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By Andrei Vandenko


Sobesednik, April 17-23, 2002

Question: Let's talk about the Duma. What is going on there?

Yavlinsky: Nothing special. In my view, the present Duma is doing a very poor job. However, this was plain from the very start - when we got the Unity faction, assembled in a slapdash manner from everybody who happened to be there, and when all the leadership posts in the parliament were distributed by agreement with the presidential administration. No alternative candidates were proposed when the speaker was elected. Of course, this is not surprising: the Kremlin has 240 loyal deputy votes and consequently any decision can be passed without any trouble.

Question: What was the latest scandal over the Communists losing their leadership positions all about?

Yavlinsky: Call the presidential administration and ask them.

Question: All right. But will you still share your version of the proceedings?

Yavlinsky: Rotation. Someone from Unity or their allies wished to chair a committee, what is so unusual here? I have that the main thing is to have the necessary number of votes and everything will be done. For example, the new Central Bank chief was approved without any discussion. They did not even take pains to create the illusion of a debate, they just produced the proposal for a vote without any discussion - so they did. There are places where I could be both Putin and Matvienko.

Question: Did you have questions about Gerashchenko's replacement?

Yavlinsky: Of course. Lots of them. We had been getting ready for the session, intending to speak... I think nowhere else in the world has a person been appointed to such an important state post without debate. The Russian parliament did it without a debate. An achievement worthy of the Guinness Book of Records!

Question: Where would you advise me to turn for an explanation of the motives of the "attacks" on Gennady Seleznev? The Kremlin again?

Yavlinsky: One person in this country is responsible for such things. If Putin decides that it is time for Seleznev to leave, he will say: "I have found a different place for you". But he may also consider that everything may remain in its place. This is a form of manageable democracy.

In any Russian provincial town, a person from Moscow, even one with the least authority, immediately takes on the importance of Valentina Matvienko, Mikhail Kasyanov, Vladimir Putin, and other federal leaders, all in one person. As it is likely a federal politician has never visited the town before, they draw a crowd. People come: as many as can be admitted. The questions go like this: "Could you explain why Russia supplies gas to all Europe, while this city has existed for three centuries without any gas?"

Question: What is your explanation?

Yavlinsky: I pose this question in response. I do not come to deliver a prepared speech from the platform, but instead to talk with the people. I ask them to raise their hands if they remember the name of the Duma deputy they elected in 1999. Only ten out of every thousand usually remember. None of these ten knows what their deputy voted for, for instance, when discussing the issue of nuclear waste imports or pensions... Therefore, I say, you have no gas, because you elect someone for some particular purpose.

When asked: "Do we have a bad government?" I respond that the government is average, and no worse than in other countries. The difference is that people abroad monitor the performance of their elected officials, while in Russia we don't. Therefore, the government does whatever it wants. Import any ministers from Europe or America and you will not be able to distinguish them from ours. What other result can you expect from this permissiveness and lack of supervision?

Question: What is this country then?

Yavlinsky: Eighty years of communism is a grave matter. Actually, it still hasn't gone away. A former candidate for the Politburo became leader of democratic Russia. The government today belongs to people from the infamous special services which have always been faithful servants to the communists. When I visit a military unit and officers start to tell me that they are paid 1,000 roubles a month, I ask: whom did you support at the elections? "We always vote for the communists!" Then, I say, you should ask them why the state pays you so little!

Question: What do your voters demand?

Yavlinsky: They ask various questions. What is going on in the armed forces, why do our 80,000 troops in Chechnya think about how to make ends meet rather than how to end the war? They ask why the people are prevented from electing the candidates they want, why at the last moment the courts or the electoral commission are bound to intervene and disqualify the candidates whom the government doesn't like. However, the most frequent issues are problems that concern them personally - prices, the so-called housing and communal reform, wages and pensions. Television does not refer to these issues and the press doesn't write about them. Instead, every news broadcast is full of discussions about the redistribution of Duma portfolios. You know, the other day I went to Sverdlovsk region where I met residents from eight towns. Before the start of such meetings, people are provided with sheets of paper and pencils, so that everyone can write about the issue that concerns them personally. They ask about everything in the world, but guess how many questions out of 1,000 concern the situation in the Duma? Two! Only two!

Question: The people do not care about the Duma?

Yavlinsky: What is there to care about? People are clever, they understand everything.

Sobesednik, April 17-23, 2002

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