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Radio Liberty/ Radio Free Europe, December 3, 2003

Grigory Yavlinsky obtains the Prize for Freedom of the Liberal International

Programme by Vladimir Baburin. Andrei Shariy interviews the leader of the faction of Liberals, Democrats and Reformers in the European Parliament Mr. Graham Watson.

Vladimir Baburin: The Liberal International , the international organisation of the liberal parties, called the leader of the YABLOKO party Grigory Yavlinsky a prize-winner of its annual prestigious Prize for Freedom. The prize has no material dimension, however, according to the leader of the faction of Liberals, Democrats and Reformers in the European Parliament Mr. Graham Watson, it demonstrates a high assessment of the work if the YABLOKO party for development of the civil society in Russia. The liberal democrats is an influential faction of the European parliament which, in particular, joins together the representatives of the German party of the Free Democrats and the party "Margarita" of the present Chairman of the European Commission the Italian Romano Prodi. My colleague Andrei Shariy talked with Mr. Graham Watson about the liberal ideas in Russia.

Andrei Shariy: Mr. Watson, whether the Western ideas of political liberalism coincide with the Russian interpretation of this term?

Graham Watson: Here in Russia "liberal" is considered to mean libertarian free-market right-wing. We are actually a group whose philosophical base draws on the three strands of liberalism: the classical liberalism which is concerned for human rights and human dignity and fundamental citizens' freedoms; the economic liberalism which says that free markets generally deliver the best solution; but also the social liberalism that recognises that you have to have freedom from huger and freedom from poverty if you are to fulfill your potential as an individual. And I would say that we believe in free markets except where the free market fails to deliver the social policy or the environmental policy, as we need to have a healthy society which is when the state should intervene. In my own country it is the Liberal Democrats the party led by Charles Kennedy, in the Netherlands we have the VVD, in Denmark we have both the Venstre Party and the Radikale Venstre Party, in Germany we have the Free Democrats, in Italy - the Margarita, which is Romano Prodi's party. We are actually quite strong across the European Union, if you look across the Union and the candidate states - we have four liberal Prime Ministers, we are in government in 11 countries, we have the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Parliament within our liberal family. Here in Russia we have had very good cooperation for a number of years now with the YABLOKO party. And we a keen to develop closer links, we have a great respect for Grigory Yavlinsky and also many of his colleagues in the Duma and in the YABLOKO party. We believe that they are developing the kind of broad liberalism which we believe Russia needs if it is to move from a society in transition to a society in which civil rights are truly respected, a society in which there are free media, a society in which there is true separation between the judiciary and the legislative power - all of these are classical liberal things which Grigory Yavlinsky has been advancing tirelessly and courageously here in Russia.

Andrei Shariy: And how this free liberal society can be created in Russia? Do you have any advice?

Graham Watson: It is very difficult for me as an outsider to talk to Russians about how their society works, but it seems to me that you are still a society in transition, it's a society which emerged from communism, which is in a sense a capitalist society, but a rather autocratic capitalist society, and which could develop in one of two ways: you could go on to become a Western-European style, if I say in broad terms, a social-democratic or a liberal-democratic country, or you could go more the way of authoritarian capitalism, such as they know in Singapore or in Chile under Pinochet.

Andrei Shariy: How would you assess the election campaign in Russia?

Graham Watson: One of the things that worries me in this election campaign is that I think that the state controls the media which should be in a liberal democracy free of preferences. And it seems to me that the media have been used almost exclusively to support the United Russia, and Mr. Putin's own political ambitions. It seems to me too that the state apparatus has been used to support the current government. I regret this. And I hope that the Russian people will react by returning a good bunch of liberals, in YABLOKO into parliament, to work for a society where the apparatus of government is independent of the political colour and the President and the Prime Minister.

Andrei Shariy: The western-European countries have recently weakened their criticism of those aspects of the Russian policies that seemed inadmissible for Western Europe before. And the European Union chosen not very democratic but stable Putin, did not it?

Graham Watson: I think it is a fair criticism of the Western Europe which at a time of great international tension is interested to have stability in Russia and weakened its criticism of that aspects of Mr. Putin's policies that had to be criticised. Some Western-European politicians that Mr. Putin represents stability, and of course he does in a sense, but certainly not the kind of hope of development toward a liberal democracy which I would like to see.

Undoubtedly a Western European economic agenda which seeks much greater cooperation with Russia and is prepared to limit Europe's criticism of , for example, the appalling situation in Chechnya or problems with the freedom of speech. There is almost a race between the American companies and the European companies to do business with Russia and European companies press onto European cabinets saying "now let's keep quiet about human rights and democratic freedoms about because we want to do business with Russia". My party and the liberal family in Western Europe is very much opposed to that because we believe that we must be engaged in straight talking with Mr. Putin about the way we believe Russia should develop. We were very angry that Silvio Berlusconi representing the European Union failed to do that at the recent summit in Rome.

Andrei Shariy: What do you think about the prospects of development of cooperation between Russia and the European Union?

Graham Watson: I think that there is a great desire in Western Europe to be close to Russia, to have much more cooperation with Russia. At the moment that is hindered by the difficulty for foreign investors to come and make investments here with any legal certainty by the difficulty of having a kind of open and transparent dialogue we would like to have. I hope that developments in Russia will make it easier for us to have these contacts because undoubtedly we have great common interests in dealing with big common problems facing the humankind, we have to be sure that we have common values - between the European Union and Russia - and it is not always evident to us yet from the current Russian government.


Radio Liberty/ Radio Free Europe, December 3, 2003

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