Today in Moscow, friends, colleagues, and students are bidding a heartfelt farewell to Evgeny Yasin, the former Russian government minister, and the president, and co-founder of the Higher School of Economics (HSE). This sombre gathering is attended by many who held him close – his associates, partners, and comrades. However, an equal number of his disciples, collaborators, and peers who should have been here with us are unable to be so on this poignant occasion. Most of them have had to leave the country in the wake of recent events, while others faced various obstacles. Only a fortunate few, those who longed to speak at this memorial, will have the opportunity to do so. Many of the pressing issues that deeply concerned Yasin over the past two decades and the state of his legacy in recent years will remain unsaid.
But what goes unspoken within the walls of Yasin's beloved HSE must be voiced elsewhere. To bid him farewell in silence would have undoubtedly been a great disappointment to Evgeny Grigoryevich himself.
For over three decades, beginning in the late 1980s, Evgeny Yasin – an economics professor, first adviser and member of numerous commissions on economic reform, then a minister in the Russian government during the 1990s, and for the past quarter of a century, one of the founders and leaders of the Higher School of Economics and the president of the independent non-governmental 'Liberal Mission' Foundation – has been one of the most significant and influential figures of Russian political, economic, and liberal thought.
We have collected a few words of farewell to Evgeny Yasin, whose calling was the economic, political, and intellectual freedom, of which he was a standard-bearer.
My acquaintance with Evgeny Grigoryevich lasted 40 years. At first, I could not believe it myself. It began during the third year of my studies at Moscow State University. I had just finished an internship at a vegetable warehouse and entered a familiar lecture hall, where we shook hands for the first time. Yasin opened the door to real economics for me, revealing that behind the dry numbers of statistical reports lay the realities of our lives. He persuaded me to go work as part of the government apparatus, to work in the government commission on economic reform, where, being quite 'green,' I first became an observer and then a participant in heated discussions at the highest levels of the Soviet government on the impending economic reforms. It marked the beginning of an immensely interesting chapter in my life.
Now that Evgeny Grigoryevich has left us, I ask myself: what is the most important thing I learned from him? What has he left me as a 'legacy'?
First, an understanding that any project begins with careful analysis. Without knowing where you stand, you cannot make the right decision about where to go. An error in assessing the strengths and weaknesses, threats, and opportunities may lead to wasted energy and time and may lead you completely away from the desired outcome.
Second, the conviction that one plus one is not two but at least two and a half. Combining efforts always leads to synergy if the goal is not to overpower one another but to listen to the other side, understand the interests and motivations of those sitting at the same table.
Third, it is historical optimism, the belief that any problem has a solution, the belief that common sense will prevail, and that our country will eventually lead a normal life.
He dearly wanted to see that normal life...
Evgeny Grigoryevich Yasin has passed away. He was one of the genuine market reformers of the 1990s, a former minister during the most challenging years, an essayist and author of the best book on economic reforms during the transition period. He was also one of the founders, leaders, and, for a long time, the face of the Higher School of Economics (HSE), which became the best university in Russia under his leadership.
Once, when we were approaching forty, Sergey Guriev and I discussed how we had grown older than Gaidar, Avon, and Chubais were when they became ministers in the midst of economic disaster and state collapse. They had roughly the same amount of experience in politics and the national economy as we did. At that moment, we decided to follow the example of Yasin, who had become a minister at the age of 60. Especially as he was, to be frank, a better role model.
Of course no one feels any gratitude towards the government economists of the mid-1990s for saving lives and the country. The trauma caused by the economic tragedy of the Soviet Union is too profound. People tend to hate resuscitators when their efforts have not yielded results — although what do resuscitators have to do with dying from a prolonged illness?
And then there is gratitude for the HSE. Yes, the war in Ukraine and political repression have dealt a catastrophic blow to Russian science and education. HSE, as a leader in numerous disciplines, from mathematics and computer science to economics, management, sociology, and the humanities, has suffered more than most. However, the best university in Russia changes once every century, so even with all the losses, there is no threat to its status as the best university.
Yasin's clarity of thought was evident in everything he did. He was an essayist for many years, and he was a staunch defender of economic freedom, liberal reforms, and property rights in the Russian media. He remained so even when it became perilous. Speaking out in defence of the unjustly imprisoned Khodorkovsky, against creeping nationalisation, the dismantling of market institutions, and attacks on businessmen – as time went on, it required more and more courage. But Yasin, as a former government official, believed he could say a bit more as is the Russian tradition. What astonishes and inspires me is that Yasin spoke up for business, the market, and democracy when these ideals became less and less popular. He opposed the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and to say that, one needed not to fear not only Putin but also public opinion. Behind the image of 'Grandpa Yasin,' one might not notice the steel core of a person who feared neither fire, nor water, nor copper pipes, who defended what he believed was right even when people did not want to listen.
This quality was also evident in his role as the chairman of HSE's main committees, which were responsible for the promotion and development of cutting-edge research. Much has been lost in this regard, especially economic freedom. However, this is not a reason to be any less grateful. In these committees, we worked together extensively. At first, I was just an external expert from a small private university (the Russian Economic School), but Yasin listened to me. And not just me, but anyone who could make meaningful, scientifically grounded arguments about the value of a particular project.
Funding new projects is very difficult. Even in a very young university, there are always established authorities, there is a ‘rut’, there is inertia. HSE was just beginning to build a university where research would be promoted and sponsored based on peer review. And all of this worked because Yasin chaired the committees and made decisions based on the opinions of external experts and predetermined criteria, whether he was knowledgeable about the specific field or not. This was quite remarkable for a person of his position, role, and age.
There is some higher justice in the fact that Evgeny Grigoryevich's last years were a gradual transition towards the future world, away from our real one. Perhaps he did not learn about all the dreadful news of recent years — the senseless and criminal attack on Ukraine, the destruction of economic institutions, the devastation of science and education, the arrests, and the expulsion of Russia’s most honest and important figures. It is good if he did not. Rest in peace.
Evgeny Grigoryevich Yasin was a remarkable scientist and a very bright and kind person. I had the privilege of working with him at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) for over 20 years, primarily within the framework of organising the April Scientific Conference, which he conceived as a platform for discussing the latest research and publicly promoting the new ideas arising from it. However, I would like to talk about another very important aspect of Yasin's character (which played a significant role in my professional biography as well).
Evgeny Grigoryevich genuinely loved working with students and had an incredible ability to demonstrate how the results of a specific student's or graduate student's relatively narrow work, sometimes involving routine data collection, could influence major decisions in economic and social policy. While understanding the importance of theory, he never considered the production of new knowledge as an end in and of itself. For him, it was essential that research results had the potential to make the world a better place. Perhaps this faith in progress was a characteristic of the generation of the 'sixties’ to which he belonged, but for me, back in 1987, during my final year at the Moscow State University's economics faculty, it was these kinds of conversations with him that predetermined what I would end up doing to this day.
In the late 1980s, Yasin was in high demand and, consequently, very busy. During the writing of my dissertation and later during my postgraduate studies, I had substantive conversations with him on only a handful of occasions. In this regard, I could only envy the students who, at HSE in the 2000s, were able to attend his seminar on the 'Shadow Government'. I believe that Yasin's spirit, which he expressed in the April Conference, in his student seminar, and in the projects he led in the 2000s and 2010s, played a significant role in shaping HSE's image, attracting strong faculty and motivated students to the university. Despite the changes that are taking place at HSE today, I am confident that this spirit of Yasin will live on in HSE graduates, and I hope that, over time, HSE will bear the name of Evgeny Grigoryevich Yasin.
We have become used to bad news lately. Today, we have had to add more bad news to all the rest — we lost Evgeny Grigoryevich Yasin. People like Evgeny Grigoryevich are rare in any society. They set the standard, both professionally and morally, for everyone around them. They are irreplaceable. When they depart, the world is empty. Over time, this emptiness will become more pronounced. Breathing will become more difficult, as if there is less oxygen in the air.
Such a fusion of the highest professional, moral, and human qualities in one person is extremely rare. Economists can talk about E.G.'s professionalism and deep understanding of the Russian economy with all its intricacies. Politicians can discuss his ideas about the democratic prospects of Russia. He thought about this as much as he thought about economics. He cared deeply about the future and believed in a better tomorrow. Human rights activists can talk about his contribution to the fight for human rights, something he never forgot. Students can talk about the wise and attentive professor Yasin, who always found time, energy, and interest for them. We all, regardless of our profession or occupation, can talk about a good friend and teacher.
To achieve excellence in all one’s endeavours and still remain straightforward, kind, attentive, and humane is a great talent possessed by few. To maintain the strength of character, dedication to principles, and incredible warmth and humanity in interactions with friends, colleagues, and students. To be a great intellectual and an educator at the same time — that was Yasin as well. Those who had the privilege of knowing and regularly interacting with Evgeny Grigoryevich know this from personal experience. It is no wonder that there is such deep personal pain from this loss.
His dream was for Russia to become a prosperous and democratic country, and for HSE to become one of the world's best universities. E.G.'s life over the past 30 years was devoted to this goal. Symbolically, he left us at the moment it became evident that he would no longer see these dreams fulfilled. On the day of his departure, more rockets fell on his beloved Odesa.
I worked with Evgeny Grigoryevich for almost 20 years, starting in 2000. It all began with the foundation of the 'Liberal Mission' Foundation, which he headed, offering me the position of his deputy. He immediately outlined his vision for the public and personal meaning of the foundation’s activities, distinct from what he did at the Higher School of Economics (HSE), where he was the academic director, one of the two key figures alongside the rector. He wanted to have a public platform that would allow him to go beyond systemic constraints without leaving the system. HSE was tied to the presidential administration even then, even though it was rightfully considered a hotbed of academic freedom.
I cannot recall a single instance when E.G. abandoned or amended this intention. He once even said, 'I am dependent on my status, but you should feel completely free.' I could only observe him in the 'Liberal Mission,' and in his role as its president, he was a democratic leader without any reservations. I am confident that anyone who collaborated with him on numerous foundation projects would agree. We did not always agree on everything, but it never elicited any negative emotions from him. Quite the opposite; it seemed as though he even appreciated such disagreements.
I remember when he suggested that Lilya Shevtsova and I should oppose him publicly when discussing a report he had written, knowing that we had a critical stance towards its key theses. He then expressed dissatisfaction when we ‘cushioned’ our criticism with compliments.
E.G. was undoubtedly a product of his environment, shaped in the 1990s, and a proponent of its beliefs. But what set him apart was a genuine interest in differences of opinion and values. This allowed him to communicate with people who distanced themselves from the environment which had produced him, and this made him stand out. It was not about wanting to please everyone. He had a genuine interest in others and their diverse perspectives, and he was not indifferent to them.
This is how I will remember you, dear Evgeny Grigoryevich.
On Yom Kippur, Evgeny Grigoryevich Yasin passed away. To leave on Yom Kippur, according to observant Jews, is considered fortunate: you depart without sins, as pure as a child.
Yasin was an extraordinary person, in some ways, quite childlike. Yet, he was also wise and had seen much in his life. The Higher School of Economics (HSE) was his brainchild, and he believed in education, in knowledge, and in the idea that modern educated young people could rescue Russia from its impasse. I was the first to be dismissed from HSE at the Kremlin's demand, even though I taught pure theory and my courses were pivotal for the Faculty of Political Science. I went to 'Grandpa,' as we all called him, and Yasin said, 'Zhenya, the School is more important'. It was because of Yasin that I never wrote about what was happening at HSE back in 2012, and how most of those who are now speaking out against the government and loudly criticising it were hiding under their mattresses, seduced by the millions of dollars that the university received from the government — in exchange for silence and collaboration, they were paid off with salaries of many thousands of dollars.
Yasin did not keep silent, but he could not do anything about the steamroller heading towards the School. Gradually, he moved to his dacha, especially because his favourite interlocutor was there — his daughter, Ira. It was fortunate that the final destruction of HSE in the last three years was something that Evgeny Grigoryevich observed from a distance, through a haze of the increasingly twilight world around him. It was as though his brain shielded him from the fanaticism that engulfed the classrooms of what had once been the country's best humanities university. The mourning ribbons that will hang for Yasin on Thursday, at the memorial to him at HSE, are a requiem for the university and Russian humanities education. And here, too, we will have to start all over again. It will be more difficult because Yasin will not be there. Blessed be his memory.
The core of Evgeny Grigoryevich was undoubtedly his steadfast commitment to liberal ideas, which encompassed personal freedom, economics, and everything that, in sum, defines a country's freedom. We know that 'ideological fervour' often has its flip side – dogmatism, where reality is forcibly fit into the mold of a lifeless doctrine. E.G.'s faith was of the opposite nature – he considered freedom a living but vulnerable entity that needed protection, a chance to grow, strengthen, and manifest itself. He dedicated all his energy and his entire life to this task.
As the author of economic programmes, he charted the path from the planned economy to the market. As the Minister of Economy, he fought against the enemies of economic freedom – monopolies – and created mechanisms for self-regulation instead of administrative-command levers. However, it soon became clear that the main obstacles were within people – internal barriers, prejudices, fears, which had developed and were consistently passed down from generation to generation over many decades of living unfree. E.G. began a systematic broad-based struggle against anything that stifled the economy and society. He used all available means: he conducted research demonstrating that Russians' core values were compatible with basic freedoms, gave lectures, wrote textbooks that tangibly demonstrated the advantages of free labour and entrepreneurship, published books comparing the achievements of free and unfree countries, and engaged in countless other projects. Unfortunately, we know that not only has freedom failed to prevail but has also receded further. This is our common misfortune, and E.G. bears the least blame for this. He did more than anyone else to nurture free people in our country, and with time, his role will be fully appreciated.
'Dear Evgeny Grigoryevich.' Somehow, there is not a sense of loss, but rather a sense of continuation. Yasin instilled in me a sense of calm. A dose of tranquillity. This feeling emanated from a person who could undoubtedly see beyond what you could. Not because he was smarter (although he might have been), but because he had been watching for a long time.
Yes, he watched for a long time. I read on Wikipedia that 'He began his career in 1957 as a foreman on a bridge crane'. A foreman on a bridge crane! Somewhere around the turn of 1989 and 1990, as key members of Leonid Abalkin's commission on economic reform at the USSR Council of Ministers, Yavlinsky and Yasin, first drew up a scenario for transitioning the Soviet economy to the market.
Nowadays, everyone who can put letters into words knows how one should and should not transition to a market economy. But back then, those who now know that had not even been born yet, and so Yavlinsky and Yasin were navigating in the dark. At the end of 1989, the commission's task was to convince the leadership to adopt more resolute (though still quite moderate) proposals for economic reform. To be more persuasive, they wrote a 'horror story' – what the transition to a market would look like in a dramatic scenario if these proposals were not adopted. At that moment, no one at the government level was seriously discussing (at least not publicly) the 'market'. They were discussing various options for reforming the Soviet economy. The idea of the 'market' was like going to the Moon – everyone could see it, but no one had yet thought about how to get there.
While they were drawing this up, they understood many things about the logic of this process. It was about seizing the current levers today, or else they would cease to work tomorrow (typical bridge crane logic). The moderately radical proposals of Abalkin's commission were not adopted, and the 'horror story' transformed into the basic scenario for transition. A young and determined Yavlinsky, along with his friends, would develop these thoughts into the '400 Days' programme a few months later (it would later become the '500 Days' programme). But from this moment on, the words 'transition to a market' began to captivate everyone's imaginations. The paradigm of thought irrevocably shifted.
Yasin was a man of the system. When the 'Liberal Mission' was declared a 'foreign agent,' he went to talk to Volodin (the head of the presidential administration at the time), and then he called me with the idea that we would meet as part of an expert circle with Volodin to explain the real state of affairs. This might sound startling, but there was no astonishment. If one thing was clear about Yasin it was that he was a no nonsense person, and he would go and explain the situation to them. Like with Abalkin. He had been watching for a long time.
In the 2000s, my old friend Kostya Sonin had a brilliant idea that, as an alternative to Putin in the presidential elections, Yasin should be nominated as the sole candidate of the democratic forces. It was a very precise thought, perfectly in line with Yasin's inner scale and historical logic. After Putin, who was secretly ideocratic, repressed, and unkind, there should be a tolerant, broad-minded, liberal, insightful Yasin. And there was nothing unattainable or strange about this. Who knew Putin a year before his ascent to the political Olympus? Yasin had much more starting capital for this position.
In the specific circumstances of the time, it was an entirely unfeasible idea. But in the theoretical model, if the media had started radiating to the nation the meaning that Yasin embodied, such a thing could have happened and would have been a blessing. Just as they radiated a certain 'image of Putin,' which turned out to be in demand.
In a normal scenario of events, something like that should have happened.
As president, Yasin would have disappointed many. He would have been condemned for his moderation, labelled as a compromiser, brought to account for his work in Abalkin's commission. But then, after ten years, they would have erected a monument on the boulevards: 'To President Yasin, the man who taught us compromise.' And there Yasin would stand, living, while children passing by would know this national myth: that you can be both a gentle and firm person at the same time, like Yasin. And there is nothing strange about that.
Dear, dear Evgeny Grigoryevich, thank you. Using a favourite quote from my old friend: 'Don't speak with longing that they are gone, but with gratitude that they were.'
For me, Evgeny Grigoryevich Yasin was perhaps the brightest person I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Many talk about his wisdom, and that is undoubtedly true. But what struck me was the combination of his wisdom with a human trait that is usually considered incompatible with it – naivety. He was genuinely astonished every time we discussed the latest attacks against us by the oligarchs and the security forces they had bought, as well as journalists. It simply did not make sense in his mind because at his core he believed the best in people. This was the source of his incredible human attraction, which brought together so many different people around him. I will always be grateful to him for being among them.
One of the distinctive qualities of Evgeny Grigoryevich Yasin was that he aroused in people kind feelings that turned into love for him and an acceptance of the world. This attitude was further enhanced by the respect for his scientific work and public contributions. He radiated a strange sense of attention towards you and an expectation that something good could be expected from you. He would not just expect it, but demand it. Like any great person, he brought out the best in people. Such a quality is a sure sign of a leader when diagnosing a person and their environment. It is impossible to imagine a decent and intelligent person saying anything questionable, let alone bad, about him.
My first encounter with him was around the beginning of 2000. He spoke at a seminar we held, led by Levada, and talked about his belief in the continuation of reforms, about the hopes he had for the new era. I was surprised by his confidence in both people and the prospects of Russian democracy back then. I was already becoming increasingly pessimistic. However, I want to talk not about whether he was right or wrong back then, but rather about the fact that such a human ability is much more important and valuable than flat realism and misanthropy. It creates a force field of idealism that makes changes in human communities possible. I will forever be grateful to him for his help, for his support during difficult times, for the circle of people he brought together in the 'Liberal Mission.' Perhaps there will come a time when he will be proven right in his belief in the potential of Russian liberalism, and then, indeed, as someone has already written, the Higher School of Economics (HSE) will rightfully bear his name.
I got to know Evgeny Grigoryevich in early autumn 1994 when he was still heading the Analytical Centre at the President's Office. What struck me was the seemingly impossible combination of a sharp, insightful mind, and a kind of domestic warmth bordering on almost familial tenderness. His speech was soft, his gaze affectionate, but his arguments were irresistible. In 2000, he invited me to join the board of the Liberal Mission Foundation, and we began to meet almost monthly.
It is not for me to judge Yasin's merits as a theorist of transition, as a professor who raised a whole team of brilliant economist-practitioners, as the founder of the Higher School of Economics – though all of this is extremely important and weighty.
For me, Evgeny Yasin was the leader of the 'Liberal Mission,' a great educator. A sower of ideas about democracy, free-market economics, human rights, constitutionalism, multi-party systems, and above all, freedom itself, freedom of speech and thought foremost. How many books were published, how many seminars, youth schools, conferences were held, how many prominent politicians, lawyers, and economists spoke! How many layers of Russian liberalism's history have been uncovered, how many reference books and monographs have been published! How many awards have been given, and therefore, how much attention has been drawn to the ideas of freedom and democracy!
Evgeny Grigoryevich was an unwavering romantic of liberal enlightenment. Dialogue, persuasion, and explanation were more important to him than confrontation. The seeds he sowed into our subjugated soil will sprout, he believed in that, and so do I.
I had many conversations with Evgeny Grigoryevich – about science, the New Economic School, HSE, the future of Russia, and the Dynasty Foundation (where we both served on the board). I missed him greatly in recent years, and today I feel even greater sorrow because we had so much left to discuss.
Two of our conversations stand out in my memory. After I was appointed rector of the New Economic School in the autumn of 2004, we began working on the school's long-term strategy. To do this, I surveyed dozens of stakeholders and competitors, including Evgeny Yasin. This conversation with him in April 2005 taught me a lot and, more than any other conversation, influenced the formation of the university's strategy. Evgeny Yasin insisted on prioritising quality over quantity and research over political consulting. He literally told me that 'the authorities believe they know everything themselves' and that 'an academic profile is more valuable than dabbling in political consulting.'
In January 2011, we discussed work on 'Strategy 2020.' This time, Evgeny Grigoryevich was much more pessimistic. He understood that Putin and Medvedev most likely commissioned this work from HSE and RANEPA to divert attention, and that this work would be shelved the day after the acceptance act was signed. And that is exactly what happened. Unfortunately, once again, the wisdom and intellectual honesty of Evgeny Grigoryevich exceeded the misplaced optimism and conformism of his younger colleagues.
I am confident that Evgeny Grigoryevich would agree that the best tribute to him is to learn from his lessons, to be honest with ourselves, and not to repeat the mistakes of naivety and conformity. Evgeny Grigoryevich, we will do our best.
In April 1994, Evgeny Grigoryevich and I both joined the presidential administration of the Russian Federation’s Analytical Centre. He was the head of the centre, and I was the head of the national policy analysis department. Evgeny Yasin led this centre for just seven months before being appointed Economy Minister, but that short time remains the best memory of my scientific career. Evgeny Grigoryevich turned what seemed like a bureaucratic position into an academic institution of the highest scientific calibre. Well-known scientists from various fields attended the daily evening seminars that sometimes ran late into the night. The Liberal Mission Foundation did not exist back then, but the mission itself was there, with Evgeny Grigoryevich as its representative and medium, creating an atmosphere of freedom for creative work and active initiative. In my view, the value of this kind of freedom is paramount to the liberal idea.
In the 2000s, I started working under Yasin's leadership at the Higher School of Economics and on the board of the Liberal Mission Foundation. Here, his talent as a great scientific mentor was once again evident, awakening in employees the desire for initiative and creativity. Everyone who worked with him sought to express themselves and their talent to the best of their ability. Perhaps, in different times, his talent would have led to more optimistic public results, but as a poet once said, 'you do not get to choose your time, just to live and die in it'. I will not talk about my faith in a bright future or about faith in general, but I can talk about dreams. Among them is one that many have mentioned here: the dream of naming the Higher School of Economics after E.G. Yasin.
In July 1991, shortly before the August coup, a document about the state of the Soviet economy arrived at the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, signed by Deputy Prime Minister Shcherbakov (Prime Minister Pavlov was on vacation, I think). The document described the state of a collapsing economy using a palette of terms even the harshest critics could not match. The forecasts were tragic. There were suggestions too. Two were unacceptable: the Soviet methods and the wait-and-see approach. The only acceptable suggestion was the immediate introduction of real market measures. There was a list of these measures, almost identical to those adopted by Gaidar and Yeltsin in January 1992. Attached to them was a note: 'If this is not done now, others will do it for us' (from my memory). Deputies discussed the document rather passively, they did not decide on anything, but classified it. The original document fell into my hands in early 1996, when I was an assistant to the president. At the end of the text, I found, in small font: 'Prepared by E.G. Yasin.'
Evgeny Grigoryevich predicted everything correctly. Five months later, 'they' were gone. They were swept away by the collapse of the USSR. And others, primarily his students, did ‘it’. They revived the Russian economy, finances, and the consumer market from a state of clinical death, which threatened to become non-clinical.
Among all the prominent economists I know, who were mature individuals during the time of perestroika, Evgeny Grigoryevich was the most market-oriented and the most liberal. You might be surprised, but it is liberalism, rather than socialism, that values the individual, the person. Socialism is fond of the masses as a whole. It is not interested in details and differences. It is more enthusiastic about forming a mass of people. In this, socialism resembles a criminal gang. But Evgeny Grigoryevich valued people and lovingly collected them individually in his 'Liberal Mission.'
I miss him very much. I can see his large office before my eyes. His big desk, with us sitting on either side of it, as specimens of his collection. Evgeny Grigoryevich at the head of the table says, 'I think we should discuss…' And then they will bring us tea or coffee...
Liberalism needs freedom for every individual. So they can become human beings, not cogs in a machine. So they can be themselves and remain themselves, even when it is very difficult. Just like Evgeny Grigoryevich Yasin.
I want to share a few words not just about Evgeny Grigoryevich but also about his friend Dmitry Borisovich. Yasin and Zimin were like two peas in a pod, more alike than brothers. They shared physical similarities: both short, sturdy, with Socratic bald heads. They also had inner similarities: lively, energetic, witty, cheerful, while being melancholic and business-like at the same time. They shared an ideological similarity as well — both were steadfast liberals.
But unity of thought is not eternal, unlike unity of sentiment. No matter where these grand (despite their short stature) old men met, they were immediately drawn to each other like magnets and needed no one else. It could happen at some Civil Forum, where after seeing and hearing the most interesting discussions, the old men would get up and go have a drink together. Or it could happen at the Higher School of Economics, where Yasin gathered members of the board of the Liberal Mission Foundation in his spacious office as the academic director. And they would have a drink there too, but only after the work was done.
Together, Yasin and Zimin lived through the best and worst of times. Together, they founded two free institutions, 'Dynasty' and the 'Liberal Mission.' Together, they experienced the 'foreign agent' ordeal. Yasin's 'Liberal Mission' had no foreign funding, while Zimin's 'Dynasty' had no projects with a political agenda. However, as soon as Zimin's 'Dynasty' gave Yasin's 'Liberal Mission' a grant, the latter became a 'foreign agent,' and in turn infected 'Dynasty'. They reacted differently to this: Zimin closed 'Dynasty,' and Yasin successfully defended 'Liberal Mission.' Both of them became somewhat melancholic, though they did manage to retain some optimism.
Meanwhile, the darkness was closing in around them. We seriously discussed whether it would have been appropriate to maintain islands of freedom in Nuremberg at the time of the 1935 laws, or whether it would be deceiving the population, maintaining some illusion. The great elders, growing increasingly melancholic, continued to do their work. As long as they did it, it seemed we could avoid falling into the abyss.
But first Zimin went, and now Yasin too. A few weeks before his death, in Cyprus, Zimin suddenly asked me, 'I'm here in paradise, and they're there in hell. Is this a coincidence or based on merit?' Based on merit, Dmitry Borisovich. Based on merit, Evgeny Grigoryevich.
But I am afraid we will get what we deserve too.