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Interview by Svetlana Babayeva

GRIGORY YAVLINSKY: REAL LIFE IS ONLY TWO HOURS BY FLIGHT FROM HERE

Izvestia December 17, 2001
(Archive)

Grigory Yavlinsky rarely appears in the media nowadays. He agreed to meet with this Izvestia correspondent on the eve of Yabloko's congress scheduled to take place one of these days. He did not bother to conceal his sceptical attitude towards the media.

Q: Yabloko will convene a congress this month. According to information available to Izvestia, you plan some truly grandiose changes.

Yavlinsky: That ia a bit of an exaggeration. We will preserve the distinctive features and continuity of Yabloko. There will be, however, some serious changes in the charter. If the congress approves, we will amend the procedure for admitting members to the party. The following procedure will apply: an individual submits an application and is accorded membership of Yabloko three months later, unless the application is turned down. We will abandon the probation period we currently have.

We plan to do away with Vladimir Lenin's formula, which states that "everybody should spend some time in the cell organization". You may be a Yabloko member and never attend conferences or meetings. You can only elect the party chairman during primaries and the party's candidate for the presidency.

Q: It will surely be viewed as Yabloko's last attempt to swell its ranks to convince the Justice Ministry that Yabloko meets all the requirements of the new law on political parties.

Yavlinsky: We already have something to convince the Justice Ministry. Yabloko's membership numbers over 12,000. We also meet everything else required by law.

Q: Why then is this party liberalism?

Yavlinsky: Ours is a liberal party. We do not have any rigid regulations covering every minute in detail.

Q: Why then is Yabloko, such a great, liberal and pro-European party, losing votes? You may fail to scale the 5% barrier next time. Are you afraid of coming last?

Yavlinsky: I've been answering this question since 1993. We are not afraid of anything. Absolute voter figures have remained constant at 5-6 million.

We are aware of the authoritarian mood and tendencies in the country. They are natural to a considerable extent, in view of the way in which reforms were implemented throughout the decade. "We've seen these democrats," the people say.

Q: And yet, you are not afraid to use the term "democratic" in the name of the party. Are you sure your electorate will remain with you?

Yavlinsky: I'm sure about the future. Our electorate has voted for Yabloko five times. Moreover, nobody has precise voting figures, except perhaps the Chairman of the Central Election Commission.

Q: Are you preparing for the next parliamentary election?

Yavlinsky: We will begin preparations right after the congress.

Q: Do you think a rightist liberal party, an alliance with the Union of Right-Wing Forces, will be formed for the next election?

Yavlinsky: It depends on the situation. Our coalition in the Duma works successfully just as we promised. We act as one on many issues. We cooperate in some regions as well. For the time being, I do not perceive anything beyond cooperation of two strong and independent parties. The problem is that our voters are incompatible all too frequently. We have principal disagreements on certain issues. What can we do when the leader of the Union of Right-Wing Forces Anatoly Chubais calls for war in the Caucasus, as "this is how the Russian army can be revived"?

Q: There is a widespread opinion that Yabloko is always in the opposition. Is this an illusion? Or have the authorities failed to suggest over the past few years anything you would support?

Yavlinsky: We always back up anything we think worth supporting, for example when our proposals on lower taxes were implemented. Or when the president expressed the idea of a Russian-European anti-ballistic missile defense. Or when the president backed the counter-terrorism coalition. On the other hand, we will never support the idea of importing radioactive waste. These days, we oppose the policy of building a controllable democracy in Russia. Look at what is being done to TV-6, how the TV channels operate or how regional elections take place.

Q: It is rumoured that you yourself would not balk at the use of administrative resources. I mean it is rumoured that you called Vladimir Gusinsky on the phone when you disliked something that the newspapers of Media-Most wrote about you.

Yavlinsky: No. I have never called him and never will. Neither would I call your newspaper.

Q: Are you in touch with Gusinsky?

Yavlinsky: The last time we talked on the phone was in April. I still respect the TV, radio, newspapers and magazines he created. It is a pity that everything was destroyed.

Q: You prepared some serious programmes for the congress. Do you discuss parts of them with the government so that they become the foundation of draft laws at a future date?

Yavlinsky: Yes, we discuss a lot of things. All military issues are constantly discussed with the Security Council, Defense Ministry, and General Staff. We discuss some serious suggestions on taxes and the budget with Kudrin, the judiciary with Kozak, and the Russian-European anti-ballistic missile defense and matters of local self-rule with the presidential administration. This is a long- term programme. We will probably use it in the elections.

Q: All the same, your documents are somewhat Utopian - implementation of law, transparent civil service, eradication of corruption. It is not very realistic in this country with its traditions, given the last decade, etc.

Yavlinsky: We are in opposition precisely because of what you've just mentioned. Because those who were or still are in power believe that "This is what our country is like and what it will always be like". I do not think, for instance, that my country has already built democracy and that everything necessary has been done. I think we live in a quasi-Soviet period now, because all our leaders, all our nomenclature, are Soviet era products.

Q: There is such a thing as a transition period, etc.

Yavlinsky: It's a policy of the weak or the conniving.

Q: Whereas your policy is impossible to implement.

Yavlinsky: No it is not, as everything we propose exists in real life just two hours away by plane from here. Yes, there are countries in Latin America and Asia where the state of affairs like the one today lasts for 5-6 decades on end. That is pretty much what they have convinced themselves of. They say: "that is how it has always been, and that is how it always will be".

Q: When do you think we can attain the level that you can find two hours away by plane from here?

Yavlinsky:In 15-20 years of hard work.

Q: Let us consider one thesis in your manifesto. Freedom of movement. Are you prepared to accept an influx of residents of half of southern regions in Moscow tomorrow?

Yavlinsky: Everybody who needs it and who can afford it (they usually can, you know), and receives a residency permit in Moscow without trouble even now. The stricter the rule, then worse the corruption, as it is a watering hole. Nothing should be changed at a single stroke. Operating step by step, that's the ticket. As for the Caucasus... let's decide: either you build a wall to divide them and us, or you learn to live together.

There are no other options.

Q: What party system do you think will exist in Russia in future? Unity talks about two or three parties...

Yavlinsky: Imagine what will happen if the president wakes up tomorrow and says out loud that Unity is a bad party. Do you think you will have the time to ask them what they think about his statement? I donít think so. Unity will be history before you even get there... It is difficult to predict the political picture of the future At this point, we have two political parties and a half.

Q: Probably the Communists, you, and... the Union of Right-Wing Forces as "the half"... Is it true you spend virtually all your time giving lectures abroad and have all but abandoned Yabloko?

Yavlinsky: No. The Executive Council of the party meets every week, and the bureau every two weeks. There has not been a single meeting that I did not chair. I read some lectures abroad in the United States on the basis of my book on the theory of economics. We donít depend entirely on their textbooks.

Q: However, you have dropped out of sight.

Yavlinsky: I am frequently seen in the streets. Ask somebody else why I do not appear on TV. Our TV is a tool used to manipulate public opinion. It is not a means for debating on social problems. Unless this state of affairs is amended, we are going to have figures and subjects that are taboo

Q: Do you think that the president is also thinking along these lines, "In this country..." etc?

Yavlinsky: I do not want to think so. I will do my best to make the president aware of this matter and the need to lower taxes and debureaucratize the system, Chechnya... All occurrences so far show that we were correct then.

Q: Will you run for president again?

Yavlinsky: I have not given it a thought yet. We will see. For the time being, the tendencies are too confusing. A lot of the presidentís actions - his statements in Berlin, Brussels and Shanghai, his September 24 statement, and some other moves - is quite correct. They allow Russia to retain its statehood. At the same time, his domestic policy is geared all too oftern at building a corporate state in Russia. Unless serious changes take place here, foreign policy will degenerate into something similar to what we had in 1941-45. In other words, we will establish an alliance as a tactical objective, which will be split immediately, once the objective has been achieved.

Q: Your deputy Sergei Ivanenko is so frequently seen in public that some observers are left with the impression that Yavlinsky intends to give up politics.

Yavlinsky: I like the fact that he is frequently seen in public. That is his job. As for me: "Do not worry, as I have not left. And do not raise your hopes, as"I'll never leave", as Vladimir Vysotsky put it.

See also:

10th Congress of Yabloko

Izvestia December 17, 2001

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