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The Lessons of Perestroika, 20 Years After

Twenty years after Mikhail Gorbachev launched perestroika, many people have come to lament the slow pace of reform in Russia under President Vladimir Putin. But could it have been otherwise? This should not be a surprise, because the tumultuous Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras left the country exhausted. So who can blame Russians for suffering from the reform fatigue?

But if Russia is to get back on its feet, more reforms are needed. Yet before a new round of reforms is to begin, some basic principles about Russia's political capacities must be understood.

The first question that any would-be Russian reformer should ask nowadays (and which we did not ask during Gorbachev's perestroika) is the following, is society prepared to endure the short-term pains of reforms, and how willing it is to endure the pain?

The experience of perestroika underscores the importance of this question.