The City of the Sun

 

‘We ourselves, even with our money and brains, cannot cope with the restoration of these vital industries,’ said Leonid Krasin, Bolshevik and first Soviet Minister of Trade, ‘we have no choice but to appeal to foreign capital even if we have to pay dearly for the lesson.’

At that time - the 1920-s, young Soviet Russia needed foreign money and knowledge so badly that it was ready to turn a blind eye to the antagonism between the capitalist world and the proletarian dictatorship. Soviet Government introduced concessions - a special regime that by and large excluded foreign companies from the operation of Soviet laws and restricted the power of local bureaucracy. Though de facto on Russian soil, de jure they were not.

The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently submitted drafts of the laws to the State Duma legislating the projected Sillicon Valley in Skolkovo, 30 km from Moscow. It is rumoured that these laws will be adopted by the end of June.

According to these laws, special conditions for research in energy efficiency, nuclear, space, computer and medical technologies will be created in Skolkovo.

Companies there will be exempt from the bulk of domestic taxation: from income tax, VAT, and property tax. Personal income tax for non-residents will be 13% and social contributions only 14%.

Special units of Police, Migration Service, Tax Inspection, Customs and other governmental bodies will be created to work in the town. The Federal Migration Service promises to resolve migration matters quickly. The Ministry of Internal Affairs says it will provide the best people.

The City of the Sun will be not governed by a mayor but by a management company headed by Viktor Vekselberg, president of Renova group. This company will own the land and grant the benefits.

This is not the first project to create a technology park in post-Soviet Russia. Yet it is different from other projects because it will be built from scratch in isolation from existing research centres. The Soviet Union had its own successful history of science centres: academic towns built around universities and research centres and a network of secret towns, not marked on the map, centres for the development of military technologies.

Discussion about the centre in Skolkovo mostly revolves around the fact that this experience will be ignored. Why build a new city, and, incidentally, in one of the most expensive parts of Russia - not far from the odious Rublevskoe road, the reserve of Russian billionaires - when existing research centres are dying?

Yet the comparison to the Soviet science towns is false. The aim of Skolkovo is not science but money. It should be compared to concessions to New Economic Policy. This is the place for the white-collar business: investment companies, venture funds, and headquarters of large technology companies. They will teach, we hope, not how to do science but how to make money.

 

June 2, 2010

 

text: E. Andreeva
photo: Andrea Danti - Fotolia.com

 

 

 

Skolkovo is not about science but about money
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