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Grigory Yavlinsky

Speech by Aleksandr Shishlov, Deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation (the Yabloko faction) at the symposium "Challenges to the Survival of Democratic Reform in Russia"

Moscow, March 22, 1999

I represent the Yabloko party faction in the Duma. Yabloko is a liberal party that was founded in 1993. The leader of Yabloko is Grigory Yavlinsky, who ran as a candidate in the 1986 presidential election. Mr. Yavlinsky will run for president in the next election in the year 2000. The Yabloko faction has 46 seats in the State Duma out of a total of 450 seats. We got between 7-8 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections in 1995 and the presidential elections in 1996. In St. Petersburg, where I am the chair of the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko, we got 16 percent of the vote at that time. Now, public support for Yabloko is increasing, and we have not less than 11-12 percent support in Russia and about 20 percent in St. Petersburg. The dynamics are good for us and we have more public support than before, Our goal in the upcoming parliamentary elections this December is to get about 100 seats. Our leader will definitely stand for the presidential elections in June of the year 2000, or perhaps earlier.

The main values of the Yabloko party are human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. We stand for a market economy and private property. We stand for reforms which would benefit the majority of the population, not only a handful of people with close relations with governmental officials or former Soviet nomenclatura. This is crucial distinction between Yabloko and other parties like the Democratic Choice of Russia, headed by Mr. Gaidar and Mr. Chubais. Yabloko opposed the war in Chechnya, which was started by President Yeltsin. Yabloko did not support the governments of Chernomyrdin and Kirienko. Yabloko voted against the state budgets proposed by these governments from 1994 through 1998. We consider Yabloko to be the democratic opposition in Russia.

We are preparing very seriously now for the next general parliamentary elections and the next presidential elections, because we consider these forthcoming elections to be critically important for Russia, and we think that the results will affect Russia not only for a term of four years, but for several decades to come. And they will affect not only Russia. This will be a choice whether Russia will become a quasi-Democratic oligarchy with features of "robber capitalism," or if instead it will take the road to becoming a normal western style democracy with a competitive market economy. I think Communism is no longer an option. This was shown in the 1996 presidential election.

Russia is coming to this fork in the road with very serious problems. The everyday life of the voters is affected by the consequences of the August 1998 crisis, which was an absolutely natural result of the government's economic policy, a policy which was by the way supported by western advisors and by many western politicians.

Speaking briefly about the consequences of the August crisis, I may point to such factors as the collapse of real income, which has fallen by 40 percent overall, and by 50 percent for pensioners. Unemployment has risen up to 12 percent. Prices have increased by more than 100 percent. So far this year, they have already gone up by 14.5 percent. I would like to emphasize that this crisis developed as a result of an economic policy that was based on macroeconomic approach aimed at low inflation, a stable exchange rate, and also large use of foreign and domestic loans. This policy was accompanied by an unrealistic tax system, criminalization, corruption, a lack of governmental support to small and medium businesses to create new jobs, significant governmental support to a small number of tycoons, and the absence of a competitive market.

Speaking about political developments over the past few years, I may mention the lack of a political infrastructure, including the weakness of Russia's political parties, undeveloped civil society, and the serious problem of the Russian Federation itself and of relations between the central federal government and the regions. Unfortunately, the new Russian government headed by Mr. Primakov cannot yet manage most of these problems. As you probably know, in 1998 Yabloko proposed Mr. Primakov as an appropriate candidate for prime minister. I may explain the reasons for Yabloko proposing Mr. Primakov. This is because we thought that he was probably the only person who could manage the political crisis that developed in August and September 1998. We saw that Mr. Primakov could guarantee free elections if they were to happen ahead of schedule. He had the support of the army and security forces. He did not have links to so-called oligarchs. He could be supported by the Duma, and he had no presidential ambitions, at least at that time.

Now we see that the political crisis have been resolved. However, the economic crisis has not. Communists manage the economic block in the government, and they cannot propose a clear economic strategy. Another major problem is corruption within governmental structures. Of course, there was corruption in the former governments, as well. But we may suspect that it still exists in the present government. A lot of publications in the media demonstrate this, and we are very worried about the lack of reaction from the high governmental officials.

The decrease in people's living standards is a major basis for the rise of extremist sentiments in society. Poverty is the best soil for growing Communism, nationalism, anti-Semitism. I am sure you have heard about the anti-Semitic statements of General Makashov, M.P. and Mr. Ilyukhin, M.P. We must recognize that there are many people who support them. But more dangerous is the lack of strong reaction from the governmental bodies. I may add that there is now in the Duma there a draft resolution to condemn anti-Semitic statements by Makashov, and several times Yabloko has proposed to put it to a vote. But the Communists are doing all they can to postpone the voting, and I am sure they will not vote for it. So we may say that anti-Semitism had been the state policy in Soviet times, when Communists ruled the country, and now it is once again the voice of Communists.

So what may be done to overcome the crisis, to fortify the emerging democracy and civil society in Russia, to make Russia a reliable partner in the world economy? We need a government that does not lie to its citizens or to investors, a government that respects and supports institutions of civil society. We need a government ready to fight against corruption and the criminalization of the economy. We need a clear and logical economic program. Yabloko proposes such a program, which includes tax reform, control over monopolies of raw materials, reasonable financial policies, state support for small and medium businesses, reinforcement of the customs regime at Russia's borders, and many other measures.

I may say that since August 1996 through December 1998, we had an opportunity to apply some of our ideas in St. Petersburg, where one of my colleagues from Yabloko governed the city finances and served as vice governor. The result was a balanced city budget, the growth of small business, decrease of city debts, comparatively high credit rating of the city, and no default on city bonds, contrary to the state bonds. Unfortunately, now Yabloko has withdrawn our representatives from the city government because of changes in the governor's policy, particularly because of his support of semi-criminal Communist, and even anti-Semitic candidates during the city legislative elections three months ago. But the experience of St. Petersburg clearly shows that it is possible to run the reasonable economic policy in Russia.

Concluding my presentation, I would like to make some remarks concerning the position of the West regarding the challenges and troubles in Russia. I will not talk about the potential danger of Soviet nuclear and chemical materials if they should fall under the rule of a corrupt oligarchy, or what would happen if there would be a loss of control of these arsenals. I think you all recognize that. This is only one of the reasons for the west to prefer Russia to be a stable and wealthy state. So if you recognize the importance of Russia to the West and the United States, we must support a policy that as far as possible does not challenge the development of democracy reforms in Russia. And in this respect, I might say that some of the West's operations, such as NATO expansion, have treated Russia I think in a wrong way. From my point of view, the policy of NATO expansion was an example of a two-faced policy. On one hand, Western politicians say that Russia is going in the right direction, and reforms in Russia are good. But from the other hand they went ahead with NATO expansion, explaining that there is a different NATO today than before, that it is no longer purely a military organization, and so on. But people realize that this is a two-faced policy. It would probably be better to be more honest and say that the West still does not believe in Russia's reforms. I think it would be better for real prospects of Russian democracy.

Look at the West's policy regarding the crisis in Kosovo. You know that many Western politicians are seriously discussing the bombing of Serbs in the next few days. Maybe you do not know that there is one famous politician in Russia who is waiting for the bombing eagerly. He even talked about it publicly last week at the meeting with Prime Minister Primakov. This politician is Mr. Zhirinovsky. He said that it will be the best thing if America will start bombing, because this will increase anti-American mood in Russian society, and will help him to win more seats in the Parliament, because now there is absolutely no guarantee that he will get any seats for his faction in the next Russian Duma. But certainly, that is not the most serious reason to think twice before bombing the Serbs. Bombing will encourage Serbs to be more aggressive and intolerant. Bombing will not create the stability in the Balkans. And by the way, we remember that the First World War began in that region. So we think we must be very careful about military decisions. We must do everything we can to find a peaceful solution with every kind of pressure that is possible.

Another thing I would like say is that I have a feeling that the West prefers to promote personalities rather than institutions. And I am afraid that the danger comes when the West while promoting the rhetoric of democracy and capitalism, backs Yeltsin, or Yegor Gaidar, or Chubais, or Chenomyrdin and others, even when they embark on actions that do not promote democracy or markets. When Yeltsin ordered tanks to fire at the Russian parliament, the West supported him, as they did at least publicly when he ordered the army to start the war in Chechnya. And we remember it in Russia.

Finally, do not treat us as a second class democracy. Apply to Russia the same criteria of democracy and market economy that you apply to your own country. Be honest in monitoring Russian elections, Russian freedoms, do not suggest that we should elect a president you would not wish for yourselves. Never give us advise you would not be willing to take yourselves. We belong to different histories, but we belong to one civilization.

The choice of which path Russia takes to the next century is mostly Russia's but the decision will effect all of us. The decisions made by both Russia and the West will influence the choice. Our goal, the goal of Yabloko party, is civil society, real democracy, human rights and freedoms, really competitive market, with a strict antimonopoly policy. We do not accept the imagined dictatorship of crime and corruption. Yabloko has absolutely no doubts that a free and democratic country can be built in Russia. It may be not the greatest power in the world, but it will be far better than it was, or what it is today. It may be a Russia that works for its citizens, a Russia which is a constructive player in the world politics and economy. This can and must be achieved. And Yabloko is working to create that Russia.

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Moscow, March 22, 1999