Letter: Russian 'shock therapy' that brought votes for Vladimir Zhirinovsky

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The Independent Online
Sir: You are right (leading article, 14 December): whether the Zhirinovsky factor is the result of a 'transient protest vote or a rising tide of nationalism' is what will determine 'whether the West will have to rearm'.

Equally right, you said on 5 October that the West's 'public enthusiasm for Mr Yeltsin . . . was liable to provoke the nationalist reactions he is trying to resist'.

But most of the time British correspondents in Moscow, British ministers, and United States officials have, despite his continuous lawlessness, been writing and talking about 'reformist/democrat' Yeltsin, and about his critics as 'hardliners', recalcitrant Communists and 'conservatives', who deserved what they got from Yeltsin's tanks. 'A victory for democracy', one British minister said: 'we must stand by Mr Yeltsin in his hour of need'. For Warren Christopher, Russia was 'the United States' foreign policy success story'.

Now the Duma results are in, and we know that only a few more than 50 per cent voted, let us notice:

1. Zhirinovsky's 23.5 per cent amounts to about 12 per cent of the electorate, and

2. Russia's choice (more accurately, the IMF's choice) was supported by about 7 per cent of the electorate - no doubt that tiny class of a few million, identified by the Russian Ministry of Labour, who have grown very rich indeed while everyone else has suffered bitterly under the 'shock therapy'.

It would be nice if we could really know now whether Zhirinovsky will be a dictator or a mere clown, but we can't: and in fact it depends substantially on us. He is the logical result of the 'shock therapy' inflicted by the undisciplined ideologues of the IMF, and their Russian clones. Were we to listen, say, to Viktor Chernomyrdin instead of to Yegor Gaidar, we could probably ensure that a transient clown is what Zhirinovsky will turn out to have been. But if we carry on as before, we can easily promote dictatorship in Russia: most probably the serious military dictatorship the Yeltsin constitution and the new military doctrine are constructed to allow, rather than that of a loose cannon like Zhirinovsky.

In Russia today, IMF-type market shock therapy reform and democracy do not, cannot, and will not, co-exist. Mr Chernomyrdin, Russia's quiet and intelligent prime minister, knows that 'there are many countries with market economies which . . . drag out a miserable existence . . . This should be prevented from happening in our society.' The Russian electorate and armed forces agree with him.

'This year,' Mr Chernomyrdin says, 'even though it was very difficult, we added a social dimension' to progress towards a 'market system'. This is what democracy demands, even if it is not in the IMF remit.

Yours etc,


London, W2

21 December