| The leader of a liberal opposition party Grigory
Yavlinsky does not seek to conceal the party’s relationship with
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, as well as his scepticism about the oligarchs. Several
weeks ago the famous economist, author of the "500 Days" reform
programme, published his programme for dismantling "oligarchic capitalism".
However, he is concerned about the YUKOS crisis, the flagship of "oligarchism"
- "This is destruction, rather than dismantling."
He lists the negative consequences: "Stock market ratings abruptly
fell, as YUKOS amounts to one third of the stock market index, investors
are over-cautious, and the fruits of the round-the-world trip undertaken
by President Putin over the past three years to convince the world to
do business with Russia can on the whole be written off. The medicine
turned out to be more dangerous than the illness."
The Italian newspaper "La Stampa" interviewed Grigory Yavlinsky
on these developments.
Question: Do you mean that the YUKOS case is the beginning
Yavlinsky: It is a warning to a company which became
the flagship of the economy. In this way the state demonstrates to the
company and all other companies that any attempt to become independent
of the authorities will be punished.
Q: Many experts attribute these developments to political
factors and the forthcoming December election to the State Duma and presidential
elections next year.
Yavlinsky: Many people compare this situation with
1929, the curbing of the New Economic Policy plan and the beginning of
total collectivisation, although the political context is certainly different
today. Mikhail Khodorkovsky may well have had political ambitions. The
political credo of the oligarchs is that power is the best business. And
billionaire oligarchs who would like to engage in politics are considered
Q: Are they really dangerous?
Yavlinsky: Just as any totalitarian regime strives
to obtain weapons of mass destruction, so every oligarch strives for power.
Oligarchs are not ordinary entrepreneurs: they have money, government
ties and control over the mass media. There are only a few of them: however,
70 per cent of Russia's GDP is controlled by two or three dozen structures
and the decision-making on the country’s development is taken by
several hundred people. They are young and ambitious: their generation
grew up convinced that everything can be bought for money. Some people
consider them the engine that will drag Russia to a bright future, but
I regard them as a product of the past. However, the frontal attack against
Khodorkovsky presents a warning to the nascent civil society, a lesson
that many have already learned.
Q: Do you mean that the widespread opinion that the oligarchs
have privatised the state is erroneous?
Yavlinsky: In Russia government and business have merged
like Siamese twins. Large-scale business cannot function without the aid
of the government which is in turn fed by business. Oligarchs use the
government in their inner competition, and the corrupt government uses
them for its own interests, for consolidation and enrichment. In such
a system corruption is already institutionalised, the entire bodies of
the twins grow into each other, and a most complicated and dangerous operation
will be required to cut them apart. It should be performed skillfully
and with great care, avoiding any use of force and repressions and any
attempts to revise the results of privatisation of the 1990s.
Q: Do you mean that anyone wants to do this?
Yavlinsky: The Russian people, for example. According
to a recent poll, 77 per cent of the population would welcome either complete
or partial revision of privatisation. This is reaction to the Bolshevik
method of conducting privatisation. But somebody is ready to use these
moods to create an atmosphere of hostility towards all new Russian entrepreneurs,
Q: Proceeding from ideological motives?
Yavlinsky: No, this has nothing to do with ideology,
and there will be nationalisation. The reformers called themselves anti-Communists,
but two very Marxist postulates were laid into the basis of privatisation:
that primary accumulation [of capital] is always criminal and that the
basis will somehow independently create the superstructure of society.
This gave birth to a system which is permanently tempted to initiate a
new re-division of property.
Q: But YUKOS became transparent and cared about its image,
and planned to leave behind its past skeletons in the closet.
Yavlinsky: Many protagonists of the economy feel a
need to come "clean": to run business with Western partners,
enter politics from the main entrance, rather than the backstage, and
finally, owing to the fact that any structure is seeking stability. This
is what I proposed to President Putin in my "anti-oligarchic plan":
legalisation of capital and amnesty for economic subjects, fiscal and
even criminal amnesty, or course except for criminal vendettas: murders,
acts of force, etc.
Q: To become honest and start a new life on Monday?
Yavlinsky: And begin gradual fundamental transformations.
Today in Russia we have a system I define as "periphery capitalism":
an extremely monopolised economy based on unofficial relations instead
of law, where the state does not provide any guarantees or protection,
we have a mutant economy which has a little of everything - capitalism
and informal relations, the rule of law and rule of force, repressive
policy and impunity for the corrupt. Attention! This is not a rotten system,
it has its inner logic and stability, it is capable of reproduction and
even some progress. But it cannot offer Russia any long-term future.
Q: However, the past years have demonstrated an improvement
to economic indicators.
Yavlinsky: It would be incorrect to refute this fact.
It is indeed true that for the first time in a decade the economy has
demonstrated steady growth, achieving 19 per cent GDP over the past three
years. But these achievements are fragile and largely based on a positive
– although already disappearing – impact on the rouble’s
devaluation in 1998 and favourable situation with oil prices. The Russian
economy still remains distorted, with the raw materials sector, based
primarily on Soviet-era infrastructure, accounting for 80 per cent of
the economy. The budget has become deficit-free, largely due to a decision
not to spend on social security, education and heath care that are vitally
important for a civilised state. Thirty-five per cent of the population
live in absolute poverty, almost half of Russia’s citizens can count
only on semi-lumpen survival with a medieval growing of food in their
kitchen-gardens. The distance between victorious reports on economic achievements
and a devastating crisis can be covered in several months.
Q: What is the way out?
Yavlinsky: You cannot stop the economy and then turn
a new page. Some system has already developed and we have to deal with
it through gradual transformation rather than a complete break with the
existing inefficient, but functioning mechanisms. It is impossible to
overcome periphery capitalism without fundamental institutional transformation
that would guarantee first of all the priority of human rights, including
property rights, and protect them from encroachment by the authorities
and the state. Liberalisation of society, justice and the mass media,
the transparency of business and bureaucracy is required. Police, prosecutors
and courts should not be used for economic and political blackmail and
Q: Who will perform this upheaval, given that you say the
present system somehow suits everybody, except for over-ambitious oligarchs?
Yavlinsky: We have the following alternative: the push
towards liberalisation and modernisation will come either from above or
below. Russian civil society is weak.
Q: Over the YUKOS case Vladimir Putin has been accused of
weakness and feebleness, maybe for the first time.
Yavlinsky: I think that the President is well aware of the situation.
However, it can get out of control.
Q: The Russian myth about a good tsar and bad boyars has
existed for over 300 years. Isn’t it sad that in 2003 we continue
our speculations in these categories?
Yavlinsky: To a certain extent this is dictated by
the real power system in Russia. On the other hand, if as a nation we
put up with corruption, lies by the state and that on our behalf they
wipe out cities in the Caucasus, allow for growing xenophobia and a lack
of justice, then there is no alternative to the "kind tsar".
Q: Surely this is too naive?
Yavlinsky: Something of the kind already happened 15
years ago, the one thing nobody believed could happen: the Soviet system
Q: Is Putin a "kind tsar"?
Yavlinsky: I leave it up to you to judge. The alternative
is to continue living as we have been living until now.