Friday, December 18, 2009

Leon Aron on the Death of Yegor Gaidar, 53

From The American:
Egor Gaidar, the man to whom Boris Yeltsin entrusted Russia’s free-market revolution, died yesterday. He was 53.

Every time we had dinner in D.C. or Moscow in the past seven years, he looked worse and worse. He took bad care of himself. He drank more and more. Last time I saw him in his favorite D.C. restaurant, Morton’s, he looked like an old man and, formerly a hearty eater and a gourmand, barely touched his steak.

He was deeply depressed—by the direction Russia was taking; by his inability to do anything about it; and by the vicious calumny spread by the Kremlin about Russia’s freest years, the 1990s, and about his reforms, which literally saved the country from the famine everyone expected in 1992. It will take decades to clear out the Augean stables of the monstrously irrational and wasteful Soviet economy, but the first few, heaviest shovelfuls were Egor’s.

Throughout it all, he continued to write complicated and important books that only a brilliant economist and economic historian could have conceived and produced, and that future generations of Russians will enjoy and appreciate. (We were fortunate to publish excerpts from his last book, The Death of an Empire, as an AEI paper.)

Following Yeltsin’s death less than three years before and that of the “godfather of glasnost,” Alexander Yakovlev, in 2005, it is almost like nature itself has conspired to make the Gorbachev-Yeltsin-Gaidar revolution an aberration and Putinism Russia’s norm. As if Dostoevsky’s Great Inquisitor was right when he told the imaginary Christ: you have come to make people free, but they don’t want to be free.

I know that this is not so, and I know, too, that deep down, Egor did not believe this. But it must have been so hard to keep faith. The last eight years have gradually killed him. He died of a broken heart.