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Keynote Speech by Grigory Yavlinsky, Chairman of the Public Political Organization “Yabloko”
in the 6th Yabloko Congress  at the Otrandoye Resort outside Moscow
As translated by Dr. Richard Weitz, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University.
March 14, 1998  

Esteemed Delegates of the Congress:

The goal of our meeting is the precise, insofar as it is possible, determination of the “system of coordinates” in which we find ourselves today. It was impossible to foresee to the full extent the logic of today’s events without having found oracles who could have in detail told us at the end of the 1980s, what our political system would be like at the end of the 1990’s. And we can not correctly work out our tasks, the goals of our Movement, if we do not determine in what situation our country, society, and political system find themselves.


A Systemic Crisis

We define the present-day socioeconomic order as a corporative, oligarchic structure that is still based on Soviet monopolies.“Corporative” means that the government represents above all the interests of narrow corporations, and not the majority of Russia’s citizens. This system is being reproduced on the regional level, and there, depending on the region and its potentials, is building up its own narrowly corporative groups who not only aspire to, but in fact are exercising, political and consequently economic power.

When we talk about what is an “oligarchic system,” we mean that it is a union of power, money, and the press, i.e., the possibility of shaping the political mood by one and the same people. We also mean that the largest part of capital in Russia today is being formed not thanks to free competition and private property, but owing to the diverse forms of the merging of state and business.

When we say that our system is “semi-criminal”, that means that illegal turnover [of goods trans.] is the source of the formation of Russian capital, and corruption has become an independent political force. 

When we assert that this system is based on the former Soviet monopolies, we are returning to its sources.

This system has arisen not by accident. Its roots are to be found to a significant degree in that political system that was created and existed in Russia for 70 years. From there springs many of the plagues and vices of our political reality. But the peculiarities of the present system are rooted in the extremely crude failures and mistakes that were obvious in the very beginning of our reforms.

They are connected with how “liberalization” which represented not so much liberalization and the liberation of society from former Soviet monopolies, as the emancipation strictly of these monopolies and their nomenklaturniy [members of the Soviet elite, trans.] directors’ was carried out in Russia. They are connected with how privatization was carried out with the attempt in the new Russia to attain egalitarianism in the privatization and how it ended. They are connected with the extreme way in which the first steps were made in the field of federalizing our relations, which ended with conflicts (and even a war in the northern Caucasus) on a large part of our territory.

All these things are the roots of that system that has today taken shape. But we must not forget also that we have our traditions, which have taken root in our country during many centuries. They are connected with the traditional weakness of the legal consciousness, the weakness of civil society, or even its absence, and our traditional inability to stand up for the country’s vital interests.

I would like to call your attention to the fact that revolutions in Russia do not take place as a rule when a very deep economic crisis is occurring, nor when we have lean times in the literal sense of the word. Revolutions, as the history of the twentieth century showed, happen when Russian society morally rejects the authorities. That is what happened in 1917, when the Russian monarchy ceased to exist. That is what occurred in 1991, when the fully discredited communist regime, in which no longer a single person believed, collapsed under the weight of its own lies and bankruptcies.

Recall the hundreds of thousands of people who came out into the squares in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kemerovo. . . . Remember the faces of these people -faces full of hope and faith; faces of people prepared for difficult times, for a struggle for the future. . . . but on their backs others came to real power in Russia. On their moods the nomenklatura [Soviet elite ,trans.] and its designees comfortably settled. It was precisely these elites who created the repulsive system of merging power and money which, in paraphrasing the well-known formula of political economics: commodity - money - commodity, one can now define as: power - money - power.

What does this signify in our daily lives? We have become accustomed to what in a normal developed country is quite impossible to accept: to soldiers begging on the streets; to starving first aid doctors; to bandit and militia “kryshi” [criminal protection rackets, trans.]; to the fact that the lists of our country’s politicians in practice coincide with the lists of our leading businessmen; to the role of a family in the government in such an overt manner that one can encounter only, perhaps, in Indonesia.

We have become accustomed to the fact that oligarchic groups openly, without shame, discuss who they will appoint as the future President, and how to make this person more profitable for these groups. We are also accustomed to the fact that another group says it will designate a different successor. And all this is seriously being discussed in our society, which is growing to accept the fact that such things will become real in the course of events.

Remember the thesis that was envisioned when the Euro-Communists stated that what had arisen in the Soviet Union did not resemble anything else? And the answer followed: “This is real socialism, everything else is only talk.” This thesis of Suslov [Senior Brezhnev-era Party leader and ideologist, trans.] has returned to us - that is how power really forms. All this together signifies the deep and serious moral crisis that has arisen in our country.

What precisely can our society do now, considering that these are signs of that very moral crisis that already twice in one century has lead to the collapse of the existing system.


What is Yabloko?

Yabloko is constantly asked whether it is of liberal, social-democratic, or, perhaps, conservative orientation. So here at our congress I want to say that, in the conditions of the system we are talking about and in the presence of the moral crisis in our society, Yabloko is a general democratic party of rights and liberties of the citizen and the person. A party of European values; Yabloko is uniting all those who understand the danger and inadmissibility of the moral and socioeconomic crisis our country faces and the resulting danger that as a result of this crisis, Russia may find itself excluded from the society of developed countries of the 21st century.

Of course, Yabloko has liberal tasks. These are low taxes, the protection of entrepreneurs, the development of all forms of entrepreneurship throughout the country, de-monopolization, intensified competition, and the protection of the rights of consumers. Only such measures can create “a pie” [figuratively - social benefits -trans.] in Russia.

There are also social-democratic tasks. These are a new pension system, defense against poverty, and the preservation of our education system and our intellectual potential. It is impossible to enumerate them all.

Yabloko also have conservative tasks. These are to defend our borders, our families, and all the values that have developed in Russian society over the centuries.

If one speaks seriously, then an effective policy in Russia - we repeat this from congress to congress - is a policy of simultaneous movements: the creation and growth of people’s wealth, while simultaneously, as an absolute necessity, satisfying the social requirements of our people, and the solution of the tasks of defending the country from poverty and destitution.

Such is our real situation, and it differs essentially from what one can observe in the textbooks or realities of Western Europe. The possibility is there for the liberals to come to power, to create this pie, and then for the social democrats to come and eat this pie. The liberals return and again increase it. Such possibilities do not exist in Russia today. While accomplishing one task, we must also occupy ourselves with the others. The practice and policy of the last years, and the organizational political life of the political structures, shows that there are no prospects of such narrow, honorable, but theoretical solutions. We are compelled to direct our policies simultaneously in all of these directions. Therefore, I once again emphasize, since it is a constant question: Yabloko is a democratic party which has assigned itself the task of unifying all the democratic forces on the eve of the elections - all those who understand the threat of the creation in the country of a corporative regime, against which, as our entire historical experience shows, our country will fight for tens of years, if it has enough internal strength for it.

Russia faces a very serious danger. The corporative system, because it is corporative, can arrange things for any person at any time. This is significant, and you see it in how well the factions in the State Duma, for example, blend into this system. Each has its own task, and each fulfills it with great or little success. There was even a task allotted to you and me: to be flowers in the buttonhole of the tails of the corporative-oligarchic system. To be a decoration, while nodding at those who can always say: “How can we not have democracy? Pardon me, but here are the democratic opposition, they are alive and walking along the streets; they sit in parliament. And we allow them to be elected. 8%? No problem. We have created for them comfortable conditions - they are pure, their conscience is clear, one can even go abroad. Only they, of course, must not cross certain limits. But this you and I talk among ourselves, and we give the needed instructions at the necessary time.”

Ladies and gentlemen, do you really not see this danger? Do you really not understand it? Many of the deputies of our fraction feel it every day. Therefore, reflecting on our future political activities, we can talk only about the fact that we are ready to throw down the gauntlet and unite everyone, or almost everyone, who in 1991 awaited a different life. It will involve going beyond the limits of that decorative role which this system assigned to us. We more than once told you that we will not participate in the government precisely because we do not want to be a decoration. Thus, here at this congress, you and I must remember that, even without participating in the government, one can also remain a decorative structure. This is quite unacceptable for us. Here, perhaps, is that criteria, on the basis of which we must ask ourselves, what precisely are we doing in politics?

Overcoming the moral crisis is also a challenge. This challenge lies in the unification of all of our country’s people. We must help our intelligentsia to return to the side of the weak and defenseless, and to stop serving the insolent and the shameless. In these conditions I am trying to formulate the basic tasks that stand before Yabloko, so that they would be able to move us in this direction. I would like to formulate our political creed, which consists of three basic tasks.


Yabloko and Civil Society 

Yabloko is a political party, which is setting as its task the formation in Russia of an organized civil society, a civilized state and constitution, and a socially-oriented economy. 

The formation of a civil society in Russia is for us our top strategic priority. The absence of institutions of self-organization, which are capable of standing up for the legitimate interests of the most diverse groups of the population and which exert purposeful influence on the authorities, as the main prerequisite and the most fundamental conditionfor the emergence of the criminal-oligarchic system. We declare: only an organized society can resist the organized violence of purely selfish groups.

The basic sectors of Russian society in which an organized civil society needs to arise today is clearly apparent. First, it must grow in the sphere of labor relations--with its unavoidable clashes and interactions between workers and employers. Second, civil society is needed in the sphere of interaction and to a certain degree confrontation between the citizen and the bureaucracy, in which the primary losing side often turns out to be the citizen. Third, in areas of conflict of interests such as the consumer market, healthcare, insurance, the system of public housing and services, civil society is also needed. We consider each of these conflict areas as a place in which the formation of organized structures of protection of citizens’ interests can occur. Let it be independent labor unions, associations for the protection of social and civil rights, organs of local self-administration, associations of local entrepreneurs, associations of consumers, or associations by place of residence.

One ought not to think, however, that these sprouts will grow by themselves. In Russia at this time, a real danger exists that a corporative system will develop in these areas, as has habitually developed throughout our country. In a certain sense Russian society stands at a crossroads on the eve of the 21st Century. It is still not clear along which path our society and our country will go. Will it go along the difficult road of creating in Russia a free and open democratic civil order, or will its development proceed along the route of creating a corporative, authoritarian oligarchic system? Today, the answer is uncertain.

Let us take, for example, such an important institution for Yabloko as local self-administration, which is a basic factor for the creation of civil society. It allows citizens to unite for the goal of attaining their everyday interests. Yes, in many Russian territories this institution is undoubtedly developing, but we cannot ignore how government is occurring in the majority of territories.

The next picture, for example, is becoming all the more typical. The chief of the administration, elected by the population, concentrates in his hands all the power, tames the representative organ of self-administration and feeds the local representatives of power. And this unconcealed monopoly of power finds, of course, economic bases in commercial structures, which are able by virtue of their closeness to the master of the territory to eliminate competitors while obtaining control over the local and other organs of power. If we add to or even merge this the tight interaction, the leadership of the most powerful groups of criminals, then we will get at the micro-level an almost complete picture of that very regime of which we are speaking.

We see in the people - people who are striving to attain their legitimate interests independently, without counting on patrons in government, leaders, or the elite?our main support in the struggle against these phenomena. We see this in those people who are prepared to unite for this purpose in free civil associations. Yabloko must represent these people in the organs of power at the local level; they are precisely the potential members of our movement. Yes, we cannot say that these people are many. But if we do not open the door, we risk never seeing them at all.

Yabloko is for now still too weak to form a civil society both in the center and in the regions. We must recognize that we do not notice, we do not understand, or we close our eyes to the massive violations of civil rights by the authorities both in the center and in the regions. We work terribly with the trade unions. We are too weak to organize ties with those who could become effective. We do not criticize the corporative structures that are being created in the trade unions. We do not work enough with the organs of local administration, still considering like “derzhavniki” [supporters of Russia as a great power with a strong state - trans.] that this is not real politics - that it is some kind of trifle, although the entire edifice of our politics is being built precisely there.

The uniting of citizens in a majority of regions - or attempts at uniting citizens, let’s say, according to their place of residence, or according to their fundamental interests - remain unnoticed by us. We fail to notice the so-called third sector that is forming. The meaning of our work must consist precisely in this if we wish to be not a narrow party for comfortably settled people, but a party that aspires to be a general democratic movement in Russia in the conditions when the party has been seriously discredited. In trying to place as many of our representatives as possible in the organs as state power, we frequently do not think about why we are doing this, or in what lies our task and the concrete solution. Besides numbers (and we already have significant numbers in the regions - we attained this in many areas), what deeds and undertakings can we boast of there?

We still cannot say that the active part of civil society is ready to support us at the elections, singling out Yabloko from the other parties. But this is our main task in the near and medium term - to become the leader of organized civil society. Only in this case and in this capacity can we seriously expand our electoral prospects.


Yabloko and the Civilized State 

The second of our tasks, as I already said, is the construction in Russia of a civilized state. I think that today any normal, unprejudiced person would agree with the use of exactly this term if one considers what has really happened in our country. One must call a spade a spade, although it is difficult in many of our phenomena to pick terms that are accepted in civilized society.

According to many indications and for many people, the Russian state is experiencing a period of barbarism. What other word can one pick when state functions are being privatized in an oligarchic manner by corporative groups; when there exists widespread corruption and massive violations of citizens’ rights by state organs; when the merging of law-enforcement organs with organized crime exists; when governors govern arbitrarily; when state bureaucrats do not fulfillment court decisions; and when massive stealing occurs under diverse pretexts; and when without any pretexts budget funds are misallocated? Thus, we consider our second political task the attainment of a civil conception of state power.

And here, I must say that because of the present-day economic situation, we have over the years devoted all of our actions to narrowly directed economic reform and the infighting associated with it, and as a result have put aside serious state civil development. As a result we have given birth to an economic monstrosity, in which 75% of all transactions consist of barter and promissory notes, in which non-payments between enterprises exceed 100 billion dollars, in which unpaid wages comprise billions, and in which economic categories have appeared that are uncharacteristic for either a planned or a market economic system.

What do we understand by the “civil conception of state power”? By the civil conception of state power we mean the redistribution of the aggregate amount of power from the bureaucrat to the citizen; the supremacy of the law over illegal acts in the legal-normative regulations; the concentration of the least possible amount of power in the hands of the bureaucrat and the elected official; the principle of the transparency of the state structure and the budgetary process; clear mechanisms of public control over the activities of the state; a system of parliamentary and public control over the power ministries and the special services; a system of strict control over the income and expenditures of the bureaucrat; the strengthening of the guarantee of the division and mutual control of power;, the creation of mechanisms of preventing and eradicating corruption and outrageous abuses of power; and finally, the decentralization of power and its distribution among the three well-known levels: federal, regional, and municipal, with the simultaneous creation of a system of mutual control.

Having set ourselves such a task, we realize that we are very much limited by certain circumstances. One of these is the existing Constitution, a second is the absence at present of levers of influence over executive power. But everything that is possible even within the framework of the present constitution is still far from being attained. Furthermore, Yabloko has a faction in parliament - 10% of the legislative branch - whose potential, I believe, is far from being realized.

We frequently fail to notice, through the different laws that are being dragged through by the Communists and the Zhirinovsky-ites, the tiny elements which will later create a system that will be impossible to remake in a historically short time period. This concerns criminal, administrative, housing, and family legislation, and many other areas. We can of course excuse ourselves by saying that we are few, but to at least throw down a challenge to such a movement is enough for us. The issue is something else: the extent and degree to which we are capable of using that power that we all in fact do have.

We must no longer simply respond to draft legislation. We must create a coordinated legislative program for our faction - and not a fractured set of initiatives - in which the individual member coordinates positions of principle for a long time with the other members of his same faction. We must find a mechanism of removing inconsistencies among members of the faction towards legislation. The legislation activity of the majority of our deputies must grow. We must draw into the orbit of the faction the maximum number of intellectuals and experts who are capable of strengthening its legislative activities. Therefore I consider it opportune to set before the faction the task of mobilizing all the legal forces for systematic and integrated legislative work. Honored guests! If our faction does not do this, then no other will. And we have enough competent people in order to solve this task.


Yabloko and the Economy 

And, finally, the third task, about which I told you today. This is the competitive socially oriented economy.

The whole of 1997 was dominated by the discussion about the Tax Code. Here our position played a very important role. Yabloko is absolutely convinced of the necessity of a radical reduction of taxes, and of a maximum simplification of the tax system. Yabloko considers that only in this case can we really increase budget revenue. But until monopolies exist in our country that also provide regular, constant budget revenue, we cannot establish low taxes and develop many sectors of the economy. Here we again confront political problems.

The division of entrepreneurship and politics - of business and politics - must be a result of the introduction of a new tax system. The authorities are also talking about this task. But tell me how one can separate business from politics when in all existing ratings Chernomyrdin occupies third place among the richest leading businessmen, and Mr. Chubais sixth place? Who in the present government will concern himself with the separation of business and politics? And, if this is not done, how then does one compel the payment of taxes?

A competitive, socially oriented economy in Russia will only exist when the rights of private proprietors, small shareholders, and foreign investors will be observed. Without this there is not and will not be an effective socially oriented economy. The political task for Yabloko here is to become the recognized partner of entrepreneurship, of small and medium business. Yabloko must attain this so that all Russian entrepreneurs and all the economic agents working in Russia know that our movement is the political force that is vitally interested in their growth and development, and we know how to obtain it.


Yabloko and the Future 

In conclusion, I want to say that Yabloko by the time of the next elections will propose a new type of social contract in Russia. None of the existing parties can attain the goals declared by us. All large Russian parties to some degree or another are either corporative or are not parties but leadership groups. Each offers to the people its leader or corporation, as one can see in the example of the CPRF or NDR.

They proceed from the general maxim according to which the state must solve all the problems of the population. They are returning to the former paternalism, or let us say, “contract” - You must work your whole life, where we place you, and we give you communal apartments in five-story apartment houses, and small pensions. Such was the social contract for eighty years in Russia.

In contrast to this, Yabloko proposes a principally different type of social contract. We are solving problems together with the people. And we understand that self-respect towards our past, present, and future leads us to joint work in the name of us ourselves. Only in this case will we together be able to change something. We are solving our problems together - because no single authority, no single party can solve all the problems. It has never and will never happen. In the center of our ideology is society, while the state will appear in the role of its co-worker, its helper.

We know that for the time being a contract of the first type in more agreeable and understandable to the majority. This is the main historical difficulty of Russia, and perhaps the main cause of its past and present misfortunes. The main strategic task of Yabloko as a civil party consists in changing the prevailing type of social contract in Russia. We must go to each person and explain that no one is solving anything for him. Without his involvement he can only be deceived.

Today one must say that we cannot appeal to the overwhelming majority of citizens for such a social contract. But it is possible to invite a significant part of society to go along with us in this direction. And in this lies our historical task. Yabloko is a civil party in which people who share democratic values and have united for the creation of a civilized social structure enter, and outside of which the attainment of our fundamental values is inconceivable.

Yabloko will participate in the elections in 1999 and 2000, which it will approach as a serious political party, having a well developed economic program, a serious political ideology, and an effective electoral machine.

Have a pleasant journey! 
ei Stepashin on Grigory Yavlinsky's proposals