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Grigory Yavlinsky is very much like his electorate.
This is his vice.
But then, the same holds true about his electorate.

Lyudmila TELEN, Moskovskiye Novosti, May 28, 2002

President Putin's generation came to politics in the late 1980s. Grigory Yavlinsky, Yegor Gaidar, Anatoly Chubais, Nikolai Fyodorov, Boris Nemtsov, Irina Khakamada and Yuri Boldyrev are inordinate people filled with ideas to bursting point, who inspired the love one feels for pop stars. Despite their different ages and likes, they had many things in common. Aged 30 to 40, none of them had any experience of party or Soviet work. They have graduate and post-graduate degrees and significant expectations and ambitions.

Today they are aged 40 to 50. They lead political parties, are state officials or big businessmen. They still have expectations and ambitions, but have little in common now. Any one of them could have become president, but the post went to Vladimir Putin. Why Putin, who is not the brightest or best known of his peers? And how did the political life of Putin's generation change? We will try to answer these questions in this new section of our newspaper.

If Yavlinsky does not take part in the next presidential race, millions of his supporters may refuse to go to the polling stations. And vice-versa. They may refuse to vote if he decides to run.

A difficult electorate

The early electorate of the early Yavlinsky was certainly naive. They thought that toppling the Soviet regime and building a new structure on its ruins was a task for the life time of one generation. The word "task" is crucial in this phrase. To fulfil this goal, they would need to back the man who could offer ways of achieving this goal. Yavlinsky did.

He drafted programmes. The 500 Days programme for creating a market economy. The Window of Opportunity programme for joint actions between Russia and the West. A draft economic treaty between ex-Soviet republics. None of these programmes were put into practice.

This was apparently impossible. In 1992 Yavlinsky was scathing about Yegor Gaidar's reforms - but the reforms were implemented. In 1993 he tried to stop the confrontation of Yeltsin and parliament - Yeltsin sent tanks against the parliament building. In 1994 Yavlinsky protested against the first Chechen war - tanks rolled into Grozny. In 1996 he offered the ailing president an equal union, to no avail. In 1999 he spoke up against the second Chechen war - it is still going on.

Q: You betrayed the hopes of your electorate.

Yavlinsky: How?

Q: They voted for you but the victory went to Yeltsin. They voted for you again, but Putin won the elections.

Yavlinsky: I think the bulk of the people voted not so much for me as for themselves. In this sense, their hopes were not betrayed. There are historical situations where the most my electorate and I can hope for is for our opinion to be heard and considered in real politics. A situation may occur once in 10-12 years when the majority rallies around a party like Yabloko and our electorate… But I repeat, the votes cast for our party were not cast in vain. I once told Putin: "I am prepared to admit that you have 90% of the electorate and I have 10%. But your 90% will do nothing in this country without my 10%."

Q: I don't think you and your electorate are ambitious any more. You came fourth runner the 1996 election campaign and third in 2000.

Yavlinsky: And yet my electorate has had a serious impact on the situation in the country. Thanks to this electorate, fascism has not won here. The authorities have noted with extreme displeasure during every election that millions of people who will never accept corruption, stealing, the idiotic economic and social policy or violence. Of course, I would like us to have more supporters. But then, I would like to ask you: How many of your friends have you managed to convince to vote for you?

Q: I assume that intelligent people - who account for the bulk of your electorate - don't like to force their sympathies on others.

Yavlinsky: Don't enforce them; use conviction. Why not? For this represents a struggle to have an opportunity to live normally in a normal country. We should help, not be embarrassed of each other and openly say who is right. Moscow intelligentsia has a wealth of knowledge and considerable intellect; it can criticise anything with conviction and cast doubt on anything. But it will never uphold a candidate publicly; instead it will vote reluctantly for whomever it is told to vote for. This intelligentsia is not prepared to assume responsibility.

Q: But you yourself are accused of a reluctance to assume responsibility.

Yavlinsky: This may sound pathetic, but my main responsibility is to my conscience as a human being and professional. Let me provide you with one example. The war in Chechnya. I twice based my election campaign on a readiness to assume responsibility for ending the war in Chechnya. Before the 1999 parliamentary elections, when everyone fell prey to military hysteria after the events in Dagestan and explosions in Moscow, Yabloko alone continued to remain in opposition to the war and openly stated its opposition. The main rallying cry of our election campaign was a promise to deal with terrorists and end the war in Chechnya. You think that this was easy? When I made an anti-war statement after the beginning of the second Chechen war, one of my close comrades threatened to leave Yabloko. Who else dared to assume such responsibility? Everyone - the SPS, Primakov and Luzhkov - hid. No European party would have won seats in the parliament against the military hysteria that swept Russia in 1999, if it opposed the general mood. But we did. And we kept our 6-7% [of the vote].

Q: There are certainly arguments against this statement. You feigned readiness to assume responsibility but you knew that it would never fall on your shoulders for objective reasons, because nobody would allow you to work on the settlement in Chechnya. You could have obtained a seat in the government. But you have always avoided executive authority. I agree that this is a political cliche, but nevertheless…

Boris Yeltsin offered Yavlinsky a ministerial portfolio on more than one occasion, although never publicly. Yavlinsky invariably declined the offer. The most scandalous such event took place during the 1996 elections, when Yavlinsky was offered the post of economic deputy prime minister. "Yes, but only after the second round," he replied. "It's now or never," they retorted.

Yavlinsky: If a politician does not want to create a corporate-criminal system jointly with the government, or frankly speaking steal together with it, does this mean that he "is afraid of assuming responsibility"? Imagine me working in a government that "lost" the money of the IMF. Not much, only 4 billion dollars, but it "vanished" on the eve of the crisis, as Stepashin recently said.

Q: But everyone knew about this back in 1998…

Yavlinsky: Exactly. Because a lack of professionalism and corruption have been accumulating in the government since 1992. The appointees were people who could not act independently, or rather, were seriously implicated. Did I need to work in such government?

"Imagine a painter, with good brushes, paints and canvas. But the painting is not good at all. Why don't you help? the people ask me. But how can I? This is like making the right brush stroke on a completely hopeless painting. I cannot make it better. Give me the brushes and step aside - and I will make the painting." Yavlinsky made this statement in 1992. He could well say the same today.

Q: It is a fact that you are committed to the principles underlying your entry into politics. But the people tire of failure. There is a feeling that Yavlinsky and Yabloko are losing supporters.

Yavlinsky: Well, be patient, gentlemen. There is no genuine politics without it. But in general, the feeling does not reflect reality truly enough. If you look at absolute figures (percentage changes, depending on the number of people who came to the polling station), you will see that we have no reasons to worry. Almost 20% of Muscovites and 12-15% of the residents of major cities voted for us during the most recent presidential elections. Of course, there are problems with growth. But we must accept that we are fighting a very serious political machine. This is objectively difficult. Let us not engage in self-humiliation.

Q: Does defeat take the wind out of your sails?

Yavlinsky: Not at all, but it is painful. It is not simple, when you are right, in essence, but cannot win. But when you know what you are fighting for, you'll survive.

Q: So, you have no complaints about your performance?

Yavlinsky: I have a lot, but a practical politician is criticised so much that he does not need to engage in public self-criticism. When I retire, I'll write a thick book about my mistakes.

Ten years ago we made a TV show with Grigory Yavlinsky. Unexpectedly for everyone, my small son asked him: "What would you do if elected president?" Yavlinsky remained silent for about four minutes -we kept it in the show - and then replied: "I don't know."

Q: Have you become less harsh on yourself?

Yavlinsky: You are always hardest n yourself. Everything I have achieved is the past. The current tasks are far more complicated and the situation is much more dangerous. You have to think harder and worry less.

Q: Unlike Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin is so energetic that all his rivals are doomed to look flabby. You are accused of flabbiness, too.

Yavlinsky: After two presidential and three parliamentary campaigns, it is time to take a break, let the people think and take a rest from you, while you gather strength and contemplate certain issue. I cannot, like de Gaulle, go to my castle and wait there. Russia is a different country and you need to take a break some time. This has turned out to be the right decision. I feel very strong now. And I am getting ready for serious battles.

Collective organiser

Yavlinsky's voter is a reader, and even a writer. Unlike Gaidar, Yavlinsky remained a press favourite for a long time, partly because many of his voters were press and TV journalists. The newspapers (this is a fact) published his programmes quite unselfishly. They published his commentaries on every political event. Journalists flocked to see Yavlinsky if some of his friends brought him to the editorial board. There was a long list of friendly publications.

Everything changed before the 1996 elections. The Yabloko leader dropped out of the election game devised by Berezovsky. It was said: Yeltsin versus Zyuganov amounts to the future versus the past. And where does Yavlinsky fit in? Feeding old friendly feelings, some newspapers requested an interview and NTV offered him airtime. But all this occurred outside the main political game. Naturally, this is attributable to money, but not only money.

There was also the fire of the Red-against-the White battle, the fear of rolling back into the past, the survival instinct, and many other things.

Yavlinsky hasn't forgotten this. Since then the list of friendly publications has become shorter.

Q: It is difficult to understand from the press what Yavlinsky does today.

Yavlinsky: It is difficult to understand many things from press articles: who pays whom, who is politically committed and who is an honest journalist… As a rule, there is no political discussion, no comparison of views. Even during elections nobody makes a statement: this is our candidate, here is his programme that we support.

Q: They simply don't want to be seen as belonging to a party. To define one's way means, in your vocabulary, to rally under the banners of a party.

Yavlinsky: But nobody is embarrassed when asked to support the Kremlin, right? In all other cases you are playing the game of objectivity, while in fact you are hiding in the bush, avoiding certainty. Incidentally, Western newspapers are not embarrassed about openly announcing the candidates they support. Which doesn't stop them from being objective. In spring 1996 the editorial board of Moskovskiye Novosti discussed the question: should the newspaper openly proclaim support for candidate Yavlinsky or not? Several days were spent in debates. It was decided that it would be more professional to remain "above the battle." The issue was never raised again during subsequent election campaigns.

Q: Are you barred from television?

Yavlinsky: ORT and RTR (Ed. Two main state Russian TV channels) introduced political censorship in 1999. This covers the subjects of nuclear waste, inflation, corruption, thesituation in the army and in Chechnya… There is a ban on showing some politicians and experts, as they criticisethe authorities or speak on prohibited subjects.

Q: Maybe you should pay them?

Yavlinsky: Don't they have enough money? But political programmes cannot be shown even for money.

Plus presidents and minus presidents

Yavlinsky's voter is wary of the people in power. He or she belongs to the opposition, sometimes at the level of convictions but always in the manner of thinking. Yavlinsky has opposed three presidents - Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin. But he never burned his bridges; he maintained contacts, including unofficial ones.

But the details never reached the press.

In summer 1991 Yavlinsky was to accompany Gorbachev to the London meeting of G7, where he was to present to the West a joint action programme, Window of Opportunity, which he had drafted in Harvard. He refused to go at the last possible moment. Gorbachev's press secretary Vitaly Ignatenko asked him: "How will I explain this decision to journalists?" "Tell them the situation has changed," replied Yavlinsky. It transpired three days later that Gorbachev had dropped Window of Opportunity.

Yavlinsky refuses to discuss the details of his unofficial meetings at the top to this day. However, it is rumoured that they have become more frequent and confidential.

Q: You were intolerant of Boris Yeltsin but you have become softer with Putin.

Yavlinsky: Putin is not Yeltsin. As for my stand, here it is: I think the "manageable democracy" created in this country is dangerous and unacceptable.

Q: What do you mean by that?

Yavlinsky: The elections, courts and press are all ruled from the same room. And it is not even president Putin who sits in that room.

Q: Who then? The bad boyars again, who lie to the good tsar?

Yavlinsky: This formula was used under Yeltsin at a time when today's system was being created. And President Putin has completed this system.

Q: Why is it dangerous?

Yavlinsky: The main danger is that if fascists come to this room used to rule the people and replace "the family," we will witness fascism in the country; if nationalists come, we will face nationalism, and if militarists come, we will have militarism. These three institutes - the electoral system, the press and courts, if they are controlled from the same room - are enough to lead the country in any direction.

Q: It proceeds from your statement that the president means absolutely nothing in this country.

Yavlinsky: It proceeds from my words that the power system was built to enable the people pulling the strings to act contrary to the will of the president. Take the Putin-Bush meeting. It ended with a declaration and agreements on military-political cooperation with the USA. If practical steps are taken tomorrow, a considerable part of the military-bureaucratic near-political elite will see this as a symptom reminiscent of the Novo-Ogarevo process.

Q: You warn Putin about the threat of collusion in virtually the same way as Shevardnadze had once warned Gorbachev. But do you have facts? Or is it only political intuition?

Yavlinsky: If the threat had become reality, we would not have been talking about it now. At least not in the newspaper. Neither Yanayev, nor Boldin, or Lukyanov or Yazov had informed the public of their plans. Talk to different people - the military, secret service staff, officials at different ranks - and you will sense the general mood.

Q: What are the possible development scenarios?

Yavlinsky: A truly reactionary flank has been developing in Russian politics for several years now. These forces may finally pull the president over to their side. Or they may try to push him aside. They have set the task of using the errors and shortcomings of his domestic policy, including his economic policy, to mount a frontline offensive.

Other times

Yavlinsky's voter is still pro-Western, although this is no longer fashionable. He believes that the question of how Russia should develop - towards Europe or Asia, as well as the question of Russia's special path is a test of political responsibility.

Q: Can we hope that the democratic West will use its instruments to stop Russia from sliding into the abyss?

Yavlinsky: No. The West accepted the military junta in Pakistan. Did they hold elections there? A general who came to power in a military coup is ruling the country. But he was used because it was suitable. The Council of Europe has recently stated that the human rights situation in Russia is wonderful. Here is realpolitik for you. The development vector is changing.

Q: Why?

Yavlinsky: Humanity has realised many things since the Second World War: nobody must be humiliated; nobody must be despised; human life is the ultimate value. The state is the servant and not the master of the people. It is based on human rights. The economy must be liberal and designed to create a social state. But the problem of the world and Russia is that modern politicians are departing from these values.

Q: The world, have you gone crazy? Who is to blame for this turn?

Yavlinsky: An unrestrained and cynical bureaucracy. We have become sick and tired of this word since our childhood; it is not even interesting to say. But what is bureaucracy? It's water from the goose. This is when you can do nothing even if you split your skull beating it against the wall. Shall I tell you the backlash that we may face?

Q: Yes, please.

Yavlinsky: Last autumn I went to my voters in a region of the Central Black Soil Zone. What do you think about the September 11 events? I ask them. This was the widespread response: we are sorry for the Americans but not America. "How come?" I ask them. "What about when the residential blocks were blown up in Moscow? It's the same." And they tell me: We feel sorry for the people but for none of you at the top. Why? They explain: We cannot make you there in Moscow listen to our troubles. You don't want to hear. You don't care that we are dying here without medicine, that children cannot go to school, that there are drug addicts galore, electricity is turned off and there is no running water, that they get only 500 roubles a month in the villages. How can we make you see us? Thisis the reaction you get.

Q: So, bureaucracy is the undoing of the world?

Yavlinsky: Not only bureaucracy. The other reason - which is also common - is brainwashing and manipulation of public opinion. Everyone has become tired of this; upright people refuse to vote. Have you seen Le Pen?

Q: What else?

Yavlinsky: Unstable economic situation. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. And lastly, xenophobia…

Q: So we should rely only on our own forces, which do not exist at present?

Yavlinsky: Now, let me tell you something paradoxical. If agreements by Putin and Bush regarding a strategic partnership are put into practice, the door to Europe will be open to Russia and new energy may come through. Gradually, we will have to create a different government, defence department and foreign ministry. Consequently, the vector will also change. We are talking with you at a special moment.

Q: In my opinion the President has opted for Western values. He is playing the role of double agent. There is a Putin made for export and a Putin made for domestic consumption.

Yavlinsky: But he doesn't know if the West is serious about partnership or is playing the fool. If the West is playing the fool, Putin should better not burn his bridges. He is President and his main function is to maintain power. But this cannot last long. Such foreign and domestic policies cannot coexist for a long time.

Q: Why not?

Yavlinsky: This is impossible. If your skis are moving in different directions, will you last long?

Q: But this happens…

Yavlinsky: Yes, for some time. But time is running out.

Q: The opponents of Vladimir Putin often say that he is a man with a specific mentality owing to his biography.

Yavlinsky: Irrespective of this fact, he was to his complete surprise burdened with a serious responsibility. Two years have passed since he came to the Kremlin and today he is coming to see what is really happening in the country. This is the first issue. Secondly, he is perceiving his role as a statesman - this is a specific effect of the Kremlin walls and his post. But Putin also knows that he is being held back by the forces that brought him to power. These people had not expected him to become a statesman.

Q: I thought it was a myth that the "ex's" are holding Putin by hand and foot…

Yavlinsky: He has to act through them. He takes the receiver off the hook and whom will he call? You? Me?

Q: You rather than me, probably.

Yavlinsky: I don't have paid officials, no power on television and no control of financial flows.

Q: Does he have control of all of this?

Yavlinsky: He has placed his men here and there and they started fighting. Some fought for the re-division of property and others simply settled accounts with predecessors. But as I see it, the president can see now that neither the old or new officials can do anything.

Q: So, what is the way out?

Yavlinsky: Vladimir Putin enjoys considerable support from the electorate. This means that the president can act much more resolutely: restore freedom of speech, hold normal elections, ensure independence of the courts, and invite upright people to the government. He just shouldn't fear his own people.

Bright future postponed

In public, Yavlinsky tends to blame his personal and political failures on "objective circumstances." But deep down there he knows that this is not true.

Q: Why do we always depend on circumstances in Russia? Chekhov used to say: "It looks like snow."

Yavlinsky: Let's ask ourselves why Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland implemented their reforms but we didn't? There are several reasons: here is one of them. The Hungarians began in 1956, the Czechs in 1968 and the Poles in the mid-1970s. We began in the late 1980s. So, you and I are only preparing the future.

We may or may not like this role … It is another issue that we are lagging far behind and may miss all the trains. And the trains will leave, unless we keep moving and prepare the ground for those people who will finally manage to implement the reforms. This is worth doing. I am doing this.

Will Yavlinsky's voters accept this? We will know the answer in two years time. On the other hand, Russia is a country where the question may change by that time.

Moskovskiye Novosti, May 28, 2002

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