Putin generation: Opportunity – and corruption – test a young entrepreneur
Yulia Barabasheva puts in long hours at her beauty salon, which she opened last April.
Yulia Barabasheva never wanted to have her own beauty salon. She's not even that passionate about nail design, despite having coached her mother to a Russian championship this year. But with a dream of securing a steadier income and starting a family, she opened her unmarked brown metal door to the public in April last year.Skip to next paragraph
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It took the help of her husband, Igor Barabashev, a businessman, to get $180,000 in start-up loans and complete a six-month slog through Russia's formidable bureaucracy to obtain a license. Now, she and her staff of 14 take clients up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, giving them thinner eyebrows or 5-inch nails.
At 25, Barabasheva is politically unengaged, like many of her "Putin generation." But she enjoys a rising prosperity, which Russians typically chalk up to President Vladimir Putin. Serving that new wealth has opened the door to opportunities that would have been unheard of for average Russians just a decade ago. But even as Mr. Putin's Russia allows ever greater numbers of people, like Barabasheva, to move up the economic ladder, it demands a scrappy persistence to battle red tape and corruption while trying to get ahead.
"Moscow is a city that eats people up and doesn't leave any time for life," says Barabasheva, who has worked since she left home at age 14. "We have a kind of family atmosphere here [at the salon] and I don't want to destroy it for the world."
A reluctant entrepreneur in many ways, Barabasheva finds herself caught up in a life she didn't expect. Her hopes for a family of her own were shaken six months ago when she and Igor decided to separate, their relationship strained by the new business. But despite having lost the impetus for undertaking such a challenging venture, she remains resolutely committed to her middle-aged employees, many of whom would have difficulty finding new work in a society that prizes youth and glamour.
"I feel responsibility to them and I know none of them will ever fail me," she says, sitting in her office crammed with boxes and beauty supplies. "I can't just simply line them up and say, 'Thank you girls, you're free to go, I've decided to change my life.' "
Dramatic boost in wealth
Barabasheva and her employees are reaping the benefits of an economy tamed since the 1990s, when a few well-connected businessmen accumulated huge wealth while 40 percent of Russians lived in poverty. Her clients, shimmering in fur coats as they arrive, easily slot in $80 monthly manicures between Mediterranean vacations and children's English tutoring sessions.
That shift toward broader prosperity, especially in Moscow, has been dramatic. In his first five years in office, Putin brought the poverty rate of his countrymen down to about 16 percent, according to the World Bank. Today, he said in a recent speech, it's less than 14 percent. Official figures put the middle class at about 20 percent of the population.