Alexander N. Yakovlev: Perestroika Creator Fears Reversal

Roundup: Historians' Take

Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, 10 Oct. 2004

There was a time when the word"perestroika" evoked visions of hope and change.

The term means"reconstruction," and what was being rebuilt in those heady years of the late 1980s was the Soviet Union's entire relationship with its citizens and the world outside.

These days, many Russians talk about perestroika with more scorn than reverence because millions here have been plunged into poverty by its free-market reforms.

People have become so disenchanted with the restructuring that leaders of Russia's democratic movement have been warning of a backlash.

Alexander N. Yakovlev, the man widely acknowledged to be the architect of perestroika, said recently that Russia's democratic revolution was in danger of reversing course after 15 years of political reform.

"Six years ago, I spoke about how a setback [in the revolution] was unavoidable. I meant there would be a certain stoppage in the movement forward. But I never thought that it would take the shape of a movement backward, of a restoration of what was before.

"Unfortunately, this is what we are seeing today," said Yakovlev, who crafted much of the reforms instituted by former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

"And when I was speaking about setbacks, I don't think one could have forecast beforehand the depth and the size of the current setback," he said.

In recent weeks, both Gorbachev and his successor, Boris N. Yeltsin, have raised questions about Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's moves to further consolidate his power after a wave of deadly attacks blamed on separatist rebels from Chechnya.

Gorbachev and Yeltsin were mild in their criticism compared with Yakovlev, who accused Putin of trying to impose a Chilean model of economic liberalism and political authoritarianism.

In an interview at the office of the Moscow-based program he heads, the International Democracy Foundation, Yakovlev, 80, said Putin had shown signs early on of returning to Russia's Soviet past.

In 2000, at the end of his first year as president, Putin restored the former Soviet national anthem with updated lyrics.

"This anthem was the backdrop for the execution by shooting of a million people. Millions more were thrown into labor camps. And now, when they begin to play this anthem, some listen to it with disgust. But others listen with pleasure," Yakovlev said.

"Bringing this anthem back was an immoral deed, a sacrilegious step."

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