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Defector Says Soviet Government Not Ready to Change Economy

August 31, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Igor Oleinik has a message for all those Western leaders who are exhorting Soviet officials to abandon communism and opt instead for the magic of the marketplace: Don’t hold your breath.

″It’s hopeless,″ says Oleinik, an economist who for six years prodded the bureaucracy in Moscow to undertake radical economic reform.

He finally gave up in despair, deciding to defect while here on vacation in February.

In an interview last week, Oleinik reflected on his abortive bid to stimulate ″deep, deep changes″ in the Soviet economic system.

Not only was his advice ignored, he came under the suspicion of the Soviet secret police, who, he claimed, tapped his telephone and monitored his movements. He said he was held responsible when a friend defected to the United States last year.

″I started to be very nervous - really nervous - one year ago because it was clear to me that (President Mikhail S.) Gorbachev was starting to move very rapidly to the right,″ he said.

At one point, he was told authorities would go easy on him if he promised to stop advocating free market ideas. Shortly after he turned 40, he and his wife, during a visit here, decided not to go back.

At some risk, his wife returned to Moscow in April to pick up her 12-year- old daughter by a previous marriage. It took four months before the family was reunited here in early August. Until then, Oleinik had said nothing publicly about his defection.

Oleinik had a privileged status in his homeland, working at the Institute of Economics of the prestigious Academy of Sciences in Moscow. The expedient thing for him would have been to conform to political reality, but he refused.

Despite his hardships, he speaks without bitterness about his efforts to promote an economic insurrection.

″I spent six years trying to organize revolution from inside,″ he said. ″But after preparing hundreds of documents, proposals, programs about economic reforms, it became clear to me they’re not really ready, they don’t want to introduce anything like free market, anything like real democracy.″

One of the biggest obstacles to reform, he said, is the presence of 18 million Soviet bureaucrats who Oleinik believes can be counted on to fight hard to preserve the status quo.

Not even the late August upheaval in Moscow, featuring the rise of Boris Yeltsin and the demise of the Communist Party old guard, gives Oleinik hope that a better day is at hand.

He believes the system will evolve in a way that will allow the Russian republic to dominate the other republics of the Soviet Union.

″The main idea of the Russian government people is to destroy the all- union government and inherit everything that all-union government had,″ he said.

Massive cuts in military spending could free up resources for civilian needs, but Oleinik noted somewhat grimly that no one in authority in Moscow had recommended such a step in the week that had passed since the coup collapsed.

The United States and other industrialized democracies insist that the Soviets make a transition to a market economy before providing large-scale cash aid. Oleinik believes that to do otherwise would be a waste of money.

As Oleinik sees it, socialism has three indefensible aspects: ″stupidity, collective responsibility and irresponsibility.″

″Nobody really cares about anything, from the top to the bottom.″

Managers at state enterprises can’t be fired, only transferred, he said. It is a system which, he added, has left the Soviet Union in 77th place worldwide in per capita consumption.

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