Vienna, January 14 – Academician Nikolay Shmelyev, the economist who subjected the Soviet planned economic to withering criticism in the 1980s and thereby opened the way to perestroika and glasnost, says that Russia today has become “the most socially unjust” country in the developed world.
In an interview in this week’s “Argumenty nedeli,” Shmelyev says that the richest ten percent of the Russian population may now earn as much as 60 times what the poorest ten percent do, an imbalance ten times greater than that beyond the ratio that many scholars say points to a social explosion (www.argumenti.ru/news/2010/01/13/45885).
“If I were in the place of owners of large landholdings, yachts and football clubs” – all characteristics of the infamous oligarchs who now in league with the Russian state dominate the country -- the legendary economist who now heads the Moscow Institute of Europe said, “I would be concerned about my security.”
But despite those problems, Shmelyev said, he “does not believe in the collapse [of Russia], its disappearance or the hopelessness of the Russian people.” And he adds that he “does not even believe in yet another serious shedding of blood.” Instead, he says, “two or three generations from now,” Russia will “confirm its European essence.”
One of the so-called “generation of the ‘60s,” Shmelyev said that scholars with whom he worked predicted in classified reports to the Soviet leaders that the country would have to open up and adopt at least some market mechanisms if it was to build a good society and to compete with the rest of the world.
Those ideas animated the reformers of the 1990s, he continued. Indeed, he said, they “did not bring a single new thought to scholarship. Their innovation consisted only that they approached the old ideas from a position of amorality and greed,” something he said none of those around him had “expected.”
Their absence of a social conscience and their uncritical faith in the power of the market alone, Shmelyev argued, led directly to the current disaster. The country can escape only if “the mentality of the entire society and its leadership is changed.” Unfortunately, at present, “we are still moving primarily on the basis of inertia.”
Specifically, the economist said, the dominance of monopolies must be “destroyed” and opportunities opened for small and mid-sized entrepreneurs. “And the chief thing is to build up local self-administration.” Only if those steps are taken, Shmelyev went on, can Russia hope “to escape from the crisis.”
“Despite all the declarations of the country’s leadership, [Russia] does not have local self-administration. But without it, there cannot be a democracy! All Western democracies are based on a centuries-old tradition of local (rural, settlement or city) self-administration” an arrangement that ensures the powers that be are close to the people and know its problems.
Tragically, the current powers that be in Moscow don’t want anything of that, and as a result, “no one can give any guarantee that as a result of the policies being pursued now, a significant part of Siberia and the Far East will not sometime separate from Russia” and go its own way.
But despite these words, Shmelyev said that he was confident that Russia would experience a rapprochement with Europe, both the traditional Europeans and the New European states with which it does not currently get along because of history. That will take “a minimum of two to three generations,” but it will happen.
Russia has all the resources it needs to achieve that, once it recovers from the human tragedies of the 20th century. “Geneticists say,” he continued, “that a minimum of four to five generations will be needed to completely recover.” Thus Russia should again be “healthy” sometime “in the middle or second half of the 21st century.”
“Any prediction,” Shmelyev pointed out, “reflects not only a calculation but also a faith. Yes, in Russia there have been many shattering events. But what country has managed without them. … Even in ‘blessed America,’ a civil war carried away, just as it did in Russia, three percent of the population. And they eliminated slavery just when we eliminated serfdom.”