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Yabloko, the party of the democratic opposition
Grigory Yavlinsky, in an interview with the Italian newspaper, La Stampa
December 19, 1999

Yabloko, the party of the democratic opposition, is considered one the favourites in the election race. Its leader Grigory Yavlinsky is the only Russian politician to have spoken against the war in Chechnya. For this position Yavlinsky paid the price in the harshest discussions and was labelled a "traitor" by his rivals.

However, he calmly awaits the election results, citing Academician Sakharov: "When the situation is hopeless, an honest man has nothing to do, other than follow his ideals".

La Stampa: What was the role of the war in Chechnya in this electoral campaign?

Grigory Yavlinsky: The whole political construction in Russia has been built around the war in Chechnya. If it fails, this will imply the collapse of all Russia's policies, rather than the defeat of the motorised brigade that fights there. These policies will have nothing to fall back on. Now Russia's policies are determined by the war in Chechnya to an even greater extent than in 1994. They have staked everything, they have no other game plan. Do you think that the explosions of blocks of flats constituted a joke? They have no other game plan.

La Stampa: Today Russian citizens will go to vote. You have said on a number of occasions that the Duma elections in 1999 will be the elections "once and forever". Why?

Grigory Yavlinsky: These elections take place at a time of a decline in Yeltsin's regime. And they should help to reveal whether this regime will be retained, albeit with slight modifications, or we manage to create something else. Russia's policy is organised in such a way that the right choice can only be made once. Then we can face a long path towards improvement. But the wrong choices may be made again and again. If we make the right choice in 2000 when we elect the President of Russia, we will have more opportunities to make sure that the country opts in 2004 for a normalisation of the situation in the country and approaches the conditions of a normal West European country.

La Stampa: How do you assess these chances?

Grigory Yavlinsky: I am afraid that Russia will teach the world another lesson. It will demonstrate that democracy is only a mechanism. It may bring to power only the groundwork for social values. Democracy may help fascism, nationalism or an open society come to power. Everything depends on the mindset of the general population. If moral, historical and political values are not formed in the country and this is not dictated by education, culture and religion, democratic mechanisms may yield the most unexpected results. If we had held absolutely democratic elections in 1937, with other candidates, and the Pope had counted the votes, it is crystal clear that Stalin would have been elected by majority vote.

La Stampa: How about today?

Grigory Yavlinsky: Today new deeply engrained values are being born. Clearly this process is developing very slowly in Russia. However, I am absolutely convinced that democracy in Russia today is no longer that gentle bloom of 1992-1993. People cannot imagine a country without elections, democracy and freedom. There is nothing other than European values.

We had communism: before then we had the "Russian orthodox church - the tsarist autocracy - national roots, in other words what Nikita Mikhalkov (Ed. famous Russian producer, who ran in the presidential elections in 1995) has talked about. This is a very dangerous structure. Nobody prevented you from reading books for all these 80 years.

We know mathematics better than you do, as we were allowed to do everything in this area. However, social works, philosophy and even fiction were banned. We spent the whole of the 20th century in this state. But very profound fundamental grounds for new value orientation have emerged.

La Stampa: Do you think that they are strong enough already? Many people feel that the opposite has happened: Russia has become increasingly introspective. Militant nationalism has almost become a national ideology.

Grigory Yavlinsky: I can see how new values are evolving in the minds of young people: they are becoming less and less reserved and more natural. And the number of such people is growing. In this electoral campaign I toured the whole country - 35 cities, 49,000 kilometers and personally met 30,000 people. My most important message to the people was that our historic destiny in the next century will be to preserve a Euroasian space as part of European civilisation.

This is something that Russia has done to the best of its ability throughout its history. This is the political reasoning behind the existence of the Russian nation. Wherever I spoke about this, I found understanding. I did not encounter any objections on this issue during the whole four months.

La Stampa: Do you mean that the population of Russia feels that it is part of West European civilisation?

Grigory Yavlinsky: Certainly, there are differences. They are most clearly demonstrated by the fact that in the United States the Public Prosecutor investigates the sex scandals of the President, whereas in Russia the President investigated the sex scandals of the Public Prosecutor. Once the bombing of Yugoslavia began, it became clear that somehow people had grown closer owing to the foolish actions of politicians.

I consider all the people living in Europe to be close to me. I honestly think that we are one nation in the broad sense of the word. Our countries have different histories and the entire 19th and 20th centuries involved clashes of these histories. The next century will be remembered as a clash of civilisations.

But you and I come from the same civilisation. In actual fact we merely differ in time. What will happen earlier: the dissemination of these values as a common norm or explosion of destructive developments that have been imposed on Russia by a narrow but very influential group of the criminal class?

La Stampa: Are you relying here for the West's aid?

Grigory Yavlinsky: I suffered from such an illusion in the past. Now I don't.

La Stampa: Do you believe that there is any chance that the West may better understand the problem of Russia?

Grigory Yavlinsky: If the West guaranteed the signing of the treaty between Yeltsin and Lukashenko... The West invited Lukashenko to Istambul and allowed him to sign all the documents, Clinton embraced him and this was shown on television.

La Stampa: Observers from the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have come to Russia to monitor the elections. Is electoral fraud possible?

Grigory Yavlinsky: Yes, it is most likely.

La Stampa: In 1996 serious falsification occurred, but the West said that everything had been fair.

Grigory Yavlinsky: Recently a lawsuit was won, confirming abuse during the counting of votes in the first round of the presidential elections in 1996. The court said that this had occurred, but this is not important any more.

La Stampa: Can the observers prevent this now?

Grigory Yavlinsky: What I can do about your bureaucracy? We are an open ountry, really an open country - you can go anywhere here, meet and talk to anyone and go anywhere. This is not the Soviet Union. But political tourists come here and no one seriously goes into details.

Ask for a poll to survey where Western observers are at 6 p.m. All of them will be drinking beer. On Monday they will say that everything was fine in polling districts. If they don't see a soldier with an automatic machine gun at a polling district, they believe that everything at this polling district is OK. Your bureaucracy simply cannot engage in such complicated things in Russia.

Prevously we believed that there were only two problems in Russia - fools and roads, whereas you had no single problem. Now we know that you have good roads.

La Stampa: Russian history demonstrates that new values as a rule have not been accorded sufficient time to be deeply engrained in your soil.

Grigory Yavlinsky: Yes, otherwise we would now be living in a normal country.

La Stampa: You have been speaking about a "normal" country. What does this mean for you and for the people in Russia?

Grigory Yavlinsky: This is a country where people can go about their business without risking their lives pursuant to the cultural traditions appropriate in this country.

La Stampa: But this definition also covers socialism...

Grigory Yavlinsky: No, under socialism people only felt secure, if they did as they were told by their superiors. Otherwise they were liquidated. Socialism managed to last for such a long time, as most people believed that this was how things should be. But it transpired that this was not sufficient. People needed personal freedom, to be human and be engaged in creative work.

La Stampa: What does Russia need to become a "normal" country?

Grigory Yavlinsky: Why did Poland, the Czech Republic and other countries of Eastern Europe succeed in the reforms, while Russia didn't? Because these countries underwent democratic revolutions. In Russia however, the rulers merely changed their clothes. The same people remained in power, but wore different clothing. That is the reason why Russia could not succeed. These new rulers employed the "young reformers" for the service. And they "succeeded" in their task: they increased Russia's foreign debt to $158 billion, thereby providing a stable source of existence for the post-communist nomenclatura. Therefore, the present elections should provide an answer to the most important question: will we finally witness a democratic revolution in Russia?

La Stampa: And if we don't?

Grigory Yavlinsky: If the parliamentary and presidential elections prolong the reign of the criminal communist nomenclatura and the oligarchs profit, this situation may go on endlessly. Since 1991 we have continued to miss the turns onto the correct road, as we turn further from it. This resembles two diverging curves: it becomes more difficult to turn back to the correct path, by peaceful means, through democracy and elections.

ei Stepashin on Grigory Yavlinsky's proposals