Sat, Aug 25, 2001 - Page 9 News List

Examining executive power in Russia

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union 10 years ago this month, market rules enacted by a Yeltsin clique that have led to chaos have given way to reform efforts under putin

By Mikhail Gorbachev

For many Russians, August is a month for their dachas. But it is also a month with a developing tradition as a time to change the country. August 1991 was such a time because of the attempted coup against my government. That coup attempt failed, but Russia was changed forever. This August we are also engaged (more quietly) in re-examining executive power in Russia, and also in an ongoing effort to correct many of the changes made by president Yeltsin in the wake of August 1991.

The brainless imposition of market rules upon almost every aspect of society, rules which were pushed by a small circle in the Yeltsin government, has given way to more balanced efforts at reform. Indeed, in July left-leaning tendencies were revealed as much more pronounced among the electorate. This fact has not escaped President Vladimir Putin's notice.

By his initiative various commissions were assigned the task of analyzing important reforms and the directions Russia should now take. This allowed formerly ignored views to play a key role in policymaking. For example, the restructuring that Anatoli Chubais, Boris Yeltsin's former economics guru, planned to impose on United Energy Systems (Russia's electricity monopoly) were revamped in positive ways by one of the president's commissions. Socially informed views also played a key part in drafting a new Labor Code, housing and pension reform, and improvements to the nation's educational structures.

Putin promoted these changes. His actions reflect his realization that social conditions are continuing to decline. Needless to say, the desired results are not evident yet; their arrival will depend as much on the public's attitude as on written policy. But what is impressive here is president Putin's realism, for his policies can secure majority support among the population. Under president Yeltsin, public opinion about reform was disdained. The Russian United Social Democratic Party (ROSDP) -- which I helped to found -- is one force that supports the new tendency pursued by president Putin. It is our belief that in education, for example, today's conditions are blatantly unconstitutional. Article 43 of the Russian Constitution, indeed, provides a government guarantee of access to free education for everyone, as well as free higher education for those admitted on the basis of competitive admission tests.

Yet, despite these guarantees, a money hungry education system prevails. It is impoverishing education and will soon deprive Russia of its traditionally high intellectual achievements. To correct this, increased state financing is vital. Teachers need to be paid at least twice as much as they are now, for their wages are only half those of (poorly paid) industrial workers. State investment in textbooks, maps, televisions, computers, and technical support will also be required if Russian education is to keep up and surpass world standards.

The money grubbing attitude also extends to health, where commercialization of state and municipal hospitals is another unconstitutional development. Article 41 of the Constitution guarantees free medical care. However, free medical help is no longer available for most people. Given the nation's deteriorating health conditions, the effect of cutting people off from health care because they can't pay is disastrous, particularly for the older generation.

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