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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"

Discussion after Mr. Yavlinsky’s speech

May 2, 2000

Q: Czech woman Q; Russian man Q: Czech man

A: Soviet political thought certainly has its own rules. For example, I wouldn't be very surprised if you find somewhere the idea that the advisor of the Russian President might be Mr. Hayek and the Prime Minister, Karl Marx. That would not be very surprising. However, now I want to say something serious. I want you to stop getting together with us, together with all Russian journalists first of all, to stop thinking about what Russian life is. I'm sick and tired of that. I'm not interested in the actual name of someone-s advisor. This concerned the crazy members of the politburo with a combined age of about two hundred years old. It was clear to me why people subsequently analysed developments in the Soviet Union by looking at the people present, considering who was standing on the right of a particular member of the politburo. Now the President of Russia is a man who is younger than me. Only by six months, but nevertheless younger than me. So I am not interested any more in such an analysis. I will only look at real steps. His deeds and not his words, as one day he will say that supports democracy and a liberal economy and maybe has a portrait in his office of one of the most liberal economists. On the next day he will say that anybody who has relations with former foreigners should be punished. So let us forget about that. Look at the level of taxes, the regulatory situation, how big the government is, how complicated are its procedures, whether it is possible to open your own business and protect your business against state blackmail. This has to change. And this will explain what our new President is going to do. All other questions are no longer important, forget about that.

Q: Czech man asking in English: Good afternoon, my name is Vantiska. At one stage privatisation was possible in this country. So, economically speaking you made a lot of comparisons with Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland. Could you please now make short comparisons to other countries, especially those in ex-Yugoslavia and other ex-Soviet countries, namely Ukraine and Belarus.

A: The main problem, the key problem can be summed up as follows: we are witnessing very slow political change in Russia, comparable with Soviet-type leadership. Such leadership is even more evident for those countries, which have their own problems. This is especially true for almost all the republics of the former Soviet Union. This is our problem. The problem was that at the beginning of the 1990s there was no real change in the political system. There was some change, some changing in the wording, but no change in politics. For example, you won-t find an independent judicial system in Belarus, Ukraine or Russia. It is very hard to achieve kind of economic result, you can only negotiate with your competitor with a gun. And you cannot speak to anybody through the law. The same happened to all major former Soviet Union countries: this is the main problem.

Q: Czech woman

A: In Soviet terms the realities of the Baltic states are much better now. Russia is a drug addict in terms of oil and gas. Our economy is based on the pipe. We have a pipe-type of economy. And this is our problem, our big problem. Our very richness is our problem. Yes, and Ukrainians are acting differently, they are making hole in our pipe and also have problems. This is the way things are done today. Now this must be all changed. This is an inherent need.

Q: Russian man

Q: Czech man in English: I am also from Parliament and I have to tell you that I share many of your views on international policy. I share your evaluation on the Kosovo war. I think you are quite right to talk about double-faced Western policy, but I have a rather different opinion on the Chechen war. I think that there is an abuse of human rights on one the hand and at the same time there is an attempt of one part of Russia to secede. And let me tell you my worst nightmare: the disintegration of Russia into hundreds or dozens of pieces: dozens of so-called independent regions run by their own bosses, who behave irresponsibly or are not responsible to anybody, not linked to anybody and running their regions like very authoritarian rulers. I think that the Chechen problem is not regulated. This danger is very real: I would like to know whether you share this view.

A: First of all, I would like to say that I completely agree that Russia-s disintegration is one of the main threats. This will be a never-ending tragedy for everybody, including all of Europe. And secondly, I want to say one thing that I feel is very important. Russia has the longest borders with the most unstable regions in the world. The South and south-east of Russia are extremely unstable and dangerous places. Starting from the south-east and going through Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, you have the Caucasus. The Western border is the only safe border which my country has at the moment. That is how life changes. Our only safe border is on the west. The west represents the only direction where there is no threat for my country. Maybe not from the Far East, where Japan is, I mean the very far east. But all the other sides present a real problem. Secondly, according to my understanding, for some reason, for historical reasons, and according to the polls you have made in this region, the citizens, the people living in Chechnya, don't believe that they are Russian citizens. You can kill them, you can create a concentration camp there, you can take the territory, you can push them away, but you can't make subject them to a federation: that is impossible. In their minds, the people don't believe that they are citizens of the country. So that is why the main task for Moscow is to portray the people as Russian citizens. As citizens - human beings with human rights - and separate them from terrorists and bandits and implement different policies to support the people and fight the terrorists. Moscow-s inability to do this is the main problem. They don't see that they are different people. They don't see that the terrorists account for about 10 percent of all the population from the region. That's the point. And finally, there are procedures in the Russian Constitution which would give the separatists the right through political procedures - normal political procedures and not through armed conflict - to implement their ideas. I'm not going to say that they must be isolated, I'm not going to say that they must be killed or whatever, I'm saying they must stop the shooting. They have to find a civilised way to implement those ideas. And even the Russian constitution offers such an opportunity. So there is a way. But finally I want to add that the integrity of Russia depends 75-80% on Moscow. This policy - the key to maintaining the integrity of Russia - involves protecting human rights from Moscow, for every citizen in the county. This will constitute the main fight with feudal forces. With the regional feudal powers and barons which are really extremely aggressive, completely Soviet and in this sense very dangerous.

Q: Czech person asking question in English, very quietly.

A: I'm sorry, but I couldn-t succeed here.. I'm such from a country that we don't know how to use that. I failed to keep it in the right time. What about the second part of your question? About the advice coming from the Czech Republic. I don't know anything about that. Maybe that was secret advice to the President. I simply don't know. Maybe you tell me the substance of the advice and I will be happy to explain my vision. What about the advice coming from the United States? Well it is our business. Let me say again that everybody is entitled to provide advice, but we must be the ones who decide. And if we take the wrong decision, it's our problem, not the problem of the person who gives poor advice. Maybe he is sincere at heart, but he has been given advice that is not applicable to Russia, especially if this advice has been well paid. Why not give the advice free of charge? We only want to know if this advice is good or bad. First of all, we have to see whether the person providing this advice is prepared to use this advice for himself. And we are asking everybody, especially Western countries, not to provide advice to Russia that they are not ready to implement themselves. For example, in April 1996, the G7 came to Moscow to tell the Russian people that we must elect Yeltsin. I had the privilege to see almost all of them and I always asked them, are you prepared to have Yeltsin as a President or Chancellor of your country? They smiled. If not, why did you give us such advice? This is true for all other areas. So we can't rely on advisors, we should create our own knowledge on what to do. And we are very grateful to everybody who wants sincerely to help us. But our reform is our own path and our task and we have to decide on our own.

Q: Czech woman

A: We have not only illogical problems: we have very specific problems resulting from the nuclear issues. I mean the production of nuclear weapons, existence of nuclear plants, and similar things. We have regions in Russia which were damaged like Chernobyl during different nuclear tests and this is certainly a tragedy for us. But the state of our economy, political instability and total - I would say utter - poverty in the country did not enable us to make any serious progress. And so understanding of this problem becomes more and more visible in Russia and more and more serious. That is the only move forward which I can note to date: the practical steps have not been taken yet, because of the restriction on resources and also the lack of a political will.

Q: Czech man

A: Several attempts have been made in Russia over the past ten years to reform the health care system. And I would say that just now the main task for the health care system is to restore the level of health care we had at the beginning of the 1990s. It is a pretty desperate situation, but this is still the task. Housing reform has been frozen owing to the lack of leadership: you know about the situation with Yeltsin over the past five years. Nothing materialised, there were only talks about this issue. Q.Czech woman

A: I'll try to answer in English if you ask me in English. Czech woman

A: First of all, I want to explain what I was saying about solutions of the key issues. I was speaking about the different size of the process. First of all, I was talking about human rights.- Q; Czech woman

A: I was saying that these problems were solved primarily thanks to protection of human rights: there can be no doubts about that

Q: Czech woman

A: Respect for human rights is the only way to combat poverty

A: Liberalism, like economic theory, always exists, as part of a policy. It never exists as a pure concept, just as pure iron never exists, in the same way that pure liberalism never exists. Nobody knows what pure means. According to this trend, the government must not get very big, bureaucracy must not interfere with many details of human life. The taxes must be low, for example.

A: For example, I want to explain that today liberalism offers today a real way to the future for Russia. It is also very pragmatic

A: Why do we need a pragmatic solution? Because it is impossible today to have government in Russia which is not corrupt.

A: If it is impossible to create an honest government, you always have one answer: you must deregulate the economy, decrease taxes, let the people do something, as there is a well-known maxim that if you have nothing to give to the people, then give them freedom. If you have nothing to give a person, give this person freedom and this person will make his own decisions.

A: That is why I think that in the next ten or twenty years liberalism would be very, very creative in Russia, as it would offer the people an opportunity to create the things that they need themselves. And Russian bureaucrats and Russian power have been overly oppressive by nature for a very long time. That is why it is essential to reduce government pressure. So I do not favour liberalism out of belief in liberalism as a religion. No. I consider liberalism to be a pragmatic solution to the current Russian situation. I want to take out of the hands of the Soviet, former Soviet bureaucrats, the power for the people, which would help my country move forward.

A: It is a great privilege for me to hear that a solution to Russia-s economic problems might change the world. So I'm not in a position to think that Russia is dominating in this sense of the word, but when we talk about regulation, I want to explain one more very important thing: liberalism is very tough. Tough not from the view that the people who cannot manage will die. That is not liberalism. Tough in the sense that everybody has to respect the law and financial markets need to be ruled by law. Law is a key element of liberalism. I would add that capitalism, which is no framed by law, is a wild animal that is the enemy of liberalism, open society, and freedom.

See also:

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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