Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Window on Eurasia: ‘Wild 1990s’ Simply a ‘Thaw’ in a Long ‘Russian Winter,’ Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, May 4 – To the usual charge that “enemies of Russia” are responsible for all the country’s problems, the current powers that be in Moscow routinely blame “the wild 1990s” with their “incorrect foreign and domestic policies” for temporary difficulties, even though they themselves emerged from precisely that period, according to a Russian analyst.

In an essay entitled “Why is the Lie about the 1990s Necessary?” Andrey Gusev surveys the direct relationship between the current tandem and that decade and important parallel between that latest “thaw” in Russian history and the cold “winters” which seem to invariably return there after any such warming (

Russia’s current leaders entered “big politics” in the 1990s and were shaped as political figures “in the second half” of that decade, a time when the country “having understood Gorbachev’s perestroika and Yeltsin’s revolution without much debate moved along the path of oligarchic capitalism.”

Moreover, those years were “the time when the first Chechen war ended, when society wanted stability after the default of 1998, but there still existed political competition,” and few Russians thought that being ruled by a single party of corrupted officials would be their lot anytime soon.

Today, Gusev continues, “the Russian political space has been cleansed down to the bottom,” with the media controlled by the state. But, the analyst says, “this does not eliminate the need to explain to the population the reasons for the largely unsuccessful rule of the St. Petersburg chekists.”

The current powers that be routinely invoke the traditional explanation for problems: “the enemies of Russia are guilty of everything.” But they have now added a second explanation: “our provisional failures are the result of the incorrect foreign and domestic policy” of those who ruled the country in the last decade of the 20th century.

That is why the 1990s are now called “wild.” Under Yeltsin, Gusev writes, “Chubais was guilty on all points. [Now] under the Petersburg tandem, the wild 90s are to blame.” Those who think and reflect can see this is an absurdity, but for the ordinary Russian who gets his information from state television and the politically ambitious, it all makes sense.

And now the tandem and its supporters are not afraid to declare openly in a Stalinist fashion that “life has become better; life has become more joyous” as long as everyone recognizes that “no one has the right to move forward without the United Russia party,” which has overcome “the wild 90s.”

Since 1991 enough time has passed, Gusev continues, to dispassionately assess the situation. “On the greater part of the post-Soviet space authoritarian regimes or even quasi-dictatorships have solidified their hold. The exceptions have become [only] the Baltic countries, Georgia, and in part Ukraine.”

It is also true that in the 1990s, Gusev says, there were “a mass of mistakes and crimes,” something no one should “close his eyes to.” The default happened, capital flight happened, the dishonest presidential elections of 1996 happened, and “the biggest mistake of the state” occurred – the Chechen war began which has drawn through its fires “a million Russian men.” All this “could not fail to leave a mark on the entire country.”

“Today’s authoritarian Russian regime is at a crossroads,” Gusev concludes. “Its bearers would like nothing to change but they understand that this is impossible for any lengthy period of time.” Moreover, they know that they have to modernize the economy, that that requires “modernization of political life,” and that that in turn leads to the competition they fear.

“The alternative is a dictatorship,” Gusev points out, but he suggests that the tandem “has still not decided” to go that route. But if they do or even if they continue their current way forward for some interval of time, it will be increasingly obvious that the 1990s were not “wild” but “only a law in the middle of a long Russian winter.”

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