Grigory Yavlinsky: “The government needs to be changed on a regular basis”
Grigory Yavlinsky, YABLOKO founder and Chairman of its Federal Political Committee, participated in the presidential elections in Russia twice – in 1996 and 2000, respectively (in 2004 he boycotted the presidential campaign, due to the impossibility, in his opinion, to have free and fair elections, and in the presidential elections in 2012 the Central Electoral Commission withdrew the candidacy of Grigory Yavlinsky, from his point of view, for political reasons). Grigory Yavlinsky plans to run for President in 2018. The “dress rehearsal” will be certainly in the State Duma elections in September. YABLOKO included in its electoral list such prominent opposition figures as Vladimir Ryzhkov, Dmitry Gudkov, who are not YABLOKO members, and the party even counts to become “the basis of the democratic coalition.” Under what programme? Grigory Yavlinsky told us about this.
“This economic system leads Russia to an increasing and hopeless gap between Russia and developed countries”
Question: Grigory Alexeyevich, a reader asks: “The powerful system you are fighting against, disposes of enormous resources: monetary, military, police, judicial, and so on. What can YABLOKO and you personally oppose to this octopus? Or is a compromise with some part of the system possible? That is: Whether the victory of liberal forces, if it happens, may become merely another change of scenery without affecting the essence of the system”?
Grigory Yalvinsky: This system created for the past 25 years, can be opposed by one thing only – a great desire by a large part of the people to change it. If there is such a desire, it can be done. And the meaning of our work is to create a crystallization point, that is, join together, in a legal and open way, everyone who wants to change the system – genuinely, seriously and for ever.
Question: And does the tragic example of [murdered oppositional politician] Boris Nemtsov perplex you?
Yavlinsky: The murder of Boris Nemtsov is a terrible tragedy. It showed that no one can give anyone any guarantees. It is a matter of personal choice. And we have made this choice.
Question: Many observers attribute the success of the liberal opposition to situation in Vladimir Putin’s economy. Some experts say that the Putin’s regime is economically stable, the economy deflates, but slowly. Others predict that the precarious stability is very short term, and mass unemployment, sharp reduction in incomes, and “hunger riots” are ahead. What do you think we should be prepared to?
Yavlinsky: One of the reasons why this system should be changed, is that it is poorly predictable, all are telling fortunes in a teacup. Even in the government no one can say what macroeconomic parameters will be, what they will do in a month or two, what decisions they will take. Try to make a right guess in their forecasts, but it is not always possible: simply recollect how many times we were told with great certainty that the “bottom of the crisis” had been passed, and then same statements were made again and again later on.
The problem of the economic system is, first of all, that it increases Russia’s continuous, deep, and hopeless gap with developed countries. It will not cause “hunger riots”, but all will shift Russia to underdeveloped countries for ever. Today, Russia’s share in world GDP is about one per cent, we are far from having high life expectancy, we have high mortality rate, per capita income is considerably, by 3 – 5 times, lower than in the developed countries. The quality of education, health care, and the general quality of life will be simply degrading rather than growing very slowly in this economic system. Consequently, in 30 – 40 years it will turn out that there is a group of developed countries in the world, where the quality of life, health care and education is incomparable to other, underdeveloped countries. And this situation be fixed forever, these countries will forever remain undeveloped, including Russia.
For our country, such a state of affairs is fraught with the fact that Russia will be unable to maintain its integrity. Because Russia is a vast country and can maintain its unity only if it has a strong economy.
Question: Whom should we stake on as economic partners – Europe or Asia?
Yavlinsky: Our fundamental interests are that the Russian economy should be integrated with the most developed countries, so that we would have a common economic space with them from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
Question: But Vladimir Putin also dreams about it.
Yavlinsky: The difference between me and Putin is that he should have reached this during all these years of his governing. Instead, they unleashed a war with Ukraine, took away its piece of territory and quarreled with Europe. I intend to become President so that to stop dreaming about a modern country, but begin actually building it.
Question: What should be done first: creating favorable conditions for businesses, including by means of lowering taxes, freeing businesses of the burden of “social responsibility”, or developing the social sector and human capital?
Yavlinsky: This is a good question. The most important goals are inviolability of private property and real independence of the judiciary. Development of business and, consequently, the social system, within this framework, will go on a completely different qualitative level as compared to today. But none of this can be done in the present political system. First, we need to change the political system.
Question: And are huge military spending justified, what do you think? NATO has moved close to our borders and epicentres of terrorism are everywhere. Finally, military research can become a source for civil technologies.
Yavlinsky: You see, in the Soviet Union there was huge defense spending, the Soviet defense industry was one of the most powerful in the world, the Soviet Union Army competed with the armies of the United States and NATO. But as the economy was weak in general, it ended up in a situation when the army remained, but the country disintegrated. So, should we repeat the same 25 years later? I think that the most important aspect of state building is creation of a compact professional contract army.
Question: Here comes a question of our reader and your voter from the Sverdlovsk region: “If YABLOKO wins the election, how Russian regions will be supported? As under the present government regions all over Russia are degrading, but the government states that all is well in Russia, but hearing crying of the people, they wish to people “all the best, good mood and health.” Is not it cynical? “
Yavlinsky: We advocate changing the relations between Moscow and the regions, we believe that Russia should be a real federation. The share of taxes at the disposal of the regions, their economic rights should be much higher. Personally, I am a supporter of economic federalism: the greater the economic rights of the regions and competitiveness are, the higher the overall result will be.
The desire to centralised all in Moscow and give regions handouts, feeding them from hand… I can say from the experience of St. Petersburg (Ed. from December 2011 Grigory Yavlinsky has been MP in the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg and head of the YABLOKO faction there): the budget of the city is 450 billion roubles – this is only for the maintenance of doctors, teachers and patching of holes, but nothing else, no development [is envisaged there]. It is absolutely unproductive policies, and we will make every effort to change it.
Question: There is a separate question about municipalities. They are really downtrodden and stalemated in Russia.
Yavlinsky: It is a very important question. This situation leads to the fact that in the end we have infantile population. People do not know how to get together and adopt a decision so that to build a children’s playground. They do not have experience of arranging their own lives, because they are not trusted any money. The laws relating to financing of municipalities and meeting basic needs of people are not implemented, municipal governing is reduced to an insignificant level. Sergei Mitrokhin [ex YABLOKO Chairman], being an MP in the State Duma, introduced a package of draft laws on financing local self-governing, but they do not want to use them.
This is part of big policies targeted at creation of such a system where people would be silent. All day long people are shown some tomefoolery on TV, with crude humour, and political hysteria in the evening, and that’s it. This is purposeful destruction of citizens’ consciousness. This is instead a situation when they would gather together and decide how they should found a condominium, pave their roads, build kindergartens and children’s playgrounds and control the funds. In short, instead of their learning managing their lives and their country.
“First of all, as President I will install peace with Ukraine stopping the war”
Question: Our reader Sofia is asking exactly about this: “[Writer] Lev Tolstoy once said that the government rests only on the ignorance of the people. What can be done with the ignorance of the people at present? How to teach them to resist massive lies and propaganda that provoke the worst in people? “
Yavlinsky: All nations are the same everywhere, there is only more educated or less educated peoples. The Russian people are well educated. The problem is the elite. It is the elite which must represent the interests of the people and be able to defend and implement these interests. Russia lacks such an elite. In Russia we call God knows what the “elite”. But there not so many those, very few or almost none of them, who are not willing to barter professionalism for money, principles for social position and decency for social status.
Such people began to emerge in the early 1990s, and then, due to the way the reforms were carried out, they were corrupted, most of them surrendered to corruption and got corrupted. This virus was especially with journalists. What were they saying then? “As soon as we elect Boris Yeltsin Russian President, we will begin writing honest texts”. And none of those who had joined Yeltsin’s electoral headquarters ever wrote honest texts. Many of them are still clowning about in our media scene. In general, the short answer to the question is like this: we need more people like Lev Tolstoy.
Question: But people like Lev Tolstoy, spiritual and moral elite do not emerge out of nowhere: they should be raised and educated. And in Russia education and training have become quite formalistic. Schools and universities are cranking out ignoramuses, and the best minds emigrate. And we remain on the archaic “raw materials needle” in the rare of other economies in the world. What is YABLOKO’s programme in the field of education and science?
Yavlinsky: First, I have to clarify that the present system does not need any citizens – neither educated nor uneducated. This system has the economy of the “pipe”, the government is switched to the “pipe”, it trades oil, it needs only those who produce oil and gas and transit oil and gas through the pipes – and this is a very small number of people. Other citizens are only standing in the way, pesting the government: give us this or that. Who needs them in this system? No one. Therefore, the government wishes “all the best and “cheer up” to such “superfluous people”.
Second, speaking about education: we have a detailed programme. However, if the main goal of our education will remain telling lies about our history, camouflaging what happened in 1917, in 1930s, concealing why a large country defended by the people regardless of anything collapsed, lying that Russia is surrounded by enemies, that the whole world is the enemy, then we will not go far on the multiplication table only. Engineering education in the Soviet Union was one of the best in the world – and what has happened to it now? We flew into space, but could not save the country. So let us start by coming to the polling stations on 18 September, it is much easier.
Question: Grigory Alexeyevich, now about domestic policy issues. Readers from St. Petersburg are interested in the following: “What is your stance on emergence of the so—called Akhmad Kadyrov’s Bridge in St.Petersbug?” And one more question from a reader about Northern Caucasus: “In spite of “feeding” the Caucasus [i.e. giving large amounts of budget money to the Caucasus], it has remained a hotbed of corruption, lawlessness, terrorism, weapon of reprisals against dissenting (the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and oppositional politician Boris Nemtsov) and threat to the stability for the whole of Russian society. What should we do with the Caucasus? “
– First my colleagues and I considered it necessary to conduct a city referendum [in St. Petersburg about the name of the bridge], but it was banned, we were not allowed to do so. I believe that such strange renamings lead only to inflaming ethnic hatred. We will insist on conducting a referendum immediately after the election.
Further, if we talk about the Caucasus, there should be done same things (only do not get surprised) as are done in, for example, the Sverdlovsk region: there should be neither dictators nor “dons”, the police should not be the mafia, the court must be honest, corruption should be restrained and the rights of people protected. [This should be done] throughout Russia, in the Urals and the Caucasus, and in Moscow, that’s it. When such a simple idea gets into the minds of our top officials and bosses, people in the Caucasus will feel that they are citizens of a great country, not worse than other citizens of the country, that they have the protection of the Constitution and laws guaranteeing their rights.
Certainly, the Caucasus has its own specifics. But every region and city has its specifics, thank God, we are all different. But first of all general rules should be established: the laws in the country are the same for all, no one has the right to violate them, Russian citizens fully possess their rights everywhere in the country, in every corner of it. This is to begin with, and then later we will take into account the specifics.
Question: “And what should be done with Crimea?” asks our reader Sergei.
Yavlinsky: The stance of the YABLOKO party is very simple and clear: what was done to Crimea was a violation of all laws – Russian and international, treaties and agreements. We must admit it and, as Russia and Ukraine can not solve this problem on their own, an international conference should be gathered, it will determine a “road map” recognized by all and how the situation with Crimea will develop further. It is not good if Russia turns into a country with unrecognized borders, it is unacceptable that 3.5 million people are in a situation when they are not issued international visas, are deprived of international communication, and so on.
Question: Another question from our reader: “Dear Grigory Alexeyevich, when you become President of Russia, how will security services such as the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Bureau, and the National Guard – Putin’s “foot soldiers” be reorganised?”
Yavlinsky: The key principle is transparency and accountability to the public, certainly, except for confidential matters. All the intelligence services should be aware that they function on people’s money and must protect people, their security, rather than cover certain persons calling themselves the “state” from the people. Today people in Russia are not protected from the security forces by nobody, nothing and nowhere – either in jail or in court, or in prison, anything can happen to a person there. There should be a system of checks and balances between the law enforcement agencies – the investigation, the prosecutor’s office, there should be an independent judiciary, developed system of a jury trial, effective access of human rights organisations and press to the law enforcement activities.
Question: In the meantime, we don’t have anything like this, do we? How do you feel about the right of a free man to possess not only short barreled weapon, but also to protect himself, his property and his loved ones with weapons?
Yavlinsky: I think, that the specifics of our culture do not allow us to adopt such decisions. I think that if Russia allows its citizens to use military weapons in real life, whenever they deem it necessary, it will lead to big trouble. The fact that this topic has been discussed for several years already shows that people do not trust the quality of police work. But in our particular circumstances arming people, even if police and intelligence services function poorly, is not the way out of the situation. I am not a supporter of the US approach, I share the European approach: we must seek to improve the quality of work of police and intelligence services.
Question: In the relationship of a citizen with police and intelligence services, all comes to court in the end. What is your attitude to the idea of lustration of judges, purge of the ranks in courts?
Yavlinsky: It is an important idea. But the point is not only in purging the ranks, but in abolishing unjust verdicts. Judges under the amnesty condition (and, certainly, with a further ban on the profession), must admit whom they jailed for bribes, and all illegally sentenced must be released – that’s what matters. After all, a lot of people, especially from business, are jailed just because their competitors “brought in” more money [to court]. As you remember, there was a campaign against the “werewolves in epaulets”? There were many developments in it, but have you ever heard that some from their innocent victims were released from prison? People sent to jail by these “werewolves” have still remained in prison.
Question: But who and what will force judges to repent and confess of the crime? Public opinion?
Yavlinsky: The new government, the new President, new rules and new laws. The same refers to the fight against corruption. Corruption links are preserved if the authorities are not replaced for years.
Question: And if representatives of the new government will be tempted to use this power for their own selfish interests? Here’s a “tricky” question.
Yavlinsky: I will give you a “tricky” answer then: the authorities should be changed regularly. In our country the authorities have not changed for 25 years, in fact, the same group have been in power all these years: they appointed a “successor”, and he is working like a “galley-slave” (Ed. As Vladimir Putin once compared his ruling Russia). The number of presidential terms should be limited to two, the term of presidential office should be reduced from six to four years. If one failed to accomplish something good in eight years, than he will not perform better if his term is 12 years. It is like in school: if you do not know how to solve the problem, then you will not solve it, regardless of how much time is given to you.
Question: Vladimir Putin inherited from Boris Yeltsin a Constitution with the strong shift towards presidential powers, and Vladimir Putin expanded these powers even more. Now everything depends on the personality from a man in the Kremlin: whether he is a decent person and take into account human rights and liberties, but an indecent person will usurp the power. What, in your opinion, should be done with constitutional powers of the President?
Yavlinsky: The most important task of the new President is to begin work on creating a new system of government, with balanced powers, mutual control and mutual checks and balances. Our Constitution already envisaged the things, for example, the separation of powers, independence of the judiciary. But yet these principles have been declarative, because the President really rises in his powers above the government, the parliament, the court and the law enforcement system. The most important goal is separation of powers and independence of the court. I can assure you that movement towards this goal will lead to the constitutional, legal and judicial reform, and, consequently, Russia will have a balanced system of power.
And generally speaking, we should, after a thorough preparation, convene the Constituent Assembly, the one that the Bolsheviks broke up in January 1918. In accordance with the Basic Law, it must be held in the form of a Constitutional Assembly. We must return to our roots and origins, continue our historical traditions, and thus solve the problem of the new constitutional order of Russia.
Question: What will be your first step of the post of President of Russia?
Yavlinsky: First, I will install peace with Ukraine, stop the war, and then we will speak about all the other things.