Francisco de Borja Lasheras at Eurozine:
It is mid-afternoon and leaden rain falls over the city. After traversing a labyrinth of scruffy stairways, ill-lit corridors and backyards, Andrey and I are seated in a space rather like a classroom. This place brings together organisations, lawyers and experts in judicial reform, human rights and other representatives of civil society from one of the most unruly parts of the country from the state’s point of view: Saint Petersburg. At times the meeting takes on a somewhat melancholic air. This impression becomes more acute when one realises the age of some of those present: men and women who were young in the turbulent 90s and who now pass verdict on that period. ‘We weren’t ready for that wave of democracy’, some argue. This is a point I have heard uttered by the Ukrainian-born, Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich.
Back then, under Yeltsin, Russia began to dismantle the USSR from within while simultaneously experimenting with democracy and applying drastic measures to transition to a market economy under the guidance of reformists such as Gennady Burbulis and Yegor Gaidar. Convinced that there was no alternative, figures who had been raised on Marx now embraced shock therapy capitalism with the same Messianic fervour. In October 1991 Yeltsin told the Duma that this was ‘Russia’s way to democracy and not empire’. Following the shortages under Gorbachev’s perestroika, the social impact was dramatic as poverty and inequality increased.