CIS regional director of external relations
for Mars, he says, is just as exciting and just as political.
"I stayed in politics — I participate in the Foreign Investment Council,
meet with my former colleagues who have become ministers — so my work is
not any less political," he says.
After graduating from Moscow State University and the Moscow Institute for
Legal Studies, Rumyantsev was elected in 1990 to the Congress of People's
Deputies of Russia.
His knowledge of Jeffersonian principles and his passion for developing
participatory democracy led to an opportunity to begin work on
Rumyantsev was named secretary of the Constitutional Commission, which was
formed in June of that year under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin and his
deputy Ruslan Khasbulatov. Khasbulatov took over as head of the Congress'
permanent legislature, the Supreme Soviet, when Yeltsin was elected
president of Russia in June 1991.
In the early 1990s, Rumyantsev remained loyal to Yeltsin and believed in
his reform plans. But as the work on the constitution drafts continued, he
grew increasingly critical.
"How could I not when he [Yeltsin] legitimized the worst characteristics of
Soviet communist excesses in the framework of government policy?"
By 1993, he had allied himself with Khasbulatov and produced a draft
constitution calling for a parliamentary system. Rumyantsev's main
objection to Yeltsin's constitutional proposals was that they concentrated
power in the executive branch.
Peter Reddaway, a Russian historian at Georgetown University and co-author
of a new book titled "Tragedy of Russia's Reforms: Market Bolshevism
Against Democracy," said Rumyantsev's opposition to the president reached
its culminating point when Yeltsin signed a decree on Sept. 21, 1993,
disbanding the Congress of People's Deputies.
"That decree was the biggest single factor," Reddaway said in a telephone
interview. "He must have felt it undermined the constitutional basis for
When members of Congress put up armed resistance, Yeltsin crushed their
rebellion by ordering tanks to shell the parliament building on Oct. 4.
"Rumyantsev, a scholar-politician in his 30s who had gone from supporting
Yeltsin to standing side by side with the nationalists in the parliament,
tried to negotiate a settlement to the crisis," David Remnick wrote in his
1997 book "Resurrection."
"But Rumyantsev found himself in danger," said Remnick, who was a
Washington Post correspondent at the time.
Alpha troops took him to the courtyard of a nearby building. According to
Rumyantsev, a drunken soldier grabbed his beard and hit him in the face and
then searched him for money, Remnick wrote. "When the soldier discovered no
riches on Rumyantsev, he beat him some more."
Just two months after the fateful October events, Yeltsin produced
elections to a new bicameral parliament and a simultaneous referendum on a
The final version of the Constitution excluded the lion's share of
Rumyantsev's recommendations, said Victor Sheinis, a constitutional expert
at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations. "It would be
fair to call him an author of one of the proposed drafts, which acted as a
source for the final version, but not of the Constitution we currently live
by," Sheinis said.
Rumyantsev says the 1993 Constitution restored an authoritarian system and
failed to ensure the truly democratic procedures that could have prevented
many of the abuses of the last decade.
For instance, his proposed constitution would have prevented the unfair
privatizations orchestrated by the oligarchs, he says. A system of checks
and balances would have assured there would be "no Black Tuesdays,
financial defaults or arbitration court decisions to bankrupt companies on
Sergei Markov, a political analyst who runs the pro-Kremlin web site
Strana.ru, said although he doubted Rumyantsev's proposed constitution
would have stopped the privatization of the country's largest enterprises,
it may have helped prevent a war. "We would have had no Chechnya because a
parliament with a lot of executive power, which Rumyantsev was advocating,
would not have allowed Yeltsin to make decisions on a whim," Markov said.
"He was a bright star, a darling of the Western media, a person with
extraordinary potential," Markov said of Rumyantsev. "But he fell victim to
the political mill, which crushed him and threw him out."
After he turned against Yeltsin, Rumyantsev says he found himself on the
president's black list and could not find work in Russia. He went abroad to
teach at the University of Toronto and the London School of Economics.
He returned in the fall of 1995 and made a few attempts to re-enter the
political scene, as legal consultant to the State Duma and as a secretary
in the parliamentary assembly of Russia and Belarus.
But then Rumyantsev decided to put his own theories about democracy in a
free-market economy into practice. When Mars offered him a job in 1998 to
help it navigate Russia's muddy political waters, he accepted.
"Coming to Mars was my personal reincarnation," he says. "I shaved my
beard, threw away the old address book, and started a new life."
Rumyantsev shows no traces of regret or self-pity as he talks about his
trajectory from a prominent political figure to executive of a chocolate
"The world's leading transnational corporation with a strong internal
culture, Mars was the best university I could find, and I didn't even have
to leave the country," he says. "I feel connected to a large, growing
Thanks in part to Rumyantsev's political connections, Mars not only stayed,
but prospered on the Russian market.
"We don't give bribes — ever." Rumyantsev says, his eyes shining with
pride. "I work my connections, capitalize on people's disagreements, and
use my own good reputation and the good name of the company to reach the
While Rumyantsev insists he is perfectly content in his current position,
others aren't so sure.
"When I met him a few weeks ago, he couldn't stop talking about being
disappointed with politics, and I realized he was trying to convince
himself of that," Markov said.
"He is a typical homopoliticus — I think he is bored in business."
Rumyantsev admits that some time in the future he may consider testing the
political waters one more time, if he could be sure of a leading role. "I
could not stand being second in politics," he says.