The assessments and evaluations of Russians cited above were obtained during a period of relative financial stability and of hope that economic growth would begin. After August 17, 1998 it was not only the experts who realized that these hopes were merely based on concealment of the real economic situation–the appearance of well-being rested on a huge growth in domestic and foreign debt. Now these hopes have been dashed. Moreover, those social groups whose position was perfectly tolerable or even considerably better than others’ were also affected. The social and political pointers of Russia’s citizens were therefore also subjected to significant change.
Although Primakov’s government has made a great effort to alleviate the effects of the crisis and to repay the wage arrears to public sector employees, this effort has not had particularly good results. The threat of large-scale industrial action has again become very real, particularly given that the number of strikes, their duration and the number of participants has been growing steadily since 1994. Boris Yeltsin’s authority has fallen lower than ever and now no one really has any qualms about discussing the early curtailment of his powers. There is a growth in the influence of extreme nationalist groups, the most conspicuous of which–Barkashov’s Russian National Unity–is already demonstrating that it is prepared to enter into open confrontation with the authorities on the streets of Moscow, while the authorities are mainly limiting themselves as yet to rhetoric.
The truth is that the crisis continues to deepen, and the present government has no more means at its disposal to overcome it. It cannot be ruled out that eventually Russia will turn to the politician who offers the most radical steps for resolving the crisis, however harsh they may be economically and politically. At the same time, Russia’s clear dependence in the system of international economic relations continues to fuel the growth in anti-Western feeling.
Even though neither radical nationalism nor an authoritarian model of economic mobilization will provide Russia with an opportunity to constructively resolve its grave problems, these are the paths that society may choose in the absence of other attractive alternatives. In point of fact, communism and liberalism are both facing ideological and political bankruptcy. Centrism has demonstrated its impotence in solving the crisis. The various socialist tendencies are politically very weak; they are also overshadowed by the shabby anticommunist propaganda of the last decade. Meanwhile nationalism is gaining ground. Such is the result of the liberal experiment in Russia.
Aleksandr Buzgalin is a doctor of economics and a professor at Moscow State University. He is a leader of Russia’s Democratic Socialist Movement.