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What does the opposition want: to win or to die heroically?

Interview with Grigory Yavlinsky by Yulia Kalinina

Moskovsky Komsomolets web-site

July 11, 2012

Translated in accordance with a complete version of the interview

(A shorter variant of the interview in Russian as published by MK at its web-site on July 12 is here).

Twelve years ago people thought that the country needed order and a strong hand. Now people dream about another thing honesty and respect.

A huge public transformation has been brooding for many years, but it happened in the past six months. What does it mean? What challenges people with democratic views are facing now? How the government will act and what can be expected from it? Such questions MK addressed to Grigory Yavlinsky.

Photo by Alexei Antonov

MK: The first question is about urgent matters. What do you think will happen to the leaders and activists of public protests who are now under pressure from the Investigative Committee?

GY: They will torment them. They will try to imprison those whom they got under investigation due to the rally of May 6. They will not imprison the leaders, but they will be continuously interrogating them, making searches, bug them, prohibit them leaving the country and make them nervous. But only Sergei Udaltzov out of all of them is prepared to go through tormenting, others are people of a different type and they are unlikely to be happy with such a living.

MK: In other words, further toughening of reprisals is inevitable. How do people critical of the government should see it?

GY: They should see it as givenness. The government is struggling to protect itself. When an opposition MP promises to hang them all by their feet, a famous blogger threatens to gnaw their throats and a young "revolutionary" calls on to storm the KGB office at Lubyanka so that to get 15 days of arrest and become a "hero", it is clear what their answer will be. So do not be surprised now.

MK: And how would you explain the wave of protests, how have they emerged and what has triggered them?

GY: A certain and quite deliberate political programme led to the protests. We have always argued the need to participate - no matter what - in the elections at all levels. We have been defamed by all sorts of abstainers, objectors and inventors of voting for anybody. But we have persistently implemented our programme. This allowed to give people an opportunity to vote for us in December 2011 and try to trace how those votes were be counted and see that lie in the state had reached the extreme and the country badly needed fundamental changes. After this in December people came out into the streets so that to say that the regime forming for the past 20 years had outlived its usefulness and had been over rather than to overthrow someone or get some small concessions from the government. [They came into the streets so that] to show that the country needed a transformation which this authority - in its present form and its present archaic attitude to people and things can not give in principle.

MK: Can we say that you unequivocally support the protesters?

GY: People who came out into the streets in December - February so that to protect their stolen votes made an important historical act. We are all grateful that they have raised the issue which must be solved and which forces to solve Russias key problem exactly in this historical period. Thanks to these people we for many years, and perhaps for the first time, have got a chance to win Russias eternal problems: injustice, institutionalised tradition of tyranny of the authorities and barbarism.

I came into politics exactly for this purpose. That is the purpose I have pursued in all the programmes that I wrote and in all my articles and speeches, in my daily work, and in all elections I participated in. And for me it is very important that this goal, this strategy, rather than a mechanical, soulless and selfish introduction of borrowed economic and political models, has become a mainstream, the main melody of the time. Actually, this is the only thing people want.

MK: Do you think the leaders of the protests have acted improperly? That they should have developed the protests in a different way, not to get people to rallies, but do something different?

GY: Do you remember why did the rallies begin? [They began] because people felt the need to protect their votes stolen at elections, to protect their honour and dignity. Their movement was peaceful and non-violent. This allowed the protest to become truly mass-scale.

Many people got tired of lawlessness and injustice, from the lack of hope, a feeling that they were in minority and the authorities did not take them into account. The rallies became an area where they felt free and saw that they were not alone. They felt a sense of joy and solidarity with the same people. This was an important experience, and it was much needed. But you can not build a strategy on such experiences. So that the emerging movement would not be confined to the joy of unity only, it must develop a rational-political line - consciously and actively support the alternatives to the ruling regime.

MK: What, in your opinion, were the mistakes committed by the organisers of the winter protests?

GY: The main mistake was that they were elaborating the concept of a "non-political protest" in the most in appropriate moment on the threashold of presidential elections. They presented it as a new technology, a Russian know-how, constantly repeating that Russia did not need politics, politicians and political parties. However, the absurdity of such a line in a situation when Putin had to be elected for 12 years and the naivety of absolutely unjustified hopes that few people would vote for him at the non-alternative elections, were absolutely obvious. And I regret that modern educated people were unable to look a little forward and make two and two.

MK: And why did they fail to make two and two?

GY: Because they are self-centred conceited amateurs in politics. They liked it to be in the limelight and in the lead, but they did not quite understand what they were doing, moreover what should be done next. That is why they led to idleness, conscientiously raising the importance of the non-political protest and blocking the attempts to transfer it to an ideologically clear partisan-political direction.

MK: Can you give a definite example of how the organisers and leaders of the protests did absolutely the wrong move?

GY: The most obvious example here is the presidential campaign. It could have given a possibility for developing an alternative to the regime. Certainly, it would have been only the first step, but a very important step. After all, the main problem was not about the legitimacy of the election and certainly not in the perspective of Putin's election in the first or second round. The problem was in the presence of an alternative candidate, and the political protest could have focus around such a candidacy. Moreover, in this case mass-scale fraud on the part of government would be absolutely inevitable.

The protest movement had to and could defend the nomination of its presidential candidate. But public figures who became the "face" of the movement did not speak in defense of the alternatives, failed to understand and see the major political plot.

MK: Are you speaking about your candidacy? That when you were removed from the presidential race, the protest movement did not demand to restore you in the campaign?

GY: Certainly. In fact, other faces of the protest could have been the alternative candidates (with varying degrees of success, of course) Vladimir Ryzhkov, Alexei Navalny, Boris Nmetzov or Mikhail Kasyanov. All they could have self-nominated their candidacies and begin collecting signatures [in their support in accordance with the law]. But they did not do that. I was the only one who did it - the only real alternative candidate to Vladimir Putin. The authorities removed me from the election, because Vladimir Putin realised that my programme corresponds exactly to what people want now.

I was removed from elections, and the protest movement swallowed that fact, its civil leaders did not fight for the alternative candidate, and [after that] there could be no further fighting, because everyone who was on the ballot in addition to Putin, were part of Putin's system.

MK: Yes, the protest movement was preoccupied mainly with creativity: a competition of funny banners and photoshopped pictures. It was too busy with this to think about elections.

GY: Because the people who took on the role of organisers of the protest movement were developing the form without filling it with content. That is why the rallies demonstrated an abundance of inventions, funny posters and performances. But by the spring the main "faces" of the protest have already partially changed. The new faces have quickly realized that it was necessary to leave the glamour and creativity it was a deadlock. They tried to make camps by the fountain at the Pushkin square, breakthrough to the Manezh square, put forward incredible demands to the authorities and socialize at the boulevards. But this was also development of one form only, without any content, including the Occupy Abai action (Ed. Occupy Abai was a camp in the centre of Moscow by the monument to Kazakh poet and philosopher Abai Kunanbayev). It was clear what Occupy Wall Street was about. Wall Street is the personification of the type of living the occupants protest against. And what does Occupy Abai mean? Again, it is an interesting form of protest but not filled with so much needed political content.

MK: A transition from the ideological to the physical opposition was a natural development of the protests. Is not it how they should grow - from coming to rallies to creation of permanent camps of the dissenting? from peaceful methods and slogans to violent clashes?

GY: No, it isnt. Because in case of physical and violent confrontation with the authorities the protest movement would immediately lose and in general can be even permanently destroyed. The organisers of rallies must understand that this is unacceptable. In addition, if you invite people to an [officially] permitted rally, they should not get into trouble - people can not be victimized. If one is professionally engaged in the organisation of mass-scale peaceful protests and wants precisely this, this can be done. If one has other goals, than it will be the other way.

MK: Do you think the other way prevailed during protests on May 6?

GY: The desire for exploring "another heroic way" has been there for all these months. However, after the first attempt on December 5, this thrust was marginal, inferior to the general belief in the power of peaceful mass protests. But the protest did not yield immediate results as tangible concessions from the government, or provided a coherent perspective that could have been indicated by the political leadership. Thus, the lead was taken by the left, nationalists and supporters of the thesis you cannot make an omlette without breaking eggs. The question of responsibility for the health and lives of people was either redirected to the government or simply removed from the agenda. They said that under the current conditions the true organisers of mass actions were Twitter and FaceBook.

MK: Do you think that the government was not responsible for the collision on May 6?

GY: It certainly was. Moreover, [the government] bore the primary responsibility, as it was the government which rigged the elections and lied, and this brought people to the streets. But there are also grounds to believe that the definite confrontations were voluntarily or involuntarily (due to unprofessionalism) provoked by the authorities. In generally, after the parliamentary and presidential elections this government has been provoking protests by many of its actions. Whatever they do from awarding orders to [head of the Central Electoral Commission] Vladimir Churov and [ex Interior Minister] Rashid Nurgaliyev, clear the centre of Moscow of people before the inauguration, or fill the entire city with OMON (Ed. The riot police) - all this provokes just resentment. But there is absolutely nothing new in this! These are the same authorities we have known for a long time, with their well-known reactions to certain stimuli. So what's the point of discussing now how bad these authorities are? We must discuss how to change them.

MK: And how we can change them?

GY: In order not to lose track of time and rhythm of the present development, we need at least an adjustment along the four essential elements.

First, we should not allow for actions that may lead to the expansion of violence. Only a peaceful civil movement well-organised by responsible people can be popular and successful.

Second, which is more important, people should feel that there has emerged a moral political power, a base they can cling to avoid sinking into chaos. Therefore, we have to change the moral climate and abolish the principle of "the end justifies the means." Otherwise, what's the difference between the ruling group and the "opposition" if both regard other people as an instrument for solution of problems.

Third, we need to overcome the division between Moscow and the country. We were divided by government: it set the protesters at Bolotnaya square against [Putins supporters] at Poklonnaya Gora, Moscow white collars against the Urals workers. But the protesters, the media and analysts were also willing to develop the topic of protests by the advanced citizens and emergence of a politically active class in Russias capital. Consequently, there emerged a stereotype of the "active" Moscow and the "passive" country. This is wrong in the essence and prespectiveless by the result.

Fourth, we must fill the protests with the meaning, content. Politics and Elections begin when there us a clear alternative: personal, programme, moral, economic and political. And we should very clearly make a democratic, European political vector, formulate the essence of it. The first step is to show that democrats are different from the extreme left and the nationalists. Otherwise, the democrats will fail to develop common goals or a common programme. They will only participate in different actions and demonstrations in separate columns that will be increasingly isolating from each other and under the slogans that will be less coherent to each other. Obviously the protest has become more aggressive and more dangerous, and our present task is to separate it from ill-intentioned figures clinging to it (for example, disguised Nazis, etc).

This is not a matter of emotions, likes or dislikes. I have respect for Sergei Udaltsov, but I categorically disagree with his programme. I do not agree with the nationalists. I think that what they say and would like to do is dangerous for the future of the country. But to prevent this danger we should not fight with them in the streets, but we should create our own political and democratic offer to the country, transform the protest into a mass-scale democratic movement fighting for the realisation of the goals formulate by us during these 20 years and win the election.

MK: Can you formulate such a political offer?

GY: What does the majority of people living in Russia today want, no matter which party they voted, and what is their attitude to the protest movement? People want to have more justice, less lies, more kindness and more honesty in life and in the country. If we speak about this in more practical terms, they want education different from what we have now, they want to have normal education, they want affordable healthcare, they want housing and utilities to be effective and at reasonable prices, and they want to have security and so that they do not have to be afraid of police any more. And all this can be implemented only if the law is the same for all, courts are independent and the property is inviolable.

Now it is crucially important that the prospects for realization of these desires would be associated with a clear and transparent sequence of actions that will change living and its rules from day to day, rather than with another myth of a good ruler.

MK: But how can we change these, if the authorities base on absolutely different rules and are not going to give them up in favour of democratic reforms proposed, for example, by YABLOKO? The only way left for us is to hope for the growth of protest moods and that we will be able to make the government leave this way.

GY: It is short-sighted, silly and dangerous to simply rely on the growth of protest moods and activity.

First, knowing this government, I can state that they (some of them secretly and some quite openly) are ready and prepare a special operation to crush the opposition. And they not simply prepared, after [the protests on the threashold of inauguration of Vladimir Putin of] May 6, they have been doing this: slowly, tediously, but persistently and relentlessly. There are rational arguments warning them against taking Alexander Lukashenkos way, but psychologically it will be easier for them this way. The shift of the protest toward provocations works in favour of this scenario. Therefore it is necessary to decide what the opposition wants to win or die heroically?

MK: They will not be able to crush all the dissenting. The opposition is not only certain individuals. This is a spirit of dissent, discontent, which can be intimidated, but not eliminated. In any case, this spirit will find other forms.

GY: But these forms are likely to be suicidal for the country. Our society which is tired, irritable and split, is susceptible to populist promises and simple solutions, and it tends to the "leftist revanche" and nationalism. Educated people who decided to enter politics, can say we are not like this, however, even the most active part of Russias civil society is held hostage by political amateurs at present. They may decide to lean against somebody who has fallen out of the government or will begin vesting hopes on someone like Vladimir Putin in 1999-2000 - young, energetic and offering simple solutions to complex problems; or they may try to rely on left-wing populists or nationalists as the lesser evil. All this is so typical of our elite, but politically is absolutely wrong.

If the collapse of the government occurs in the absence of a politically responsible democratic alternative, then its fragments, as has already happened in our history, will fall into the hands of the most irresponsible forces. And then we are likely to see the true face of the Communists and the nationalist trend will take extremely dangerous and violent forms that are destructive for the country. And the very concept of the Russian society will change. It will be more amorphous and less rational. A demand for freedom will again be replaced by a demand for order.

MK: So it turns out badly this way and not good that way. But still, what do people who want changes should do? Do they have to join YABLOKO?

GY: They need to strengthen the protest movement. But strengthening means acquisition of content. Without this we will fail not only to change the government, but even to seriously disturb it. Without this we are likely to witness a collapse of the government under the pressure of various circumstances. But we should not wait for this. We should create an alternative.

Here we have just talked about the need of a moral political force, that politics should politics would become moral, life would be fair, people would not be humiliated and they would not live in poverty. We have been in politics for twenty years, but no one will ever be able to accuse us of an immoral step or decision.

MK: If we talk about the moral alternative to the ruling regime, then what it should comprise?

GY: Rejection of all forms of state deceit and public lies by top officials of the country. Abolishing of cynicism and lordly panache manifested in infinite self-awarding of medals. Refusal of the principle of "the end justifies the means" and using of people without their being aware of it.

Now there is not a single person in Russia who would associate the future of the country with a goal other than implementation of a strategy helping to solve the problems evolving at every historical stage: lawlessness, injustice, dishonesty, disrespect and poverty.

I have been developing this strategy for over 20 years and this responsibility makes me act now with great consistency, special steadiness and extreme caution.

MK: Even Vladimir Putin has noticed that you develop an alternative. After all, he several times came to your proposals during the presidential campaign. And his press secretary said that people would find in Vladimir Putins programme what was proposed by Yavlinsky.

GY: Well I would only welcome it, if Vladimir Putin could at least by several per cent become Grigory Yavlinsky. This, as my close friend from St. Petersburg says, would be good and right for the country. And such a possibility does exist. If Putin implemented the strategy I had developed once and which was proved be correct by the events of the past six months, I think then everyone would have been for it. But there is none of that. Instead of this, instead of the programme of the transformation of the country, we see a programme of fight against Gennady and Dmitry Gudkovs, Ilya Yashin and Ksenia Sobchak. But the country needs quite another thing. Again, I should reiterate, we have witnessed a serious transformation of public moods towards us, we know what people want and will spare no effort so that not to let them down.

MK: But what should be done know that that such people would come to power? Where will they come from?

GY: Proceeding from my many years of political experience, I can state with full responsibility that there are such people in Russia, there are many of them and not only in Moscow. You do not see them because the present system does not allow them to come up. It is deliberately arranged in such a way that it does not allow anyone but a sheer mediocrity to emerge over the surface. This is one of its goals.

We will pull out of these people, give them a field for political action participating in all the elections at all levels and winning the power from the bottom to the top, and forcing the system to move back and retreat. Let us recollect the election observers! Quite unexpectedly for the government there turned out to be thousands of them It is only the beginning. The system realises this, but instead look for a decent modernisation response to this challenge, it tries to deceive the public and to intimidate activists. This will not go! We see it all and will not allow to fool us with creation of two hundred parties (Ed. the new law on parties considerably reduced the threashold for establishing of a party from 40,000 to 500 members only) allows to create a party with, gubernatorial filters and other imitations or bully us with foreign agents (Ed. A new law on non-profit organisations labels all the organisations receiving foreign donations foreign agents and imposes extremely tough rules of auditing for them).

MK: But how to ensure that democratically-minded citizens would accept them and believe them?

GY: Certainly, it is impossible to win trust via rallies, unreasonable fights with the police and shouting from the stage. People will accept only those who for dozens of years in politics have never deceived them or stolen anything from the country, those who are working and acting today. And there is so much work in the country for everyone who wants to change the country: control over governments in their daily work (traffic police, courts, police, government officials, MPs - how they work, how they implement their promises, what they neglect, etc.); a detailed public analysis of budget expenditures; drafting of a public registry of all the corruption facts; public analysis of housing and utilities costs and prices; fight against tortures in police; sending regular formal public inquiries to the governments on the most important public issues; collection of signatures in support on such inquiries online and offline; participation in and control of elections at all levels; nomination of opposition candidates. And YABLOKO has been doing all this already!

MK: Only despite of all of this you are not very noticeable in the oppositional media. Why so?

GY: Because we are busy with this content. And not with the form. And the content is quite a complicated thing. We have to think much and come into details of the matter. Your newspaper is ready discuss the content this is a rare thing, and I appreciate it very much. But most media are interested in the form. This is much easier and more fun. Suffice it to say: We are making better banners now, and you are immediately admitted into the club. But have we begun making them better? No one bothers about this.

MK: It would be good, if YABLOKO could better represent its position in the protest area.

GY: I agree. Then we are starting working on it from the very moment of this interview.

See also:

State Duma Elections 2011

Presidential Elections 2012

Human Rights




July 11, 2012

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