Professor M.A. Eskindarov, the leader of the University team, has been a student and an employee at the Moscow Institute of Finance that is now called the Financial University for half a century that has been full of events.
Q.: Back in 1969, you came to Moscow from a small town of merely four thousand people. You graduated from an ordinary secondary school and immediately 'conquered' Moscow and got into a prestigious university, the Moscow Institute of Finance. It is now called the Financial University. It sounds incredible. Was it the school in your native village that provided you with so much knowledge or was it the secondary education system in the USSR that was so good?
A.: Let's be fair, I must say that I did not 'conquer' Moscow when I came here for the first time. I cannot speak for the others, but in the late 1960s, when I graduated from secondary School No. 1, the only one in our vicinity, I was deeply convinced that there were only two universities in the country, that is, the Moscow State University and Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), and all the rest of the universities belonged to the third category. I was young and it was typical of me to be a maximalist back then. However, this is probably not bad at all. My motto was 'Aim at the sun, and you might at least hit the stars' so I did not want to become enrolled to the universities from the third category, although I could become a student of the Saratov Law Institute through what is now called a targeted admission scheme. MGIMO was not an option for me because of my lack of good foreign language skills. At that time, I had basic skills in German. Our school teacher of German was a logistics manager who was a prisoner during the WWII. He managed to learn the language while living and working in the family of a German burgher. All in all, there was only one option left for me, the Moscow State University. I tried to get there twice, but I failed. After my first unsuccessful attempt to become enrolled, I was very upset. I returned to my native village of Beslenei in the Karachay-Cherkess Republic. I have worked hard as a combine operator for a year as the Soviet education system ensured that you not only got general subject knowledge but also job skills. My colleagues even elected me their team leader. There were more than 100 Komsomol members in our sovkhoz, a state farm. My aspirations to get to the best university in the country were not thwarted. In the evenings, after work, I worked hard to get prepared for exams, even realizing that it would be difficult for me to compete with the city school graduates who took an access course and worked with private tutors. I only learnt the foreign word tutor later. Nevertheless, I did not give up and when they started the admission campaign at the Moscow State University, I went to Moscow in order to 'conquer' the University located on the Lenin Hills (now Vorobyevy Hills). I had 9 rubles in my pocket my parents had given to me. Since then, the numeral 9 has become my lucky numeral. I live at number 9, my apartment number is 9, and my plot number in the suburban settlement is 9. The admission campaign at the Moscow State University started a month earlier than the campaigns at the other universities, so those who failed there could try and get to other universities. They provided accommodation to the applicants, including me, in the main University building. I can recall that the senior students told us that if we entered every University room and stayed for at least one minute in each of them; it would take more than 60 years to take a look at all the rooms. It happened nearly 50 years ago. I wonder how many years it would take now that the Moscow University has extended its premises. When I was on the 22nd floor of the Moscow State University building, and the building was considered to be incredibly high by the people back in the 1970s, I looked at the grand view of Moscow and I sadly thought that if my plans collapsed, I would have to leave this amazing city again. And then my eternal curiosity helped me again. There was no Internet, and I used to buy a lot of newspapers and magazines and I read them all from cover to cover. I came across a tiny ad at the very bottom of the first page in Moskovskaya Pravda newspaper. It said the Moscow Institute of Finance had started accepting applications from those who wished to become enrolled. The examinations were the same as those they held in the Moscow State University, but the examination period started at a later date. The ad said the Institute was located at 1, Ulitsa Kibalchicha. It was a strange, unfamiliar location. I went there out of pure curiosity as I wanted to find out what the Moscow Institute of Finance was like because I didn't even know it existed. Sometimes the fate depends on a meeting. I met a person when I arrived at the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy, and I had difficulties in finding the Institute's five-story building. It was surrounded by trees and located near a small village and a church. When I recalled the Moscow State University, everything seemed to me to be so tiny, old-fashioned and outdated, incl. the village, the cows, the church, and the modest Institute building. Perhaps it was then that I decided to extend my alma mater's boundaries, make the university bigger and more significant. Lyudmila Zhivotkova, Associate Professor and executive secretary of the admissions board, met me there. She was a remarkable person. As I later found out, she fought in the WWII, her fate was complex. She welcomed me as if I were her son. She greeted me joyfully and enthusiastically. She smiled at me and the smile had the definitive effect on my entire fate. I immediately returned to the Moscow State University and cancelled my application. In this way, my wonderful life at the Moscow Institute of Finance began. I have been here for almost 50 years. So smile, and your smile will help other people. At the Institute, I acquired not only knowledge and, as they now say, skills and competencies. What's more, I made friends who had always helped me and supported me in different periods of my lifetime. Actually, my dear friends, wise tutors, and my beloved wife have shaped me into the person I am today. I learned all the best stuff from each of them. I tried not to repeat their mistakes, struggled to eliminate my own shortcomings. Unfortunately, I still have some shortcomings. You cannot get rid of them all, you do not always notice them, unlike the shortcomings of others. Throughout the career, I played all kinds of roles at the University, and now I can remember the period when I was taking my first steps there. Along with the student admission orders, an order was posted on the noticeboard saying that student M. A. Eskindarov should meet Polina Talmina, the Faculty Dean. The orders were posted outside at the entrance back then. It was an unexpected call. The Dean met me and asked me to go to the room of Aleksandr Polevik, Vice-Rector for Property Management. He told me I needed to show up a week before the lessons starting date and assist the first-year students who were moving to the new student residence hall. I asked why he asked me to do that and he said I was the only first-year student who had work experience and was a probationary member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Once again, I realized no effort was in vain as my two-year state farm work experience turned out to be relevant. I went to an allegedly new residence hall in the Sviblovo Moscow district on 25 August 1971 to make the necessary arrangements. The residence hall turned out to be an old two-story barracks building where the workers of the Rostokino Mirror Factory used to live. It was a bit renovated to accommodate the students. There was absolutely no furniture in the rooms, no tables, no chairs, no beds, no furniture whatsoever. I asked the residence hall supervisor, a nice 70-year-old woman, what the students who were to arrive in a few days were supposed to sleep on. She said that they were going to collect furniture items from other residence halls and she could not give me a hand with that as she had just got the job and was not in the know about anything. I came back to the Institute building and spoke with the Vice-Rector about the issues. He said it was me who should sort it out. There was nothing to be done about it. I had to sort it out. We got all the necessary furniture items by 1 September 1971. I am grateful to the guys who arrived early and helped me a lot with that. I have a particularly warm recollection of Volodya Smirnov and a remarkable guy whose surname was Kuznechik. He actually looked like a grasshopper, he was skinny, lanky, and wore glasses. He became my faithful brother-in-arms. We both fought against the local troublemakers who used all means to get into the girls' rooms in the residence halls. Those fights were the reason why I became a local celebrity.
A local celebrity
Q.: So, does it mean you became a local celebrity, just like the characters of western comedies about young people?
A.: You can say that, yes, although the story resembles an action movie and not a comedy. [Laughs.] A record was made in my labor records book that I was appointed a Sviblovo student residence hall logistics manager. I am a responsible person. Volens nolens, I soon became an assistant and a helper of many young people we called kids who came to study in a huge, unfamiliar and unfriendly city from small towns and villages. As you know, even today the University teaching staff members and senior students often affectionately call the first-year students kids. They help them in every way, support them and try to warn them against the big city risks. If we speak about the Sviblovo district of that period, we can say for sure the guys had good reasons to be on alert. That district used to be a suburban village. It was notorious for the roughnecks who lived there. It lacked public services and utilities. I became a celebrity, as you put it, after an incident that occurred one night. A few University girls met young men who came to their student residence hall rooms and did not want to leave the rooms after 11 PM. Kuznechik and I had to help the student who was on duty that day. We tried to persuade the guests to leave the rooms. The talks resulted in bruises and hematomas on our faces and bodies, my knocked out tooth and my cut lip. We were skinny and we were poor fighters. What we had for sure was the fighter's spirit; we had more than enough of it. [Laughs.] Quite unexpectedly, the fight became politically motivated. At a meeting, Lyudmila Uspenskaya, an instructor at the Department of History, suddenly said that the night hooligans were representatives of the KGB of the USSR, the most powerful organization of that time, and that the incident was part of the Stalinist policy of intimidation. We cannot know for sure what she meant by it, we do not know whether it was true, but the rumors had been circulating for a long time, and my friends and I were virtually considered to be heroes who had the gut to fight against the tyranny. We were no heroes, we just wanted to stand up for the girls, although it was not absolutely clear whether the girls were glad we had stood up for them. Now I don't think it was a wise decision made by Kuznechik and me to fight against five strong guys with sports background. [Smiles.] I am sure that a famous singer was among those guys. He was famous in that period, too. The next period of my life at the University is connected with Vladimir Shcherbakov. He headed the Moscow Institute of Finance from 1953 to 1985. I owe him a lot. He helped me stay in Moscow, he helped me get a sixth sense about knowing if a person was good or bad and he also helped me get a Soviet 'penthouse'.
A Soviet 'penthouse'
Q.: Was it really a penthouse? Did they exist in Moscow in the 1970s? How did you manage to stay in Moscow after graduation and why didn't you go elsewhere in line with the mandatory work placement system?
A.: Yes, it was a penthouse, but not a regular one but a special Soviet 'penthouse'. [Smiles.] It so happened that I had a job offer before graduation. I became inextricably intertwined with the Institute and its team as a human being and as a professional, so the Institute management offered me a job. This meant that after seven years spent in a residence room, I could have an apartment of my own. There was lack of apartments then, but Vladimir Shcherbakov helped me get a room in the barracks building in Trifonovskaya Ulitsa, it was a fine option by the then standards. Before the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the barracks were demolished, and our family moved to a spacious new apartment in a modern building. This happened later but at that period, we moved into a room with a three-meter ceiling where previous residents were a police major, his wife, two children and his mother-in-law. He took advantage of the high ceiling and built a raised platform where he slept with his wife, and the mother-in-law and the children slept below them. Once I heard the western word penthouse in a conversation. Since then, my wife and I have begun calling our apartment a penthouse but we added the word Soviet with pride to the word 'penthouse'. It was joke. [Smiles.] We still recall our modest penthouse with joy. The atmosphere has always been festive there and we often welcomed large groups of our friends. Life was completely different then. Much of what happened then seems incredible now. For example, when I was a Faculty Dean, I had to earn extra money at nights by unloading cargo from rail cars in order to be able to afford some extra items that brought some comfort into our lives and make life more diverse. This extra job helped me save about 40 rubles, and my wife and I decided to buy some good clothes. We lived.. how shall I put it? ..on a small budget. As a rule, almost all the money, if not all the money, was spent on foodstuffs, everyday expenses and children's expenses. We went to Saltykovka, a quite remote analogue of a modern merchandise market. There were shops and commission shops there. It was a popular place at that time. When we were in a streetcar, somebody cut my wife's bag and took out all the money. I will never forget how bitterly she cried. [Frowns.] When I was trying to cheer her up, I made a promise that she would never cry about money again. I kept the promise, and I think I'll never break it.
Q.: For many years now, you have been working virtually without rest and you have been having no days off. Your working day begins at six something in the morning and, as they say, it ends when it ends. Your ability to keep in mind and remember absolutely all information that relates to students, instructors and university staff is legendary. I wonder if a person like you is planning to retire.
A.: I doubt that I will ever be a regular pensioner. Even if I retire from the public service, I will continue working in a bank or find a different job I will like. I am not the one who would retire and be busy doing household chores or, for example, do the gardening. [Laughs.] I might dwell on this for long. My life has always been and is full of fun, is stimulating and rich with events. Yet, the interview format is not quite the thing for recollections and story-telling. Besides, we have no time left. We have a working day ahead of us, and we have lots of new assignments to do and issues to resolve. I have handed over my notes to my colleagues who are preparing a publication that will be devoted to the upcoming Financial University 100th anniversary. In the book, you will find many interesting recollections that concerned me, our country, our university and its wonderful team.
Q.: Thank you! Can I ask the final question? You always remain positive even if you talk about painful and sad things. What do you think are the two worst human traits?
A.: I do not accept laziness and indifference. The way I see it, every person must, under any circumstances, be curious, try to learn something new, do his best to make his life and the life of others better. To achieve this, you need to work hard, be exigent, first of all, with regard to oneself, face difficulties bravely, and always look at the world with a smile and optimism! Thank you for your attention! See you soon!
 Grasshopper in Russian.