“Gorbachev really wanted to save the Soviet Union from collapse. Such a label would fit him much better than that of the Soviet Union’s destroyer”, said Grigore Belostecinic, ex-rector of the Moldovan Academy of Economic Sciences, during an IPN debate about the myth of “Gorbachev, the wrecker of the USSR”, which is still prevalent among nostalgics.
Grigore Belostecinic recalled the last few years of the Soviet Union, when it experienced serious shortages of consumer goods, and some basic goods were even rationed. “The shelves were empty despite the fact that there were about 120 billion rubles in circulation, the equivalent of 140 billion dollars. Well, the main cities were an exception. You could buy almost anything in Moscow or Leningrad, perhaps in Kyiv as well”, said the economist, recalling the legendary “sausage trains”.
All this was happening as Gorbachev and his team rolled out reforms in a bid to resuscitate the dying economy of the Soyuz. Grigore Belostencinic mentioned two essential documents underpinning the economic reform initiated during Gorbachev’s rule. The first was the Law on State Enterprises, which gave them more freedom, such as the right to reinvest part of their profits, or diversify their range of goods to help them become more profitable and competitive. For the same reason, state-owned enterprises could attract foreign capital, but only to the extent that the controlling stake remained with the state. And the second document was the Cooperatives Law, which finally accepted private ownership in economic activity, introducing elements of market economy.
By 1990, when the Soviet leadership realized the extent of the catastrophe the Union reached due to the planned economy, it agreed to a full shift to a market economy in the next ten years, says Grigore Belostecinic.
But those reforms were doomed to fail. First of all, says the economist, the budget deficit increased in five years from zero to 120 billion rubles, and the external debt increased 10 times. In order to meet the growing budget expenses, the state borrowed from the population by issuing bonds, and dipped deep into its gold reserves. Moreover, Grigore Belostecinic points out, the political reforms catalyzed the desire of the union republics to demand more freedom. “All these processes could no longer be stopped even by the economic reforms, many of which were very appropriate for those times, by the way”, the university professor believes.
Returning to the subject of Mikhail Gorbachev’s role, the university professor welcomed the determination of the first and last president of the USSR not to use force to repair things that could no longer be repaired.
The debate was the 3rd installment of the “Chasing Chimeras” Series, run by IPN with the support of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.