Editor's Note: Through the efforts of our researcher
and interpreter, Svetlana Frantova, Rental Management was granted
a rare interview with Grigory A. Yavlinsky, chairman of the Yabloko
Party in the Duma (the Russian parliament). We met for an hour
in Yavlinsky's cavernous office, in a relaxed conversation covering
the political climate and the promise ahead for the Russian economy
- which Yavlinsky regards with qualified optimism, and cautions
that the promise cannot be realized without patience, perseverance
and a clear sense of the realities unique to Russia, some of which
linger from the past. His comments are presented verbatim, from
the taped conversation.
The Russian economy is moving upward now, if you compare it
with the very low level that we had after the 10 years of the
reforms, when we lost about 50 percent of our industrial production
compared to 1990 - 50 percent! And we lost about the same in the
GDP. We had a very deep crisis in 1998. Since then, we have had
comparatively good figures. Generally speaking, I am very optimistic
about the future of my country. I believe in the future of Russia,
but we have a lot of things to do. We are facing a lot of serious
structural economic problems, which are not enough in the attention
of our government.
At the moment, government is most favorable to very big companies
- they like the old Soviet monopolies - but for the middle-sized
and small businesses, we have a very unpleasant situation. The
number of small businesses in Russia is much lower than in Western
The main problem is bureaucracy. In the Soviet time it was not
allowed to open a small business. Now it's allowed, but you are
threatened to such extent by the local bureaucrats, by the federal
bureaucrats, by criminalized blackmailing, that it is very difficult
to do this - or you must be a part of it, or you must pay money
to the criminal element - it is very difficult to find the clean
It can be solved, but you need a different policy in the country
and different priorities of the government. One of my priorities
and of my party is to uphold the right of the people to have property
and to start private businesses. It is one of the basic principles
of the society.
There is no resistance, as such, to reforms - nobody is saying
no - but nobody is doing anything, either. This is the bureaucratic
approach. In the Communist time, people would say no, on an ideological
basis. Now they say, "Yes, certainly, that's very important."
But nobody then takes the next step, because the political structure
of the country is not developed - there is no pressure to move
on. Bureaucrats in any country would be free to do whatever they
want if they have no pressure. They never would be eager to give
the possibility to the people to do something, because they think
the key issue is to collect money for everything and spend it
as they think is right.
In order to overcome that, you have to have a strong civic society,
as in your country - people who can resist those things that people
don't want. Our government doesn't want to have such forces. It's
a long road. It will take time, with the ups and downs.
If you ask me how long it will take to go from Moscow to Beijing,
I would say, the answer is very simple - just tell me when you
will start then I can tell you how long it will take. We cannot
predict until we know when the present situation allows us to
We are still in a modified previous system - we are not in the
new system yet. We are partly in the previous system, with the
mentality, views and morality that come from our previous period.
The difference between Russia and Poland, for example, is that
Poland had a political revolution in 1990 and a new political
elite came to power. We never had that. We have the same political
elite we had before. They changed their jackets and their slogans
and they changed the portraits and flags, but they are all the
same people. We have a president who was a member of the Politboro
and all the prime ministers over the past 10 years were members
of the Central Committee of the Communist Party - with no exception.
One was the representative of the KGB. So we have all the same
people, and we are slowly moving forward.
The euphoria in the western press in '91, '92, '93, '94 - they
said everything was fine, now everything was done. "Now we
can go this way and that way. Russia is a democratic country."
Now, your press is saying everything is bad, everything is corrupt,
everything is crazy - it is not true. It was not true before,
Russia needs a much more sophisticated, much more responsible
approach - you need to proceed with a cool head and a warm heart.
I'm not pessimistic. I'm not saying that everything is bad, but
we are moving more slowly than I want.
The major problem we have is the problem of power - the old
political elite is still in power. You have something very similar
- you have a lot of "Cold Warriors" in your government.
We all together have a problem with that. They won't manage the
situation in the perfect way. You need a new generation of politicians
just as we do.
So it's a reminiscence of the past, but in modern conditions
- it's a kind of modernization of the previous situation. It's
not completely new.
RM: Does Russia encourage and welcome foreign investment
in Russian industry?
Yavlinsky: Yes - but I always have a problem with the
representatives of your country. Some of them want to have very
easy and simple answers. Russia is not living in an easy and simple
way. You are asking me a serious question - do you want a complicated
answer or a simple one?
RM: I want a complicated answer.
Yavlinsky: Talks and slogans are wonderful. Our government
would be happy to have investment. If you say you want to put
2,000 Coca-Cola factories all around Siberia, they would say,
But our government is a government of a country that has one
very special characteristic - it is a country with unlimited natural
resources. The government of a country with unlimited natural
resources is a lazy government - because if they need something,
they can take it from the ground. They don't need anything sophisticated
- they need simple things. If the price of oil is [high], they
are free to do nothing.
They say they want investment, but in practice there is no real
incentive for the power in government to change. Nobody is investing
in the economy - they're investing in the country. They are two
different things. You can have very good figures - trade, economic
data - but at the same time you can have a country that doesn't
protect private property, that allows criminal tools, that has
no respect for human rights, and no independent justice. Even
having good figures in the economy, under such conditions, you
will never have massive investments. In your country, it's a very
different story - you have a legal basis, a very special civil
environment - you can have better figures in the economy or worse,
you can have high inflation or low inflation, you can have better
prospectives or worse prospectives, but the country is in the
same mood all the time, whatever figures you have.
We have just the opposite situation. We can have good economic
figures and an absolutely unacceptable environment as a whole.
The key issue is to look not only at the economy, but at the whole
political environment. For Russia it's the key. If you want to
open this box, that's the key. I think serious people understand
that. If you're asking me if it's necessary to make investments
in Russia, I will say that if you want to have a harvest in autumn,
you have to plant in spring - even if the weather is bad. Now
Russia is having bad weather, but it's definitely spring.
We have five parties - we have many views. You have only two.
You are almost a totalitarian system, because you have only two
and we have a lot. I think you are moving to be more like us.
Certainly there are differences, but not very important ones.
The differences between our countries are not very big. I like
my country, I trust my country, I have hope. I have no doubts.
But I think [the road ahead] will be longer and more difficult
than one [may like].
Editor's Note: Russia now has six political parties,
some of which are coalitions of smaller parties that have come
together under similar ideologies to multiply their influence
on the government. One of these, a faction known as "Yabloko,"
headed by Grigory Yavlinsky, was officially organized as a party
in December. It is the party of the intelligentsia and the most
"To my mind, they are the most realistic," says Svetlana
Frantova, our interpreter and research partner for this coverage.
"Yavlinsky isn't influenced by anyone - he is his own man,
and very principled." This puts him at odds with most of
the others: the Unity of Right Forces, a right-wing coalition;
the ultra-nationalist LDPR headed by the firebrand deputy chairman
of the Duma, V.V. Zhirinovsky; the Unity Movement, which has the
largest following among the people and maintains the closest ties
to the Kremlin; and the Communists, who "stick to the past
as if it is their future," says Frantova.
To understand the Russian political scene, it is necessary to
understand the terms "power" and "government"
vs. "Duma." The government is the executive branch -
the "Kremlin," which includes the president and the
ministers of his cabinet who control the country and are often
referred to simply as "the Power." The Duma is the parliament,
composed of elected representatives of each of the political parties
- the legislative branch, like the U.S. Congress, which makes
laws. Considerably more power is vested in the executive branch
than it is in the U.S. system, which is knitted together by checks
and balances among the executive, legislative and judicial. So
movement and reform are largely defined by what "the Power"
promotes or opposes. This can make advancement slow and complicated,
and subject to political self-interest among the coalitions -
frustrating to a leader like Yavlinsky, who seeks to build a new
system along western lines and without the baggage of the past.
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