Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russians Must Move Beyond ‘Chekist Myth’ about the 1990s, Russian National Democrats Say

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 29 – No one can deny that the 1990s were a difficult decade for Russians or fail to admit that there has been progress in some areas since 2000, but Russians will not be able to make progress toward a prosperous and democratic future if they continue to believe “the Chekist myth” that the 1990s were “a hell” and the 2000s “a paradise.”
That is because, analysts connected with the National Democratic Alliance say, this “myth” justifies for many the kind of authoritarianism that Vladimir Putin has introduced and convinces them that any move toward a more open and law-based society could have the most fateful consequences (folksland.net/m/articles/view/90-e-Realii-i-chekistskie-strashilki).
In fact, the Inter-regional Russian Center of National Democratic Research says, an honest comparison of the two post-Soviet decades in Russia shows that the “wild” 1990s that Putin’s supporters like to frighten Russians will were in many ways not as bad as the “well-off” 2000s that the same people use to convince Russians that no other system will work.
Even a superficial comparison, the center suggests, undercuts the Putin mythology. “The most important” development, it says, is that in the 1990s, Russia’s population declined by a million people a year, but under Putin, this decline accelerated by 20 percent to 1.2 million a year, only to improve slightly at the end of the decade but still not to the levels of the 1990s.
Moreover, the center points out, “all ‘the successes’” of the Putin year depended on increases in the price of oil. “If the price of oil stood today where it was in1998,” the center’s analysts say, “Russia would fall apart in three months.” And they note that Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov oversaw economic growth with a price less than a third of what it is now.
In addition, the 1990s did not feature the kind of arbitrary behavior of the militia. In that decade cases like the Yevsyukov were unheard of; even “impossible.” The FSB received only a tenth as much funding as now, and Russia’s courts “still returned” not guilty verdicts against the regime’s political opponents.
In the 1990s, there was no anti-extremism law used against all and sundry. The level of bribery and corruption was much less than now. And what is of most direct import to the population at large, medicine and education were mostly free while beginning next year thanks to the Putin reforms, Russians will have to pay for both.
And as far as the Chechen war is concerned, the analysts note, it not only didn’t end “but was transformed into a conflict across the entire North Caucasus, even as Moscow increased its budget support of the republics there from 60 to 80 percent in the terrible 1990s to the 95 percent in the well-off 2000s.
In short, the Center says, “in the 1990s, there were many difficulties, but there was also hope for a chance to change the situation” and to do so “bloodlessly via elections.” Now, however, “if we believe that the 1990s were ‘hell on earth’” and thus refuse to move away from the Putin system, Russians will find out what “real chaos and a full-scale civil war are like.”
A conflict, the national democratic analysts conclude, that will be “a war for the survival of the people against Putin’s chekist clique.”

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