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17 Dec, 2009 11:39

ROAR: “Kamikaze economist who changed the country”

ROAR: “Kamikaze economist who changed the country”

The Russian media, analysts and politicians have begun to reassess reformer Yegor Gaidar’s legacy.

“He is called the main builder of the new Russian state or destroyer of the country,” Kommersant daily said. “Gaidar’s economic reforms are considered the salvation from hunger and national catastrophe or a flayer’s experiment that has thrown millions of people out of normal life,” it added.

“For some people Yegor Gaidar is a hero, and he is an enemy for others,” the daily noted. “However, no one denies the role this man played during the last 18 years of Russia’s history,” the paper said.

“His self-control was grounded on firm confidence in himself and the rightfulness of his cause,” the paper said. “Yegor Gaidar did not doubt the need and even inevitability of certain actions from autumn 1991 to winter 1992, when he became one of the leaders of the ‘kamikaze cabinet’.”

This confidence helped Gaidar resort to unpopular decisions, the daily said, adding that “many of his political contemporaries were not familiar with this ability, which is mainly lost nowadays.”

The media quote the results of the poll conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) back in December 2007. According to the survey, only 17% of Russians positively assessed the economic reforms of the 1990s.

Only one fifth of respondents said at the time that they agreed with the thesis of the reformers that the country had no other choice in the 1990s except for the shock privatizations and price deregulation, VTsIOM said.

Some 40% of 1600 people surveyed in 42 regions said they considered the course to create the market economy “right,” but negatively assessed the methods that Gaidar and his team had used while fulfilling the course.

Vremya Novostey daily said that Gaidar “has now completely become a living history of Russia, the country that he restored together with Boris Yeltsin” on the debris of the Soviet empire. He worked in the Russian government for 13 months, and he was the acting prime minister only half a year, the daily said.

However he managed “to build the frame of the economy of the country we live in and saved millions of people from a real famine, including the majority of those who hate him,’ the paper added.

“It was not simply brave decisions, responsibility and patriotism,” the paper said. “Gaidar was actually establishing Russian economy from scratch in the conditions of the absolute political and financial bankruptcy of the previous state, empty treasury, implacable political opposition and lack of time,” the paper said.

If it had not been for Gaidar and his determination, supported politically by President Boris Yeltsin, it would be impossible today to modernize anything and make plans up till 2020, the daily said.

“It is possible to argue without end if there had been an alternative to the course that Gaidar chose and fulfilled,” the paper added. But those who argue today “did not wish to pick up the power that lay in the dust of the empire’s debris,” it said. “There were not high oil prices and gold and currency reserves of many billions,” the paper noted.

Governor of Kirov Region Nikita Belykh described Gaidar as “a man who deeply understood the situation and was the most responsible and the most honest one.” At the same time, he “maybe was not practical in real life,” Belykh told Russian News Service radio. He was a man who “was thinking in the categories of decades and centuries,” the governor said.

Leonid Gozman, co-chairman of the Right Cause party and a former colleague of Gaidar’s was quoted by Gazeta.ru as saying that Russia was “a step away from the breakup and civil war, and our breakup and civil war could mean the beginning of nuclear war in the world.”

Another former colleague and the minister of the press, Mikhail Fedotov, said that Gaidar “demonstrated fantastic bravery as he had to take a task upon himself to rule the country when it was on the brink of collapse.”

Gaidar and other ministers understood well that they were “the government of kamikaze,” and they thought what they were doing “would be painful but necessary,” Gazeta.ru quoted him as saying.

Aleksandr Raykov, president of the New Strategies analytical agency, said that “few people could launch shock therapy.” He described the reforms as a significant event in the Russian history, although “very painful.”

“This phenomenon contributed to the theory and practice of government, showing that abrupt movements in politics should be done with utmost care,” Raykov told Kommentarii.ru website.

Artemy Troitsky, a Russian music journalist well-known in the West, described Gaidar as “a remarkable man.” Gaidar needed will-power and courage “for what he did,” Troitsky told Ekho Moskvy radio.

On the other hand, Troitsky believes that Gaidar “cruelly trampled on the lives of millions of people by his reforms, learned from American textbooks.” People who “were not guilty of anything” suffered “for the sake of the purity of liberal economic theory,” the journalist added.

Gaidar was “an absolute dogmatist of liberal capitalist economy,” Troitsky said. “He believed that there is the model developed by Milton Friedman, of the Chicago School of Economics, fulfilled by those Americans with their Reaganomics, and by some countries with a similar experience,” Troitsky said.

Shock therapy, when only a stronger man survives, “looked like a panacea for all problems,” the journalist said. “I think it was simply silly to apply all those American liberal theories to a country with absolutely different experience, absolutely different traditions, culture and mentality,” Troitsky said.

However, politician Irina Khakamada believes that “about 99% of what Gaidar did is good from the point of view of moving to the future.” “It is difficult to force your way to the future if you do not take risks,” she told Finam FM radio. “And you are doomed to make mistakes,” she said, adding that Gaidar was a man who could “take responsibility” for them.

“Gaidar always considered himself to be responsible for the situation in Russia,” Vedomosti daily said, adding that it was the case even when he quit the government. “Yegor Gaidar will become an unusual hero for Russia,” the paper added. “It seems that most people do not like him or even hate him, but all the citizens live in a country which would not exist without him.”

Sergey Borisov, RT