chapter  7
22 Pages

In the Balance

Vaclav Klaus, prime minister of the Czech Republic and himself an economist, argues that "the leading role in transforming a society and its economy belongs not to economists but to politicians."3 Broad popular support for reforms is vital, Klaus insists, and "that means that there must be politicians who are trusted." In a democracy such trust comes, he continues, through citizen approval of policies enacted by the politicians. A further consideration, in addition to the desirability of democratic decision making, is that the magnitude of change that results from reform in formerly socialist countries is too great for reform programs to be successful without effective constituency building. And the enduring public support necessary to carry out ambitious programs cannot be realized just on the basis of "negation----saying, 'We don't

The Public Verdict on Yeltsin's Reforms

public support had always come when he was in conflict with his adversaries-first with Gorbachev, in mid-1991; then with the putsch forces that August; and finally, with Russia's lawmakers on the issue of economic reform. Consistent with this overall pattern, support for Yeltsin rose sharply in March 1993 when the Congress nearly impeached him, and it continued to improve until the time of the controversial April 25 referendum. In this most direct confrontation with the opponents of his reform program to that point, he achieved a notable victory-winning a confidence vote among 59 percent of the voters and support from 53 percent for his economic reforms. But his ratings fell again after the referendum, until his September offensive against the parliament, when they peaked for the second time in the year. 12 Until October 4, each decisive action in his struggles with enemies strengthened his hand with voters, but his approval ratings dropped sharply after the shelling of the Russian White House. 13 By the time of the December 12 elections, support for Yeltsin had declined to its lowest level ever,14 in spite of his vigorous attempt to justify his September-October actions in the December election campaign. And in the elections, Yeltsin and the Gaidar bloc, Russia's Choice, paid the high price of not only the October conflict but also of having disregarded the electorate in two key areas. First, these leaders were deeply implicated in the unilateral actions that led to the demise of the USSR-an act overwhelmingly opposed by Russia's citizens. (Seventy-two percent of our four-city respondents believed that "the decision to break up the Soviet Union at the end of 1991" was "the wrong decision" [Table B-7.1].15)

Further, basic features of the economic program they had created continued to be opposed by most citizens, and the effects of those features were being widely felt. By a large majority, most of our fourcity respondents continued to believe in 1993 that price liberalization had been unnecessary, and a majority thought it to have been a mistake (Table B-7.1). Only about a third had gained more hope for the future (Table 8-7.2), and fewer than one in eight were more optimistic about the political situation than they had been a year earlier (Table 8-7.1). There were fundamental issues here of whether or not political strategies were furthering economic goals, as our analysis of questions about the dissolution of the USSR and the January 1992 price liberalization initiative illustrate.