Gaidar’s former colleagues and friends: “He saved Russia from collapse”
RT: Could you tell us what kinds of things had been on his mind these last years of his life?
Leonid Gozman: Well, he had actually lived for his work. What he was doing had always been very important for him. He had told me once that his happiest times ever were the times spent behind his desk. He was a great scientist and a man of excellent knowledge.
Since he had taken the responsibility for the country upon himself in the beginning of the 1990s, he never gave it up. He continued being responsible for it in a different role that was not really visible, but still very significant. He always remained the highest intellectual and moral authority for all of us. This loss will affect us for many years to come. Those who knew him personally will always miss him.
Georgy Satarov: He published books, which are very useful and incredibly deep in meaning – I have them on my shelf and I use them as references from time to time. Yegor Gaidar was not doing well in his health, as all those political woes told on him. It’s very sad that he died so early, as he could have done much more. I’m aching because of his death.
RT: People formulate his main merit in different ways – how do you think he will remain in our history – as a man who did… what?
GS: Yegor Gaidar was a man of courage, above all, and a patriot in the best meaning of this word. Unlike the patriotism common for Russia, when people use it as a primitive form of politics or a cover-up for theft, his was in the willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of his country – and that’s exactly what he did in 1991-1992, when he led the country out of the state of political and apparent death. He was able to offer a way to lead the Russian economy out of the state of coma, took the responsibility for making this happen upon himself and achieved the result. This is the most important thing. However, people obviously don’t forgive benevolence – like they didn’t in his case either. His name has become almost a common name. However he himself was OK with this and pursued science.
LG: Yegor Gaidar quite simply saved our country; and I believe as time goes by more and more people will come to understand it. He saved our country from starvation, from civil war, from collapse – things we had been practically doomed for.
However, in the beginning of the 1990s, very few people had a true understanding of what was going on. But he understood. Even those who did understand it didn’t know what to do. But he knew. Even those who understood and knew what to do didn’t want to assume the responsibility. But he assumed it. He did it all – he saved the country, he gave us a chance. I believe what he did is comparable to the victory over Hitler. If Yegor hadn’t done what he did, if not for that victory, we wouldn’t be here today. Neither would our country be our country. We owe it to him that we’re alive.
RT: Do you think that in the future the society will re-evaluate what he did?
GS: I think – yes, of course. I would even say that it is inevitable.
RT: From today’s stand, when people talk about the so called “hard and reckless 90s”, how much do they connect it to what Gaidar was doing at the time, do you think?
GS: Well, I don’t think I quite agree with the notion of the so called “reckless 90s”. What happened was that a big country died. And the part that was called the Russian Federation was under the threat of collapse. The treasury was completely empty and a totally frozen product market. Still, all that was overcome.
RT: Many of Gaidar’s opponents that we will talk today, will say that nothing was thought through, many mistakes were made, everything was done in a big hurry, etc. So, what would your reply to this be?
GS: Well, I would remind them that at the end of 1991 a huge number of people, who later talked about mistakes, rush, etc., simply refused to take responsibility. Gaidar did, though.
RT: As far as I understand, even Gaidar himself admitted that there were some mistakes. What could you say about the mistakes?
GS: Sure, there were mistakes. Even more so, I had to talk about those things with Gaidar and Chubais in 1992. But we assess the outcome. The results achieved by the people who bent over the corpse of the country and tried to bring it back to life as soon as possible. The mistakes back then were unavoidable. It was the first ever experience of saving the country of such a large scale from such a critical condition.
LG: Well, in historic prospective, great people have always been surrounded by the rabble who are quick to arrogantly tell that things should’ve been done differently. It’s like a small dog against an elephant, you know?! Their words had no effect back then, and will have even less effect now. Let them say whatever they want to say, and let God be their judge.
RT: You worked together for several years. Can you remember how involved he was in forming and influencing decisions over the recent years? How interested was he in what’s going on?
GS: I must say, Yegor Gaidar fell under the spell of Putin’s charisma. He started to believe that opportunities emerged to take the country to the path of liberal development. He took an active part in those attempts and gave lots of advice. Some of his advice was accepted – like the flat scale in taxation, which I think is useful and Yegor Gaidar invested a lot into that. Then, as expected, all that became unnecessary to the ruling power. And it did affect him as yet another disappointment.
RT: Yegor Gaidar’s voice wasn’t heard that much recently. Why is that? Is it because he simply preferred not to comment much on what’s going on?
GS: First of all, he did make comments. It’s another thing how the media got it across to people. Secondly, his main product was his great books. I can give you an example when this man, the ex-prime minister who saved this country, came to one of the cities and was refused the right to speak at the local University. He was in that city to introduce his book. But for some reason, Yegor Gaidar happened to be on the blacklist of people who are considered harmful for the country.
LG: He was a very realistic man. Actual results were more important for him than just making speeches. He preferred to keep quiet when he knew it would lead to no results. However his influence had always been more than effective.
RT: Still, had he been able to also influence current economic policy recently?
LG: I believe so.
RT: You knew him quite well – so what kind of person was he? Different people have different opinions – some say he was firm, some that he was modest. What was he like then? How will you remember him?
GS: You know, I can’t really dare say that I knew him very well. We weren’t friends – we were colleagues for a period of time and treated each other with a sort of respect. From my experience, he was very comfortable to work with, as he was the person of quick and clear understanding. He was a true intellectual, who thought in straight terms. And I value that highly.
LG: Let me tell you something – he had a nickname: The Iron Winnie the Pooh. And he truly was a man of iron. His adamant will and his tremendous authority were hiding behind his outward softness. At the same time he was a tremendously brave man. He knew no fear. And he was a man of the highest moral standards. We all valued his moral assessment. Many of us made our decisions under his influence. This was certainly true about me.
Yegor was also absolutely free of any arrogance or conceit. He was exactly the opposite. In this sense he was very easy-going and approachable. But at the same time, whenever you were talking to him you knew he was a man of history, a man of centuries. Whenever we talked to him we never forgot who we were speaking with.