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Rehabilitation of democracy in Russia
Sergey Mitrokhin's Position of the Yabloko faction in a discussion with ideological opponents
Biznes i Politika
Moscow, February 1995

Calls for the 'democrats to unite' have already made my mouth sore. Consequently I would prefer not to answer them once again. However, I feel that I have to, as the two sources of such calls - political intrigue and political ignorance - both remain very dangerous. They pose a threat to the future of democracy.

At present the Yabloko faction has been the most consistent opposition force in Russia's parliament. This opposition has adhered to the following openly declared positions: - a refusal to accept the way power is structured at present; a rejection of the pro-presidential Constitution; a demand for a parliamentary investigation into the events that took place on October 3-4 1993 (Editor: when riots occurred and were followed by the bombing of Russia's parliament); - refusal to support the unrealistic draft budgets for 1994 and 1995 proposed by the government; rejection of presidential drafts on electoral legislation; condemnation of inept military action in Chechnya.

For some reason all the other factions demonstrated their loyalty to the President: they failed to share at least two of the positions expressed by Yabloko (for example, the communists, failed to share positions 2 and 4). Russia's Choice - which has expressed more and more frequently a desire for a merger with our party - adopted an opposite viewpoint on the first four issues. Currently the LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) represents an absolute antithesis to Yabloko. It has been the most consistent pro-presidential faction in the State Duma.

Yabloko's ideology has evolved in response to a number of social and political challenges.

- a fiasco of the radical phase of the democratic movement, after the democrats supported the act of political vandalism that occurred on October 3-4 and Yeltsin's anti-democratic Constitution; the collapse of the radical-liberal project of economic reforms associated with Yegor Gaidar's name; the growth of authoritarian and oligarchic trends in society.

Ideology is a special form of intellectual creativity with its own attributes. An acute polemical aspect is one such attribute: ideology evolves in the polemics of some opponents who can always be ranked in terms of their importance by the development of key ideological principles. The communist party was opponent number 1 for the democrats of the radical-populist wave of 1989-1991. Since then the radical democrats have represented our main opponent.

Yabloko stands out owing to the constant need to oppose the advocates of a primitive and hopelessly discredited image of democracy, who were formerly united under the banners of Democratic Russia to obtain more and more power for Boris Yeltsin. The mindset of these democrats who backed Boris Yeltsin after some insignificant changes is represented politically by Russia's Choice. However, we have seen no evidence to indicate that this party is inclined to revise some of the radical positions that were decisive for its predecessors and present members. Despite this fact, the leader and other representatives of Russia's Choice constantly repeat calls for a union with Yabloko. They consider Yabloko's ideological differences as insignificant and attribute them to mere ambition.

But we believe that these differences are essential, especially in terms of one's understanding of democracy, the methods of developing a democracy in our society and the principles of democratic behaviour in politics. That is why we are ready to explain, repeatedly and patiently, the positions that prevent us (the members of the Yabloko faction) from regarding the democrats who supported Boris Yeltsin and their successors from Russia's Choice as our 'brothers-in-arms'.

Yabloko's view of democracy is diametrically opposed to the coarse comprehension of democracy expressed by radicals. Here we differentiate our views according to the following parameters.

Differences between the institutional and individual approach

According to Yabloko, democracy implies a system of legally established institutions and procedures; it is regarded by radical democrats as the power of certain individuals, involving the common ownership of some aggregate emotions and ideas. An individual approach here implies a democracy based on a dictatorship of democrats. Consequently the cult of Pinochet is extremely popular with these people. Radicals are prepared to term any dictatorial moves by the President as 'defence of democracy', provided that these actions coincide with their emotions and views. Taking their loyalty to extremes, they forgave their idol not only his mistakes, but also his crimes. The temptation of sensibility often served as a pretext for any failure to adhere to the principle of compliance with the law. This is categorically unacceptable for Yabloko. In our opinion, when the authorities pursue their political goals, compliance with democratic procedures (in other words, laws) is as important as their actual goals.

The 1993 Constitution represents the apotheosis of individual thinking, whereas the hybrid form of governance was only chosen to provide unproportionally large powers to a certain figure - Boris Yeltsin.

In general a very strange understanding of presidential power has emerged in Russia. Nobody knows the reason why people believe that there should necessarily be a strong power, when they imply by this term the absence of any controls over power. This understanding - which became the ideological basis of the new Constitution - rapidly led to a deterioration of power, rather than its consolidation: a lack of external controls deprived this power of any sense of internal self-regulation.

Yabloko adheres to a principally different opinion, whereby the source of power for the executive authority involves strict control over its actions by parliament and society. Such control is required to both prevent widespread abuse of executive power and make it as effective as possible. The restoration of a balance in the executive branches of power constitutes one of the central tenets of Yabloko's political programme. Here we are also irreconcilable opponents of Russia's Choice, which backed passionately the pro-presidential version of the Constitution in December 1993. If we bear this fact in mind, the actual criticism by Russia's Choice of the actions of the Russian authorities in Chechnya looks paradoxical, as the possibilities for such arbitrary rule result directly from the provisions of the present Constitution.

Difference between confrontation-based and stability-based policy models

Yabloko regards democracy in a positive light as an effective system for distributing power and encouraging the authorities to work for society, rather than for themselves. The radicals value most its negative aspects: they consider democracy as a negation of communism, a tool to be used in the struggle against the CPRU (Communist Party of Russia), the so-called "red-and-browns". Their favourite means of mobilizing opinion is to boost negative emotions by referring to the return of the nomenclatura and the advance of fascism, etc. However, it is obvious that attempts to nurture confrontation and fan public hysteria constitute the basic framework for radical and extremist movements.

If we want to eliminate the grounds for such movements, we must engage in patient and positive work to create the pre-requisites of social peace rather than hysteria. One of Yabloko's proclaimed goals is to switch from holding meetings to discus ideas with the public to engaging in daily work with different social and professional groups that does not imply quick success. The main resource here is the intellect rather than mere speech.

Correspondingly, ideas expressed by radicals about the victory of democracy are painted in "repressive" colours: this represents the total and utter defeat of communism/fascism. Here the marxist paradigm of policy (that is deeply ingrained in "Soviet soil") was proclaimed as a ruthless battle between different parts of society, followed by the final suppression of one group. The enthusiasm of ruthless fighting runs deep through all the political actions of the presidential team and is the initial source of the bloody tragedies that occurred in Moscow in Autumn 1993 and in Chechnya in 1994-1995.

Irrespective of the aims and goals of such policy, such enthusiasm is destructive for society and rules out all prospects for stabilisation in Russia. Yabloko regards stability as the most important goal required for the development of democratic institutions. The social prerequisites for democracy are created through gradual consolidation, achieved on the basis of a balance of interests and finally through the consensus of different political forces over minimum set values.

Another basic tenet of the Bolshevik mindset is inherent in the revolutionary thoughts of radical democrats. Their obsession with eliminating everything is reminiscent of the Soviet era, which caused considerable harm and involved payment in blood. But the difference between the reforms and the revolution concerns adherence to a [succession] principle. The events and the institutions that continue to function and serve people should not be subject to mindless interruption, especially when there is no clear vision on how they should be changed. For example free state education and health care were undoubtedly positive achievements of the Soviet era. Any attempt to rapidly privatise and commercialise these areas would lead to social catastrophe. We should be very careful if we move in this direction; we should realise that the state will never be able to abandon its role in some fundamental structures in education and health care to voluntary market behaviour.

Attitude to corruption

Yeltsin's democrats have displayed a shameful tolerance of corruption. They often sought ideological market excuses for this vice of the state, which would not affect the authority of these democrats. They are to blame for the rejection by mass consciousness of democracy and its subsequent identification of democracy with corruption. The myth that primary accumulation of capital justifies economic crimes inflicted colossal damage on the Russian state. However, nobody has been able to prove the hypothesis that dirty capital can be transformed into clean money.

Yabloko thinks that the elimination of corruption in all the levels of state power is dependent above all on the following: the clearly proclaimed intention of the country's political leadership to eradicate corruption. Today our authorities lack this will. Corruption by the state executive authorities cannot be justified by the idea of some political, economic or other benefit. The joint will of the people embodied in the institution of the state must never be harmed by private self-interest. The state won't be able to protect citizens from criminals without first eradicating crime in its structures. And this is its first and foremost duty.

Priority of a civil society

The first set of democrats were characterised by a failure to tackle the problems of self-governance and a civil society. It was assumed that the latter would emerge independently, as soon as the state will liberated the citizens from its care. The system of soviets (Ed. local councils under the communist regime) may be criticised for many things. However, we must admit that at its lowest level (district level) it could have become a real prototype for fully fledged local self-government. Is this the reason why the soviets were eliminated by Boris Yeltsin in October-November 1993 to the applause of the so-called democratic camp? Consequently Russia lacks today the most important unit of democratic order - a self-governed territorial community. At the same time local executive authorities, subject to a situation of absolute deregulation, demonstrate the wonders of administrative arbitrariness.

Today, when the shoots of self-government have been eradicated from Russian soil, the President has the requisite resources to engage in pompous ceremonies, where people - who had until recently applauded the decision to stifle self-government - can now express their belief in such structures.

Yabloko believes that it is the state's duty to create an infrastructure of local self-government, which can assume most of the responsibility for resolving vital problems that no other state authority can handle. State guarantees of support and protection of other vital basic forms of independent organisation by citizens (housing associations, primary school and other school commissions, youth organisations, mutual assistance groups, professional associations, leisure and sport clubs, etc) are of principle importance here.

In general, we regard the state as the most important instrument for building a civil society, which is also required by the state as a partner, which can resolve many of the problems that the country has to face today.

Role of the state in the economy

A key ideological provision separates Yabloko from Russia's Choice: our view on the state's role in the development of a market economy. Contrary to the followers of Yegor Gaidar, the advocates of Grigory Yavlinsky think that the state cannot "abandon" the economy, until it has created the requisite market infrastructure, preventing its development into various monopolies, criminalisation and extreme social risks. Even when this has been achieved, the state cannot completely "abandon" the market. Its new role will comprise maintenance of the levers that prevent a widening in the gap between market anarchy, chaos and public interest.

The restructuring of the economy's institutional base (a form of monetarism that leaves intact the fundamental sources of inflation is alien to our principles) rather than so-called financial stabilisation is at the core of Yabloko's economic policy. A well-considered policy of enterprise recovery programmes and bankruptcies is our alternative to the absurdity of non-payments. Yabloko regards the course towards economic integration with the CIS countries as a way to gradually restore the links that were broken above all by the activities of radical reformers.

Yabloko believes that the technocratic approach to economic reforms which has developed since 1992 is unacceptable. This approach relates to a form of absolutism, based on purely economic parameters for reform, involving a complete disregard for their social, environmental and cultural implications. In particular, we regard the decline in living standards and abrupt polarisation of incomes as social costs that must be reduced to a minimum when reforms are implemented, in order to maintain social stability for the short term and long term.

Culture and the environment as political priorities

The reforms must not be conducted in a way that sacrifices long-term resources for one-off economic interests. We understand culture in the broadest sense of the word - from the ability to give birth to the greatest level of intellectual creativity, to high quality mass education (at all levels), correct daily behaviour, stable families and work ethics. These are the most important resources. An integrated culture, where the lowest mass consciousness is closely connected to high "elite" specimens, represents the most fundamental dimension of national capital. Such capital is more powerful than a rich raw material base. If we lack such a culture, which generates highly skilled labour and entrepreneurial initiative, we cannot even think about eradicating such a global evil as crime and create a progressive economy based on advanced technologies and scientific achievements.

Education, culture and science cannot be abandoned to the arbitrariness of the market. It is up to the state to establish a system of careful selection and financing of research teams, programmes, projects and technologies capable of becoming a structural foundation for society's cultural and intellectual development. Current developments in science, education and culture caused by the radical reforms are tragic owing to their ability in both the short and long term to multiply: it has transpired that developments in this area, both useless and empty, are on the verge of causing total collapse.

There is another dimension of national capital, which can like culture be very easily broken if treated thoughtlessly, but which is very difficult to restore. We are referring here to the wholesome nature of a healthy environment. We cannot accept a situation where the Russian environment can become the victim of economic, technocratic or some other experiments. Ecological principles should not become only repressive restrictions imposed from the outside, but also a regular factor of economic policy.

At the same time, in their pursuit of one-off economic profit, the government of the so-called "reformers' sacrificed environmental interests on a number of occasions. For example, the Yabloko faction has ever since its formation been waging an endless struggle against the practice of burying the nuclear waste of foreign countries in Russia. Such practice is very profitable for the budget and the nuclear complex, but is fraught with unpredictable cost for future generations of Russia's citizens.

We could continue outlining the list of our differences. However, there are obviously enough. So it is easy to understand the absurdity of trying to unite such different parties as Yabloko and "Russia's Choice". It is clear that they both advocate diametrically opposing reform programmes. As the successor of radical tradition, Russia's Choice acts as a party that discredited its programme in the eyes of most of Russia's population. If we agreed to some form of coalition with this party, Yabloko would be indicating to society that it intended to follow the same route and could not offer anything more attractive. Consequently, Yabloko would lose both its present authority and also any hopes of rehabilitating democracy in Russia

ei Stepashin on Grigory Yavlinsky's proposals