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The Legacy of Wishful Thinking

 

Yeltsin too often turned an eager ear to those who promised him what he wanted to hear. He blindly put his faith in the medicinal effects of “shock therapy” and the magic powers of the market. He believed that it was possible in a few days and with a small military force to establish “constitutional order” in Chechnya. He believed that Chubais’s vouchers would be enough to create overnight effective private ownership. These examples of the economic, political, and military illusions of Yeltsin could be easily multiplied. 

 

Unfortunately, Yeltsin was not unique in his wishful thinking. The last Russian tsar, Nicholas II, dreamed of a small victorious war but what he got instead was a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of the Japanese and the revolution of 1905. Lenin dreamed of a world socialist revolution, which the Russian proletariat would trigger and which the rest of Europe would support. Even Stalin’s “revolution from above,” which plunged the country into the worst period of mass terror in its history, was an attempt at one stroke to resolve problems that had remained unsolved for decades.

Khrushchev’s dream of quickly catching up and overtaking the United States and Gorbachev’s ill-conceived campaigns of the perestroika period are part of the same tradition. In short, the reform zeal based on false expectations was not unique to Yeltsin. However, he was the only Russian leader in the twentieth century to ask the Russian people for forgiveness.

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The Yeltsin Era

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