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Moskovsky Komsomolets, September 2, 2003

Grigory Yavlinsky: "It is impossible to create a real opposition in Russia today."

Interview with Grigory Yavlinsky

Question: Grigory Alexeevich, it is widely believed in the political elite that YABLOKO is an authoritarian party with a tough structure, where any word from the leader is considered the final truth. What is your reaction?

Yavlinsky: I don't think so. But you'd better ask my [party] colleagues.

Question: Some ex-members of YABLOKO make this claim.

Yavlinsky: I try to make sure that my opinion is always grounded on the point of view of those whom I address. Often I manage to persuade people that I am right. And if I fail, I have to accept their point of view.

Question: Can a party be considered truly democratic and independent when 90% of its funding comes from a single source?

Yavlinsky: It certainly can. The YABLOKO faction in the Duma has always voted as it thought fit. Simply analyse the results of all the Duma votings for the past 10 years. You will not find the influence of the "[financial] source".

We do have a major sponsor - several owners of YUKOS. Their donations constitute a substantial part of the party budget. But this is the problem of the political structure of the country in general, rather that that of YABLOKO.

Independent, prosperous medium-sized businesses that could become partners in politics have not emerged in Russia yet. Everything is tied to large-scale oligarchic structures. The oligarchs were so scared after 2000 that they didn't want to have anything to do with politics. Afterwards, either they themselves or the Kremlin decided who would sponsor whom.

Clearly such a situation cannot be called normal. There is a radical solution to the problem. Let parties get money officially, from the corresponding funds. For example, proceeding from 60 roubles per this party voter a year. That's how things are done, say, in Germany. This would remove all the questions about sponsors at once.

Question: But how did Boris Nemtsov manage to find two dozen large sponsors while you only found only one?

Yavlinsky: The Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) is a party of large-scale oligarchic capital and protects its interests. While we defend any honest business, including big business. Most importantly YABLOKO is a party for the people, rather than business. By the way, there is a big difference between business and economics. Business is the ability to make money. And economics is a science on how to create the well-being of a country. Certainly it is impossible to achieve prosperity without business. Moreover, the task of economics is to create the most favourable conditions for the development of business. And parties should focus on the economy, rather than business. Unfortunately one can engage in business without any public benefit. But this is another type of work that can be compared with the "werewolves" case.

Question: You reiterated that you were ready to assume responsibility for leading the government. But does not it seem to you that the number of votes obtained by your party is too small to apply for that?

Yavlinsky: As far as I know, no one has ever voted for the present cabinet. We have a government which does not need to be elected. It has only one "voter". And you know him well. And the government reports only to him.

Question: So you propose replacing a government nobody elected with one elected by a clear minority? Why are you so sure that you will be able to manage the government? Where is the guarantee that the opposite won’t happen?

Yavlinsky: The mistakes of the present ministers are obvious. They take the wrong steps, and life proves this at once. The threats and possibilities for more reasonable and rational decision-making is obvious.For example, we predicted the default of 1998 as early as 1993. Or take the present developments at YUKOS. Since 1992 we have been warning against semi-criminal methods of conducting privatisation, as the owners could become the hostages of parties able to exploit documents during this shady period Or take, for example, taxes. Since the mid-1990s we have called on the government to cut taxes, asserting this would increase budget revenues as entrepreneurs would come out into the open. We were told that the budget would explode and that revenues would fall. Today the tax rate has been cut. And who was right?

Regarding the guarantees you request: In one Georgian school Givy was asked to the blackboard and was given a task, "Givy, can you prove that all the angles of this triangle are equal?" He answered, "I swear on my Mom's health!"

Question: It is commonly held that you consider yourself the Messiah with a monopoly on the truth.

Yavlinsky: No, I don't drink that much.

Question: OK, do you often meet people who are cleverer than you?

Yavlinsky: Fortunately very often. For example, my wife is cleverer than I am.

Question: And besides your wife?

Yavlinsky: Many of my colleagues are better than me in some aspects. For example, Sergei Ivanenko predicts political scenarios and is more often right than wrong.. Vladimir Lukin is more experienced and wiser than me. Alexei Arbatov knows the life of the army better than I do. I can continue this list indefinitely.

Question: Don't you see some phenomenon here: all your sponsors find themselves under pressure from the state sooner or later. There was Vladimir Gusinsky's at one time. Now we have Khodorkovsky's case. Is not this connected with you somehow?

Yavlinsky: No, I don't think so. Other citizens are under pressure now as well. For example, the founder and ex-sponsor of Unity Boris Berezovsky.

Question: How do you think it is possible to put an end to the ongoing war between business and government?

Yavlinsky: Do you want a plan of action? The reason behind the war between the state and business, the reason behind the total readiness for a war can be traced back to the 1990s when the present owners obtained property at times on unlawful and often on criminal grounds. A system of semi-criminal oligarchic capitalism was created. It is impossible to create a modern efficient economy in these circumstances. This system must be totally dismantled. It is, however, constrained by two circumstances.

First, we cannot perform such a dismantling using repressive methods, we must not frighten everyone, arrest, them and put them in prison. We must not undermine trust in the new reforms and the investment climate in Russia. The second restriction: an administrative revision of the results of privatisation of the 1990s is inadmissible in principle. We can not allow a bureaucrat in the government or in the Kremlin to command, "Now stop all this! That' the end of your commanding over oil-fields. From now on you take up command over grain fields. And you over aluminium. And you will have to spend some time in prison. And then all of you will change places!"

Question: And where are the boundaries of this impossibility of revising the privatisation results? Now oligarchs are scaring us that absolutely all privatisation deals of the past decade contain violations. They say: they would begin with us and then will take most of your flats from you, which unlike factories, were privatised lawfully.

Yavlinsky: You are absolutely right. The boundaries are quite precise. Economic redistribution of property and assets on the basis of free competition under free-market rules is both possible and vitally necessary. That is why we need truly tough anti-monopoly legislation to establish free competition. Then the owners will be changed automatically. And I will not tell you what will be in store for the country if the outcome of privatization is revised by administrative methods .I'm not the new Hitchhock or scriptwriter of horror movies.

We propose adopting a law that will legitimize the results of privatization of the 1990s once and for all, all the capital made then. I also think that there should be an amnesty for criminal cases from the 1990s including economic crime but excluding murders, violence and other grave crimes against an individual.

Simultaneously the rules of businesses' participation in politics have to be drawn up. They may even be tough for the initial period. We need laws protecting parliament, the government, presidential administration, and all other political structures from businesses interference.

Public television should be created and the financing of this TV by oligarchic structures should be banned. Finally, we should separate between sponsorship of political parties and direct links with businesses.

Question: I am ready to make a forecast on what your plan will bring about in reality if implemented. First oligarchs will get their amnesty. And then we shall find out again that in Russia the toughness of laws is compensated by the fact that they do not have to be implemented.

Yavlinsky: You should not think that you can fool everybody all the time. The amnesty may be abolished if other measures protecting the political authorities from corruption and oligarchs' arbitrary rule are not adopted. We have to draw a line under all this and finally start serious work. Alhough the authorities would be pleased to have a "library" of personal files. If something goes wrong - they open a file and start persecutions.

Question: Grigory Alexeevich, are you an opposition? Your competitors say that you go to the Kremlin for instructions...

Yavlinsky: We speak about many things with the Kremlin. Sometimes, our proposals are considered - reduction of the income tax and introduction of a flat scale, visa-free regime with Europe creation of joint Russian-European missile defence system... Sometimes, we fail to reach an understanding – as in the case of nuclear waste imports, or laws on alternative civil service [instead of army conscription], citizenship, a professional army... As for the opposition, the opposition wants to gain power to change life. We will do that when we win the election.

It is impossible to create a real, "classical" opposition in Russia now. We do not have independent court in Russia. All the national media are in the hands of the government, and do not reflect public opinion at all. Elections are controlled and managed by the federal government and the local authorities. There is no civil control over secret services and law enforcement agencies. The law enforcement system is corrupt and has been transformed into an instrument of revenge and the grabbing of property. The artificiall- formed parliamentary majority is kept by the authorities.

Question: What in your opinion is Putin doing wrong? Do you agree with the opinion that Russia is on its way to stagnation again?

Yavlinsky: Everything is much more serious than stagnation. Our present political system is capitalism where the key components, the main structures do not function. That is why the authorities fail to reach their goals even when they want to.

YABLOKO and Putin hold different opinion on the army reform. We are for civil control over secret services, which we don't have now. We assess the situation in the Northern Caucasus differently and we have other serious discords.

Question: Could you speak about the Northern Caucasus in more detail? The election of Kadyrov is one of the most painful issues.

Yavlinsky: Most of our voters are waiting for the [presidential] election [in Chechnya] with concern and alarm. We consider this election only as some intermediate variant. If this will push us at least half a step towards peace - this will be very good.

Question: Many people think that Yavlinsky is a brilliant speaker and critic, but he is absolutely incapable of real work. He assumes a convenient stance: I am not allowed to implement my plans in the top state position, therefore I am deprived of the change to change anything.

Yavlinsky: My practical work is represented by the legislation which we have been developing for ten years. You can easily check what our faction has achieved in terms of legislation during this period. The legislation on the production-sharing agreement in Sakhalin yielded the budget USD 3 billion this year along! Over ten years the Sakhalin-2 project should bring in USD 10 billion.

Let me get back to your question: I worked in the government and the Council of Ministers of the USSR for eight years and was Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers. I admittedly refused to work for a government, if I disapproved of its policies in principle: a government which depreciated bank deposits, began and lost a war, made a default, a government which lets people freeze in their flats in winter. If the policies of the government change, we are ready to start actively working there with it.

Question: You are right when you say that previous Russian governments, as well as the present Cabinet, made many mistakes. But they at least tried to do something - in the harshest economic conditions and often confronted by a hostile parliament. You merely criticised and demanded the creation of something perfect.

Yavlinsky: If they had listened to the criticism, they would have made fewer mistakes. In addition, it is often the case that "mistakes" of our government are profitable to their own pockets. Clearly the economy is not some "new page" which can you rewrite in whichever way you want. At the same time it is not a railway, where a steam engine cannot change course by more than one centimetre. The economy always offers freedom in decision-making. In almost every case it is possible to take the most effective and professional decision.

If we come back to a starting position, we wanted to achieve only one thing: not to be used as a decoration, so that they would not be able to steal up behind our back and make us steal together with them.

Do you know the difference between me and my opponents? They say in each difficult case that a leg should be amputated immediately, whereas I believe that the wound should be treated first.

Question: In one interview you said that clever people are invited to join the government, provided that they agree that two plus two equals six. Previously it was 28, and now it is only six, which is much better. However, you assert that two plus two can only be four. However, politics is the art of the possible.

Yavlinsky: There are two points of view. I think that politics represents a desire to achieve the impossible, and only then can we determine what is possible.

"Politics as the art of the possible" is an absolutely different concept, which is both unproductive and inefficient. You are saying to yourself that some things are impossible, as you don't want or don't know how to achieve them. Imagine a doctor treating a patient in accordance with your formulae! The development of the world’s health care system is based on my formulae: doctors try to achieve the impossible in their fight for patient's life.

Progress in health care can only be achieved in this way. The same holds true for politics. Life will only improve, once politics seeks to achieve difficult goals that are vital for society, but real.

Question: They say that you were offered the opportunity to implement your project for housing and utilities sector reform on the post as head of the State Committee for Construction (Gosstroi), but you immediately turned it down?

Yavlinsky: There was no such an offer. By the way, such a significant reform should be a priority for the entire government and be the responsibility of the Prime Minister: Gosstroi can be only an instrument of the work.

Question: There is such a notion in Russian politics - "the eternal candidate". Everyone knows that Yavlinsky, Zyuganov, and Zhyrinovsky will run for presidential elections, however, the candidate from the party of the power will win anyway. Are you not tired of such endless deja-vu?

Yavlinsky: Certainly there is nothing pleasant in all this, but it is an important part of the job. For example, you have been writing about the same topic for many years. You have tried for many years to find out the truth about the Kholodov case (Ed. Well-known journalist Dmitri Kholodov was murdered in 1994, the murderers and people behind the crime were never found), despite mockery from other people.

Once of the reasons for presidential elections is to demonstrate to the elected president the percentage of citizens who support his views and who hold other points of view. The elections demonstrate to the head of the state how much attention he should pay to this or that position. The results of his competitors who came second and third at presidential elections seriously influence the policies in the country.

I continually state that two plus two is four: I do this, as I do not believe that this will change.

Question: And what then?

Yavlinsky: Then we shall win the elections.

Question: When?

Yavlinsky: Willy Brandt ran for the post of president for 21 years. The President of South Korea Kim Dae Jung struggled for power for 25 years and Lincoln for 30 years. Sometimes you have to be in opposition for a long time. You only make rapid progress during revolutions. This is only right, if a politician seeking the top state position takes a long journey to this post and has to go through many different stages. It is worse if he is simply appointed president.

Question: Maybe you should pass one more stage then and run for governor?

Yavlinsky: I am flattered to note your concerns over my preparations for the post of president.

Question: Could you in one phrase describe your electorate? Foe example, Nemtsov insists that it represents the urban intelligentsia which failed to adapt to the reforms. Whereas the electorate of the SPS managed to adapt to the situation.

Yavlinsky: It is a pity if someone defines the intelligentsia as losers. This word has an absolutely different meaning in Russia. We are the party of values. We are backed by people who have succeeded and people who have not. However, they all put first moral, political and social values.

We appreciate the fact that the Russian intelligentsia votes for us, both individuals in dire straits and individuals who have succeeded. However, recent polls tend to indicate that our electorate has broadened. It includes people of the elder generation, specialists and highly-skilled workers. Certainly, when we defend positions that are unpopular at the time, as was the case in 1999 with the war in Chechnya, the number of our supporters drops temporarily. But only will show who was right.

Question: Recently you said that 30-40% of your electorate sympathise with Putin. Are those the new people or the nucleus? And what is your attitude to this trend? For you and Putin are totally different people.

Yavlinsky: Our electorate is more critical of Putin than the electorate of other parties. We have a very complex president. But we are backed by the biggest proportion of independent-minded people supporting different parties. Unlike the party of power, they back YABLOKO, irrespective of the post of leader.


Moskovsky Komsomolets, September 2, 2003

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