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By Neil Chatterjee

Interview - Russian Opposition Leader Says No Free Speech

Reuters, February 12, 2002

LONDON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - The leader of Russia's liberal opposition, Grigory Yavlinsky, says political freedom of speech in the country is dead following last month's closure of its only independent nationwide television station. "Freedom of speech is finished -- in a political sense," Yavlinsky told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

Yavlinsky, head of the Yabloko party and a Russian presidential candidate, said the closure of the TV6 channel by the Russian government on January 22 was another episode in the tough censorship of television since April last year.

Discussion of allegations such as corruption of the military in Chechnya as well as criticism of the government were on a "stop list". Issues including nuclear waste and ecological problems in Russia were similarly excluded.

He said he felt censored himself. "There's no access to the major state channels. There was with NTV," he said. Last year state dominated gas monopoly Gazprom took over NTV, the country's biggest independent television broadcaster. Yavlinsky said Russian monopolies such as Gazprom and natural power utility UES needed reform. "They must be transparent, accountable, not black boxes. Nobody knows what is the amount of assets, the structure of assets. Nobody knows where the profits are moving. "I don't see the end of the oligarchs," he said, of Russia's financial magnates.


A trained economist, he thought reform of the banking sector was also moving very slowly, with Russia needing to be much more energetic to meet the criteria for entering the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

"We must get more competitive in a lot of industries, improve the quality of products and of management, and decrease the cost of products dramatically, otherwise they will not be competitive."

He said there needed to be tax and land reform, while corruption was also a major problem. Although he was against the death penalty, with public debate on the issue heating up, he said there was support for it among the Russian people as the level of criminality was so high. "We have to diminish bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is corruption, is criminality," he said. WTO chief Mike Moore told Reuters in January that he believed Russia could become a member by early summer 2003, with Russian President Vladimir Putin very engaged on the issue. Putin enjoys approval ratings of over 70 percent, winning over parties that often opposed his predecessor Boris Yeltsin after just two years in power.

Yavlinsky, married with two sons and who at 49 is the same age as Putin, finds it hard to be in opposition. "Hard doesn't mean impossible. Everything good in Russia is hard."


Yavlinsky said he was systemically opposed to Putin's domestic policy, partly opposed to his economic policies, but really supportive of foreign policy after September 11. Backing the U.S.'s "war on terrorism" was the only possible solution, he said, although critics say Putin will have trouble maintaining pro-Western policies for little in return. "It's protecting Russia's future -- not being an ally with the U.S. and the EU would undermine security," Yavlinsky said.

"It's not a question of bargaining, gifts or presents. Russia said it's not accepting terrorism as a way of doing things." Putin defended his decision to back the U.S. in an interview on Russian television on Monday, saying their cooperation was the most important factor for stability in the world.

On the war in Chechnya between Russian troops and Islamic rebels, Yavlinsky said sooner or later Russia had to organise a round table with all parties, with political negotiations the only basis for a solution.

See also:

the original at www.reuters.com

Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia

Reuters, February 12, 2002

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