To the Editor:

“Boris Yeltsin’s Hollow Victory” by Vladimir Bukovsky [June] is so wildly off-base, so blatantly erroneous, so gravely mistaken, that it cries out for rebuke. Unfortunately, because of space limitations, I am unable to give his argument the complete and total thrashing it so richly deserves. Nonetheless, allow me to correct at least a few of Mr. Bukovsky’s many misconceptions.

1. Russia, Mr. Bukovsky insists, is suffering from Polish-style economic “shock therapy,” which he defines as price liberalization and tight monetary and fiscal policies.

Wrong. As any economist worth his salt can tell you, tight monetary and fiscal policies are a simple necessity in Russia’s present near-hyper-inflationary environment, where budget deficits can be financed only through the excess printing of rubles, which inevitably leads to high and hyper-inflation. In the economically advanced countries of the West, by contrast, budget deficits are far less inflationary since they typically are financed by drawing upon the reserves of international-capital markets, which . . . hardly exist in Russia. So Mr. Bukovsky is wrong in principle: tight fiscal and monetary policies are not “bad”; they are “good,” particularly in Russia today.

Mr. Bukovsky is also wrong in fact because Polish-style economic “shock therapy” has not yet been tried in Russia. Indeed, the Russian Central Bank has printed more rubles in the past three years than in all of Russian history combined; and credits and subsidies to loss-making state enterprises continue unabated. Consequently, the Russian central government’s quarterly budget deficit grew from 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter of 1992 to 15 percent of GDP in the fourth quarter of 1992. It rose again during the first quarter of 1993; and it is only recently that the Russian central government has begun to get a handle on escalating government expenditures.

Thus, far from suffering because of tight monetary and fiscal policies, Russia is instead suffering from the absence of such policies. It is also suffering because of the government’s failure to protect private-property rights adequately and because of high and punitive taxes that stifle entrepreneurship. All of which means that Russia today is suffering from high and hyper-inflation and a relative lack of new private-sector job opportunities.

As for price liberalization, it resulted in a one-time price increase of 250 percent and thus does not come anywhere close to accounting for Russia’s annual inflation rate of more than 2,000 percent. It actually benefited Russian consumers, moreoever, since it restored the market equilibrium of supply and demand on the majority of goods, thereby eliminating most queues and shortages. Indeed, where price controls have not been eliminated—e.g., in the Russian energy sector—production is either stagnant or declining; and as a result, the Russian economy is losing billions of dollars.

2. Mr. Bukovsky insists that “nothing much” has been happening in Russia since the failed August 1991 coup.

Wrong. In fact, real and substantial progress has been made, most notably and most significantly in the indigenous Russian private sector, which has grown by leaps and bounds these past few years. For example, the number of private-sector farms in Russia has increased from a meager 1,000 in 1990 to more than 250,000 today. More than 50,000 small state enterprises have been privatized thus far; the process has gone so well that the privatization of small-scale enterprises is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Large-scale privatization is also well under way, with more than 2.4 million people, or 10 percent of Russia’s industrial workforce, already working for privatized large enterprises. In the countryside, 15 percent of last fall’s grain harvest was marketed, not through the old state-distribution system but rather through new private-sector commodities markets, which now number in the hundreds and are found throughout Russia. And more than 40 percent of the Russian people now work either part- or full-time in the private sector, which accounts for at least 25 percent of Russian gross national product (GNP) and at least one-third of Russian nonagricultural GNP.

3. Boris Yeltsin’s victory in the April 25 referendum, Mr. Bukovsky insists, was “hollow,” because it did “nothing to resolve [Russia’s] ongoing [political and economic] crisis.”

Wrong. Far from being “hollow,” Yeltsin’s victory was instead a triumph for Russia’s newly emerging entrepreneurial class and, indeed, for all who desire a more free and prosperous future for Russia; because it is Yeltsin and his administration that alone now in Russia stand for greater political democratization and economic liberalization. . . . In fact, the referendum has strengthened Yeltsin’s hand vis-à-vis the hard-line Russian parliament. This, in turn, has allowed the Yeltsin administration to confront successfully the need to provide Russia with a new, more democratic, and more market-oriented constitution. Yeltsin published his draft of a new Russian constitution on April 30, less than one week after his resounding victory in the referendum; and he convened a constitutional assembly on June 5 for the purposes of finalizing and ratifying that draft.

This is enormously significant and a far cry from “hollow”: because a new constitution will most definitely be a marked improvement on Russia’s present-day constitution, which dates back to the Brezhnev era and which, therefore, does nothing to protect private-property rights and individual liberty. A new constitution, moreover, will most certainly provide for new parliamentary elections. It will thus disband the present-day Russian parliament, which came into power when the Communist party retained effective control over the nation’s political institutions and administrative apparatus and which, therefore, has tended to be a reactionary force that works against greater change.

The referendum also has allowed the Yeltsin administration to push ahead with renewed vigor its program of mass privatization of industry. This program (Mr. Bukovsky to the contrary notwithstanding) has been an overwhelming success for a number of reasons, the most notable and most significant of which is that it has set in motion the process whereby scarce economic resources will be directed away from wasteful and profligate public-sector bureaucracies and back into private-sector hands.

John R. Guardiano
The Heritage Foundation
Washington, D.C.



To the Editor:

. . . Vladimir Bukovsky’s record as an impeccable anti-Communist fighter, his personal integrity, and his superb analytical mind make his criticism of Boris Yeltsin’s government worthy of the utmost attention whether or not one agrees with his views.

Mr. Bukovsky admires the fighting Yeltsin, the man on the tank. However, he greatly underestimates Yeltsin’s strength and courage of a different order, the political one. He also underrates the accomplishments of Yeltsin the builder.

In my view, what Russian reformers have managed to achieve in a very short time, historically speaking, is nothing short of a miracle. . . . They have eliminated the Communist party/KGB apparatus with its terrifying Soviet military machine and the largest military-industrial complex of all time; they have abandoned the Russian/Soviet empire and created a new mechanism for solving disputes among the former republics; and they have created all the major democratic institutions and a market economy.

Whether one likes it or not, Russia has been totally transformed. All its institutions—political, economic, legal, military, and cultural—have been changed and built anew, along the lines of other Western democracies. Ironically, the reformers have done all the things Mr. Bukovsky said they should have done, except for staging a grandiose Nuremberg trial. True, this has not been achieved in one month, but still it was done incredibly fast and, more important, democratically. As a result of such a prudent policy, the monumental transformation of Russia has been proceeding without arrests, show trials, public executions, civil unrest, famine, mass epidemics, millions of refugees flooding the West, significant terrorist activities, or massive layoffs.

Yet Mr. Bukovsky directs nothing but sarcasm and contempt at these people. He scorns a “certain Gaidar” who “learned something from [Milton] Friedman’s books.” He accuses the young reformers of “never having lived the life of an ordinary human being.” He derides their “knowledge of economic life” for being “entirely bookish” and, incredibly, he even calls these men “the defeated forces of the past.”

After two years of studying the current Russian revolution I can assure Mr. Bukovsky that the core Russian reformers are a most remarkable group of highly intelligent and educated political men. They have rightfully earned the admiration and respect of all Western specialists intimately familiar with them. President Yeltsin demonstrated a rare political courage in entrusting these outstanding yet unknown young men with the power to rebuild the country. Of course they made mistakes, but, contrary to Mr. Bukovsky, these were minor mistakes, not “colossal blunders.” One of them was the privatization of state property. I agree that it was too slow and I, for one, suggested a much more expedient and broader-based privatization. Still, privatization in Russia has been one of the most robust in the entire post-Communist world despite the unprecedented degree of centralization, militarization, and monopolization of the Soviet economy.

In Mr. Bukovsky’s view, Yeltsin’s main “colossal blunder” was his “cozy cohabitation with the Communists.” The former human-rights champion suggests that Yeltsin should have purged the nomenklatura right after the failed putsch. But not only is this suggestion to purge what he calls “dead wood” morally appalling, it is also notoriously impractical: what are the criteria, and who would be left to do the rebuilding?

Yeltsin resisted the temptation to use the Bolsheviks’ own methods in dealing with the “dead wood,” not because he is “weak and indecisive” but because it is impossible to build democracy by undemocratic methods. Instead, he opted for giving everybody, including the apparatchiks, a second chance. He relied on his knowledge of human nature, hoping that such powerful incentives as the free market and private ownership would disinter the people’s constructive powers.

He was right most of the time: many thousands of former apparatchiks are making a successful transition. In fact, such a star among democrats as Boris Nemtsov, governor of the Nizhni Novgorod region, has claimed that former apparatchiks are much more efficient in implementing reforms than former dissidents.

Mr. Bukovsky’s insistence on an uncompromising treatment of the party/KGB/state nomenklatura seems to stem from his perception of human nature. He underestimates the extent to which people can change. For him even Gaidar, to say nothing of Yeltsin, is unable to think and act democratically because he is “an offspring of the old nomenklatura dead wood.” But this flies in the face of most theories of political behavior and Mr. Bukovsky’s own life experience. People do change, and change constantly. They believe in God, then they stop; they believe in Communism until they learn enough about it and its alternatives. People can be broken and come out strong again.

Some fundamental beliefs are indeed very stubborn and hard to change. Certain attitudes and operational styles (particularly authoritarian ones) also tend to persist throughout the lives of both apparatchiks and dissidents. Yet many political beliefs change relatively easily, especially under the combined pressure of compelling evidence and rapidly changing life circumstances.

Strangely, Mr. Bukovsky often sounds like the very same people he suggests getting rid of. What has happened to his impeccable logic and insight? He used to be one of the best Sovietologists in the West, so how could he commit such a “colossal blunder” as to call the April referendum “Yeltsin’s hollow victory”?

This and many other post-Communist articles of Vladimir Bukovsky clearly show what a great gap has developed between the human-rights fighter and his people. The support the Russian people gave their president and his reforms refutes Mr. Bukovsky’s allegation of “the general apathy of a demoralized population.” Clearly, the people whose rights he once so selflessly defended have moved ahead from the demolition of the totalitarian system toward the rebuilding of their lives and the country, while he has remained a dissident. It is sad to see one of the best sons of Russia so bitter and disillusioned. . . .

Dmitry Mikheyev
Hudson Institute
Indianapolis, Indiana



To the Editor:

. . . Vladimir Bukovksy’s article starts as a defense of Boris Yeltsin, apparently aimed at refuting incorrect perceptions of him and his supporters as “unpredictable,” “unbalanced,” or even “dangerous.” Yet the second part of the article not only confirms all these allegedly false assumptions, but in fact adds more arguments against the Russian president. . . .

Mr. Bukovsky’s interpretation of events in Russia is that of an uncompromising radical—something he has been famous for from his early days as a Russian dissident. In his eyes the ultimate sin of Yeltsin and his supporters is that they failed to launch a full-scale revolution. When Mr. Bukovsky offers his own prescriptions—ban the Communists, “purge the nomenklatura,” expose the crimes of the Communist regime, “preferably in an open trial or a public inquiry,” etc.—we recognize his heartfelt views. (The term “open trial” is remarkable in itself, revealing certain patterns of thinking that are peculiar to all representatives of Homo Sovieticus, whether they are for or against Communism.) But, from a conservative perspective, does Russia really need another revolution?

Some of Mr. Bukovsky’s passages have a distinctly epic flavor, as when he writes that

for the first time in almost 75 years of ruthless Communist rule, the people were openly challenging the regime in a nonviolent but forceful way. This popular impulse, uniting all nations and social groups in a determination to regain their dignity and liberate themselves, was priceless. [Emphasis added]

And this was written at a time when Yeltsin and his highbrow advisers were taking advantage of the unprecedented freedom given them by Gorbachev, doing their best to undermine any authority in the country, scheming, using demagoguery and all sorts of dirty tricks to pull off a palace coup in Moscow.

This “popular impulse” failed, largely because Yeltsin had nothing to offer except denunciations of Gorbachev. There was no constructive program for rebuilding the country and, as Mr. Bukovsky himself admits, the “oppositional structures were weak and inexperienced,” therefore incapable of providing a viable alternative to the old bureaucracy. Then, too, we must remember that intellectuals, by definition, are not fit to govern, as Paul Johnson convincingly tells us in a recent book, an observation confirmed by all the post-coup developments in Russia. . . .

For Mr. Bukovsky, a true Russian intellectual himself, the culprits are not the intellectuals but the nomenklatura. He makes an effort to ascribe the failures of the Gaidar government to the fact that his cabinet consisted of former Communists and apparatchiks, which sounds truly amazing to anyone who knows the situation in Russia even remotely. Gaidar and his team, “young, energetic, liberal-minded children of the nomenklatura,” always were and still are the darlings of the Moscow intelligentsia. The nomenklatura has nothing to do with this, and if it does, then the whole political elite in Russia, starting with Gorbachev and Yeltsin, belong to this glorious breed which is still in business.

Distinctions should be based not on erstwhile political affiliations (there was only one possible affiliation—Communist) or parental heritage but on skills and capabilities or, at least, political instincts. By this token alone, Gorbachev, his socialist world view notwithstanding, is head and shoulders above the Yeltsin clique. Yeltsin’s actions, with the conspicuous exception of climbing a tank—and Mr. Bukovsky confirms this—bespeak a total absence of any political instincts. His appointment of Gaidar as Prime Minister, as well as his subsequent betrayal of Gaidar, shows just that.

Mr. Bukovsky concedes that Yeltsin’s (or Gaidar’s) reforms were, indeed, an unmitigated disaster. . . . If anyone can be blamed for this debacle, it is not the nomenklatura but only Yeltsin himself, together with the Moscow liberal establishment and its Western advisers, like Jeffrey Sachs. For Yeltsin and his allies, “shock therapy” and “privatization” were purely political moves aimed at destroying the nomenklatura or stripping it of the remaining economic levers of power—a prime example of Yeltsin’s opportunism. These moves were bound to fail, for reasons very succinctly put forth by Mr. Bukovsky. . . .

In the end, all the contradictory and conflicting statements made by Vladimir Bukovsky do not lead to any remedies, as might have been expected. Ironically, . . . his article confirms, contrary to all his radical prescriptions, that the one thing Russia needs is—order. This might mean a temporary setback for some overly radical endeavors, but only when order and the rule of law are firmly established can anyone hope for any improvements in Russia.

Vladimir Osherov
Westmont, Illinois



To the Editor:

I quite agree with Vladimir Bukovsky that there is little hope for Russia, at least for the present generation, and that territorial disintegration is going to take its course. I do not see, however, why Boris Yeltsin should be blamed for this. Despite his numerous shortcomings, he has shown unusual political sagacity.

First of all, Yeltsin must be credited with securing a legitimate government for Russia after the collapse of Soviet power. Were it not for the presidential elections of June 1991, the situation in Russia would be even more unruly than it is now. Since at that time it was impossible to hold such elections without Gorbachev’s approval, Yeltsin made a compromise with his personal enemy, something that should be appreciated rather than sneered at.

Mr. Bukovsky reproaches Yeltsin for accepting responsibility for the Russian and Soviet imperial heritage. Russians, Mr. Bukovsky says, have no such responsibility since they suffered more than others under Soviet rule. A similar point was made by some Germans after the defeat of Hitler. The problems of self-inflicted wounds are not easily solved, but self-deceit is not very helpful, either. The key to Russia’s problems is moral rather than pragmatic: what to do with the country that is little more than a graveyard of its own people killed by their own government?

I understand Mr. Bukovsky’s desire to have in Russia a working parliamentary government, a market economy, and an honest entrepreneurial class. But to blame Yeltsin for not making all this happen is not quite reasonable. The truth is that such objectives are not realistic in Russia as it is now. I do not need to explain why, since Mr. Bukovsky has already done so in his article.

Evidently no government in Moscow is able to govern the territory it claims. Yeltsin seems to understand this, and it is to his credit that the bitter and dangerous split between Russia and Ukraine has not developed into open war. Yet the time of troubles has only just started, and what is needed now are inconsistent compromises and halfway solutions rather than grand political designs. For some time, Russians will have to live without victories and victors to worship.

Yeltsin is not a very attractive figure. He is jumpy, he drinks too much, and, having been brought up in the party apparatus, he probably does not understand how a formal democracy works. In all this he is very much like ordinary Russians, and although he is not worshiped, he is trusted more than others are. It is quite heartening to see the Russians putting their trust in someone who does not intimidate them.

The most important thing about the referendum was that the Russians turned up at the polls to support Yeltsin, knowing very well that he was not going to help them in any significant way. This was an impressive demonstration of patriotism, living proof that Russia will be resurrected one day, though perhaps not in the near future. We may only hope that it will be a Russia that is different from the one we have known.

Wisla Surazska
University of Bergen
Bergen, Norway



To the Editor:

Vladimir Bukovsky’s article was of the high caliber one might expect from this sensitive observer . . . and many thoughtful Russians undoubtedly share his despair at the shortcomings he catalogues so thoroughly. . . . Yet there are two hopeful and immensely significant developments which . . . Mr. Bukovsky ignores in his article: the trend toward constitutional democracy and the equally hopeful trend toward the formation of political parties.

Mr. Bukovsky dismisses . . . Russia’s budding constitutionalism rather too hastily, suggesting that “bickering over obscure constitutional subtleties” does not matter a kopeck to people way out in the hinterland (or, for that matter, to anyone else, either). Yet the experience of many democratic countries shows clearly that without a respected fundamental law underlying all social, economic, and political institutions . . . a country is doomed to drift, . . . just as Russia is drifting today.

I have examined the texts of two draft proposals for a new Russian constitution currently being considered (one by Yeltsin and the second “Rumyantsev” draft, which was prepared in parliament) and come to the conclusion that once the country adopts a consensual document whose wording stands somewhere between these two drafts, Russia stands a very good chance of proudly taking its place in the world as a constitutional democracy. . . .

As for political parties, Mr. Bukovsky declines to mention that one reason Russian politics are so helter-skelter—with an undue emphasis on individual personalities and often capricious political behavior—is the fact that political parties in Russia are still in an embryonic stage.

One thing we have learned from modern political practice is that if groups espousing differing views do not crystallize into formal political parties, chaos is likely to ensue. Mr. Bukovsky might have devoted some of his analytical skills to this question, noting how anarchy and endless squabbling are the predictable by-products of the political vacuum stemming from an absence of such parties. . . .

We learn from American history that political parties do not spring full-blown from the heads of “founding fathers.” Rather, they evolve gradually after an earlier phase of one-to-one competition among political rivals (the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton duel springs to mind, among other examples). Parties evolve more readily, moreover, if the political structure, bolstered and fertilized by constitutionalism, provides them with the framework or “soil” in which to develop and flourish.

Finally, I am by no means as despairing as Mr. Bukovsky appears to be on the question of how long it will take Russia to get on its feet, and this view is shared by a number of well-informed and well-intentioned Russians with whom I am in contact. Mr. Bukovsky believes that the only chance of renewal rests with the younger generation, but my own assessment is more optimistic. The Russian troika may now be racing wildly down a steep slope, but its momentum will carry it up a new slope and onto a more level plateau. Once having arrived there, Russia will prosper.

True, it may become fragmented in the end, and come to look more like a confederation than a federation. . . . But as long as the populace remains committed to political democracy, to a mixed economy based on a free market and private ownership and management in industry and agriculture, Russia is bound to find its way. . . . A place so well-endowed with natural resources and with a people of such boundless energy and resourcefulness cannot be written off so easily.

Albert L. Weeks
Sarasota, Florida



Vladimir Bukovsky writes:

Usually, I enjoy a good argument with those whose views differ from mine, not just because it is entertaining, but mostly because it helps me to sharpen my arguments even further. What I dislike, for this very reason, is a need to reply to those who either distort my views and try to put in my mouth things I did not say, or try to “categorize” me as someone I definitely am not. In both cases, I am left with the boring task of repeating myself time and again while wondering: did my opponents do it on purpose, or did they not have time to read carefully what I wrote?

The latter must be true of John R. Guardiano, who is “so wildly off-base, so blatantly erroneous, so gravely mistaken” in his account of my article that, with all the enthusiasm and zeal of a novice, he rushes to administer a “complete and total thrashing” to arguments he himself has invented. I feel indebted to Mr. Guardiano for giving us a short introductory lecture on the basics of the market economy, but, somehow, I do not recall inviting him to be a co-author of my article.

Did I write that Russia “is suffering from Polish-style economic shock therapy”? Did I define it as “price liberalization and tight monetary and fiscal policies”? Wrong, Mr. Guardiano. Not only did I not “insist” on such nonsense, I actually said the opposite. The whole point of my section on Yegor Gaidar’s “reforms” is that he, not I, defined them in such a way, totally ignoring the absence of a private sector as well as other differences between the Russian and Polish economies. It was precisely my argument that Gaidar, being what he was, never understood either the meaning of Polish-style “shock therapy” or the essence of the market economy, and therefore offered no therapy, only a shock. What Gaidar tried between January and June of 1992 was simply a mockery of Polish reforms, not unlike the “liberal” doctor from an old joke about a lunatic asylum, who encourages his patients to dive into a newly-built swimming pool, and even promises to fill the pool with water in the future, if they prove to be good at diving.

Mr. Guardiano writes:

Thus, far from suffering because of tight monetary and fiscal policies, Russia is instead suffering from the absence of such policies. It is also suffering because of the government’s failure to protect private-property rights adequately and because of high and punitive taxes that stifle entrepreneurship.

Right, Mr. Guardiano. Bravo, Mr. Guardiano! But did I say anything to the contrary? Wrong, Mr. Guardiano. For what was that mysterious “government” which did all those naughty things: failed to protect private-property rights while fixing taxes on a Swedish scale? It was Gaidar’s government, Mr. Guardiano. And it was Gaidar, not the Russian Central Bank, who reverted to massive subsidies for the loss-making state enterprises in the summer of 1992 after his style of “shock therapy” had brought the entire Russian economy to the brink of bankruptcy. So much for his “tight monetarism,” which Mr. Guardiano seems to take at face value.

Indeed, it is only in the West that Gaidar, Yavlinsky, Popov, et al. can pass for Milton Friedman’s followers simply because they say they are. True, they love to use an appropriate “market” jargon, particularly in public and especially when talking to the IMF. That, however, does not mean they either understand the free market or are truly converted. Just a few years ago they were equally eager to parrot socialist mumbo-jumbo, and tomorrow they will happily switch to Swahili if it should be convenient.

Are they “intellectuals,” as Vladimir Osherov insists? This term is very misleading for a Western reader. A few “misfits” aside, there are no intellectuals in the traditional sense in Russia. What we have there is a new breed of the intelligentsia—the latter-day nomenklatura, the end-product of the Communist experiment. They are opportunists with no beliefs or convictions, and no concern for anything but themselves.

We in the former Soviet Union knew all along that—as a political joke popular in the early 60’s had it—honesty, intelligence, and membership in the Communist party could not possibly be reconciled in the same individual. So, contrary to Dmitry Mikheyev’s own theory (and all the “theories of political behavior” notwithstanding), the Communist nomenklatura did not suddenly wise up in August 1991, turning to democracy and the free market “under pressure of compelling evidence.” In fact, most of them did not believe in Communism in the first place or, indeed, in anything but their own political power. Under pressure of the growing political crisis, the party split into two uneven groups: while a minority of clinical idiots went on marching under the red banner, the cynical majority quickly turned into “reformers,” “democrats,” “nationalists,” and “free-marketeers.”

Surely, even in the West people could guess that Slobodan Milosevic did not turn into an ardent Serbian nationalist as a result of profound soul-searching. Nor, for that matter, did former Politburo members like Leonid Kravchuk, Eduard Shevardnadze, Geidar Aliev, and Algidas Brzazuskas—to say nothing of all those aging Komsomol fuehrers, KGB officers, and provincial party bureaucrats who today constitute the bulk of Russia’s ruling “elite”—get religion on the road to Damascus. Far from experiencing a change of heart, they simply went through a change of color, like so many chameleons.

Accordingly, most of them regard recent events in Russia not as a revolution liberating the people from totalitarian oppression and requiring a vision of a conceptually different future, but rather as a natural continuation of their careers within the same old hierarchy. Clinging to power with Lenin-like tenacity, they will never allow anything new and healthy to prosper in Russia because they do not see a need for anything new and healthy. Democracy means for them nothing more than a new field for deception and manipulation, just as the market economy amounts in their eyes only to one thing: corruption. Consequently, they will always treat any genuine private initiative as corruption, while justifying their own corruption by the workings of the market economy.

In short, all they are capable of creating is a new mafia in place of the old one, a political system which, for lack of a better word, one might call “kleptocracy.” Nor do they conceal this. On the contrary, in a bizarre confusion of Marxist and market thinking, so typical of Russia today, they claim that “all capitalist countries” initially had to pass through a “wild” stage of plunder and lawlessness (Karl Marx’s “primitive accumulation”) before developing into something more decent.

One of these “reformers,” the former Mayor of Moscow, Gavriil Popov, has even created his own “theory,” according to which bureaucrats “in the time of transition” should be allowed to take bribes and encouraged to “have a share in private businesses.” This, he argues, will make them friends of economic reform rather than its enemies—or, to borrow Mr. Mikheyev’s phrase, will help their “successful transition” by “disintering” their “constructive powers” through the “powerful incentives” of the free market. This is exactly the “third way” the “reformers” love to talk about, a “third way” which the Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus has aptly described as a “way leading directly to the third world.”

Clearly, if Mr. Mikheyev does not know that in recent years the Communist nomenklatura consisted of unscrupulous opportunists rather than dogmatic Marxists and revolutionary sailors, he did not learn much in his “two years of studying.” And since the latter were already purged long before I was born, thus depriving me of that pleasure, am I to assume that I “sound” like the former?



There is hardly anything more futile than to defend oneself against personal attacks thinly disguised as “arguments” in a dispute. If nothing else, the mere need to do so is already degrading because it places you in the dock and makes you look half-guilty. Besides, as we say in Russia, it is virtually impossible to prove that one is not a camel. So what should I do? Should I accept a plea-bargain and admit to being half a camel? Or should I stoop to the level of my opponent and attack his character? Either way I lose.

Mr. Mikheyev must know that stereotyping dissidents as “fanatical” and “intransigent” neo-Bolsheviks was, and still is, the tactic most often used by those in the Soviet Union who chose to collaborate with the Communist regime: they could not otherwise bring themselves to look into a mirror.

Moreover, I am sure he must know that, far from insisting on “an uncompromising treatment of the party/KGB/state nomenklatura” (let alone on arrests, show trials, and public executions), I actually advocated total forgiveness of even KGB informers right after the August coup, in a televised discussion with the then-KGB chief Vadim Bakatin.

Yet it is one thing to forgive your defeated and repentant enemies, and quite a different story if you allow them to rule the country again, totally unrepentant of their past crimes. While the first is called “tolerance” and can help heal the country’s wounds, the second is, indeed, a “hollow victory” or even a “defeat” in that it leads to an attempt at a restoration of the old regime.

I wish Mr. Mikheyev were right in claiming that “Russia has been totally transformed,” and that “all its institutions—political, economic, legal, military, and cultural—have been changed and built anew, along the lines of other Western democracies.” All of them? Including the Supreme Soviet and the district and local Soviets? Including the legal system, with its “people’s courts,” with its two “people’s assessors,” with judges and prosecutors subordinated to the Soviets? Including the KGB, which has simply been renamed the MBR? Including the Central Bank, which is printing and changing money at the behest of the Supreme Soviet? Including the media, which are still either state-owned or state-subsidized?

I am afraid that not even Boris Yeltsin would agree with Mr. Mikheyev. And even Gaidar would laugh if he read that his government had “eliminated . . . the largest military-industrial complex of all time,” or that it had “created all the major democratic institutions and a market economy.” For if that were true, where did the crisis come from? Why did Yeltsin sacrifice this “most remarkable group of highly intelligent and educated political men” at the end of 1992? Was it just another fit of his “rare political courage”? Or was it because he would not have left himself a single chance if he had given a “second chance” to the former party apparatchiks?

In other words, purging the former nomenklatura from positions of power was (and still is) a bare political necessity, not an act of revenge. The lack of good specialists without party backgrounds is just a poor excuse: even in its heyday, party membership never exceeded 7 percent of the population, while the nomenklatura numbered fewer than three million. Besides, what is a good specialist? Does it not imply a certain degree of personal integrity?

As against what Mr. Mikheyev thinks, it is far more “impractical” to promote than to dismiss these people, unless we want them to “rebuild” the old Soviet regime in all its glory. What else are they real experts at? What else but a perversion of justice can we expect from the same judges who used to convict us for “anti-Soviet activity” and who are still presiding in the Russian courts? Are we surprised that they have turned to corruption?

Just as I am writing these lines, news comes of the reappointment of Professor G.M. Morozov as honorary director of the Serbsky Institute for Forensic Psychiatry in Moscow. This is the very same Professor Morozov who diagnosed us dissidents as schizophrenics in the 1960’s and 70’s. Clearly, Yeltsin’s administration could not possibly find a better man for the task of “rebuilding” Russian psychiatry. And this appointment is wonderfully “practical,” too—about as practical as choosing Dr. Mengele to head a children’s hospital because of a lack of good pediatricians.

To be sure, there is a moral issue here, but it is somewhat different from the one Mr. Mikheyev raises. Thus, in my humble view, to retire the former nomenklatura from government service is no more “undemocratic” or “morally appalling” than was the denazification process in postwar Germany or the lustration law in the Czech Republic today. Even calling it a “purge” is not quite correct. After all, every new U.S. President makes about 5,000 new appointments, and certainly not from among the ranks of his opponent’s followers.

But what is truly “morally appalling” is to see the perpetrators of the 1991 putsch walk free from the courtroom in Moscow without even a proper trial, and to see KGB murderers celebrated as the heroes of present-day Russian democracy. One of them, the former KGB general Oleg Kalugin, recently published an interview in a popular British newspaper under the proud heading, “I Organized Markov’s Execution,” in which he recounts his role in the 1978 London murder (by a poison-tipped umbrella) of a Bulgarian dissident. Nor does Kalugin feel the slightest remorse. His action, he believes, was justified by the fact that to disobey the order from his boss Andropov “would have been suicidal,” as if exactly this defense had not already been rejected in the trials of his German counterparts at Nuremberg 45 years ago.

Others are hardly better. Be they, like the present Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and quite a few of his generals, the proud heroes of the Afghan slaughter; or, like Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the best organizers of Brezhnev’s “stagnation” period—whoever they are, none of them feels the slightest responsibility for what he has done. Why should they, if they were all just carrying out the orders of their superiors?

The massacre of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest may have been condemned at Nuremberg as a crime against humanity, yet the man who signed the order, NKVD official Petr Soprunenko, is living peacefully in Moscow as an old-age pensioner. So are Dmitri Kopylansky, Raul Wallenberg’s MGB interrogator, and General Pavel Sudoplatov, Trotsky’s murderer, to name just a few. Are we to forgive them all, without even a court hearing? Are we to accept what the world firmly rejected 45 years ago?

This is what I call “morally appalling”: the double standards we seem to accept so easily. Why, may I ask, is murdering in the name of National Socialism a crime against humanity while murdering in the name of International Socialism is not? Why did Rudolf Hess die in Spandau prison, whereas Boris Ponomarev can live out his last years in a comfortable Moscow apartment? Is there no limit to our hypocrisy? No sooner is some bloody monster like the former East Germany’s Erich Honecker put on trial than many of the same people who applaud hunting down elderly Nazi war criminals are up in arms pleading in the name of humanity his old age and poor health. If those are our moral standards, why are we so shocked by the atrocities committed in Bosnia? What else did we expect from the former Communist leaders of the former Yugoslavia?



Those Russians who believe that the crimes, lies, and injustices perpetrated in the former Soviet Union can be brushed aside like so many crumbs from a table—that we can step over the mountains of corpses and rivers of blood, and carry on as if nothing happened—are at best extremely naive and at worst extremely dishonest and indifferent to the future of their country. Moral recovery in the former Communist countries is certainly more important than economic recovery, as the second is hardly achievable without the first. And the first is not possible without some kind of Nuremberg-type judgment. I hasten to assure Vladimir Osherov that the expression “open trial” reveals no more peculiar patterns in my case than it did in the case of Harry Truman.

Nor, on the other side, do I see where in my writings Wisla Surazska discovered my perfidious plan to absolve all Russians of any responsibility. But simply proclaiming all Russians to be the only “legal heirs” of all Communist crimes is wrong (surely, Solzhenitsyn is somewhat less responsible for them than General Jaruzelski), and it can help moral recovery in Russia pretty much as the Versailles Treaty helped it in Germany. Healing a nation’s 75-year-long trauma requires a moral judgment which is both harsh and just. This was the biggest and the most important task posed to the new Russian leadership, and Yeltsin’s failure even to address it was his biggest blunder.

In fact, it was not so much a blunder as (rather like his decision to opt for a compromise with the nomenklatura in April 1991) a deliberate choice determined by his own political origins and psychological limitations. Both could be called blunders only from the standpoint of history: while the one left him without supporting structures (and left the country with the “political vacuum” and “chaos” described by Albert L. Weeks), the other resulted in his loss of power, plunging the country into a political crisis.

At present, Yeltsin’s power does not extend beyond the Kremlin walls, very much as it was with Gorbachev at the end. Writing a constitution is a poor substitute for a political victory. The Weimar Republic’s constitution was one of the best in its time, and yet it failed to stop Hitler. Kerensky and his ministers spent eight months writing the most democratic constitution on earth, but they could not even complete it. Yeltsin’s constitution is far from perfect (the famous “social rights” are still there, as they were under socialism), but in any event it cannot be made into law unless he defeats his opponents first. And this is precisely what he could not bring himself to do in the first place.

Despite what Miss Surazska may think, “inconsistent compromises and halfway solutions” can only aggravate the crisis, not resolve it. The political graveyards are filled with the corpses of those who tried to go that way, Mikhail Gorbachev’s being just the most recent. This is precisely why I do not feel particularly “heartened” by the fact that Yeltsin is “very much like ordinary Russians.” Does Miss Surazska feel the same warmth for that ordinary Pole, Lech Walesa? The tragedy of our countries is that the very ordinary people who have inherited power in extraordinary times are unfit to resolve the extraordinary problems of our history. This is what my article was about, no need to explain it to me.



Finally, tiresome as it may be, let me set my own record straight. Let me remind my opponents that I was one of the first to welcome Yeltsin, warts and all, as the “only credible leader of the democratic opposition in Russia” and “for at least as long as the party continues to play a significant role” (see my article, “Born Again and Again,” in the New Republic of September 10-17, 1990). Furthermore, I have supported him ever since, and even as recently as April of this year I went to Moscow at the request of his campaign managers to support him publicly in the referendum.

Now, those who want to find inconsistencies for the sake of advancing their own arguments will find them even in the multiplication tables. I personally see no more inconsistency in my position on Yeltsin than in my having voted for John Major in last year’s British general elections. It is a matter of opting for the lesser evil whenever no better choice is available, and it has not blinded me to Major’s blunders.

Nor does having voted for him make me an ardent Major supporter, any more than the referendum’s results mean that the Russian people are Yeltsin enthusiasts. In both cases, the election demonstrates a firm rejection of the offered alternative. In the case of Russia, it proves that the people will not accept any “order” just for the sake of it, Mr. Osherov’s opinion notwithstanding.

Is this a “living proof that Russia will be resurrected one day”? I doubt it. As I wrote in the New Republic article mentioned above:

In the final analysis, for all his many lives, and however unfairly, Boris Yeltsin may be no more than a transitional figure in the Soviet Union. . . . Only a figure of impeccable moral authority can lead the country to its spiritual recovery after so many decades of lies and crimes.

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