Saule Omarova

Who Is Saule Omarova? Biden’s Controversial, Soviet-Born Pick For A Top Financial Post

635 views

A Kazakh-American with a history of controversial comments on the Soviet Union may become America’s next comptroller of the currency.

In late September, U.S. President Joe Biden nominated Saule Omarova, a law school professor at Cornell University, to be America’s next comptroller of the currency. The powerful role would make her responsible for the regulation of America’s largest banks.

Omarova (circled at left) is seen in a school photo from Oral in the late 1970s or early '80s.
Omarova (circled at left) is seen in a school photo from Oral in the late 1970s or early ’80s.

Omarova is a controversial pick. Born in the Kazakh S.S.R. in 1966, she attended school in the provincial town of Oral (known in Russian as Uralsk). After excelling in school, she studied philosophy at Moscow State University, winning a V.I. Lenin Scholarship for academic excellence. Her career trajectory took a dramatic turn in December 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed while Omarova was on a university exchange in the United States.

The young Kazakh was able to stay on in Wisconsin to complete her PhD in political science, then embarked on a successful career in law and academia.

In a 2020 interview, Omarova said of her unplanned departure from the U.S.S.R.: “Frankly, to this day, I kind of feel guilty for having left the country at such a momentous time,” and joked, “because obviously they couldn’t hold it together without me.”

A statue of Lenin stands in front of the Communist Party headquarters in Uralsk in 1981, when Omarova was attending school in the town.
A statue of Lenin stands in front of the Communist Party headquarters in Uralsk in 1981, when Omarova was attending school in the town.

While many emigrants from the former Soviet Union used the freedom enjoyed in the West to speak out against authoritarian socialism, Omarova has suggested the free market is in some ways inferior to the state control found in the U.S.S.R.

In 2019, she tweeted: “Until I came to the US, I couldn’t imagine that things like gender pay gap still existed in today’s world. Say what you will about old USSR, there was no gender pay gap there. Market doesn’t always ‘know best.’”

That take generated widespread criticism, especially among Republican observers.

2020 article written by Omarova that suggests the need for a government-controlled “people’s ledger” that would “end banking as we know it” has caused further friction over her nomination, with some reports suggesting that moderate Democrats may oppose her appointment.

School No. 21 in Oral, where Omarova graduated in 1984 before moving to Moscow.
School No. 21 in Oral, where Omarova graduated in 1984 before moving to Moscow.

In Oral’s School No. 21, principal Laura Sharkubenova told RFE/RL that Omarova was the first student to graduate from the school with a “gold medal,” an academic distinction only awarded to a tiny fraction of students in the Soviet Union.

“She was brought up in an intellectual family,” the principal added. Omarova’s mother worked in a tuberculosis hospital.

A note added to Omarova’s high school graduation roll book indicating her graduation with a “gold star.”
A note added to Omarova’s high school graduation roll book indicating her graduation with a “gold star.”

Vlasta Kaptelova, who was childhood friends with Omarova, remembers her having an interest in fashion but little money to source new clothing. “Her mother used to make dresses from old clothes, then Saule started to sew well, too,” Kaptelova said.

Kaptelova says Omarova was raised by her mother and grandmother and that the family lived a “modest life.”

A school photo given to RFE/RL by Vlasta Kaptelova showing Omarova in the back row, second from left.
A school photo given to RFE/RL by Vlasta Kaptelova showing Omarova in the back row, second from left.

“She was persistent,” Kaptelova says of her former high school friend. “For example, if she started to get a bad grade in physical education, she would refocus and start to do well. She was the smartest among us, but she was humble.”

Kaptelova lost touch with Omarova after her unplanned move to the United States, but said that “when my daughter died 10 years ago, Saule found me on [social media] and offered her condolences.”

The rear of the Oral address where Omarova reportedly lived as a child.
The rear of the Oral address where Omarova reportedly lived as a child.

A Republican senator has called on Omarova to hand over her university thesis from her time at Moscow State University, which was titled Karl Marx’s Economic Analysis And The Theory Of Revolution In Das KapitalIn the Soviet Union, it was nearly impossible for ambitious academics to avoid extolling the “virtues” of socialism and Marxist theory.

Omarova (right) at a senate committee hearing in 2018.
Omarova (right) at a senate committee hearing in 2018.

Omarova has denied she has communist sympathies, telling the Financial Times: “My grandmother was orphaned because Stalin sent her entire family to Siberia, and they died there. Her family was destroyed because they were educated Kazakhs who didn’t join the party.”

In the same interview, Omarova explained what she believes is behind the controversy over her nomination.

“I am an easy target,” she said. “An immigrant, a woman, a minority. I don’t look like your typical comptroller of the currency. I have a different history. I am easy to demonize and vilify.”

Written by Amos Chapple based on reporting by Darkhan Umirbekov of RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service

Share and Enjoy !

Shares

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Shares