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Moskovsky Komsomolets, January 30, 2004

Grigory Yavlinsky: The country is slipping away and there is nothing that can be done about it

Interview with Grigory Yavlinsky by Natalya Gromova

Question: It was rumoured that President Putin congratulated you on victory, when the votes were still being counted in the early hours of December 8.

Yavlinsky: Yes, it was around 2 a.m. The president called to congratulate me and my colleagues. He said the preliminary results for the European part of Russia, for Moscow and St. Petersburg, enabled him to assume that our party had been elected to parliament.

Question: So how do you account for the final results, with YABLOKO's failure? Does that mean the president's information was unreliable?

Yavlinsky: Obviously, the situation changed overnight. To understand what happened, we are manually comparing observer protocols with the official figures from the Central Electoral Commission (CEC). The Communists and the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) have promised to provide copies of their observer protocols. So far we have processed 12,500 protocols - and 16% of them do not correspond to official CEC data.

We have our own theories about what happened and who made the decisions, but we can't talk about that until the documents are ready. There is no doubt, however, that something happened to the results, including our party's results. It will take a bit longer to check the protocols.

Question: But election results cannot be challenged if the level of violations amounts to 25% - so is it worth going to court?

Yavlinsky: All the people who signed and stamped falsified protocols ought to be punished... Is it worth it or not? These are our voters; first of all, they should know the truth. Secondly, citizens have the right to vote as they see fit, and no one has the right to transfer those votes or use them in any way contrary to the voters' intentions. After all, I called on everyone to go out and vote - and since I issued that call, I am responsible for the consequences.

Question: Many of your party colleagues believe that YABLOKO lost because it didn't make its position on the current regime sufficiently clear. You never said straight out that you were in opposition to President Putin; you only said you supported the president on some issues, but not on others.

Yavlinsky: This was a deliberate policy, an attempt to find opportunities for compromise. We know that YABLOKO and the president have entirely different views on all key issues, and he is aware of this as well. But this isn't Yeltsin, after all - this is a regime of a completely different nature, and what's more, it has great public support. As a responsible political party, thinking of future prospects and the implementation of our ideas, we have been studying opportunities for cooperation over the past two years - ever since September 2001. Besides, it is not an essential requirement for a party to heap political abuse on the head of state.

Question: Well, you've been studying, and this is the result. Are you prepared to keep trying?

Yavlinsky: For the past ten years my critics have been saying that I'm unwilling to compromise; now they are criticizing me for seeking a compromise. Last spring, the papers praised YABLOKO for finding a common language with Putin to get into the Duma. Now they're asking why we tried to find common language with Putin - saying that's why we failed to get into the Duma. In such a situation, there's only one option: pay no attention, and do what you believe needs to be done. YABLOKO is organized in such a way that it cannot be forced into a compromise. Some other parties, for example, are so involved in business that speaking out against the regime would simply be fatal for them. They are subsidiaries of the regime, and they were instructed to destroy it - but they failed. We decide for ourselves to what extent we are prepared to compromise, and to what extent we are not.

But the measure of compromise is always determined by abilities. For instance, if we had more voter support, there would be less compromise... But the situation has changed. The parliamentary elections, and the way the Duma has been organized, provide a graphic illustration of what our political system has become. The scope for compromise is decreasing drastically.

Question: If events had turned out more favourably, would your presence in the Duma change anything? Even if YABLOKO had been elected to parliament, your numbers would have been small, and unlikely to influence decision-making.

Yavlinsky: A presence in the Duma would have been useful, in order to help individuals. When we were in parliament, for example, Ivanenko or Lukin could pick up the phone, make a call to any part of Russia, and say that a Duma member is interested in developments in a particular area; and then that person would no longer be physically abused by police or harassed. Civil rights groups could have worked with us, as they have done in the past; we received thousands of letters, and according to our figures, we managed to help around a quarter of the people who wrote to us.

Understandably, if we were still in the Duma, we would have far greater opportunities for strengthening the party and defending our voters. But in terms of influencing Russian politics as a whole, our presence in the Duma would have been of a decorative nature. What's more, it would have made things easier for the regime - YABLOKO would be shown to the rest of the world as evidence that all is well in Russia. Yes, we would have protested very strongly on some issues; but even now, we are still able to criticize laws passed by parliament. It's not just a question of what we do; we can take our criticism to the media, but the papers and television channels might be instructed not to give us any coverage.

Question: The YABLOKO congress decided against endorsing any candidate in the presidential elections, including Putin. Why aren't you running for president this year, unlike previous occasions?

Yavlinsky: At the congress in late December, we concluded that Russia's electoral system had been turned into a farce. That is why the YABLOKO party is not nominating a candidate.

To ensure political competition and opposition, there needs to be an independent judicial system -

As the game is played according to some kind of rules, and somebody has to make sure that they are observed; there needs to be an independent media, to tell the people what you are trying to say; and there need to be sources of funding that are independent from the regime - because it is shameful to take money from the very same people you're fighting in an election.

I was a presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000. In those elections, the aforementioned conditions were not 100% fulfilled, but at least they were partially fulfilled. On both occasions I was able to obtain campaign funding that was independent from the regime. And the media operated differently back then: although they did focus on one candidate, they still provided some coverage of the others at least. But now there isn't anything remotely like that.

Imagine a soccer game. It requires goals, a ball, and a field. Now it feels as if we have neither goals, nor a field, nor a ball - only a signboard displaying the score. As soon as you enter the stadium, you can see who has won, and the score. Participation in such a procedure is impossible - as a matter of principle, it is unacceptable.

Question: It has been alleged that the Kremlin invited you to run for president as the candidate representing democratic forces, and offered you certain guarantees. Is that true or not?

Yavlinsky: I don't play such games.

Question: So what are you actually calling on your supporters to do? Not to vote at all, or vote against all candidates?

Yavlinsky: Personally, I shall not be voting. The decision on what we tell YABLOKO supporters to do will be made in mid-February.

Question: Do you have a problem with the fact that quite a few YABLOKO supporters like Putin?

Yavlinsky: Some of them like Putin, and that's not a problem. We allow a lot of freedom within the party, really. But YABLOKO's position is the position chosen by the party congress. The regime needs to know that it has gone too far in its undemocratic actions.

Question: To date, no Russian party has survived after exclusion from the Duma. Do you really have any hope that YABLOKO will not die - as the SPS has died, to all intents and appearances - and that people won't forget you?

Yavlinsky: No party in Russia has managed it - never in our history, not only in the past decade. Let's wait and see how events develop. If efforts are made to destroy us physically, it will be very difficult. We are not partisans, and I had no plans to create a partisan detachment. Let me cite another possible scenario: the regime might start setting up an extra decorative feature for the system, some sort of ingenious little fortress, calling it a "new right-wing party." Some people might be interested in that. But YABLOKO's core membership and the purpose for its existence will still survive.

And it might so happen that we will be in a position to prepare for the next elections. If so, then enough fighting for 6% of the vote - we should fight for 25%! Because it will only be able to influence events with such a backing.

Question: After December 7, YABLOKO leaders said the party should now concentrate on working outside parliament. What might that entail in the current circumstances? How will you keep your regional branches occupied? After all, if people have no work to do, they'll simply wander away.

Yavlinsky: We'll keep doing what we have been doing: telling people about our ideas, persuading them we are right. We'll keep working in the regions, where we have 400 YABLOKO members in office at various levels. We'll try to carry out several projects aimed at providing specific assistance to people.

Of course, the party should not turn into a band of partisans; it should work on political projects. We can still participate in regional elections and regional government bodies.

Question: Are you still receiving funding from YUKOS?

Yavlinsky: YUKOS kept all its commitments to us as best it could. It is no longer a YABLOKO sponsor. It is too early to say what we will do about funding in the future. Is any company prepared to donate openly now? They might slip you a hundred dollars under the table, so nobody can see; but they won't provide systematic support for a party which is in opposition, has 70,000 members, and 70 regional branches! Donations need to be made officially - I have to present accounts to the Justice Ministry! YABLOKO isn't involved in business, and we don't get any funding from the state...

It's the same problem, once again. We are told to be uncompromising. All right then, I'm uncompromising. But where does a compromise begin? You accept money from someone, and then you need to take their interests into account - or you don't accept it.

Question: So maybe you should just shut down the party, like the SPS, and put it out of its misery?

Yavlinsky: That is out of the question. But it is difficult to build democracy in Russia.

Question: One of YABLOKO's leaders, Igor Artemiev, is about to become a deputy minister to German Gref at the Economic Development and Trade Ministry. And Sergei Mitrokhin seems to be preparing to take a job with Gosstroi. They will become state officials serving the current regime, the regime with which you disagree on many points - and that means they will take responsibility for its actions. Is this normal?

Yavlinsky: Some government posts are political: those who hold them determine policy and personify political power. Other government posts are professional: those who hold them carry out day-to-day work. Unless there is criminal activity involved - like organizing financing for a war that is criminally wrong, for example - all is well. Incidentally, YABLOKO members have held and still hold some of these professional government posts. Let them build on their professional skills, increasing their qualifications.

Question: What if you are offered the post of prime minister after the presidential elections? There have been a number of rumours to that effect.

Yavlinsky: Such matters should only be discussed with the president.

Question: Many people now have the impression that we're firmly stuck in the Soviet era. On the other hand, US Secretary of State Colin Powell just visited Moscow and said he can't see any signs of a return to the past. So are we going through a restoration period or not?

Yavlinsky: We have a system where a single centre of power controls the media, the secret services, business, the courts, parliament, the elections - everything. Who invented this system? It used to take a slightly different form, but it was invented by Stalin in the 1930s.

Colin Powell has too many other concerns. We need to realize that we are building democracy for ourselves, that this is vital for us and that we are not just doing it as a favour to the Americans.

Question: And will this "Stalinist face" be around for a long time to come?

Yavlinsky: Events will develop rapidly - that's what my experience leads me to believe, at least. The times have changed, and the world is different now. Some processes that used to take decades now happen within years or months. I think there will be some major changes over the next five years. Even now, if we're seriously talking of Russia being stable - well, unpredictability is a key featuret. We are stably unpredictable.

A semblance of prosperity is largely tied to oil prices. There are grounds to believe they may remain high for a long time, due to China and India - their economies are booming, with great demand for energy resources. But the rest of the world, including China and India, is interested in keeping oil prices low. I won't go into the fact that some people are trying to invent cars that run on hydrogen - which would really reduce demand for oil.

Russia is pregnant with democracy, and it will be a difficult pregnancy. There is a threat of a miscarriage or toxemia... I'm no gynecologist, and I hesitate to make risky comparisons, but I have the feeling that things will be very difficult; it hasn't even started yet really. The revolution in Russia lasted two days in 1991 - then the Bolsheviks took power again. It's not a question of them being members of the Communist Party, but rather of having a Bolshevik mind-set. And that's how they approached every task, and we have paid a great price for it: two wars, one still smouldering; hyperinflation; impoverishment; a civil war almost breaking out in 1993; the default of 1998...

Russia is slipping away, and there's nothing that can be done about it: look at the demographic figures, the quality of education and health care, the social security system and the Armed Forces. This entire interview could be replaced by one statement: "The president has appointed the prime minister to chair the Anti-Corruption Commission." That sums up the essence of our system.

Question: But you attended the World Economic Forum in Davos - and according to media reports from there, the rest of the world doesn't consider our economic achievements to be illusory: they called Russia a dynamically-developing nation.

Yavlinsky: The Davos forum wasn't interested in Russia. Only real achievements are important there. When the Mariinsky Theatre orchestra played Tchaikovsky, the entire audience at Davos gave it a standing ovation. But they see nothing of interest in Russian politics, and nothing of interest in our economy, apart from high oil prices.

As for growth rates... They were even higher in the Soviet era, although the USSR produced a lot of coal and steel, while now we're producing more oil. That's the foundation of our positive progress. But it's growth without development.

Well, so we have some formal achievements, and some figures. But that's like rejoicing over the fact that a person has very large feet and an enormous body, without paying attention to the person's head or mental development. You keep assessing this citizen's development by his weight, and saying: oh, how splendid, some parts of his body are growing so fast! But development is something entirely different. It means new technology, health care, education, new enterprises being started, universities, science, widespread use of computers... And what do we have? Lots of oil.

Question: What kind of role do you see yourself playing in the future? Andrei Sakharov, the dissident? Mikhail Kasyanov, the prime minister? Or Andrei Illarionov, presidential economic advisor?

Yavlinsky: The role of Grigory Alexeevich Yavlinsky, citizen of the Russian Federation. As for politics, everything will become clearer after the elections in March.


See also:

Understanding Russia

Moskovsky Komsomolets, January 30, 2004

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