'Hardliners will be rejected' says Gaidar: The reform leader had an upbeat message for Bonn, writes Steve Crawshaw

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The Independent Online
YEGOR GAIDAR, the Russian reformist leader whose party was trounced by Vladimir Zhirinovsky at the polls in December, said yesterday that he believed that Russians might soon reject the hardliners and their policies, for which they had voted.

In an interview with the Independent, he said: 'This is a question of months, not years. We're talking about 1994 or 1995.'

Mr Gaidar, the architect of Russia's economic reforms, who resigned as deputy prime minister after the elections in December, said that he saw the 'real possibility of making a breakthrough in social consciousness', as people realise that any attempts to put a brake on democratic and economic change will do nothing to improve the lives of ordinary Russians.

Mr Gaidar, who was in Bonn for a seminar organised by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, acknowledged the failure of reformist forces to get their point across clearly to the electorate before the December elections. There was, he said, 'an inability to present the real facts, in an accessible way'.

But he insisted that the reason for the reformists' defeat, and for the success of Mr Zhirinovsky's far-right Liberal Democrats, was not because voters rejected the pain of economic reform, but because of their 'desire for order, and rejection of violence'. Violent crime has spiralled in Russia in the past two years.

Rejecting a frequent criticism of the reformers, Mr Gaidar argued: 'Change was too slow, not too fast.' Because of resistance by parliament, he said, a number of reforms which would have improved the economic situation were stymied, and this was 'an important reason for the success of the destructive forces in the elections'.

Earlier, during his address to the Bonn seminar, he had talked of the possibility of civil war, as a result of the decision this week to amnesty the coup leaders of August 1991 and the leaders of the armed rebellion against President Boris Yeltsin last October. Mr Yeltsin's opponents, suggested Mr Gaidar, might 'try to cause disruption to bring about the complete collapse of the country'.

But, despite the presentation of this worst-case scenario, much of what Mr Gaidar said was surprisingly sanguine. 'I would be unjust if I were to understate the dangers. But the experiences of the last three years show that, when the old system takes revenge, democracy can stand up. It has happened often.' He acknowledged that the party which he leads, Russia's Choice, has 'no chance' of getting back into power at the moment. 'But just because we've lost the battle, doesn't mean we've lost the war.'

Mr Gaidar suggested that, paradoxically, the reformers were now 'the most conservative forces' in Russia. 'The grass was just beginning to grow - the conditions for a market economy have begun to be created, which is not just dependent on the government. We don't want the bulldozers to move in, and flatten everything.'

He argued, too, that economic change in Russia depends as much on Russia itself, as on Western money. 'I'm convinced that internal economic problems can only be solved by Russia itself. Without making the necessary changes ourselves, we can't receive financial help which would be useful.' He pointed out that the size of Russia would in any case mean that the amounts required would be prohibitively large. 'If we look at East Germany, and compare ourselves - it's clear that we could never receive money on that scale.'

The West was sympathetic to Mr Gaidar's attempts, while in office, to introduce radical reforms. Now that he has gone, however, institutions such as the International Monetary Fund have become much warier of involvement with Moscow. Mr Gaidar said yesterday: 'I don't think that we'll get big credits, before we achieve some stabilisation.'

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