Russia's Great Opportunity

January 05, 1992

Russia's plunge into price reform begins a shock treatment without anesthesia. The unanswered question is: Will the patient walk again? But President Boris N. Yeltsin showed commendable decisiveness by not just talking about price reform and vacillating as Mikhail S. Gorbachev did for years.

If handling finances was so easy, everyone would be a millionaire. Yet many individuals, and even countries, barely survive from paycheck to paycheck. Few universal panaceas exist to complicated monetary problems.

One of the great misfortunes of the former Soviet republics is their lack of home-grown, free-market economists. For that reason, they are now scrambling for the advice of foreigners. Western economists are always full of good advice, but whether any of the suggestions are applicable to the primitive conditions of the former Soviet Union is another matter.

If Russians, Ukrainians and other nationalities draw proper conclusions from their current predicament, quick improvement in the basic food situation is a likely outcome.

The countryside of Russia is full of abandoned villages. Before communism doomed successful peasants to misery by jailing and slaughtering them, many of these villages were thriving agricultural centers. Granted, conditions in those villages nowadays are abysmal. But if enough enterprising young people go back to till the soil, they not only can feed themselves and their families but return those villages to their former glory. Generous Western aid should be extended for such repatriation programs in Russia and elsewhere.

This idea has enjoyed strong support from many conservative Russian cultural figures for years. The "village school" of writers, for example, was often viewed as an anti-reformist element; yet they felt communism had destroyed the strength and heritage of Russia by robbing peasants of their land and traditions.

So far, no communist country has successfully made the transition to a free-market economy. But China and Hungary have made impressive headway through agricultural reforms. The hope of the former Soviet republics also lies in the countryside.

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