MACLEAN’S REPORTS

A “great Russian humorist” gets the last laugh on Chargex

EILEEN TURCOTTE June 1 1969
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

A “great Russian humorist” gets the last laugh on Chargex

EILEEN TURCOTTE June 1 1969

A “great Russian humorist” gets the last laugh on Chargex

THROUGH NO FAULT of his OWIl, Boris Korolev, Novosti Press correspondent in Ottawa, has become a card-carrying Communist — a Chargex card-carrying Communist, that is.

The card first arrived in his mail one morning from the Royal Bank of

Canada, embossed with his name and his very own personalized 12-digit number. It was enough to drive any good Novosti man to his typewriter to dash off yet another stinging comment on the capitalist system, and that’s just what Korolev did. In 600 astonishing words in the Komsomolskaya Pravda (Young Communist Daily) he told its 6,900,000 readers about Canada’s “magical” new Chargex card:

“Now without a single cent in my pocket I may purchase any article, starting with a package of chewing gum up to an airplane itself. And if I want very strongly I may even purchase the bank itself which sent me this credit card. ‘Wrap it up,’ I will tell them, ‘together with the president and all the depositors.’ ”

After pointing out the hazards of easy credit, Korolev got down to the nitty-gritty of his message: Canadians are the biggest debtors in the world. The result? Tragedy for “hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of families, bankruptcy, loss of purchased articles [through default of payments] and with them the paid-in money, sleepless nights, nervous conditions, ulcers, beating up of wives and children.”

What’s more, Korolev announced, these disasters hit only the poor — “wealthy people do not buy on credit.”

Hardly had Korolev fired off this missive to Moscow than a second Chargex card arrived in the mail — this time from the Toronto-Dominion

Bank. Why was Comrade Korolev chosen for so much attention from Chargex?

“We sent cards to a lot of people, starting among our depositors,” explains Clare Armstrong of the Royal Bank’s main Ottawa office. “We wrote first telling them if they didn’t want it to let us know, but not everybody bothers to read form letters.”

Paul Bergeron, manager of TorontoDominion’s Chargex centre in Montreal, said the same thing. “We’d check to make sure they were responsible, but we wouldn’t check their politics.” Korolev, a jovial type who follows the new Soviet party line of makingfriends - while - not-so-obviously-tryingto-influence-people, can’t understand why anyone would challenge even the wildest exaggerations in his article.

“It wasn’t a serious criticism,” he insists, “just an attempt to be funny.” Actually, he thinks Chargex is a good system — though he doesn’t use the card the Royal Bank sent him. (He won’t say for sure whether he has used the Toronto-Dominion card.)

But wouldn’t his article give Russions a false impression of Canada?

“They wouldn’t take it seriously,” he says. “Almost everybody in Russia knows I’m a great humorist.”

EILEEN TURCOTTE