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Novaya Gazeta, July 1, 2004

Grigory Yavlinsky: Authoritarianism leads to irreversible backwardness

Leader of Yabloko talked to Andrei Kosmynin about the political climate in Russia on the eve of the next Yabloko Party congress.

Question: Grigory, today many people feel that democracy’s prospects in Russia are illusory. However, Yabloko continues working. Why? What are you hoping for?

Grigory Yavlinsky

Yavlinsky: These fears are indeed justified. Our country has rich authoritarian traditions, which tend to return very rapidly, making the prospects for democracy very hazy.

However, the problem is not so much the political prospects of Yabloko and Russian democrats as a whole, but rather that the traditional system in the 21st century will not enable Russia to be a fully-fledged country. Authoritarianism leads to irreversible backwardness, to the very edge. If we cross this threshold, there is real threat that Russia will no longer exist as a sovereign state. This danger and the need to prevent it – this is the key challenge for Russia in the 21st century.

In order to overcome this threat, it is naturally worthwhile continuing to work and fight for democracy and oppose the criminal oligarchic periphery capitalism, represented by today’s authoritarianism, with real democracy.

Question: Can Russian democrats win over the sympathies of most of the country’s citizens or will they have to expect to obtain no more than 15% electoral support for a long time to come?

Yavlinsky: In reality Russia has never had a democratic government. You cannot consider Yeltsin to be a convinced and conscious democrat. This holds all the more true for Chernomyrdin and most of the other people running the country in the 1990s. Consequently our citizens have yet to see how democratic solutions actually work economically and politically and how they benefit the country.

Many supporters of democrats and democratic transformations at the early 1990s came face to face with pseudo democracy, became disillusioned and lost their faith in this path. Not that many people today believe that democracy is the most effective way of running the country. To a large extent the situation can only change once real democrats are given a chance to take decisions on key economic and political issues. There is no doubt that if real democracy was given a chance to work, its support base would grow rapidly.

Question: How can this be achieved, especially in the current circumstances?

Yavlinsky: Today it is clear what needs to be done to maintain such a chance. Despite defeat at the parliamentary elections, we need to retain and develop the democratic movement. We will only achieve serious changes sooner or later if we rely on this movement and thereby obtain greater support than nowadays.

Yes, we are having a hard time at present. And we will have a hard time. But on the other hand it is harder to create real political leaders in positive conditions.

The key goal today is not to abandon our work and refuse what we have. If we give up and permit the destruction of the existing offshoots of a civil society and democratic movement, there will definitely be no prospects for a democracy.

Question: What is the democratic movement today? Whom do you consider to be Yabloko’s allies today? What resources can you offer to your potential partners?

Yavlinsky: Everybody who believes that the court should be independent of the authorities and business, that parliament should represent the interests of the people and not the Kremlin, that the authorities should represent the interests of society as a whole and not only business, that believe in the end for public control over the secret services and the law and enforcement agencies, that the mass media should discuss the most serious problems: Chechnya, corruption, the situation in the army… Everybody who believes that this is essential and believes that this is possible.

A great number of people believe that such a system for organizing the authorities and its relations with society is correct in principle. Fewer believe that this is possible to create in the foreseeable future. Consequently, the number of our supporters is limited for the time being.

However, the time will come and all the pragmatists and realists will become convinced on their personal experience that nothing will happen without all the aforementioned. This is our potential support.

Politically we strive to create the widest possible democratic coalition. But not with those who believe that the extremist methods for reforming the economy are justified, who believe that the Russian army is being reborn in Chechnya, who publicly refuse to renounce the Lenin-Stalin heritage, who refuse to reject bolshevism, nationalism and xenophobia.

Question: What needs to be done to ensure that the parliamentary elections in 2007 are not transformed into the farce we saw in 2003?

Yavlinsky: We need to do our job. We must fight for the preservation of the remaining democratic components, attract to our side people and protect them. There is no universal remedy. Everything depends on daily work. It is merely absolutely clear that the protection of the current Constitution is no less an important task than preparations for the 2007 elections.

Question: Can Yabloko propose an alternative to government plans in the economy and social sector?

Yavlinsky: Our key proposition – the goal of our work - is a democratic alternative to the authoritarian periphery capitalism, a system based on the merger of business and power.

If you are referring to specific legislative initiatives, most of our proposals remain topical. The fight against poverty is particularly important today, which presupposes the introduction of a uniform social benefit. It would be possible in this way to ensure the subsistence minimum for all the needy. This is the only really effective way to counter poverty.

Question: How do you assess the social reforms which the government has developed, in particular the replacement of benefits with cash payments?

Yavlinsky: The public highly distrusts everything that the government plans to do. That is due to its reputation and style of work.

It remains unclear how the final decision on benefits will look, as it changes almost every day. However, when even at the draft stage discussions begin on the elimination of benefits for war veterans and pensioners, on the liquidation of child benefit and abolition of free breakfasts for schoolchildren, and in future the abolition of all housing benefits, you can’t expect people to grow more trustworthy.

It remains unclear why such austere measures need to be taken when the macro-economic indices are so favorable.

I also doubt the practical feasibility of the current proposals from the government. It is unlikely that anyone will prove that trams will immediately become self-financing once all pensioners are forced to pay for their rides. As for accessibility to breaks on medicines, first of all we need to liquidate the monopoly, for example allow hospitals to buy medicines where they want and not where they are told to go.

In actual fact there are a significant number of benefits available, which are not only being used by pensioners and the disabled. Our government obtains a significant number. You have dacha rentals, medical services and many more. Our government officials happily exploit these benefits. Nobody is telling them: OK, now we will replace them with cash.

Question: In your opinion, what goals should be resolved by the July Congress of the Yabloko Party?

Yavlinsky: We will discuss the political line of Yabloko, relations with the authorities. A great deal depends on our decision on this issue. The second goal is the development of democracy within the party and also the creation of a self-financing party system. All this is related to the introduction of amendments to the charter. And naturally re-elections of the leadership remain an important issue.

Question: What changes will happen soon in Yabloko in terms of structure, actions?

Yavlinsky: We believe that it is essential that more people take part in the decision-making process on key issues. We want as many people as possible to speak out, propose their vision of things, so that we can find new impressive leaders. I hope that all the decisions taken by the forthcoming congress will contribute to these goals.

Regarding strategy, we need to find a reasonable balance of conservative and modern objectives. Above all we should retain a democratic party, which continues to be trusted by millions of Russian citizens, which people continue to join even after electoral defeat. However, this will have to be done in new circumstances: under an authoritarian political system, where access to the mass media is even more restricted, where we have managed elections. In these circumstances, we must attract new young people and this is only possible provided that we ourselves remain interesting, necessary and useful, if we find new forms of working, if we keep evolving.


Novaya Gazeta, July 1, 2004

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