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One Can Influence Politics: An Interview with Grigory Yavlinsky
July 30, 1998

Grigory YavlinskyGrigory Yavlinsky is the head of the “Yabloko” party in Russia -- a party that has been described as decidedly liberal in its outlook. Yavlinsky is a former economist, and was a candidate for the Russian presidency in 1996, an election in which he finished with less than 10% . He is expected to be a key player --whether as a candidate or not -- in Russia’s 2000 elections.
Yavlinsky was born in the Ukrainian city of Lvov in 1952. He became deputy director of the Council of Ministers of the Russian Federation -- when it was still part of the USSR -- in 1991.

Last week he agreed to this interview with a member of the IntellectualCapital.ru staff. Here is a translated, and edited, version of the transcripts.

IC What do you think is the real state of the Russian economy? Despite the gloomy statistics, it seems to one that people, at least in big cities, really do live better than they used to.

GY The state of the economy is really very difficult. One can't balance on the edge of the crisis for very long. One would have either to take serious measures to make the economy more healthy, namely to develop industry, to control "natural monopolies" -- or to be ready to accept the fact that "card houses" built on credit can't stand for very long. As to people living better than they used to, there is a simple indicator -- how they vote, for example -- at the State Duma elections. Why do a large proportion of our citizens support Communists? Russian society of today is a society of big inequality in terms of wealth. Of course, many now live better. But a still larger number of people lost even the basic benefits they had under socialism. Hence the support of the KPRF (Communist Party).

IC What's your attitude about the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) participation in saving Russia?

GY I approve of many aspects of the IMF activities. One must keep in mind that it's a very professional organization. Sometimes they make mistakes. But it's not the IMF who is responsible for internal Russian economic problems; it's the Russian Government. So all the blame should be put primarily on ourselves. And the IMF? Well, they help as well as they can, as far as they understand the Russian situation.

IC What alternative financial sources are there?

GY An alternative source would be a Russian government policy to attract private foreign investments, and to encourage Russian investors. But to achieve that, the Parliament must amend legislation so it would encourage investments.

IC What do you think about the process of economic globalization? How do you see Russia's participation in this process?

GY Globalization is an obvious and inevitable thing. Russia is becoming more and more integrated in the world economy. The proof is how the events in Southeast Asia influenced the Russian financial markets. It's also obvious that Russia, as a big supplier of energy resources to the world market, has been a part of the world economy for a long time. I think Russia's problem is that she is still not integrated enough in the sector of the world economy one could call a "private industrial investments sector." Also, Russian manufacturing exports are still too low.

IC What about events in India, in Pakistan, about nuclear weapons and about the role Russian companies play in supplying weapons to the Third World countries in general?

GY I see the nuclear tests conducted in India and Pakistan as very alarming. So far, no great pressure is being put on those countries to stop the tests. In the system of tests they now joined, the probability of a chance nuclear conflict -- a chance one as well as an intentional one -- is higher. So a real race of missiles and nuclear weapons is beginning in South Asia. As to supplies by Russian companies to India, as far as I know, they don't have anything to do with India's nuclear program..

IC How would you assess the first month of the new prime minister in office?

GY Nothing radically new is being done, as compared with what Victor Chernomyrdin was doing. It's the same old policy, on the background of the country's economic situation getting worse

IC What do you think about General Aleksandr Lebed's victory in the Krasnoyarsk region? During the 1996 elections there was talk about a possibility of Lebed-Yavlinsky alliance of one sort or another. Would such an alliance be possible now?

GY Lebed's victory means only one thing: People are so fed up with the current state of affairs, they would trade it for anything. We'll see what they get now. We'll see what Lebed can do in Krasnoyarsk. Let's wait for one year. It's too early to speak about any alliances now. There are almost two years before the next elections.

IC Do you agree with financier Boris Berezovsky, who said that only three people can possibly be elected as the new president: Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Lebed and Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov? Are you ready to find a new candidate from "Yabloko," to propose a fresh "electable" person to the country, using Berezovsky's logic? Who could that person be?

GY I wouldn't select a person Berezovsky points to as "electable," but one who can prove that a choice is possible in principle, that nothing is predetermined as it was the last time: either vote, or you get the Communists.

IC This interview with IntellectualCapital.ru provides an opportunity to address Russian Netizens. What important things would you personally and "Yabloko" as a political movement like to communicate to them? Why shouldn't young Russians be indifferent to politics?

GY There was a very significant expression in your question, "Russian Netizens." What is important is who the Internet users think they are: Russian citizens or citizens of the Net. A haughty, arrogant attitude toward politics, toward social developments is typical of young people. They often think they can hide behind their work, their hobbies. But then they grow up, their parents grow old and need medical treatment, their children grow up and need schooling, they want to feel confident of their future.So gradually they understand that an arrogant attitude toward politics turns against those who thought political battles were not for them. Suddenly it turns out that taxes are not acceptable, that a war is starting somewhere, and so on -- and we will not be spared all that. As to "Netizens" being able to influence the way the country goes -- of course they can do that, just as every person can do it. Our country is nothing but us, all of us.

IC What is "Yabloko"'s position on the legislation and regulations concerning the Internet? In particular, what do you think about the wording of the new law on mass media?

GY "Yabloko" is against all attempts to limit the freedom of the Internet. We are against licensing, against censorship. We are liberals as far as the Internet is concerned.

IC Does "Yabloko" plan to employ the Internet potential in election campaigns in 1999 and 2000? How would you assess the potential of the Net as a means of political communication?

GY Of course we are going to use the Internet, both in the parliamentary elections in 1999 and in the presidential campaign of 2000. We believe the Internetís potential is high, and we see it as an alternative to mass media. So far in Russia the Internet is not developed enough to make serious competition to TV or to large-circulation newspapers. But the situation is changing rapidly.