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On receiving award from the Liberal Institute of the Czech Republic "For contributing to the dissemination of liberal ideas and implementation of the ideas of freedom, private property, competition and the rule of law"

Mr. Yavlinsky’s speech

May 2, 2000

Thank you very much for according me this incredible opportunity to speak to such a distinguished audience in central Europe. Really, I feel deeply honoured to receive such a prize, while still alive. I am very grateful.

After listening to the speech by Mr President Champ, I would like to say that I felt as if my life were coming to an end, because it is very hard to listen such a speech about one’s accomplishments. Now, I can understand how those people no longer with us must feel, when we continue to speak about their positive features and note what they did during their lives.

I am also extremely grateful for the opportunity to speak in Prague. Prague and the Czech Republic is special to me. In 1972 it was the first foreign country I had ever visited in my life. I was here as a student. As you can imagine in 1972, it was a very special time after 1968. I had a very heated debate with other students about the Soviet Union, about events here, about all those events. And that certainly had consequences. I would like to say that on my return to Moscow I had my first confrontation with the Soviet political system. I was accused by some individuals - students and colleagues who were with me in Prague - I was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda for staying in Czechoslovakia.

So that was the beginning. That is why it is so important for me to be on stage now in the middle of the city and make this contribution to the liberal world and to freedom. I was so very pleased, as I think it is a very good tradition that such a central European country as the Czech Republic is going to develop the tradition of awarding a prize for liberal thinking, liberal practice, of fighting for freedom and the rule of law. It is especially important that neither the largest country in the world or the strongest country militarily will be the centre where such people as Milton Friedman can receive a prize. This constitutes real evidence of the changes in your country, in Europe, and in the world over the past ten years. And with these words, I would like to congratulate the Czech civic society for such a serious performance and for all the important things that you are doing for your country and for the world.

I would like to stress that my achievements are certainly incomparable with those of Milton Friedman or Gary Becker. But I want to thank you on behalf of all the people living in Russia and who have been fighting for freedom for many decades and maybe centuries, as I perceive here today your acceptance of the efforts of millions and millions of people in my country in trying to establish democracy, open society, freedom and the market economy. I am very grateful to everybody who perceives the role of Russia in the world civilization first of all in culture, science and development of mankind’s values. I am very grateful to everybody who understands the role, the real role of Russia in Europe.

Today I have come here to talk to you about my vision of the most recent developments in Russia, Europe and maybe the world. Last century showed us that one of the main priorities and imperatives and one of the main goals of humanity of the past century was and remains the creation of a new society which is based - and would be based - on human values, freedom and law. Liberal society has undoubtedly already won its fight against totalitarianism. It won twice this century. It won in an overt military battle during the Second World War. And then secondly, it won not so long ago, when it revealed that the open free world is much stronger than the Soviet totalitarian system.

Liberal society showed its benefits, even at a time when Stalin's and Hitler's regimes were not so obvious to everybody in the world. It would be wrong to say that at the very beginning and at the beginning of this century or even in the middle of the century it was well known or it was widely accepted that the liberal paradigm, the paradigm and concept of human rights would be the strongest and most constructive paradigm this century. Liberal society, the society of human rights and freedom, showed without a doubt, from my point of view, that this type of organisational society is much more flexible, productive and constructive, and that the rules adopted by this society are much better adjusted to a normal human life than any other system that people have tried to implement. This type of system also revealed that it can be tough, self-regulated, and has one main advantage: it can improve itself and is evolutionary. No one other system in the world can do this.

Only a society built on human rights and freedom in the long run, has demonstrated to the world a real balance between stability and the ability to modernize itself. Over the past 50-100 years, only a liberal system, which is really democratic, which I would link with an open society, has demonstrated its ability to resolve the problems that nobody could decide a hundred years ago. It resolved the contradiction between wealth and poverty, the contradiction between illiteracy and education. It showed the whole world how to handle the so-called worker's problem or worker's issue, woman’s question and social question, all of the main problems of humanity in the last century. This approach indicated a way to resolve them.

At the end of the day, we can say with confidence that such basic concepts, which are well-known in the world today - such as the right to be elected and take part in the elections and strong trade unions which can protect the people - are deeply rooted in the concept of human rights and freedom. Today, I am also going to explain how I view the main problems that we have in Russia at the moment. I want to share our vision with you. How the main problems of our country can be resolved on the way to liberalism and freedom.

But I think that my first question is the most important: why were the ten years of reforms in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and other central European countries successful - maybe not very successful, but your situation is much better than ours - and if compared to Russian reforms tremendously successful both economically and also politically? And why wasn’t the same reform successful in Russia? This is perhaps the main question of the last ten years.

Let me offer my answer to this question. I think the reason is that a democratic revolution happened in Poland, in your country, in Hungary and other European countries ten years ago. And in Russia, ten years ago, a nomenklatura revolution happened: what Gorbachev called Perestroika was real, but what we have at the moment is not a real revolution, which changes the people, priorities, and values. At the same time when Perestroika changed the world, the higher class of the former communist party of the Soviet Union perished, changed their jackets and symbols. At the end of the 1980s these people were talking widely about Lenin, socialism, and the five-year plan. Now, ten years later they are repeating the words, reform, democracy and market. This is the order: some of the most learned even learned these words in English. It was a very special period of time that brought Russia to a new crossroads, but we learned some very important lessons.

Firstly, only real political change, and not simply a recreation of the previous communist elite, can change the country. And we also learned that the party nomenklatura were transformed through the changes in the economy into the criminal nomenklatura. This is the reason why Russia at the moment has such a high level of criminality. But we also learned another very important economic lesson. Maybe you remember the words of a famous author about open society, who wrote a book called Enemies to an Open Society. Carl Harper was saying that an open society has at least two enemies, fascism and communism. Russian experience over the past ten years showed that capitalism, which is not limited by law, capitalism which is based simply on huge monopolies and private property rights for a limited number of people, capitalism in a country where you have no justice, where you have no civic society, where you have no independent judicial system, where you have no system of laws, where you have no civic institutions, you have no political parties, is also a wild animal which is fighting open society.

Here the reforms over 10 years made on behalf of Russia’s first so-called democratic President and young liberal reformers and bring the country two wars in ten years. One involved bombing the Parliament, one hyperinflation, and two defaults, I would say it is a big advantage that at the end of the day the Russian people are still prepared to take part in democratic elections and that millions and millions of these people still voted for democracy, freedom, private property and market economy. It is very hard to convince the people at the moment that all the developments in Russia over the past ten years are attributable not to democrats or liberals, but to the poor Soviet way of thinking and inadequate Soviet way of development.

Based on such an understanding I want to start a short brief explanation, as I hope that you will ask me questions. I would say that I am even more interested in your questions than in my answers. And I am going to explain what interests me most, but I still want to say several things about the economic reforms needed in Russia today. First of all, I want to say that I'm absolutely convinced now that a workable market economy must be based on a real workable concept of human rights in the country. The country’s policy must be based on a clear understanding of human rights, where private property rights is one of the key elements: without protecting such fundamental rights, you cannot establish a workable market economy.

Secondly, after such a basic statement, my next common may seem a little strange. I think that every human being in Russia at the moment has a clear vision of what needs to be done in the economy. Including children and students, both men and women: this is very simple: low taxes, privatisation of land, a transparent and workable banking system, de-monopolization, protection of investors, an independent judicial system, etc. There is no question any more about the programme that Russia needs. The question is: who has the political will to implement such a programme? Who will dare start fighting the oligarchs, whose interests are perpendicular to those goals that the Russian economy needs. This is the key question of the Russian economy.

Certainly, we can discuss the policy of the IMF towards Russia. There is a political aspect to the assertion that it would much better for every country, including Russia, if we would come to the IMF with our programme, explaining to the IMF what Russia needs and convincing the IMF of our needs and then asking them if they want to help. If not we are going to continue our reforms, as they are in our vital interest and in the interests of our people we are not going to make...and I am not considering the theoretical aspect of the question: that the economy of such a country was not damaged by central planning, whereas the economies of Poland, Hungary, your country and Eastern Germany were damaged by central planning. The Russian economy was created by central planning and therefore a different species. And this species needs a different policy.

That is why I think that institutional change is the main priority in the Russian economy. And macro-economic stabilization can only occur as an irreversible item, only as a final stage of serious institutional changes - implementing private property, competition, and all the main market institutions. It is a very important - maybe debatable, maybe questionable - point and I'm ready to protect and defend it. But the key issue anyhow is who would be politically prepared to implement such a reform in Russia. As you see the level of taxes and competition, de-monopolization, and private property rights are the main basic values of liberalism and open society and would be the key issue of all debates in Russian economic policy from now for the next ten, twenty years. But I am absolutely convinced that they represent the only serious way forward for Russian economic reform.

The second issue is political. It concerns the war in the Northern Caucasus. I want to say first of all that the Northern Caucasus may well be one of the most dangerous and unstable regions in the world. And it is necessary to state openly and seriously that there is a real threat of terrorism, slavery, the disappearance of people and terrorist attacks. I want to stress that is not only the case in the Northern Caucasus. I would suggest that anyone who is interested in politics and in international politics should look more carefully at developments in Central Asia and the former Soviet Union republics

Extremists, terrorists, fundamentalists and extreme fundamentalists are developing their ideas openly and very, very seriously and this is a real problem. This is a problem that Russia faces and I would not recommend anybody to underestimate this problem. At the same time, I have to say with great sorrow that the methods used by the Russian government to confront this threat were completely wrong in my view. I want to repeat in Prague once again that it is not and has not been an anti-terrorist operation since November last year: it is a full-scale war against the people in the Northern Caucasus. This is a full-scale war that has no future and will never yield positive results. There is a lot of blood, it is a tragedy for the people, it involves 300,000 refugee, thousands and dozens of thousands of people are killed. The methods used by the Russian government to try to overcome the problem of terrorism in the Northern Caucasus is completely wrong, There is only one way forward - it is a one-way road - starting political negotiations. What are the conditions for these political negotiations? Political negotiations must be organized on three basic principles. First of all, with those on the Chechen side who are ready to accept the Russian Constitution and the current situation in Russian laws. And secondly, with those who personally were not involved in slavery, killing people, disappearances and terrorist actions.

And thirdly, with those on the Chechen side who were elected in 1997 under the control of international organizations. This is the answer to the questions of people who repeatedly say that there is no way to hold negotiations, there is no way of adopting a political approach. We need to stop the military conflict in the Northern Caucasus from being transformed into complete genocide. These negotiations must start as soon as possible. My party and I have been making this demand since the first days of November when the full-scale war started.

Certainly, it would be a very difficult and a very long way forward, but there is no alternative. Now I want to share with you some ideas about Russia and Europe. This is one of the key issues, which I find most interesting. I think it is interesting, because when I see the future of Russia, I believe that Russia must be a European country 20, 25 years from now. But not in the sense of bureaucrats in Brussels, in the sense of values, the rule of law, type of economy, human relations, level of understanding, criteria, security assistance that is the main way for Russia to move forward.

The alternative would be isolation, extreme internal conflicts, instability and unpredictable development. That is why relations with Europe are so important. But I want to share with you some of my views about what needs to be done here. I think that the approach of Western politicians, who focused on Russian political personalities, such as Yeltsin for example, was utterly wrong. This approach needs to be changed. The meeting with the new Russian president is certainly a positive sign, but it is far from being enough. And it is always necessary to make sure that the meeting between Russian and Western leaders is not transformed into something similar to the Yalta negotiations. Consequently actions and priorities must be changed.

The main priorities must be relations with the people, between professionals, between citizens, between the different political parties, non-governmental organizations, between students, between cities: these are the key issues that should govern the future development of Russian European relations. If such relations were to develop - and this would not simply involve meetings and visits of the leaders of the states - I believe that this would mark a new step in the development of democracy, of an open society and human rights.

I would also like to underline here that there are some extremely important things for Russian citizens, such as the exchange of information-media. Let me provide one small example: now we receive European news in almost all languages, even languages of people who are not members of the European Union. The language is not even European, but there is not one single world-wide television program in Russian, which makes up for about three hundred-fifty million people.

The ability of the Russian people in Siberia to watch the Euro news in Russian would be an extremely important step. This would contribute to Russia’s future, Russian democracy, Russian stability much more than two or three visits by the President of the United States to Russia, who asks: "Mr Yeltsin, how are you doing?"."I'm doing well Mr. Clinton. How are you?"."I'm fine. What are you doing here?". "I'm doing reforms.""What kind of reforms?" "Radical.""Oh, congratulations!"Kisses, hugs, shaking hands: this is not beneficial. It would be much better for Russia to read European newspapers in Russian, to watch the television in Russian, and then the debates about NATO would be at a different level and many things would proceed at a different level.

Certainly, they are not just talking about the major European countries at the moment. The visa issue is a very strange issue in Russia. To obtain a visa, Russian citizens have to queue for weeks: let me assure you that no criminals stand in this queue. The leaders of the Russian Mafia are not standing in queues at foreign embassies. I don't know how they obtain visas, but they obtain them without staying in line. In this line you observe people who have vacations for 20 days and, twelve of those days standing in a queue. They come from all Russia to live on the street in Moscow to obtain a visa. But how can we develop democracy? How can we expect more votes if people have never seen how people live in Europe?

They have never seen this life: they have only heard something about democracy. But they've never seen that. To promote this cause, to make people understand the new way of life, they should see how another people can live. How life can be organized in a different way. And that would be the strongest, the strongest incentive that is absolutely necessary -roads, telecommunications, information, newspapers, independent information coming from Europe to Russia, sources of independent information which completely changes the situation sooner or later. I am talking about first steps: I'm saying that it is not so important whether Putin is good or bad. Let us give him a chance; but relations with the people, this is the key issue. The leaders would go away, but the people would stay. Most importantly, people always ask me what the West should do for Russia. For a long time, it was a very difficult question for me, because - as I said before - I think that we are making our reforms to cater for the interests of the Russian people and are not favouring anybody. But now I know what to say. Looking at the West, I would say, what we need most of all, we need you to make your policy clear, consistent, open, democratic and honest. Your own policy. Not about us. About yourself, about Europe, about whatever.

At the moment we can see two different directions in one policy. One is based on human rights, while the other is based on so-called real politik. Two different directions in one head is a pretty dangerous state of mind. We saw that on the vote in the European Parliament, just about the Chechen war: the next day Ministers of the European Union said "sorry, we want to provide an excuse for our Parliament.

They were tough on you." This is based on human rights and here is the real politick. Try to make the policy consistent, open, clear, liberal, whatever, but at the end of the day be honest. Finally consider the approach to Russia, saying that Russians need only a strong leader. This kind of comment comes from a person who does not understand democracy. They don't understand the market. They need simply a strong leader and we need to be friends with this strong leader and that will be enough for them. This approach would never make any progress or developments. We have different histories, Russia and France, Russia and Germany, Russia and the United States, Russia and Eastern Europe.

It is true that we have different histories, but we are one civilization. In the next century, it will be the century of civilizations. That's why I insist on making all-world politics, especially the politics of my country clear, and in a politics of equals I want you to criticize us and to say real things, to say them in black and white, in a clear and comprehensible manner. This is absolutely necessary.

Then we would have the right to say for example that the bombing in Kosovo was a complete disaster. And the Chechen conflict is in many ways a result of the bombing in Kosovo. This was the clear catastrophe of Western democracy, because the solution was not on a television show. Not in Belgrade, as the solution was in Moscow. And the Western countries obtained this solution, but too late in May. It was necessary to come to Moscow and push Moscow to cease relations with Milosevic. To stop supporting Milosevic: that represented the solution to this conflict, and not bombing. So that is why I think that we need to discuss more current political and economic problems, as we also have doubts about the single currency in Europe and many other issues. These are all disputable issues, which should in my opinion be discussed sooner or later. However, to finish, I would like to say that this prize is a big honour for me.

And this prize does not entirely belong to me, this prize belongs at least to the many, many millions of my voters. I was third in the last Presidential elections and I can say that 15 years ago no one could even imagine or dream that the man expressing such ideas as myself today would be able to come third in a Presidential election and say the same things in Prague, and in every Siberian village. So, this prize is for the Russian people.

Thank you very much.

See also:

Discussion after Mr. Yavlinsky’s speech on receiving award from the Liberal Institute of the Czech Republic "For contributing to the dissemination of liberal ideas and implementation of the ideas of freedom, private property, competition and the rule of law"

May 2, 2000

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