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www.yavlinsky.ru, September 15, 2004

What Happened to Russia?

By Grigory Yavlinsky
An abbreviated version of the article was published in Vedomosti on September 17, 2004

We can no longer live as if nothing happened simply because the incident did not directly affect our relatives or us. This has already happened. One can certainly hide from a flood under the bed, but soon the flood will flow there and will cover both you and your bed. The developments are such that it is important to contemplate them calmly and unemotionally. The problem of terrorism in Russia is so complex and intricate that it can only be resolved if you apply an objective and impartial approach with the help of logic. The price of error has increased many times.


Terrorist attacks leading to the deaths of innocent, and unarmed people, children and women have no justification whatsoever - either political, or moral, or religious, or ideological.

A hostage rescue operation ALWAYS follows the sole and supreme goal of saving human lives.

All the other goals - punishment of terrorists, state prestige, personal ambition, etc - are of secondary importance. Assaults are possible only as a last resort and only in the event of a mortal threat to hostage lives.

In Beslan the federal centre did not clearly set the priorities: that the sole and supreme goal is the salvation of hostages, children, first of all.

A headquarters with real and absolute proxies were not established on the spot. A chief of the headquarters who would have the right and be obliged to adopt ANY decisions to save the hostages' lives, including recommendations on whether and how the President should personally have participated in this process, was not appointed.

There was no political decision by the Kremlin on negotiating contacts. That is why possible contacts of Aslakhanov, Dzasokhov and Zyazikov with terrorists did not take place. Only Ruslan Aushev held any contacts, which turned out to be relatively successfully but had no continuation.

The President did not find anyone in the FSB, the interior and the defence ministries or the Security Council who could direct the operation. He had to adopt not only political but also many tactical and technical decisions (including negations - who should go to the school and who should not) on the operation and instead of a specially created headquarters found himself virtually in constant dialog with the terrorists.

I think the President is well aware that he bears huge responsibility for what happened.

From the military point of view the situation was extremely difficult: most of the hostages was children and there were over 1,000 hostages. It was impossible to isolate the overexcited population of the city and its suburbs. In addition armed people in civilian clothing and some groups of militants emerged at the site who feared that a storm like that the one at Dubrovka might take place and said that is why the authorities had announced the number of hostages almost a thousand less than the actual number did not obey general orders and independently tried to rescue the hostages.

The delay predetermined an unexpected breakdown of the situation. Today it is no longer that important to know what exactly triggered the situation: an incidental explosion at the school, uncontrolled action by [civilian] militants shooting on the school building or something else. This resulted in chaos and a hard long fight that led to the catastrophe. The situation was unprecedentedly difficult. It is hard to imagine how the special forces could have handle this situation in view of the lack of political clarity, lack of resolution and delays.


Certainly, international terrorism was an integral part of the tragedy in Beslan. But this is not the most important thing. Writing everything off to external factors means hiding from the problem and never amending the situation.

Fifteen years of policies of humiliation, taming, deceit and suppression of the people in Chechnya can lead only to tragic consequences. Such a situation does not make it possible to issue any positive forecast for Russia.

The need for a thoughtful and responsible economic policy for the whole of the North-Caucasian region is obvious. Jobs (at present unemployment reaches 80% in the region), roads, modern infrastructure, education, healthcare are required. In short, we must help the Northern Caucasus rise to the level of an average region in Russia. This is expensive: according to our estimates this would amount to 6-7% of GDP over the next 10-15 years. However, if we don’t do this, Russia will lose the Caucasus or developments in the Caucasus will ruin Russia.


It is impossible to resolve the problems in the Northern Caucasus without consistent and persistent democratisation of the living standards of the people. In other words the people will to a large extent determine who will rule them. The continuing violence by the federal centre has no perspectives.

We must immediately bring a halt to the arbitrary rule of the defence, interior and the security - disappearance of people, tortures, victimization, murders and punitive operations. The most important thing is to create friends for Russia in the Caucasus instead of new enemies, or else the "shahid'" parade will never end.

Are negotiations needed? Negotiations are always needed, first and foremost with one's political opponents or even enemies, and certainly with those who played active role in all recent elections, but were cast into the shadows under Moscow's orders. Political negotiations (these are not about negotiating contacts about hostages!) are not conducted with murderers, kidnappers or participants of terrorist actions. Although difficult, it is absolutely essential that we separate these groups. There may be any agenda for negotiations, but they should take place only on the basis of the Constitution of Russia and Russian laws.


It will soon be 10 years since Boris Yeltsin launched the first war in Chechnya, and five years since Vladimir Putin supported by so-called right-wing politicians ("The Russian Army is reborn in Chechnya"), as well as a great number of mass media, resumed it. The result is clear: The war is destroying Russia and merging with international terrorism.

The streak of terrorist attacks (culminating with the horror of Beslan) has confirmed that Russia has a systemic problem. The various immediate responses - the investigative commissions of the Council of Federation, [President's] proposal on abolishing the election of governors, the creation of neighbourhood patrols, the firing of the security, interior and defence ministers and the dismissal of regional governments, etc. - are not only insufficient, they are bringing us to the point of a senseless imitation of activity and the quelling of public opinion. If we continue appealing to a shop-window democracy with definite demands, we merely strengthen an incapable system through our personal participation.

This does not mean that we don't need to change the staff in the law and enforcement and intelligence services, or that we don't need to strengthen oversight and control. All this is necessary. But in our situation, all these scratches on the surface do not resolve the problem of security. To confront terrorism, we need to fundamentally change the political and economic system that has evolved in Russia over the past ten years.

This system, which is not new for Russia, has at least seven distinctive features - virtual absence of the following: an independent and politically meaningful mass media; an independent parliament; an independent judiciary with courts and prosecutors obedient only to law; civil control over intelligence and the law and enforcement agencies; the absence of free elections; and the complete fusion of business and government; and rule by clans.

Clearly, the organic medium for such a system is widespread corruption, the suppression of independent parties and opinion, and the fragmentation and deterioration of civic organizations.

What is the public face of this system? Only LIES AND EVASIONS. We see this daily. And we saw even more of it during the tragedy in Beslan.

We should also add here that this system has not emerged overnight. It was conscientiously specially built under the slogans "We shall do as in China," "It is too early for us yet," "Our people are like this," "We need to do it like this now and we shall subsequently do this properly”, "We are not ready for this yet," and "Democracy is not for Russia." Our valiant elite has engaged in this process, including many well-known journalists.

Political scientists, PR experts, politicians, bureaucrats, oligarchs, etc. were some of the first ones to do this, under Boris Yeltsin's guidance at first and then especially successfully under Vladimir Putin's. This was called a “managed democracy", "the vertical of power," "stability," "strong power," "popular president," "unity of the country," "the third way," "Eurasia," "multi-polar world," etc:

This system is perfectly suitable for a narrow group of people that calls itself "the state," and for their economic interests. And naturally the intelligence and law and enforcement services are designed to provide security for this group: they are not suited for protecting citizens from danger, terrorism inclusive.

So it is not so important to understand what actually happened, who did what or made which decisions. The main problem is that the whole system reacted to protect those in power, their priorities, their ambitions - and not the people, not the children.

And the present system has been always acting like this, automatically, whether it is a terrorist attack, economic default or the war in Chechnya.

A regime, acting on the basis of the principle of attaining political victories at all costs and announcing defeats as victories to maintain state prestige, develops radical moods, provokes a concealed rise of crime and extremism that come on the surface in the most ugly forms.

Whom the authorities are preparing the ground for? Who can replace them and who will do away with them, accusing the authorities of these developments? Judging by the prerequisites and the set of instruments prepared for taking power in an authoritarian system, where everything in the country is controlled from one room, this can be a fascist group. They will need only one day to take control at the top.. The bureaucracy will not even squeal.

And the so-called West will keep silent, and maybe even applaud a couple of times, as the country has the most weapons of mass destruction and energy resources. Therefore the West chooses the best option for itself -"anything, but war."

The conclusion is clear: the present political and socio-economic system in Russia cannot protect the country from terrorism, create a competitive modern economy or ensure a dignified life for its citizens. Cosmetic measures, dismissals and appointments, commissions and decrees will not help.

Yet this is not the whole problem. In view of current living conditions on the ruins of the Soviet system, under the leadership of the worst elements of the Soviet nomenclature and the total breakdown of all moral and cultural guideposts, the mass organized manipulation and fooling of the people has borne fruits. Unfortunately this very system fits the country, the so-called modern Russian society and also reflects some important international trends.

Life after Beslan demonstrates a very sad thing: it looks as if the country lacks not only a civil society, but any society at all. There are good people, and there are many of them, but there is no society. Everyone has been talking only about Beslan: as if there were no explosions of apartment blocks in Moscow, deaths of passengers on aircrafts: they don't recall Ingushetia, Dubrovka (the terrorist act in the theatre) or any of the developments in Chechnya during all these years. Adaptation and fear of the authorities dictate the pattern of behaviour for the absolute majority - submission and pantophagy.

In this situation there is no one to change the system. Politics represents a human activity which appeals to social foundations: morals, ethics, ideas and culture. Sometimes the temporary oblivion of the foundations is compensated for by dynamic economic development: however, in a situation where these foundations are challenged and fail to survive, politics inthe modern sense of the word loses its meaning.

What happened to Russia? It drowned. In lies and cynicism.


Still, we have to swim on. We cannot sink to the bottom of this sea of cynicism and lies. Many people cannot live on in this way. After getting a taste of truth and freedom once, hoping that it will be possible to live in Russia and human dignity will be observed, they have become inner defectors.

The broad signposts are absolutely there: Our Constitution, with all its many imperfections, presupposes a real separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial; public television and the abolition of censorship; civil control over the activities of the government and the security forces; the inviolability of private property, and fair competition.

And we could continue this list indefinitely. The European system of organisation of life, politics and economy (and Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and other countries that resembled us too much in the past) is real and efficient, despite all its drawbacks. Therefore we have most of the answers to the question, "What to do?" The main question is how.


First step: a widespread public demand for open access to politically significant mass media, and an end to unconstitutional state censorship.

Critically minded politicians, representatives of civil organisations, bona fide intellectuals and well-known public figures from Russia's regions should enter into systematic direct dialogue with people, voters and the country. At least a monologue addressed to the supreme power is needed at first.

This would enable people to express different points of view on the developments in the country, to explain the nature of terrorism in Russia, to talk about corruption, about the shadow economy, treachery in the secret services, the YUKOS case and all the other subjects that are forbidden today. We should put forward a DEMAND for information openness in the country to avoid suppression of any sensible voices that do not coincide with the official point of view, so that the propaganda of faked well-being would be stopped. At the same time we should be ready for a situation where television will conscientiously marginalise the role of public opinion with the help of political provocateurs, plotters or chatter-boxes.

At first we should for the first time in all these years try to obtain a serious discussion and the country should learn about it. Certainly access to real facts is a condition for such a discussion, it cannot be based on information asserting that there were 354 hostages in the school. We should struggle to make people understand and the authorities acknowledge that military correspondents of the Russian media are not agents of the terrorists or militants, but are grown up and responsible people, true patriots capable of independent decision-making. The authorities should stop silencing them when they want to tell people that there are not 354, but over 1,200 hostages in the school, and that a crowd of armed and uncontrolled people stands by the school building and this will lead sooner or later to a catastrophe.

In addition the TV should have the right not only to cite the official lies, that the main version of the accident with two aircrafts that were simultaneously blown up was technical defect, but to draw their own conclusions during the broadcasting.

We need a real, massive street campaign against lies and for freedom of speech. This campaign could bring together everybody who considers himself to represent the real opposition. It is not difficult to invent slogans for such a campaign: "Down with state censorship!", "Down with corruption on television!" and "Take official lies to court!"

Eventually, that could lead to a dialogue with the leadership of the country, a round table talk with them and the first honest elections. But all this will happen later. We simply need to let people talk and listen. Through open national debate which is not subject to manipulation, we could gradually develop a fundamental idea of what our country is, based on freedom, responsibility and moderation.


See also:

Act of Terror in Beslan

War in Chechnya

International Anti-Terror Coalition

www.yavlinsky.ru, September 15, 2004

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