A minigarch is like an oligarch, only less well-endowed in the back-pocket department. It’s a weird formation, not least because oligarch means a member of a small group that holds power in a state (from Greek oligoi, few, plus arkhein, to rule), and strictly has nothing to do with money.
But the term has long been tainted with the implication that oligarchs use their great power to gather riches; in particular it has been used for members of the nomenklatura, former Communist Party appointees, who were most directly involved in gaining wealth in post-communist Russia. The Financial Times wrote in January 2001, “The oligarchs divided up among themselves the most valuable state companies, which Yeltsin privatized under fire-sale conditions.”
Minigarch appeared in British newspapers in 2006, an early instance in the Independent on 26 May: “Vladimir Gusinsky, 53, used to be one of Russia’s most powerful media magnates, but he lost almost everything and is now more minigarch than oligarch.” It has never been common, though it turned up several times in 2007, but the global financial turmoil of 2008 hit the Russian super-rich especially hard and the word has had a resurgence.
Moscow’s exclusive watering holes, such as this expensive fusion restaurant near the Kremlin, are still hosting so-called minigarchs and the merely wealthy further down the scale.
NPR Morning Edition, 15 Oct. 2008
A lower oil price may affect the geopolitical ambitions of Russia and its allies. Some oligarchs may become minigarchs. But Russia will not need to beg for cash from the outside world.
The Economist, 23 Oct. 2008