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A Normal Country: Russia After Communism

Shleifer, A. and Treisman, D., 'A Normal Country: Russia After Communism,' Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol.19, No.1, Winter (2005), 151-174

Shleifer, A. and Treisman, D., 26. November 2017

During the 1990s, Russia underwent extraordinary transformations. It changed from a communist dictatorship into a multiparty democracy in which officials are chosen in regular elections. Its centrally planned economy was reshaped into a capitalist order based on markets and private prop- erty. Its army withdrew peacefully from eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics, allowing the latter to become independent countries. Twenty years ago, only the most na ̈ıve idealist could have imagined such a metamorphosis.
Yet the mood among Western observers has been anything but celebratory. By the turn of the century, Russia had come to be viewed as a disastrous failure and the 1990s as a decade of catastrophe for its people. Journalists, politicians and academic experts typically describe Russia not as a middle-income country struggling to overcome its communist past and find its place in the world, but as a collapsed and criminal state.
In Washington, both left and right have converged on this view. To Dick Armey, then Republican House majority leader, Russia had by 1999 become "a looted and bankrupt zone of nuclearized anarchy" (Schmitt, 1999). To his col- league, Banking Committee Chairman James Leach (1999a, b), Russia was "the world's most virulent kleptocracy," more corrupt than even Mobutu's Zaire. Ber- nard Sanders (1998), the socialist congressman from Vermont, described Russia's economic performance in the 1990s as a "tragedy of historic proportions"; liberal reforms had produced only "economic collapse," "mass unemployment" and "grinding poverty."