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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Farewell To a Symbol Of Hope

Where Boris Yeltsin went wrong and what he might have done to avoid the terrible blow to market reform struck by the Congress will be debated by Sovietologists -- the word is unfortunately accurate -- for some time to come. What can be said right away, however, is that Monday's conclusion of the Seventh Congress and the departure of Yegor Gaidar mark the end of an era.


A year ago, with Russia new-born out of the ashes of the Soviet Union, the fresh faces of Gaidar and his team of reformers were a symbol of hope. People knew that the road to a modem, efficient and hopefully wealthy economy would be long, but they were prepared to endure the trial of transition. This they proved when, despite the predictions of upheaval, the Russians who make up this vast land simply gritted their teeth, grumbled a bit and got on with the business of building a new nation.


What symbol, then, will replace Gaidar? The hope he personified vanished Monday with the arrival of Viktor Chernomyrdin who, perhaps as much as anyone short of Yegor Ligachev, embodies the aspirations of a previous era. It is only human to try to look on the bright side, and maybe this is why some commentators, including one on the BBC, were saying Tuesday that perhaps Chernomyrdin would show that Gaidar's strategy had indeed been wrong. But such thoughts look toward an unknown future instead of analyzing the all-too-familiar recent past.


For real insight into the meaning of Chernomyrdin's ascension, one need only examine Pravda, the resurrected Communist Party newspaper of yore. It was not enough for Pravda to run a banner headline calling the events of Monday a triumph of common sense. On its front page, it also carried birthday congratulations, with photo, to General Valentin Varennikov, one of the August 1991 coup plotters released from prison on Monday. Featured below was an article headlined "The Time for Action Has Come", with a simple message: "Communists, Unite! "


These rumblings come in counterpoint to Chernomyrdin's first comments about how he intends to pursue his task. "Our country, with its mighty infrastructure and a wealth of resources, should not be turned into a country of shopkeepers", he said after chairing his first cabinet meeting, according to Itar-Tass. This sort of reflection on Russia's economic strategy could as easily have come from any Soviet leader from Lenin to Brezhnev, Chernenko or even Gorbachev. So, retired Sovietologists, get your thinking caps out of storage. An era has ended, and in the future one the people to watch hark back to the past.