Early this morning, economist and reformer Yegor Gaidar died of a blood clot in his home in the Moscow suburbs. He was 53.
What Yeltsin was to political liberalization, Gaidar was to the Russian economy. It was Gaidar who, in the early 1990s, took Russia from a planned economy into a free-market one. His policies of lifting price controls filled notoriously empty store shelves but lobbed inflation into the stratosphere. (It topped out at 840% in 1993.) His policies, formulated alongside young Harvard economists, came to be known as “shock therapy,” and, though it may have put Russia on a modern economic course, it also left deep scars in the Russian psyche: hyperinflation, unpaid salaries (Gaidar squeezed the money supply to deal with the former), and, in general, some very, very tough times.
In fact, the tough times caused by those very policies, as necessary as they may have been, have likely contributed to today’s obsession with “stability,” the by-word for weaning the populace off the “chaos” of democracy. Given his controversial work, Gaidar, whose daughter Maria was arrested three years ago for unfurling a huge yellow banner with the words “Return elections to the people, you bastards!”, inspires as much vitriol as he does praise.
“In hindsight, it’s easy to find fault, but back then no one knew how to do this,” Gaidar’s former colleague Yevgeny Yasin told Gazeta.ru. “But Gaidar took on the challenge of the trailblazer, and on such a momentous path, it was impossible to escape mistakes,” adding that Gaidar was “a kamikaze.”
Ironically, just before he died, Gaidar met with another polarizing figure of the 90s, Anatoly Chubais, who oversaw — and took a lot of heat and death threats for — the colossal task of privatizing the Soviet Union’s holdings.
Shortly afterwards, Gaidar went home to work on his third book, and slipped away.