Former PM decries Russian nationalism

Publication date
Tuesday, 27.01.2004

Yegor Gaidar

The Washington Times


WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The Russian political landscape today poses a grave threat to the country's democracy and, by default, to the region's stability, warned former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar at a speech hosted Tuesday by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Russia's promising economic growth has so far proved an ineffective antidote to the revival of nationalist sentiment in the country, said Gaidar, a leader of the liberal Union of Right Forces.

"I am very much afraid that we could see a radical nationalistic wave with consequences difficult to predict," Gaidar said.

The speech titled "Russia's Economic and Political Situation between the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections" focused on the crushing defeat of the two Russian democratic parties in December's parliamentary elections and the backlash against the oil giant Yukos as symptoms that democracy might not be faring well in the country.

When Gaidar looked back on the failure of the two Russian liberal parties, the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko, to make it into the Duma, he briefly touched on his party's campaign mistakes and the forecasted regrouping of Russia's democratic forces after the election blow. In contrast, he dwelled on a troubling leitmotif in election campaigning.

"The most important and dangerous result was the competing of parties over who will be most anti-Semitic, who will be blaming the non-Russians for Russian problems, who will be most anti-American," Gaidar said.

According to him, this nationalist motif is clearly audible in Russian public discourse in general, permeating pop culture as well as political pitches. Gaidar said he is hearing more and more voices lament the decline of the Soviet empire and blaming it on an American plot.

When an audience member brought up Gaidar's own prognosis of four years ago that economic growth would bolster liberal sentiment, the former prime minister admitted he stands corrected. Indeed, Gaidar said, support for the Communists has consistently declined, but instead of switching over to the liberal forces, the electorate is embracing the views of radical nationalists.

Reminding the audience that the rise of Nazi Germany was fueled by the country's middle class, Gaidar said, "When revenues are good enough, when your needs are met, why not sit in front of the TV and discuss how great the Soviet Union was and how splendid it would be if we restored imperial might?"

Although Gaidar said he does not expect any significant short-term jolts in the course of Russian politics and economy, he offered recent evidence that political turmoil can hurt the country's economy. The 2003 standoff between the Russian government and Yukos sent the wrong message to investors, Gaidar said.

In October, authorities froze part of the oil company's shares and arrested its boss on fraud and tax evasion charges; a measure commentators suggested was an act of political arm-twisting.

"We tried all the time to make Russia a predictable country," Gaidar said. "What happened with Yukos gives the sign that Russia is again unpredictable."

Several members of the audience asked Gaidar what measures the United States and the world community should undertake to halt the troubling upsurge of nationalist sentiments in Russia. Gaidar said direct U.S. involvement in Russian politics would be counterproductive but the United States should extend support to the pillars of civil society, such as independent media and nongovernmental organizations, as a way of indirectly boosting Russian democracy.

Gaidar, who said he has decided to step down from politics and engage in research, also pointed out the beneficial effect of the country's integration into the world economic community. "More people are traveling abroad and seeing the real world and realizing that not everyone is the enemy of Russia."



Originally "Washington Times"

Go to other releases