It’s hard to find a mention of it in the Australian media, but the death this week of Yegor Gaidar, former Russian finance minister and the man who did most to bring the market economy to Russia, shouldn’t go without mention.
Russia’s transition to capitalism was a painful one – given the state of its economy, it could hardly have been otherwise – and Gaidar got most of the blame. As the Times says, he was “widely considered to be the begetter of unconstrained market forces and anarchic society of inequality and corruption”.
It’s impossible to understand the appeal of Vadimir Putin’s benevolent authoritarianism without appreciating the traumatic effect of the 1990s experience. Both politically and economically, Putin has reaped the rewards of Gaidar’s reforms, and he appropriately paid tribute to him, calling his death a “heavy loss for Russia.” President Dmitry Medvedev also praised Gaidar as “an outstanding economist and statesman.”
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But perhaps the greatest tribute to the success of his work is in the simple fact that Gaidar died in his own country and of natural causes. At any other time in Russia’s history, a politician of his unpopularity would have ended his days in prison or in exile.