Mikhail Zubkov’s interview with Sergei
Mitrokhin, YABLOKO’s leader.
Do we have elections in the country? Where does YABLOKO
Question: What is happening with YABLOKO, why has it not
had any success either in the regional or the federal elections?
Sergei Mitrokhin: Do we have elections in our country? You
remember October 2009 in Moscow. At the polling stations where
Putin, Medvedev, and Luzhkov voted, YABLOKO got 15-17%. While
in places where I voted with my family we got zero. Why? In
the places where the bosses voted, no-one dared to falsify
anything. Only islands for free elections remain today - due
to oversights, because although we have an authoritarian regime
it is not very tough. In places where we manage to ensure
a fair count of the votes, we get what we are due. In Sebezhsky
district in Pskov Oblast - 20.6% of the vote and second place
after United Russia. In Kolchuginsky district Vladimir Oblast
- more than 20%, second place after the LDPR (Liberal Democratic
Party of Russia), but the head of our list was elected head
of the district.
Question: There is one YABLOKO district head in the country.
While Just Russia has hundreds of times more, although the
party is 15 years your junior...
Mitrokhin: Yes, we find ourselves operating under different
conditions! Just Russia is a Kremlin project. In the Kremlin
test-tube, three parties were mixed together in order to produce
one that was able to bite United Russia but would retain loyalty
to the top figures in the state. And when necessary - carry
out their orders. They have the administrative resources,
votes are stuffed into the ballot boxes for them during the
federal elections. I saw this myself in Arbatsky district
Question: Can you give us more details?
Mitrokhin: I was alerted that there were falsifications at
a polling station, and I went there. Just Russia member Samoshin
was fighting the commission there. He would not let them draw
up a report, he demanded that they check the authenticity
of the ballot papers. I joined him. We held the fort. And
he simply did not know that the "stuffing" was being
done in support of his party. Mironov sent a prominent Just
Russia member specially to see him. He took Samoshin to one
side, hissing: "Have you gone mad? Let's get out of here,
Question: But Mironov told me that it is to you that the
regime sometimes gives the orders: to sling mud at Just Russia
when it would be embarrassing for United Russia to do so...
Mitrokhin: We do not accept orders from the regime. And we
are telling the honest truth about Just Russia. In a sense,
they are more dishonest than United Russia. The latter states
openly: we are the party of power. Or Right Cause - they state
directly that they are a Kremlin project. And Just Russia
is the same but they pose as the opposition. However, what
kind of the opposition could, for example, vote for an extension
of the presidential term?
Question: But let us return to your most recent election
results. Are you not ashamed of them?
Mitrokhin: We are not ashamed of the results we got. When
there was a tough authoritarian regime in the country - the
regime destroyed the opposition. But the regime is more lenient
now: it does not destroy the opposition, it humiliates it.
Including by announcing poor results. Under the Soviet regime,
the opposition's task was not to be afraid that it would be
destroyed. While the task today is for it not to be afraid
that it will be humiliated. Moreover, if we are being removed
from the elections more than any other party that means they
are afraid that even with all the falsifications we will obtain
Right Wing Who Are Left Wing
Question: Everyone is confused and cannot understand: are
you a right-wing party or a left-wing party?
Mitrokhin: We are a centre-right social-liberal party. I
will explain in simple terms what the difference is between
us and the social democrats. In those countries where they
have been in power for a long time, shops close strictly at
six pm, for example, and people do not work at weekends. It
is rigidly imposed on everyone: everybody has to rest in the
evenings and at weekends. That is social democracy. But we
say: you have the right to rest, but if you want to earn and
work a bit more - go ahead. You have the right to extend your
working day to earn the same holiday, but a better quality
one - at a seaside resort. That is the socio-liberal ideology,
our approach. Not to tell an economically active individual
when he should go to bed but to create conditions for him
to earn money voluntarily...
Question: But surely it was you who said before the elections
to the Moscow City Duma that you were leftwing because your
path had diverged with that of the rightwing...
Mitrokhin: I have never called myself leftwing. It is just
that I am perhaps sick of the questions about us uniting with
the Union of Rightwing Forces, and I was saying that we were
leftwing in order to brush aside someone who was pestering
me. After all, in our country the rightwing are closely associated
with the people who helped the oligarchs to plunder the country,
while YABLOKO opposed this. Although some people committed
to social democratic values still remain in YABLOKO. And we
have a faction of social democrats in the party.
Question: Perhaps people do not know much about your ideology
because you hold few events?
Mitrokhin:We hold a lot of events but there are problems
with them. The official media do not cover them. They are
not allowed to. Unauthorized events are broken up. Recently,
for example, an event by YABLOKO youth supporting the abolition
of conscription was broken up. Question:But why are the Communists'
rallies not broken up?
Mitrokhin: There are several types of protest voters. There
is a huge mass of pensioners who are nostalgic about the Soviet
Union. And a party is needed that meets their interests, on
the one hand, and on the other hand - one that will hold them
back from tough, uncontrollable social protest. That is the
function of the Communists. There are nationalist voters,
also a considerable number. A leader is needed to neutralize
these voters to ensure that their protests do not turn into
a tough attack on the government, as occurred at Manezhnaya.
Zyuganov neutralizes the pensioners, Zhirinovsky neutralizes
the nationalist protest voters. So they suit the regime. That
is why Zyuganov is not replaceable. After all, if another
person takes his place problems are possible. By the way,
Zyuganov's rivals and people capable of real protest, and
not an imitation of it, are expelled from the party or stamped
on. In Moscow, for example, Rashkin was used to stamp on Ulas
(Editor: Last May, the Presidium of the Communist Party of
the Russian Federation Central Committee disbanded the Office
of the Moscow organization, headed by Vladimir Ulas, who had
attacked the Kremlin and did not want to cooperate with authorities,
and he was replaced by the less intransigent Valeriy Rashkin).
Nevertheless, despite all their shortcomings, there are only
two parties left in Russia which are not Kremlin projects.
And which might be called opposition parties. These are the
Communists and us.
Question: Well then, please tell us about YABLOKO's function...
Mitrokhin: We are the democratic opposition. We were always
in opposition to Yeltsin, and to his successors today - Putin
and Medvedev. But we are not hysterical opposition figures,
whose only aim is to curse the regime. Our function is to
offer an alternative program for the country's development.
And it is this that the other parties cannot do. We oppose
the regime on all issues, we state openly that it is leading
the country into an impasse, it is holding the country hostage.
But if someone has taken hostages, then one way to save them
is negotiations. So we are conducting a dialogue with the
regime while not renouncing harsh criticism of it. The hysterical
opposition condemns us for this, though they secretly run
to the Kremlin and ask for registration permits for themselves.
We do not fear their accusations, because we are conducting
a dialogue rather than colluding. The difference between dialogue
and collusion is very simple: the former does not imply a
renunciation of your principles. Thanks to this dialogue,
we remain within the legal realm, we have not been closed
Question: But what would you be shut down for? You do not
have any members in the Duma, or in the regional legislative
assemblies either. How do you represent a danger?
Mitrokhin: It is those they are not afraid of who they let
into the Duma. And they are afraid of us and that is why we
are removed from the elections more than anyone. Our percentage
for removal from the elections is even the highest, according
to data from the CEC (Central Electoral Commission) - 45%!
This spring, we were removed in one region and in five cities.
The danger we represent is that our deputies are trying to
control public money in the Dumas at all levels and to expose
theft by officials. They are submitting initiatives aimed
at fighting corruption.
Question: Can you cite any examples of your influence?
Mitrokhin: In Moscow, we have stopped hundreds of infill
developments, and we have prevented the construction of six
new incinerators that were extremely harmful to health ...
we managed to get regulations abolished under which citizens
would have to pay for their heating and water meters to be
"read". At a federal level, we drew up a package
of federal laws on tariff transparency and handed it to Medvedev
at the height of the crisis. What lies at the heart of it?
At the moment, monopoly holders are protected by the law on
commercial secrets. But we have suggested that they lose protection
under this law and are obliged to publish financial data on
official websites. Because transparency is the first condition
required for tariff restraint. It is clear that no-one has
submitted a package of laws in this form, but several government
resolutions have been adopted, which have obliged monopoly
holders to publish their expenditure. This is a huge step
forward. We are fighting corruption...
Question: Everyone is fighting corruption now...
Mitrokhin: Everyone is just talking about it, but where is
the fight itself? The organization Transparency International
exists. It fights corruption worldwide. When the president
issued a decree granting federal parties the right to make
enquiries about the honesty of officials' income declarations,
it appealed to all the parties. It asked them to make enquiries
about a number of Duma deputies, starting with Gryzlov. They
went round all the parties, but only YABLOKO made the enquiry.
So you draw the conclusion about who is really fighting corruption,
and who is just talking about it.
Question: And what answer were you given about the deputies?
Mitrokhin: This is how they answered: a decree is a decree,
but it contains the word "officials", and deputies
do not figure in it. Therefore, no-one can check them out.
However, after this the Presidential Staff prepared a draft
law on how to check up on deputies. They will check up on
themselves: a commission will be created attached to each
chamber. But nevertheless, this is better than nothing. And
we have contributed to this being done. Which of the factions
in the State Duma has ta ken even such a small step in the
fight against corruption? We are now dealing with the officials'
declarations. We have already made an enquiry regarding Krasnodar
"Our Image Has Been Spattered With Muck"
Question: What slogan will you be using for the federal campaign?
Mitrokhin: I will not give away our secrets. But we conducted
the last campaign under the slogan "Government under
the Control of the Citizens!" Although it has already
been "borrowed" from us.
Question: Some political analysts say that you are trying
to make advances towards the nationalists...
Mitrokhin: I considered it my duty to honour the memory of
Yegor Sviridov on 15 January. The death of this fan caused
a huge stir, first and foremost because of the corruption
of the law-enforcement bodies. If I had refused to pay tribute
to his memory just because the nationalists were exploiting
it, I would have helped them to "privatize" this
memory. And I would have made it clear to the fans that only
the nationalists were concerned about their grief and that
the democrats could not care less. Moreover, there was a real
threat that the events on Manezhnaya could recur. If YABLOKO
distanced itself from taking responsibility for organizing
the fortieth day obituary then it would have been dealt with
by people who at the very least would not set themselves the
goal of preventing a pogrom. And if it were repeated, then
I would definitely consider myself to be to blame for refusing
the opportunity to keep the situation under control. We organized
everything well and did not allow the funeral procession to
develop into a nationalist march. There was not a single incident
on these grounds either at the event itself or after it.
There were no campaign aims here. The only aim was to prevent
bloodshed. And we achieved this. And after flowers were laid
at the place where Yegor died, I condemned, in front of the
media, the attempts by the nationalists to exploit his death.
I think that this is how nationalism needs to be fought: not
out to one side somewhere but face to face, on its own patch.
Question: Does YABLOKO have its own his unique identity or
is the party just seeking one?
Mitrokhin: The uniqueness of our identity is that we are
a party that is simultaneously democratic and anti-oligarchic.
The problem with our identity that we now have to clean off
the muck that has undeservedly been stuck to it.
Political forces such as the DVR (Democratic Choice of Russia),
SPS (the Union of Right-Wing Forces), NDR (Our Home is Russia)
etc have flung this muck at us. In the 1990s and in part during
the first decade of this century as well, they called themselves
Democrats and under this label covered up the oligarchs' carving
up of the country. In so doing, they discredited the very
notion of "democracy". Essentially, they deceived
the citizens: instead of Western-style democracy, they constructed
an African oligarchy.
We were the democrats who fought the oligarchy, condemned
the policies of Yeltsin, Chubais and Yegor Gaidar, Chernomyrdin,
Nemtsov and their parties. But because we were and still are
democrats, this muck tarnished our image any way. According
to the principle "either he stole or they stole from
him". When Putin spoke at Luzhniki before the 2007 election
and said that the democrats raged like a hurricane in the
1990s - this, unfortunately, dealt a blow to us as well. And
we have to rub this muck off our faces.
So today we patiently explain to citizens that democracy
is not to blame for our country's ills. Simply because we
have never had it.
The politicians who constructed the oligarchy in Russia,
under the guise of democracy, have today created a new party
- Parnassus. Everyone asks why we do not unite with it. Our
answer is very simple. We are completely different political
forces to them. We are in favour of democracy without the
oligarchs, while they are in favor democracy for the oligarchs.
If they want to unite with us - let them acknowledge responsibility
for their previous policies. If we unite with them without
this condition, then we will all be playing together the role
of a fig leaf for those oligarchs who are trying to influence
policy even today.
By the way, the leaders of Parnassus were not only the cover
for the creation of an oligarchy, but also for the implementation
of the "Successor" operation by it. Nemtsov entered
the Duma as head of the SPS under the slogan "Putin for
President, Kiriyenko for the Duma!". Kasyanov served
Putin as prime minister for four years without any signs of
Yavlinsky Will Be Back
Question: Incidentally, Putin also talked about people scavenging
like "jackals" at foreign embassies. Do you have
relations with foreign countries?
Mitrokhin: We meet both ambassadors, and party delegations.
We do not ask for any help from foreigners so the word "scavenging"
does not apply to us. When I met the American president, I
found it absurd to hear the chorus of people alongside me
complaining to Uncle Sam about Russia. While I talked to them
about the creation of joint Russian-European aircraft defence.
Yavlinsky proposed this idea at one time, first Yeltsin and
then Putin took it from him...
In short, in this crowd of complainers we always talk about
joint global projects belonging to Russia and America. I really
do not understand: why complain about things to the Americans?
Do they not know what is going on in our country? Or can they
help in some way? In such company Yavlinsky met Biden, and
the Communists began to complain that they were not being
shown on television in Kemerovo. What kind of response were
they expecting? That Biden would call Tuleyev and ask him
to show them on television? It is disgraceful!
Question: How would you rate your chances in the December
Mitrokhin: There are glitches in any system. A conflict at
the top is probable, and it might operate in favor of honest
elections. And then we will get 7%.
Question: And why not 50%, if the elections are honest? Why
are your ambitions so modest?
Mitrokhin: There will still not be completely equal conditions
for taking part in the elections. We have not appeared on
the central television channels for a very long time. The
law on equal access to the media was written for the parliamentary
parties and not for us. So they have an advantage at the outset.
Moreover, they do not need to collect signatures, but they
force us do so. People are willing to sign, but they are afraid
to provide their passport details. The collection of signatures
is a monstrous task. The collectors have to be paid because
it is very hard work. So we have to divert money from the
election campaign. There is no more money left for articles
in the media. We will collect these 150,000 signatures, though
it is terribly hard. But the electoral commission will then
get the command and will seize on every detail in order to
declare them invalid.
Question: Why has Grigory Yavlinsky withdrawn into the shadows?
Mitrokhin: He is an active member of our team. In his time,
he built a team, organized the collegial management of the
party, and did not take a single key decision without consulting
party members. The picture is the same now as well. We consult
on all the issues, and Yavlinsky is actively involved in this.
Question: There is a rumour that he will take part in the
Mitrokhin: We are considering the option of nominating our
candidate for the election. I would not rule out this possibly
being Yavlinsky. But it would be premature to talk about this
now. A premature discussion of this topic would be like a
dance without music. The music has not yet been switched on
but someone is already partying. It looks strange. We have
not yet taken any decision but t he discussion is underway.
Question: And who would be of more interest to you as the
next president: Medvedev or Putin?
Mitrokhin: They are a tandem for me. In the tandem, each
works with the other, whichever way they portray the conflicts.
If you support one member of the tandem against the other,
you are still supporting the tandem as a whole. So, it is
very easy to make a forecast regarding the presidential election.
The tandem will win it, and how its team takes up its positions
is of no fundamental importance.
The tandem may also grow - a third party may appear. We have
three Olympic symbols. First there was the bear, then a leopard
was depicted, then a bunny rabbit also appeared. So a bunny
rabbit might appear in the tandem. This does not change the
essentials. The biggest problem is - what will happen to Russia
after this victory? Keeping the same people in power for so
long - we see in the Middle East what that leads to. After
all, the Soviet Union collapsed not because of perestroika
(it was not actually the first stage in the collapse), but
because it was unable to avoid stagnation. And our current
stagnation is very reminiscent of the s
and the parties of power