Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Gaidar’s Tragedy and Russia’s – People Remember Shock Therapy but Not the Empty Shelves It Filled

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 16 – The tragedy of Yegor Gaidar, the author of the radical economic reforms of the 1990s who died at 53 this morning outside of Moscow, is that people remember the hardships that his shock therapy inflicted on the country but they do not recall the empty shelves which his policies helped to fill, according to one Moscow commentary.
“By [Gaidar’s] sudden death,” the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal says, “the politician who opened the door to the market confirmed the rule that in Russia, reformers die early,’ before asking a group of his colleagues in the struggle to transform Russia to comment on what his life meant and means (
Solidarity Movement leader Boris Nemtsov told the portal simply that Gaidar “saved Russia from a civil war and from a river of blood because when the USSR fell apart, the country’s choice was not so great: either war according to the Yugoslav scenario or difficult reforms. Gaidar chose the path of reform.”
Both those who remember him with admiration and “those who hate him” should “be grateful to him” for that, Nemtsov says. Indeed, Russians of all stripes should recognize that “the form in which Russia exists today reflects the contribution of Gaidar, not Putin,” despite all the efforts of supporters of the latter to denigrate the great reformer.
Irina Khakamada, a politician turned writer, said that with Gaidar’s passing, Russia has lost “a figure just as historic as Yeltsin,” one who will be especially missed because “of the entire command of reforms, he was the only individual who took on himself responsibility for all that happened,” something no one else was prepared to do.
Political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin agreed. Gaidar’s death is “a great loss for Russia, for scholarship and for democratic society.” But the size of that loss only calls attention to just how much he was able to accomplish over the course of his political life and how valuable his willingness to face facts openly was.
At the beginning of the 1990s, Oreshkin pointed out, Gaidar pointed out that Russia has “an enormous quantity of problems: it is impossible to buy children shoes, notebooks, food and clothes. That which we are doing,” he said at the time, “ will not remove the problem entirely but what we are doing will reduce them to a single problem: where to find the money to buy.”
And that, Oreshkin continued, is what Gaidar did. “Now if you have the money, you can buy children’s notebooks and food and clothes and even an automobile with a mobile telephone. And no one said ‘thank you’ to Gaidar for this,” for taking the steps that meant the previously empty shelves were now full of goods for sale.
Importantly, the political scientist said, Gaidar in the course of his career “did not get rich and did not become an oligarch.” In fact, his work in the Russian government may “even have lowered his status in comparison with Soviet times when he was a major economist, one the respected publicists in this genre, and, besides this, had a good Soviet pedigree.”
Vladimir Kara-Murza, a longtime journalist, recalled another aspect of Gaidar’s activities: almost alone among the Moscow political class, he tried to prevent the first post-Soviet Chechen war. And just as with his role in promoting economic reform, Gaidar was punished for that, more or less quickly being pushed out of Russian political life.
And finally, Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama Information Research Center, summed up Gaidar in his comment to “Svobodnaya pressa.” Pribylovsky said that Gaidar, confronted with difficult choices, in almost every case “took the best decisions” that were available to him.
Undoubtedly, the media researcher concluded, “history will give him a ‘positive’ assessment, in contrast to [President Boris] Yeltsin who was too ambivalent a figure” for that. And Gaidar, who never expected to be thanked for what he was doing, would be pleased with that, however much he suffered for what he did.

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