Date: Mon, 23 Jul 2007
From: Vladimir Shlapentokh firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: How Putin’s Russia Embraces Authoritarianism: The Case of Yegor Gaidar
The ability of an Orwellian society to bend the will of individuals and force them to change their minds is well known. Putin’s Russia, however, has proved that not only a harsh totalitarian state, such as the Soviet Union, but also a somewhat milder, authoritarian regime is able to achieve almost the same result. Such a regime can threaten to diminish the income, privileges or social status of prominent people. By murdering or jailing only a few active people (businesspeople, journalists and politicians), the regime can show its potential opponents that everyone in the country is vulnerable. Looking back on Stalin’s time, one cannot help but think that he could have achieved his goals and stayed in power until his death without using such horrendous acts of violence. The ideological evolution of Yegor Gaidar represents a strong piece of evidence in support of this thesis.
Indeed, very few politicians, past or present, have become symbolic figures in Russia and throughout the world. As one of the greatest reformers in Russian history, Gaidar is no doubt one of them. Acting as prime minister in 1992-1993, he radically changed society. He is both hailed and hated by millions of people in Russia, while in the West only Gorbachev can claim to be as well liked. Many years after leaving the government with the honorable title of “father of the liberal reforms,” Gaidar has been a desirable guest of numerous universities and a speaker at many conferences across the world.
Gaidar has a reputation not only for being a creative person, but also a brave one. Accepting Yeltsin’s invitation to turn Russia upside down with his reforms, he took a great personal risk as the acting chairman of the government. Reforming the economy, he was not afraid to put forth a series of wildly unpopular measures, such as the release of prices and the elimination of personal savings. Gaidar exposed himself to real physical danger, even if he was surrounded by bodyguards. When he suggested to his comrades in the new government that they were all “kamikazes,” he was hardly exaggerating the perils of their mission.
On October 3-4, 1993, Gaidar mustered a particularly high level of personal courage. During the armed confrontation between Yeltsin and the parliament, he called on Muscovites to attend a meeting in downtown Moscow to support the president, even though there were no police or army personnel to protect them from bands of armed rebels. He came to the meeting himself, joined by a group of unarmed people and made a passionate speech, clearly risking his life. In any case, Grigorii Yavlinsky, another democratic leader, condemned Gaidar for his “adventurism” and for exposing those who had responded to his call to mortal danger.
Gaidar’s courage amazed many people who knew him before 1991 when, as a member of the Communist Party, he obediently served the Kremlin as an editor of the leading party periodical, the journal /Communist, /and then as an editor of /Pravda,/ the main Communist newspaper. After his resignation from the government in 1994 and the failures of the liberal political party “Democratic Choice of Russia,” which he headed during the parliamentary elections in 1993 and 1995, Gaidar continued to be an outspoken defender of Western ideals in politics and the economy. He, for instance, publicly criticized the war in Chechnya.
Everything changed a few years after Putin’s arrival to power in 2000. By all accounts, as Putin’s regime became more and more hostile toward dissenters, Gaidar and many other liberals began to fine-tune their public behavior with regard to the Kremlin’s tastes. Following the usual rule in such cases, their “adjustment” to the regime started with keeping silent when the Kremlin rudely violated democratic principles and laws.
Since Putin began his anti-liberal perestroika, Gaidar never directly criticized him or the official policy of the Kremlin. Gaidar could not even restrain himself during an interview with the website of his political party, “The Union of Right Forces” on July 17, 2007, in which he praised the president for his “correct” behavior in the political processes surrounding the choice of his heir. However, he said nothing about the deeply antidemocratic character of these processes.
He mostly praised the Kremlin’s economic policy and never spoke critically of the president or any other high official. He also found an opportunity to say good words about his possible heir, Sergei Ivanov, the deputy prime minister and former general of the intelligence services.
Gaidar permitted himself to make only general critiques, such as a reference to “the decline in the quality of reforms after 2003.” He never went beyond broad recommendations, such as the need to curb public expenditures and be prepared for the decline in income from the oil industry in the next years. Gaidar’s two big books, /A Long Time; Russia and the World/ (2005) and /Collapse of an Empire; Lessons for Modern Russia <http://firstsearch.oclc.org/WebZ/FSFETCH?fetchtype=fullrecord:sessionid=fsapp4-39096-f3rg6wzh-vq4dqd:entitypagenum=3:0:recno=1:resultset=1:format=FI:next=html/record.html:bad=error/badfetch.html:entitytoprecno=1:entitycurrecno=1:numrecs=1>/ (2007), contained only apologies for the official economic policy.
Amusingly, Gaidar, after 1991, changed his views on Marx twice. In Soviet times, he was a strong believer in Marx’s economic theory, as demonstrated by his book published in 1990. After the anti-Communist revolution, Gaidar associated Marx with “the leaders of great destructive revolutionary movements,” which also included Bakunin, Lenin, Trotsky, Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler. oweve
However, after 2000, with the weakening of anti-Communist rhetoric in the official ideology, Gaidar returned to his admiration of Marx. By all accounts, Gaidar believes in the most vulgar interpretation of Marxism. In his recent publications and interviews, he suggested that the level of income per head ultimately determines the political order in society.
At the Economic Forum in Petersburg in June 2007, Gaidar, as the director of the Institute of Transitional Economics (formally an independent research body) was asked to give a presentation about the state of the Russian economy. He was supposed to offer a critical alternative to the official report by German Gref, the minister of economics. However, as described by Russian media, Gaidar’s speech looked very similar to the official report. Gaidar’s glowing assessments of Russia’s economic performance were strongly at odds with the analysis of outstanding Russian economists with liberal and leftist orientations, such as Evgenii Yasin, Mikhail Deliagin, Sergei Glaziev and Andrei Illarionov, a former economic advisor to Putin and several others.
In addition to being timid in economic matters, Gaidar never protested against any of Putin’s specific anti-democratic actions, such as his abolishment of gubernatorial elections and the people’s right to vote for candidates that were not on the list of parties controlled by the government. He did not utter even one word in defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose fate became a rallying cry for all those who believe in democratic ideals in Russia. Of course, Gaidar kept silence on the murder of Anna Politkovskaia.
His views on the state of democracy under Putin became quite vague. While hinting about the importance of “functional democracy,” Gaidar tried to depict the political situation in the country as quite rosy. He cited the existence of several parties, but said nothing about the fact that the parties that dominate the State Duma were totally controlled by the Kremlin, just as the Kremlin in Soviet times ran the Communist Party. He refused to acknowledge any similarity between what he referred to as Putin’s “closed democracy” and the Soviet past. He considers it almost blasphemous to compare Putin’s parliament to the Soviet one, as if the current State Duma can influence the Kremlin’s decisions more than the Supreme Soviet could influence its masters.
However, in November 2006, Gaidar seemingly came to the conclusion that his status and personal security demanded more conspicuous actions in favor of the Kremlin. Litivinenko’s death in London on November 23, 2006 coincided with Gaidar’s trip to Dublin, where he fell ill on November 24. Serving the Kremlin’s version about Litvinenko’s death, Gaidar immediately, without even the slightest piece of evidence, linked his illness to Litvinenko’s death. He declared that he had also been a victim of poisoning and suggested that the perpetrators were the “open or hidden enemies of the Russian authorities who want to bring a radical deterioration of relations between Russia and the West.” After a few days in Dublin’s hospital, Gaidar returned to Moscow where he spent several additional days in the hospital. No doctor in Ireland or in Russia officially linked Gaidar’s illness to an intentional poisoning.
After recovering from his illness, Gaidar became one of the most active troubadours of the Kremlin’s propaganda. Already in November, Gaidar declared that Boris Berezovsky, an exiled magnate living in England and Putin’s number one enemy, was behind his and Litvinenko’s poisoning. As an act of loyalty to the Kremlin, he sent a letter to George Soros, asking the American mogul, who is known for his antipathy toward the Russian tycoon, to undertake some measures against him. Evidently, this letter was addressed to the Kremlin as a testimony of loyalty, because nobody could imagine Soros participating in a political campaign sponsored by Moscow.
However, in an interview on Russian radio station “Ekho Moskvy” on June 17, Gaidar managed to demonstrate such a level of servility before the Kremlin that he shocked the intellectual community. As suggested by Maxim Sokolov, a journalist from the pro-Kremlin newspaper /Izvestia, /“Gaidar’s recent radio talk led to a separation between him and the liberals, who concluded that the father of the reforms was scared, sold out, went mad, or suffered from all these evils at once.” Indeed, the part of the Russian population that withstood Putin’s brainwashing was flabbergasted by several of Gaidar’s assertions.
Continuing to support the belief in Berezovsky’s culpability, which is an important element of Moscow’s propaganda, Gaidar contended that he is confident in the full innocence of Andrei Lugovoy, London’s main suspect. Gaidar’s only argument was that Lugovoy had served as his bodyguard many years ago and, given his personal qualities, his involvement in such a nasty thing as murder was impossible. The dark past of this FSB agent and his activities in Moscow and London did not stop Gaidar from his vehement guarantee of Lugovoy’s innocence.
With the same self-assuredness, Gaidar, to the full amazement of journalist Evgenia Albats, dismissed the Crown Prosecution Service’s claims, suggesting that it was not an independent institution and that it was being controlled by an anti-democratic bureaucracy. Without hesitation, he said that “the Crown Prosecution Service lied to the whole world,” covering up for those “who poisoned 30 British citizens.” Discrediting the British political establishment and suggesting that it is no more or less dishonest than the Russian bureaucracy, Gaidar joined those who support the new thesis of the Kremlin’s ideology: “they are no better than we are.”
In his drive to destroy any attempt to implicate the Kremlin in Litvinenko’s murder, Gaidar entered the zone of total absurdity, presenting two politically active Russian émigrés as people who could bring polonium into England. One of them was the famous dissident Zhores Mevdeved and the other was Berezovsky’s friend Alex Goldfarb. Gaidar pointed out that many years ago they had both been involved in biological research in institutes that dealt with “nuclear chemistry.” Gaidar openly challenged the consensus view of Russian and Western scholars that polonium could be produced only in a big, secret state laboratory. Only Mikhail Leontiev, on “Ekho Moskvy” (July 20, 2007), could compete with Gaidar’s rude attempts to totally reject any suspicions about the relevance of the Russian authorities to Litvinenko’s murder.
Unlike many liberal authors in Russia who have analyzed the American plan for an antimissile defense shield against Iran from different angles, Gaidar, without any reservation, supported the vitriolic propaganda against the United States. He joined the most virulent enemies of America and accused the country of lying about its intentions. He suggested that the goal of the antimissile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic is not to defend against Iran, but to scare Russia. Talking in an interview with the newspaper /Smartmoney/ in July 2007/ /about the rampant anti-Americanism in the country, Gaidar ascribed it entirely to American foreign policy. He did not even mention the crucial role of Putin’s Kremlin in fomenting the hostility toward the United States in the country. What is more, against common sense, he suggested that the authorities support anti-Americanism under the pressure of the masses.
His demonstration of unconditional fidelity to the Kremlin was not lost on the Russian leadership. Putin made a personal call to Gaidar to inquire about his health. He was also treated as a VIP by the Russian organizers of the Economic Forum in Petersburg in June 2007.
The political evolution of Gaidar as a public figure from a champion of democracy and Western values to a pitiful advocate of any move in the Kremlin is a sad story. In Soviet times, the Russian intelligentsia reacted with gloom when prominent scholars, artists and writers signed and supported perfidious articles in favor of some nasty action of the Soviet leadership (for instance, against Sakharov or Solzhenitsyn). However, inside Russia (in Soviet times as well as now), few people focused on the personal traits of those who yielded to power. There was a consensus that the major culprit was the regime itself, which forced decent individuals to betray their ideals and participate in malicious actions. Gaidar’s recent public behavior reveals how far Putin’s regime will go in order to intimidate the cream of the Russian people.
Russia’s continued move away from liberal values is one of the most unpleasant developments in the world today. Gaidar’s transformation from a champion of democracy into the Kremlin’s myrmidon is quite typical for many Russian liberals, which only further diminishes the prestige of democracy in the country. As is typical in such cases, while moving to the camp in power, Gaidar has tried to maintain some credentials with his former allies. For this reason, he often makes mutually exclusive statements. For instance, totally supporting the Kremlin’s deep hostility toward the American plans to build up military bases in Eastern Europe, he asserts that “he does not assume for even a second that America will conduct a nuclear strike against Russia.” Avoiding any political critique of the Kremlin, Gaidar, at the same time, declared that he is convinced that “democracy will win in Russia in a maximum of 15 years.”
Despite his arrant conformism, Gaidar praises Mikhail Kasianov, the former prime minister, as a “courageous person” who “ignored detailed advice to stay out of politics” and joined the opposition. However, Gaidar did not dare to directly blame the Kremlin for its rude and open obstruction to Kasianov’s attempt to be nominated as a candidate in the presidential election of 2008. In order to avoid cutting his ties with the liberal camp, Gaidar also attended in July the 80^th birthday celebration of Liudmila Alexeeva, a heroic figure of the Russian human rights movement, joining the most famous liberals in the country who continue to publicly defend democratic principles.
Each country has an assortment of known people, dead or alive, who symbolize the society. For many Russians, Boris Yeltsin was the founder of a new democratic Russia; for others, he was the most corrupt leader in Russian history. Vladimir Putin, at the same time, is a symbol of stability and the murderer of the country’s fledging democracy. Most other symbolic figures in Russia are less ambiguous. In the Russian mind, Anatolii Chubais represents (both today and 15 years ago) the criminal character of privatization. Boris Berezovsky symbolizes the illegal origin of the oligarchs’ wealth, while another mogul, Roman Abramovich, given his reputation as the Kremlin’s cashier, is a typical example of the blending of political power and big money. Mikhail Prokhorov, after his scandalous arrest for bringing dozens of prostitutes from Russia to entertain his hosts in a French ski resort called Courchevele, is now associated with the type of wealth that generates immorality and perversion. Vladimir Zhirinovsly is seen by the people as a perfect political clown, a symbol of the debasement of politics, which was aptly exploited by the Kremlin for its purposes.
Russia also enjoys a number of positive symbolic figures. Among them are Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a symbol of the resistance to Communism, Anna Politkovskaia, a model of indomitable journalism who was killed for her convictions, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a magnate and symbol of courage, because he challenged Putin’s political monopoly and chose prison over emigration.
Gaidar’s retreat from his position as a consistent defender of democracy in Russia is a painful blow to many Russians. As suggested by Boris Nemtsov, the former prime minister and a liberal who is faithful to his ideals, in a recent article in Russian newspaper /Vedomosti’/ (July 18, 2007), life in Putin’s authoritarian Russia, despite the material progress, is “disgusting.” In this year, Gaidar became a symbol of capitulation before the forces that are deeply hostile to liberal ideals, even if many people in Russia, watching the spread of fear in the country, condone his behavior.
In the 1970s, Arkadii Belinkov, a Soviet writer, published a book abroad called, /The Surrender and Destruction of a Soviet Intellectual./ It was a sad text about Yuri Olesha, a very talented writer, who was seized by fear and capitulated before the Soviet authorities in the late 1920s-early 1930s. Refusing to share the fate of a few brave Soviet writers, including Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak, Olesha assumed that the Soviet system would last “forever.” In order to survive, he saw it as necessary to cooperate with the system. Olesha’s prognosis was, to some degree, correct. After his death in 1960, the Soviet Union lived for another 30 years.
It looks like Gaidar and thousands of other politicians, journalists and writers in Russia also assume that the same is true for the regime built by Putin and his team. Indeed, the ease with which prominent people have moved from being fervent supporters of liberal ideas to serving the current authoritarian regime in Moscow cannot be otherwise explained. By all accounts, those who decided to ignore the high moral cost of their transformation believe in the longevity of the existing political order in Russia. They are probably confident that, in their lifetimes (Gaidar is only fifty years old), they will not be forced to recant their behavior and publications. At the same time, they probably share the depressing view of Yulia Kalinina, a famous Russian journalists and one of the country’s bravest writers, who insisted that the country does not have “a mechanism that can guarantee objective investigations and fair courts.” The Russians, as Kalinina suggested, would be defenseless if the rulers began a new mass terror. She added that the country’s leader, if necessary, could find people to execute his criminal orders, as was seen in 1937.
The whole world is trying to guess about the prospects for democracy in Russia. The recent behavior of Yegor Gaidar, a shrewd politician with rich political experience and deep connections to the political establishment, is a powerful argument in favor of the pessimistic prognosis. The West needs to reconcile with the fact that it will be dealing with a non-democratic Russia in the next decades.