|October 19, 2000
Volume 31 Number 5
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
Russianist Transchel on Gorbachev
Kate Transchel teaches Russian history. She has lived in and traveled extensively throughout Russia and the former Soviet Union, and worked closely with the Russian Ministry of Health. She has been involved in researching various alcoholism treatment programs throughout Russia resulting from Mikhail Gorbachev's 1986 temperance campaign.
Kate Transchel was pleased that Gorbachev was as candid as he was in his October 8 speech. She said that he was quite forthcoming with his comments on the socialist state -- his criticism of Stalin and the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras. "It is typical to vilify Stalin and Lenin; it is not so typical to criticize the socialist democratic state," Transchel said.
Gorbachev is still a loyal social democrat (when communism fell out of favor, communists in top positions began referring to themselves as socialists). "I've never before heard an avowed socialist criticize the communist party," Transchel said. More important, he openly talked about environmental problems that he, in part, was responsible for creating.
When Chernobyl happened, the Soviet Union did not alert the world until reports of radiation came out of Western Europe. At the press conference, Gorbachev said that he was notified, but it was impossible to get information on how bad the situation was. It took a day to meet with the Politburo to decide how to address the problem. It was during this time period that effects began to show. Gorbachev was severely criticized internationally for not letting European nations know.
Gorbachev talked about Green Cross International's involvement in getting rid of chemical weapons. What he did not talk about, according to Transchel, is a cache of biological weapons located in Siberia that is neither physically well contained nor well guarded. There are reports of leaks.
While Transchel was in Tomsk, Siberia, in 1999, the existence of Tomsk 8 was common knowledge -- it is the "closed" town where some of the weapons are stored. It is a matter of public record that there are dozens of scientists working with the U.S. government (the CIA, the Customs Service, etc.) who have detailed these places and problems at length.
In analyzing the collapse of the Russian economy, Gorbachev called Boris Yeltsin's economic policies "shock treatment," where state industries were privatized almost overnight. "Actually, Gorbachev administered his own shock to the economy beginning in 1989 with advice from Jeffrey Sachs of Harvard," Transchel said. "State subsidies to industry and businesses were abruptly ended. It was the beginning of hyperinflation, and the beginning of the collapse of the industrial system."
Yeltsin continued state withdrawal and participated in the transfer of wealth to a handful of members of former party bosses. He oversaw the total fleecing of the Russian State. During the last seven years, it is estimated that between $500 billion and $1.5 trillion has gone out of the country. For example, Russians are now some of the largest landowners in New York. Transchel has been told of a member of the upper echelon who bought five estates in Cypress worth $5 to $6 million, which he paid for in cash.
"Yeltsin was a firebrand and a maverick reformer," Transchel said. As he lost his physical and mental health, he lost control. The Russian oligarchs, a handful of well-placed families that use extralegal means to get what they want, essentially took over. They act, more or less, in concert. The Black Market became legal. The Russian Mafia became a prime economic and social force.
Transchel pointed out, as Gorbachev had in his speech, that essentially, Russians have no history that would provide them with experience with a democratic political and social system. Under Mongol domination, they did not take part in the Renaissance, the Reformation, or the scientific revolution -- the periods of change and enlightenment that provided the foundations for democratic institutions.
What has happened is that wealth has been transferred to private individuals. Some of them have, in turn, lent money to the Russian State. And this is what Vladimir Putin has inherited -- a state on the verge of economic collapse and controlled by a few people.
It is not clear if Putin will be able to restore rule of law and face down the oligarchs. "With luck (Gorbachev said a little, I say a lot) and strong backing from the West, perhaps he can begin to turn the situation around, begin restoring order and the democratic process," Transchel said.
-- Kathleen McPartland
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