Yabloko, the party of the democratic opposition,
is considered one the favourites in the election race.
Its leader Grigory Yavlinsky is the only Russian politician
to have spoken against the war in Chechnya. For this position
Yavlinsky paid the price in the harshest discussions and
was labelled a "traitor" by his rivals.
However, he calmly awaits the election results, citing
Academician Sakharov: "When the situation is hopeless,
an honest man has nothing to do, other than follow his
La Stampa: What was the role of the war in Chechnya in
this electoral campaign?
Grigory Yavlinsky: The whole political construction in
Russia has been built around the war in Chechnya. If it
fails, this will imply the collapse of all Russia's policies,
rather than the defeat of the motorised brigade that fights
there. These policies will have nothing to fall back on.
Now Russia's policies are determined by the war in Chechnya
to an even greater extent than in 1994. They have staked
everything, they have no other game plan. Do you think
that the explosions of blocks of flats constituted a joke?
They have no other game plan.
La Stampa: Today Russian citizens will go to vote. You
have said on a number of occasions that the Duma elections
in 1999 will be the elections "once and forever".
Grigory Yavlinsky: These elections take place at a time
of a decline in Yeltsin's regime. And they should help
to reveal whether this regime will be retained, albeit
with slight modifications, or we manage to create something
else. Russia's policy is organised in such a way that
the right choice can only be made once. Then we can face
a long path towards improvement. But the wrong choices
may be made again and again. If we make the right choice
in 2000 when we elect the President of Russia, we will
have more opportunities to make sure that the country
opts in 2004 for a normalisation of the situation in the
country and approaches the conditions of a normal West
La Stampa: How do you assess these chances?
Grigory Yavlinsky: I am afraid that Russia will teach
the world another lesson. It will demonstrate that democracy
is only a mechanism. It may bring to power only the groundwork
for social values. Democracy may help fascism, nationalism
or an open society come to power. Everything depends on
the mindset of the general population. If moral, historical
and political values are not formed in the country and
this is not dictated by education, culture and religion,
democratic mechanisms may yield the most unexpected results.
If we had held absolutely democratic elections in 1937,
with other candidates, and the Pope had counted the votes,
it is crystal clear that Stalin would have been elected
by majority vote.
La Stampa: How about today?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Today new deeply engrained values
are being born. Clearly this process is developing very
slowly in Russia. However, I am absolutely convinced that
democracy in Russia today is no longer that gentle bloom
of 1992-1993. People cannot imagine a country without
elections, democracy and freedom. There is nothing other
than European values.
We had communism: before then we had the "Russian
orthodox church - the tsarist autocracy - national roots,
in other words what Nikita Mikhalkov (Ed. famous Russian
producer, who ran in the presidential elections in 1995)
has talked about. This is a very dangerous structure.
Nobody prevented you from reading books for all these
We know mathematics better than you do, as we were allowed
to do everything in this area. However, social works,
philosophy and even fiction were banned. We spent the
whole of the 20th century in this state. But very profound
fundamental grounds for new value orientation have emerged.
La Stampa: Do you think that they are strong enough already?
Many people feel that the opposite has happened: Russia
has become increasingly introspective. Militant nationalism
has almost become a national ideology.
Grigory Yavlinsky: I can see how new values are evolving
in the minds of young people: they are becoming less and
less reserved and more natural. And the number of such
people is growing. In this electoral campaign I toured
the whole country - 35 cities, 49,000 kilometers and personally
met 30,000 people. My most important message to the people
was that our historic destiny in the next century will
be to preserve a Euroasian space as part of European civilisation.
This is something that Russia has done to the best of
its ability throughout its history. This is the political
reasoning behind the existence of the Russian nation.
Wherever I spoke about this, I found understanding. I
did not encounter any objections on this issue during
the whole four months.
La Stampa: Do you mean that the population of Russia
feels that it is part of West European civilisation?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Certainly, there are differences.
They are most clearly demonstrated by the fact that in
the United States the Public Prosecutor investigates the
sex scandals of the President, whereas in Russia the President
investigated the sex scandals of the Public Prosecutor.
Once the bombing of Yugoslavia began, it became clear
that somehow people had grown closer owing to the foolish
actions of politicians.
I consider all the people living in Europe to be close
to me. I honestly think that we are one nation in the
broad sense of the word. Our countries have different
histories and the entire 19th and 20th centuries involved
clashes of these histories. The next century will be remembered
as a clash of civilisations.
But you and I come from the same civilisation. In actual
fact we merely differ in time. What will happen earlier:
the dissemination of these values as a common norm or
explosion of destructive developments that have been imposed
on Russia by a narrow but very influential group of the
La Stampa: Are you relying here for the West's aid?
Grigory Yavlinsky: I suffered from such an illusion in
the past. Now I don't.
La Stampa: Do you believe that there is any chance that
the West may better understand the problem of Russia?
Grigory Yavlinsky: If the West guaranteed the signing
of the treaty between Yeltsin and Lukashenko... The West
invited Lukashenko to Istambul and allowed him to sign
all the documents, Clinton embraced him and this was shown
La Stampa: Observers from the Organisation of Security
and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have come to Russia to
monitor the elections. Is electoral fraud possible?
Grigory Yavlinsky: Yes, it is most likely.
La Stampa: In 1996 serious falsification occurred, but
the West said that everything had been fair.
Grigory Yavlinsky: Recently a lawsuit was won, confirming
abuse during the counting of votes in the first round
of the presidential elections in 1996. The court said
that this had occurred, but this is not important any
La Stampa: Can the observers prevent this now?
Grigory Yavlinsky: What I can do about your bureaucracy?
We are an open ountry, really an open country - you can
go anywhere here, meet and talk to anyone and go anywhere.
This is not the Soviet Union. But political tourists come
here and no one seriously goes into details.
Ask for a poll to survey where Western observers are
at 6 p.m. All of them will be drinking beer. On Monday
they will say that everything was fine in polling districts.
If they don't see a soldier with an automatic machine
gun at a polling district, they believe that everything
at this polling district is OK. Your bureaucracy simply
cannot engage in such complicated things in Russia.
Prevously we believed that there were only two problems
in Russia - fools and roads, whereas you had no single
problem. Now we know that you have good roads.
La Stampa: Russian history demonstrates that new values
as a rule have not been accorded sufficient time to be
deeply engrained in your soil.
Grigory Yavlinsky: Yes, otherwise we would now be living
in a normal country.
La Stampa: You have been speaking about a "normal"
country. What does this mean for you and for the people
Grigory Yavlinsky: This is a country where people can
go about their business without risking their lives pursuant
to the cultural traditions appropriate in this country.
La Stampa: But this definition also covers socialism...
Grigory Yavlinsky: No, under socialism people only felt
secure, if they did as they were told by their superiors.
Otherwise they were liquidated. Socialism managed to last
for such a long time, as most people believed that this
was how things should be. But it transpired that this
was not sufficient. People needed personal freedom, to
be human and be engaged in creative work.
La Stampa: What does Russia need to become a "normal"
Grigory Yavlinsky: Why did Poland, the Czech Republic
and other countries of Eastern Europe succeed in the reforms,
while Russia didn't? Because these countries underwent
democratic revolutions. In Russia however, the rulers
merely changed their clothes. The same people remained
in power, but wore different clothing. That is the reason
why Russia could not succeed. These new rulers employed
the "young reformers" for the service. And they
"succeeded" in their task: they increased Russia's
foreign debt to $158 billion, thereby providing a stable
source of existence for the post-communist nomenclatura.
Therefore, the present elections should provide an answer
to the most important question: will we finally witness
a democratic revolution in Russia?
La Stampa: And if we don't?
Grigory Yavlinsky: If the parliamentary and presidential
elections prolong the reign of the criminal communist
nomenclatura and the oligarchs profit, this situation
may go on endlessly. Since 1991 we have continued to miss
the turns onto the correct road, as we turn further from
it. This resembles two diverging curves: it becomes more
difficult to turn back to the correct path, by peaceful
means, through democracy and elections.