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The Press : Echoes in Soviet Union of Free-Market Worries : Writers reflect fears that top-to-bottom unpreparedness for the new economy will seriously impede its success.

October 16, 1990|Compiled and translated by Viktor K. Grebenshikov

The great debate raging in the Soviet Parliament over how to transform the old centrally planned, command economy into more of a Western-style free market has its counterpart in the Russian Soviet press. Influenced by more than 70 years of Communist Party control, the language of the media struggle may still sound stilted by American standards. But in its own context, it is no less passionate.

"Now again we are being led toward production for the sake of profit, toward market without competition, since no competition is possible amid such total shortages as are evident in this country. What shall we get from this? Our guides do not even bother to conceal that the first fruits will be skyrocketing prices and unemployment. . . .

"Obviously, someone finds our weakened economy tremendously profitable. And it doesn't take much thinking to discover the beneficiary. Is it so hard to guess that the foreign monopolies, the industrialized countries would give much to leave Russia in this state of economic impotence, to keep it as the dumping ground for their unwanted goods and as a source of cheap raw materials?"

--Molodaya Gvardia (Young Guard) magazine; article by economist Ninel Kizub

"Our unpreparedness for the new type of economy will prove a very serious impediment in transition to the market. We are talking about a free choice, about active management of one's own business, about hard work, high wages and much higher prices. The majority of our economic managers, including those at the very top, are absolutely not ready for such a change. But if this is so, what can you expect of the workers, peasants, officials?

"It is very important to overcome the fear of the market. But it is only possible to do this by giving the people full information, without hypocrisy and empty promises. They need to understand the most basic things--how do shares differ from bonds, what is a dividend, what's going on at stock and commodity exchanges? The people want to sort things out, to get a glimpse of what lies ahead, and they cannot do it."

--Ekonomika i Zhizn (Economy and Life) newspaper article by A. Orlov, deputy chairman, State Commission on Economic Reform, and Y. Tkachenko, an expert with the commission.

"Businessmen and entrepreneurs need effective protection these days. Or rather, the very idea of free enterprise needs protection--from all sorts of crooks and sharp dealers, who just love to call themselves businessmen. We want people to trust us, support us against the bureaucrats, help us in getting started. We have little faith in the new soviets (elected governmental councils)--they don't know themselves what to make of us, our ideas and projects.

"It is time for all to understand that a businessman is not a swindler, a dishonest speculator or a con artist. He is a man who can see something useful for the society and knows how to put that in motion. The motto of our association is: 'What's profitable for all is profitable for me. . . . '

"The Latvian government begins to listen to what we have to say, but we are getting little joy out of the fact. They hear out our suggestions and ideas, approve them and then give them to someone else to implement. And you don't have anyone to complain to. We are still the bastards of perestroika. "

--Ekonomika i Zhizn (Economy and Life) newspaper article by Bogdan Vertseshuk, president, Latvian Business Assn.

"Recently, after the reform programs had been submitted for consideration by the national and republican parliaments, a series of economic and legislative actions were undertaken, which jeopardize Stanislav Shatalin's program (for radical economic reforms over a 500-day period) or, rather, its most crucial first stage, providing for stabilization of the country's finances.

"Among these steps are introduction of higher wholesale prices for agricultural produce, announcement of unrealistic increases in social security benefits and much else. As a result, inflation has received a powerful new boost.

"In the opinion of the authors of the 500-day program, stabilization of the financial system is no longer possible. The national currency will progressively lose its purchasing power, and the introduction of the promised social security benefits will only worsen the situation for the recipients, since the increases would not even offset the rate of inflation.

"It is possible to point out many other illustrations of the fundamental fact--that the (more conservative) governmental program, as all these actions indicate, is already being implemented. This means all the hopes, pinned on the Shatalin program recently approved by foreign experts, have been suddenly and completely dashed. This paper interviewed one of the authors of the program, Grigori Yavlinsky, asking him to comment on the new situation:

"The Russian Parliament took a mistaken decision to raise wholesale prices for meat. After this, attempts to hold the retail prices down for the transition period were doomed. Already, the cost of food has gone up, and industrial workers can feel the fact coming to their cafeterias. The inflationary process will now go spiraling up.

"The plan, as laid down in our program--to pin down the prices for about 150 basic goods and services to ease the lot of the lower income groups--has become impossible. The hard times, waiting for us in the near future, will be the direct consequence of the decisions, taken in accordance with the national government program."

--Izvestia newspaper in a front page article by its "economics observer," I. Demchenko

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