Emigres Prefer American `Wallet Control'
IN halting English, Valeriy Lebedev reads the computer-printed message on the envelope: ``Valeriy Lebedev, you've completed the final stage - $10 million is yours - guaranteed!''
``In Russia, America looks like a country where dreams and miracles come true,'' says Mr. Lebedev, a Russian citizen who moved to Boston last December with his wife, Yelena Nikola-Yevskaya. ``Some Russians come here and get caught up in miracles. They enter these sweepstakes and lotteries and wind up with nothing.''
The experience of Lebedev, his wife, and other Russian emigres across the United States is the subject of a Russian-produced television series that will air in Russia in late January. During an interview for the special, Lebedev observes that Russia's switch to a free-market economy will be complicated by the lack of extensive bank records and tax systems.
``In America, if you don't pay your bills, nobody tells you you're a bad person,'' he says, ``you just don't get the loan or the mortgage you need. In Russia, they want to control your thoughts; in America, they control your wallet.''
Since his arrival in the US, Lebedev, a former professor, has earned a living writing for Novoye Russkoye Slovo (``The New Russian Word''), a Russian-language newspaper in New York.
``It would be impossible to transfer America's experience to Russia,'' he says. ``It can be useful, but it's not transferable. Russia is not ready for this yet. It will take a few generations to change psychology.''
Lebedev underlines his point with a story: Twice he parked his car in places that seemed deserted, only to come back and find that his car had been towed. ``Russians have this idea that `If nobody is using it, I'll use it.' It's hard for them to understand the concept of private property.''
Ms. Nikola-Yevskaya started off working at a big discount department store in downtown Boston. She says the American and Russian retail attitudes are diametrical opposites. ``People always smile here. They talk to the shoppers and help them. It's a very flexible system.''
She says she has learned an important lesson about capitalism. ``Here, it's OK to start out in a non-prestigious job,'' she says. ``You're not looked down upon.''
Educated at the renowned Moscow Institute of Physics, Nikola-Yevskaya later found a job as a computer program analyst in a Boston suburb. ``It's like paradise,'' she says, adding that her strong math background more than made up for her lack of familiarity with advanced American computers. ``The technology was easy,'' she says. ``I had some things to teach them.''