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Grigory Yavlinsky: We offer consistent opposition Interview with Grigory Yavlinsky by Sergei Trusevich and Alexander Sharov

Parlamentskaya Gazeta, December 26, 2001

Which Duma initiatives have been successful and which have failed? What position do they adhere to on fundamental issues concerning the country? What does the future hold for Russia's democratic Yabloko party? Grigory Yavlinsky answers these and some other questions.

Grigory Yavlinsky: First of all I would like to share the results of our work in the current Duma. The figures are as follows: about 20 laws prepared by deputies from our faction have entered into force since the 1999 elections, and 24 more laws are under review. We have also developed over 80 laws jointly with other factions and deputies. As for the most principal directions of our work, I can say that, first of all, this includes everything related to the state budget and economic legislation. For the third year running Yabloko has been proposing its own version of the nation's budget. The difference between the government budget and our draft budget for 2002 amounts to 130 billion roubles, while last year this difference was 89 billion roubles. Interestingly, on September 15 we submitted our draft budget to the government and on September 24 it reconsidered its version and added 110 billion roubles. This had a significent influence on our attitude toward the government and the entire budgetary process.
However, most interestingly we had been drafting a budget proceeding from an oil price of $18.5 a barrel, while the government had set a price of $23.5 into its version of the budget. When the oil prices collapsed, the Finance Ministry had an opportunity to avail itself of a ready-made model to review the budget. Later on, in an appearance on TV Alexei Kudrin recited in detail how the Finance Ministry opted for our draft budget.
We are also pleased that the protracted discussions with Russia's economic establishment ended in our favour. Since 1994 we have declared that the rate of the turnover tax should be fixed at 10%, as nobody would pay more. (...) Eventually, in the middle of last summer Yabloko's economists met with Vladimir Putin and had a long debate about this topic. A few other meetings followed. As a result, the rate of the turnover tax was reduced to 13% and budget revenues increased by 1.6 times.
We also note with satisfaction that the government has finally signed a production-sharing agreement.
This can be summed up as follows: three parties - for instance, a state, a region, and an investor - conclude an agreement, say, for a hundred years, to share the production they either manufacture or extract in three parts. If this is the case, exchange rate fluctuations, changes to taxes or the situation on the world market or other crises do not matter, as production is shared instead of roubles.
Yabloko has been preparing the legislative basics s for this issue since 1994. Stiff opposition from the oil barons has hampered adoption of this legislation. However, we will get our way in the end. (...) Military reform is the second significant direction that we focus on. As far back as last year in the discussion of the current budget, I provided figures to indicate the sources of funding to resolve housing problems for servicemen and to switch to a contract-based army... This year we once again proposed our calculations. The matter once again concerns the establishment of an army on a contractual basis, increasing expenditure on military exercises, changing the structure of the Armed Forces, increasing the role of the Strategic Rocket Forces, and creating up-to-date mobile units. In our opinion, Russia's army must adhere to two major guidelines. The first issue is connected with the nation's strategic defense and it is impossible to overestimate the role of Strategic Rocket Forces in this matter.
Secondly, Russia's Armed Forces must be capable of resolving three armed conflicts at a time or else repel aggressions on the perimeters of our borders, mainly in the south. I would not highlight the remaining directions we are concerned about and that we must resolve, as they are countless.
I would only like to dwell on imports of nuclear waste into Russia. This is a principal position for us, and I am ready to uphold it at any level and in any form. In our view, this is completely unacceptable. Importing nuclear waste for storage is completely unjustifiable. We have no grounds to doubt that Russia's scientists can resolve this problem, but the embezzlement of public funds, corruption and the general turmoil oblige us to insist on a reversal of this decision.
To date, unfortunately, we have not managed to do so. Secondly, we have failed in our goal of freeing rurban teachers from military service. Only rural teachers enjoy this privilege today. However, we did not manage to gain enough support to carry a corresponding lawl through the Duma. Finally, the law On Pension Funds is our third failure. We only fell short by 12 votes in favour that we needed to defeat the government's concept. We had insisted that the Pension Fund must be state-run, instead of semi-commercial, as everything will be embezzled once again.

Question: Yabloko's congress has taken place. It was decided to build a party. What will the party be like?

Yavlinsky: Primarily we have determined our ideology. (...) We are a liberal-social party. In our opinion, this very ideology is necessary for Russia today, as we need decisions related to low tax rates, free enterprise, limits on state interference in private life and business. At the same time, we should bear in mind that we have multitudes of elderly, who have no means of subsistence. We also lack a middle class that has accumulated money and can either decide to work or not work. Therefore, we must also retain free education and free basic health care. Subsequently, we will have an unprecedented system of admitting people into the party. We have abandoned Lenin's formulation that a party member should work in one of the "primes." We want to make sure that any applicant who has not been rejected can become a party member. If he or she wants to participate in meetings, however, and intends to become a party activist, he must be registered by the local branch office.

Question: Does unification of four centrist Duma factions and the construction of a party from Unity, Fatherland and All Russia compel you to seek allies as well? However, in the summer it was rumoured that Yabloko might merge with the Union of Right-Wing Forces.

Yavlinsky: We have no outstanding problems with our roles as drafters of legislation and we vote together with the Union of Right-Wing Forces. But the problem is that at the moment, even jointly with the Union of Right-Wing Forces we have fewer deputies than we had in the previous Duma. Such a coalition is enough for parliamentary work. We have a joint inter-factional council, where we resolve all issues. However, there are laws, where we voted differently to the Union of Right-Wing Forces. For instance, the entire Yabloko faction opposed the import of nuclear waste, while only 50 percent of the deputies of the Union of Right-Wing Forces rejected this law. As for prospective coalitions, we invite everyone. We have various views on reforms and different approaches than those of the Union of Right-Wing Forces. We are a Russia's party of democrats, while the URF is the party of the upper bourgeoisie. Undoubtedly, if the upper bourgeoisie exists in Russia, it must have its own political representation. However, the union of right-wing forces only can win over the votes of the youths or, otherwise, take them from us, displaying itself as a party for the middle class.
However, we have no intention of initiating any conflict with the Union of Right-Wing Forces. I would like to stress once again that they are a right-wing conservative party of big capital. While Boris Nemtsov is a member of the party, there will be a certain liberal-democratic vector in the party. If another co-chairman - Chubais - heads the party tomorrow, it will be a pure party of Gazprom, UES, Sibneft - that is exactly the big capital I referred to. The situation within the Union of Right-Wing Forces is difficult, as Russia's big business does not provide as many jobs as are required for the elections.

Question: Is Yabloko still opposed to the regime?

Yavlinsky: Yes, we represent a systematic opposition. Regarding domestic politics, we think the policies that have been implemented in Russia, should have been implemented differently. We disagree with the ways in which the elections were carried out, for instance, in Yakutia, Russia's Far East and Altai. We also disagree with the media situation, when all TV broadcasting companies are alike, and you are not shown on TV at all if you do not meet with the President. We disagree with the continual postponement of military reforms. We disagree with the retention of the current oligarchism. The majority of people are unaware thus far what Gazprom or UES actually are. What are the people afraid of now? They are afraid of the fact that a criminal case can be instituted against everybody if necessary, the law-enforcement agencies are being used as a club. This system has been acquiring deeper and deeper roots and is being transformed into a regime. This is a police system, where one bureaucrat controls another, who, in his own turn, controls another one and so on.

Question: An eternal question: who benefits from such a system?

Yavlinsky: This benefits a very small group of people, who can under such circumstances share and re-share the riches at any scale. The incident with Borodin in the US made many people think more deeply and come to realise that they have nowhere to go, as a matter of fact: they are attainable everywhere. This means that an order must be established, which enables them to stay in Russia, which means making 140 million people obedient and subjugated to their whims and desires and everything will continue as it does today. Under the present circumstances we, a party of opposition, will do our best to impede the processes of manipulating social consciousness, and do everything we can to prevent them. In the long run, this mirrors the education, the culture, the people's consciousness as to the prospects of the country. This is a matter of principle for us.

Question: Does President Putin have something Yabloko accepts?

Yavlinsky: We support the President's foreign policy. We support the course he has taken since September 11 and consider it to be the only correct course to protect Russia's nationality. The President had to pluck up all his courage to take this course.

Question: Do you think that Russia is rushing to gain admission to the WTO?

Yavlinsky: I have never seen any predictions about the consequences of Russia's accession to the WTO, no matter how many times I have been asked. The WTO has been made an ideological-political flag. It is in fashion now and is considered a good form. If you want to pass for a democrat, you must say that you dream of joining the WTO. However, what are the consequences of this step for Russia? What should be done for Russia. To date these questions remain unanswered. Russia might receive all manner of positive dividends from WTO accession, provided that the government paves the way for this. the consequences might also be negative, if the government fails to do so.

Question: What might happen?

Yavlinsky: Russia might actually lose a lot of jobs. Whether we would have sub-branches of light industry or not - I do not care; but I would really care if the people end up with no jobs and no job opportunities. The danger of the situation is that a considerable part of the population might find itself with no sources of revenue at all.

Parlamentskaya Gazeta, December 26, 2001

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