Gontmakher Strikes Back
In November of last year, Russian economist Yevgeny Gontmakher published an op-ed item in the Russian newspaper Vedemosti in which he warned of, as the Carnegie Center’s Nikolai Petrov wrote recently in the Moscow Times ”unrest if factories in one-industry towns shut down as a result of the crisis.” Petrov remembers: “At the time, the government accused both Gontmakher and Vedomosti of inciting social unrest. But government leaders did nothing to prevent such a scenario from playing out or to at least develop an effective contingency plan in case it did.”
In fact, the Putin regime did more than just “accuse” Gontmakher, it tried to silence him, threatening the paper with closure and Gontmakher with prosecution.
Now, Gontmakher has been utterly vindicated. The recent protest action in the town of Pikalyovo proves that was exactly right while the Kremlin was absolutely wrong. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the Kremlin to apologize and make amends.
There is a real danger that Pikalyovo will set off a chain reaction in other depressed, one-industry towns — for example, in Nizhny Tagil with its ailing Uralvagonzavod, in Baikalsk with its paper and pulp mill closing its doors, in Zlatoust with its bankrupt metals plant. By failing to provide an overall solution and opting to extinguish fires on an ad hoc basis, Putin is effectively provoking many other cities to repeat the scenario playing out in Pikalyovo
That is exactly what Gontmakher was talking about when the Kremlin accused him of being unpatriotic and demanded that he shut up. If instead of doing that the Kremlin had taken immediate action to deal with the problem, the Pikalyovo protest might never have been necessary.
But it didn’t, of course. Instead, it followed the classic pattern Russians adopt when dealing with criticism — attack the critic, and make him shut up. If she won’t, as was the case with Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, then either kill them or drive them out of the country.
Hard to believe, but Russians actually still see this as a way of “solving” a problem. If you don’t hear about it any more, it’s been resolved! The USSR adopted this tactic, the Tsar adopted it, and just look where they are now: The dustbin of history. And the regime of Vladimir Putin, which is in a real sense nothing more than a blend of both Tsar and Politburo, is following the pattern to a “T.”
Mr. Gontmakher is a true Russian patriot, and he deserves a medal. Politkovskaya and Solzhenitsyn were the same. Yet, Russia persecutes them, and elevates to glory those like Putin whose action only undermine and destroy the country. Little wonder, then, that the government of Russia has collapsed three times in the past century.