Yegor Gaidar, a Russian economist and politician who initiated the 1992 “shock therapy” reforms following the collapse of the Soviet Union, died on Wednesday in Moscow at the age of 53. Initial reports said the cause of death was a blood clot; on Dec. 17, Maria Gaidar, Yegor Gaidar's daughter, announced on her blog (RUS) that it had been a heart attack.
In the obituary published in The Economist on Dec. 16, Gaidar is described as someone who, along with “his team,” “demolished the Soviet economy and laid the foundations of capitalism in Russia,” by pushing “astonishingly risky” economic reforms, which turned out to be “right but unpopular”:
[…] Too much shock, not enough therapy, people complained. In the years that followed, life expectancy plunged further, public services frayed and output plummetted. But much of that was the grim legacy of Soviet misrule. Other things began to work much better. Given the disaster that he inherited, Mr Gaidar’s record still looks pretty good. […]
Russian bloggers immediately reacted to the news of Gaidar's death, and their responses serve as a vivid reflection of how divided the Russian public still is on his legacy and the direction the country has taken since the demise of the Soviet Union. Gaidar spent the past decade largely outside the public spotlight, involved in academic work and writing, but he remained a hugely symbolic figure nevertheless: a highly esteemed hero to some of his compatriots and a reviled scapegoat to others. It is impossible to conclude which prevailed in the blogosphere on the day he died – praise and genuine sadness, or curses and inappropriately gleeful satisfaction – but there was definitely plenty of both.
In a way, LJ user faibisovich puts it best (RUS):
[…] Just as [Boris Yeltsin]'s death, the death of Gaidar is an extremely powerful litmus test, an instant photo of the consciousness of the country, its public figures and the not-so-prominent people. […]
Below is a selection of Russian bloggers’ reactions to Yegor Gaidar's death (translated from Russian).
[…] He did indeed rescue us from humiliation, from fights for a loaf of bread… The majority doesn't think highly of it, which characterizes not Gaidar, but this majority. […]
[…] He was faced with an extremely difficult task, something that no one in the world had ever done before him – from a fried eggs meal, to re-assemble a live egg on the molecular level. Did he do it clumsily? Yes, it was clumsy. Yes, a tractor rode over people's destinies. In our family, too, in the early 90s, there were no other words but curses directed at [Gaidar]. But on the other hand, there was no alternative, either.
Have you been to Yugoslavia? No? Go there, talk to the people, they'll tell you many interesting things about the “Great Serb” [Slobodan Milošević] and his allies. And they'll also tell you how people were burnt alive and forced to drink urine brewed with cigarette butts.
All this despite the fact that [Yugoslavia] was a much more cultured and European country, with agriculture that remained intact, with a developed consumer goods production, with roads and service!
Taking into account our backwardness and wildness, as well as the size of the Soviet Union – this would have been some 6-7 million of dead bodies.
So maybe he has saved these 6-7 million people – and not “robbed the old ladies”? […]
Had Gaidar died between 1993-95, there would have been no need to feel sorry. But today, there is – because now we've got someone to compare him with – basically, the inanimate objects in office.
And he should also be given credit for not falling so low as to start “eating children” – despite being in an environment that favored that. He had managed to restrain himself.
Here's part of a discussion in the comments section to the post quoted above:
“because now we've got someone to compare him with”
I don't know what's a good comparison for a person who had promised a threefold price hike but ended up initiating a 2,500% inflation. This makes even the events of [the 1998 financial crisis in Russia] dim by comparison.
[Nikita Khrushchev] promised communism by 1980 to you, [Mikhail Gorbachev] promised a separate apartment to everyone by 2000, [Vladimir Putin] promised to catch up with Portugal by 2010.
Do you believe all the czars?
These are promises of different kinds. Those czars were promising lifestyle improvements – and they kept these promises at least in part.
Gaidar was promising a deterioration – and he well exceeded on this promise […].
Because he was honest, that's why.
[…] Gaidar and Yeltsin are blamed for rendering worthless people's savings deposits at [Sberbank].
I'll note two things.
Thing #1. Sberbank of the USSR was bankrupt by 1992 – it had handed out over 90 percent of the accumulated funds to [Gosbank] of the USSR, which, in turn, handed out most of that in the form of loans to the Soviet budget. From formal bankruptcy Sberbank of the USSR was saved by the 1991-92 hyperinflation only, which also erased to dust the purchasing power of the savings.
Thing #2. Most of the depositors’ losses happened in the pre-Gaidar 1991, when prices rose 150 percent. That is, the purchasing power of savings fell by 60 percent. Then the 1992 inflation cut the [remaining] savings tenfold. That is, in 1991, depositors parted with 60 percent of their savings, and in 1992 – with 36 percent.
Anyway, if you are remembering Gaidar [unkindly], then the Soviet prime minister [Valentin Pavlov], a communist, should precede him. […]
LJ user knup_ru wrote this in the ru_politics LJ community:
[…] I've noticed that only communists are criticizing Gaidar openly. The rest are either praising him or carefully acknowledge his role in the Russian history.
It's not only the economic reforms that Gaidar is remembered unfavorably for by some Russian citizens. LJ user ingushetia-ru, for instance, brought up the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992, at the time of which Gaidar served as first deputy prime minister of Russia. Writing on behalf of the Ingush population, ingushetia-ru concludes:
[…] All in all, so many curses are pouring at the deceased from all over the country, that one more – from the Ingush people – is simply drowning in the general mass of it…
And then there was also the “constitutional crisis” of October 1993 in Russia – “a political stand-off between the Russian president and the Russian parliament that was resolved by using military force.” Gaidar, who had been Russia's acting PM from June to December 1992, was Russia's first deputy prime minister again then. On the day he died, at least two bloggers posted a YouTube video (RUS) of his Oct. 3, 1993, TV address to the Russian citizens, in which he, among other things, described the “opposite side” as heavily-armed “bandits” and “revanchists” and called Muscovites to gather in downtown Moscow to “prevent turning the country into a huge concentration camp for decades again.”
One of the bloggers (LJ user gunter_spb) posted this video in the ru_politics LJ community, questioning Gaidar's “morality” – and while some readers seemed to share his scorn for Gaidar, others didn't:
A faithful servant of the [nomenklatura, the ruling class] and a Russophobe
Have listened carefully. Recalled that time. Am ready to sign under every single phrase.
Another blogger who chose to highlight Gaidar's 1993 address is LJ user cook. Here is what he wrote in his tribute to Gaidar:
Sometimes – very rarely – people appear in the human mass who are truly capable of assuming responsibility in a decisive moment.
Yegor Gaidar had been given this amazing and tragic gift in abundance: he was ready to act and to be held responsible for his actions. Again and again, he was taking upon himself what was most difficult, most unrewarding, and, sometimes, truly unbearable.
Here, have a look: a horrible moment, when a person meets his fate. Calmly, with dignity and with understanding of the real weight of the burden that he had been allotted.
This is what an act of bravery is. One of the feats that he has accomplished.
Eternal memory and eternal gratitude to Yegor Gaidar.
Below are a few more reflections on Gaidar, by people who used to know him personally in one way or another.
LJ user mikhail62, a journalist, was on the same train to St. Petersburg with Gaidar in late 1995; he spent a couple hours talking to him, had him sign a recently-published book and interviewed him:
[…] Gaidar changed into travel clothes once on the train – he put on an old shirt – worn-out, with marks left by a ballpoint pen near a small pocket. And all the buttons on his stomach had been sewn on anew. They differed in size and color, and the threads used were different, too…
And when I used to think of Yegor Timurovich, I kept seeing these different buttons and pen marks on an old shirt of a man who had transformed the economy. […]
Irina Yasina (LJ user yasina), an economist and a journalist, was the last person to interview Gaidar. On her blog, she wrote:
The main thing that Yegor Timurovich had taught me was to work for the country, not for the regime. I kept asking him many times beginning from 2003: Why are you helping THEM? And he used to tell me that he had lived through one catastrophe – a collapse of his own country – and he doesn't want something like this to happen again.
- Irochka, I do remember what it's like when there's just enough flour in Moscow for three days and in Leningrad for two! And this is what matters. To wish well not to the regime, but to the country in which you are living, having children and waiting for grandchildren.
God, such brains, such skills and knowledge – and no one basically had any need for them in the last years…
Below is a video (RUS, 15:22) of Yasina's last interview with Gaidar, recorded on Dec. 15, just one day before he died, at RIA Novosti news agency in Moscow:
Finally, here is some of what Gaidar's daughter Maria (LJ user m-gaidar; a political activist, currently serving as deputy governor of Kirov region) wrote on Dec. 17 on her blog:
[…] The death occurred between 2AM and 6AM, and, most likely, he didn't realize what happened. I saw it – his face was absolutely calm. He died at home, had been in a wonderful mood before that, had some meetings scheduled for the following day, had been working.
It is extremely difficult to see books and papers that he had been reading just a short time ago, and his notes that had just been written with his hand.
I am very happy that we had had a chance to see each other and to have a wonderful talk (he packed a whole sack of books for me to read), that he was home in a good mood, in a good condition, that he died peacefully, and that I happened to be in Moscow when I learned about it, because I was passing through to Kirov from Stavropol region. […]