Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 85

The Primakov government’s optimism is certainly not shared by all in the government. In a soul-searching essay, a high-level official writing under the pseudonym “Mikhail Yurev” puts forth the view that neither Western credits nor the best economic models will save Russia if “the faith of the people in the authorities” is not somehow secured (Interfax-Vremya, April 30-May 13).

Corruption, according to the recent Vremya essay written by an anonymous high-level government official, is Russia’s primary economic problem. “Did the dimensions of luxury in which the Soviet nomenklatura lived really compare with that which surrounds the existence of our democratic aristocracy?” he asks. “Palaces in Russia, villas abroad, millions of dollars in Western banks, their own enterprises, funds, yachts, children and grandchildren in the best colleges and universities of the world. Is it the case, then, that the previous, communist leaders of Russia were more moral than the currently popularly elected ones? Hardly. It is simply that then there were the norms of party morality–distorted, monstrous, false, but all the same limiting the inclination toward revelry.”

The type of political system set up by the 1993 constitution is a key problem. “The constant enmity between the president and the parliament,” according to the essay, “is not at all explained by the political coloration of the latter. “The only real democratic institution–the parliament–and the presidential autocracy cannot but come into conflict by virtue of their nature. For this conflict to be resolved, either the parliament must become a ‘pocket’ parliament fully subordinated to the Kremlin, or the executive power must change its character.” This comment is particularly interesting, given that observers in the West and Russian liberals alike have customarily pointed to the parliament as the single biggest obstacle to progress in Russia’s transition.

What Russia needs, the essay asserts, is above all “a system of laws.” But in a gloomy response to such thoughts, journalist Yuri Bakunin writes: “The formation of a law-governed state only begins with the adoption of a multitude of intelligent, useful and fair laws. These must then be executed by those required to do so, and not for a bribe. And only then (slowly, slowly!) will the mentality of the people begin to change. Respect for the law will begin gradually, not over just one generation, to enter the flesh, blood and intellect” (Interfax-Vremya, April 30-May 13).