Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn




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Excerpts from


"What Kind of 'Democracy' Is This?"

New York Times,
January 4, 1997

two strongly held opinions are widely shared in the West: that during the last few years democracy has unquestionably been established in Russia, albeit one under a dangerously weak national Government, and that effective economic reforms have been adopted to foster the creation of a free market, to which the way is now open. Both views are mistaken.What is known today as "Russian democracy" masks a Government of a  completely different sort. ...

Democracy in the unarguable sense of the word means the rule of the people -- that is, a system in which the people are truly in charge of their daily lives and can influence the course of their own historical fate. There is nothing of the sort in Russia today. ....In August 1991, the "councils of people's deputies," ... were abolished throughout the country. Since then, the united resistance of the President's machine, the Government, State Duma, leaders of the political parties and majority of governors has prevented the creation of any agencies of local self-government. Legislative assemblies do exist at the regional level but are entirely subordinate to the governors....There exists no legal framework or financial means for the creation of local self-government; ...All that really exists is the government hierarchy, from the
President and national Government on down. ...

Given that structure of power, it is the presidential elections, held every four years, that are most important to the fate of the nation. But the 1996 election was not an occasion for serious deliberation, nor could it have been. ....A "Communist cloud" hung over the elections ... there were no campaign debates or speeches of substance. No one even discussed the candidates' programs....Thus did the President come to power a second time, without having been held responsible for all the defects of his previous term.  This system of centralized power cannot be called a democracy. ...

The members of this oligarchy combine a lust for power with mercenary calculations. They exhibit no higher goals of serving the country and the people. It could be said that throughout the last 10 years of frenetic reorganization our Government has not taken a single step unmarked by ineptitude. Worse, our ruling circles have not shown themselves in the least morally superior to the Communists who preceded them....the fate of the country is now
decided by a stable oligarchy of 150 to 200 people, which includes the nimbler members of the old Communist system's top and middle ranks, plus the nouveaux riches.

The so-called economic reforms -- Mikhail Gorbachev's between 1987 and 1990, then Mr. Yeltsin's from 1992 to 1995 -- are another problem. Having noisily proclaimed the slogan of perestroika, Mr. Gorbachev was probably concerned with smoothly transferring party personnel into the new economic structure and safeguarding the party's own funds.  He took no steps to create small- and middle-level private manufacturing, though he did wreck the system of vertical and horizontal links in the existing Communist economy, which, though it worked badly did work. ...In that way, Mr. Gorbachev opened the door to economic chaos, a process further improved by Yegor T. Gaidar's "reform" and Anatoly B. Chubais's "privatization."

Genuine reform is a coordinated, systematic effort combining numerous measures aimed at a single goal. But from 1992 on, no such program was ever declared. Instead, there were two separate actions, which were not coordinated with each other, let alone with the economic benefit of the country. One was Mr. Gaidar's "liberalizing of prices" in 1992. The lack of any competitive environment meant that monopolistic producers could inflate costs of production while at the same reducing its volume and the outlays for it. This sort of "reform" quickly began to destroy production and, for much of the population, made consumer goods and many food items prohibitively expensive.

The other action was the frenzied privatization campaign.  The campaign's first step was the Government's issuing of vouchers to each citizen that supposedly represented his "share" of all the national wealth accumulated under the Communists. In reality, the total value of all the vouchers represented only a small fraction of 1 percent of that wealth. The second step was the sell-off, not to say give-away, of a multitude of state enterprises, including some gigantic ones. Those enterprises ended up in private hands, most of the new owners people seeking easy profit, with no experience of production and no desire to acquire any.

Russia's economic chaos is made worse by organized crime, which, never  nipped in the bud, is constantly stealing the country blind and accumulating enormous new capital. The gap between the rich and the impoverished majority has now assumed proportions unlike anything seen in the West or in pre-revolutionary Russia. Each year, no less than $25 billion flows abroad into private accounts.

The destructive course of events over the last decade has come about because the Government, while ineptly imitating foreign models, has completely disregarded the country's creativity and particular character as well as Russia's centuries-old spiritual and social traditions. Only if those paths are freed up can Russia be delivered from its near-fatal condition.









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