THE STATE IS EXTREMELY DISLOYAL
The situation is something like this: they’re not destroying us, but they’re not letting us operate either. An interview with Yabloko party leader Grigori Yavlinsky
Yavlinsky: “At least the USSR had some rules, developedin the post-war decades: and as long as you followed the rules,you probably wouldn’t be at risk. But now there aren’t any rulesor guarantees against being targeted. Trust needs to be rebuilt byhaving citizens represented in government.”
The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) will meet tomorrow toconsider the Yabloko party’s appeal against the disqualificationof its candidate list from the St. Petersburg legislature election- a dress rehearsal for the Duma campaign of 2007.
Question: The authorities have taught us to expect that inevery election, they will use some preparation that has a strongimpact on public opinion: the second war in Chechnya, or theexpropriation of YUKOS. Should we expect anything like this in2007?
Grigori Yavlinsky: Unfortunately, we can’t rule out somethingof the kind. But people’s minds are already in such a state thatno further measures are necessary to keep the present-dayauthoritarian system and its authorities in power, and they can dowhatever they please. After all, they have created a second Kremlin party tobamboozle voters even further. Such an imitation of elections,without any real choice, combined with the kind of televisionbroadcasting we have in Russia – that’s drastic medication initself. So there’s no need to kill, jail, or intimidate anyone.Ultimately, however, the form of “preparation” and whether it isadministered will depend on the Kremlin’s paranoia level. Andthat, in turn, will largely depend not on the state of society,but on numerous intrigues within the presidential structures asthey engage in their power-struggle. This conflict could suddenlyturn very vicious.
Question: And did the need to create the Just Russia partyarise because United Russia couldn’t guarantee a parliamentarymajority on its own?
Grigori Yavlinsky: There is always some demand for dissentamong the public, and there are always some officials andbureaucrats with grievances. What has been created is a specialdevice for meeting these needs in a way that poses no threat tothe authorities. Besides, Russia has countless problems – andunfortunately, some people might be misled by hearing oppositiontalk from the Kremlin’s second party. So the two president-lovingparties will get a great many votes between them. Question: Does Mironov’s party have any chance of beatingGryzlov’s party?
Grigori Yavlinsky: What does it matter? It all depends onwhat Putin decides, what he considers necessary to reinforce hissystem. If he stays with United Russia, that party will win – ifhe switches sides, Mironov’s party will win.
Question: Why has the Kremlin decided to do this at all? Doesit want to have the whole field covered?
Grigori Yavlinsky: In order to simulate a two-party system,with a right-wing party and a left-wing party – thus destroyingall the real forces which have grown of their own accord, from thegrass roots, in recent years. And in order that all thediscontented officials and bureaucrats should know what theirpermitted alternative is – so they have an option for quarrelingwithin the system framework. A naive idea, but quite dangerous forRussia.
Question: And when Putin invited ten party leaders, includingyourself, to meet with him at his Novo-Ogarevo residence – wasthat your entry pass to the next elections?
Grigori Yavlinsky: No. Such meetings don’t mean anything inthat sense. And these days elections mean nothing as well. Theprocedure of elections has been stripped of political content.It’s a routine administrative task. Those who end up in the Dumaor a regional legislature are those whose presence there servesthe purposes of the authorities – the president, hisadministration, an appointed regional leader. Elections in anauthoritarian system, if their goal is reduced to nothing otherthan getting into power, become only a means for patrons toaccumulate clients. For example, [Union of Right Forces leader Nikita] Belykhaddressed a personal request to [Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan]Kadyrov, and praised him in a Moscow newspaper – and hey presto,their group was elected to the Chechen parliament. And this kindof thing happens everywhere. As for getting an entry pass to theelections – there’s still a lot of time ahead. In the present-daysystem, all parties that take part in elections are parties of theauthorities, one way or another. There may be some exceptions, butthey are only exceptions. Do you know the difference between a regime and a system? Ina system, a person who manages state institutions will be guidedby the law 90% of the time and make 10% of decisions on his own.In a regime, those proportions are reversed. What we have is aregime.
Question: Do you sense any signs of the regime being relaxed?For example, television coverage being given not only to[Communist Party leader Gennadi] Zyuganov and [LDPR leaderVladimir] Zhirinovsky, but also to Yavlinsky and Belykh.
Grigori Yavlinsky: Since the de facto leader of the Union ofRight Forces (SPS) has announced that he supports and willcontinue to support both Putin and Putin’s designated successor,the SPS situation is clear. This has nothing to do with “relaxing”the regime. But all these displays are meaningless. The onlymeaningful course of action is to express an alternative point ofview on events, consistently and systematically – an alternativeto Putin’s point of view. And we’re not seeing anything of thekind. Everything – the media, the courts, business – is subjectedto significant political censorship and strictly monitored by theauthorities.
Question: In that case, what are we fighting for?
Grigori Yavlinsky: That’s an odd question. For freedom, forjustice – so that things can be different. For survival, sometimes- but usually for victory. Just as your newspaper is doing.- Question: But we’re trying to expand our ground!
Grigori Yavlinsky: In what sense? What does that mean – areyou trying to become part of the yellow press, a pro-oligarchnewspaper, or a pro-government newspaper? Are you trying to makeeveryone love you – fugitive and non-fugitive oligarchs, and thepolitical mainstream, and the human rights groups? You need tohave a policy line. Principles. As for us, in the past year ourparty has been joined by an environmentalist organization andhuman rights groups. We now have factions: the Soldiers’ Mothers,a women’s movement, a youth wing headed by Ilya Yashin.
Question: But to the outside observer, it seems like Yablokois multiplying by division within itself.
Grigori Yavlinsky: That depends on the perspective you take.Despite all the threats and pressure, our membership has increasedby 10,000. That’s ordinary members only. So the field isexpanding. Alexei Vladimirovich Yablokov, ecologist and associatefellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences, never used to be aYabloko member. Like Sergei Adamovich Kovalev, he is a veryauthoritative person with an impeccable reputation, and thus hasbroad support. And that is how our party is really expanding andgrowing stronger.
Question: But your party has been expected to expand to theright, with the SPS, or to the left, with [Sergei] Glaziev.
Grigori Yavlinsky: Those who refuse to admit their mistakesand crimes, those who lie continually, are not our fellow-travelers. Neither are those who have spent decades trying andfailing to make up their minds, find their place, and figure outwhat they want.
Question: All right, but can you tell us who caused thequarrel between yourself and Belykh?
Grigori Yavlinsky: The SPS has declared its support for thepolicy course of the incumbent president and his designatedsuccessor. Given its policy program, biography, and methods, thatparty has always been, and still remains, categoricallyunacceptable for us. Belykh has become an organic part of it, andhasn’t been able to change anything there. Yabloko and the SPS aredifferent parties. End of discussion. There’s nothing left to talkabout.
Question: A government newspaper reported that everything wasdecided by a meeting with [Anatoly] Chubais.
Grigori Yavlinsky: Yes.
Question: What did Chubais say to you?
Grigori Yavlinsky: That none of what we had agreed on withBelykh would happen.
Question: Why did you offer Belykh the post of politicalcouncil chairman within Yabloko? Is that normal – offering anotherparty’s leader a job in your own party? Does this still count aspolitics, or is it politicking?
Grigori Yavlinsky: This was about a post within a unifiedparty to be established on the basis of Yabloko. We discussedsubstantial matters: a policy program and an action plan, goalsand objectives, our place in Russian politics. The post wasmentioned as evidence that our intentions were serious. But itturned out that we offered the SPS far more than it is capable of,and immeasurably more than it deserves.
Question: But didn’t such negotiations only damage yourparty?
Grigori Yavlinsky: I don’t think so. There are voters andparty members who were hoping that the SPS had learned somelessons since acquiring its new leader, and we had to respond tothat. It’s a politician’s job to investigate every opportunity. Wewanted to find out if there are any people in SPS who are trulyprepared to fight for democracy, or just people who want to doshady business deals and service the ruling class. And we are nowfully convinced that the honest people in the SPS don’t have anyinfluence at all.
Question: So is your party’s electorate expanding orshrinking?
Grigori Yavlinsky: For numerous reasons, today’s Russiadoesn’t have many people who are honest and independent, livingaccording to certain moral principles, and taking an interest inpolitics as well. Yabloko’s traditional electorate is shrinking,of course.
Question: In that case, what hope do you have, now that thethreshold has been raised to 7% of the vote?
Grigori Yavlinsky: I don’t understand the question. If you’retalking about getting into the Duma, what’s the electorate got todo with it? All you have to do is ask Putin, or join theUnited/Just Russia party. We have said on many occasions thatthere are more important things than Duma seats. We don’t intendto abandon our views, political history, or goals for the sake ofthat. Sooner or later, many aspects of life in Russia will becomelike what Yabloko is talking about now – or Russia will finditself in a lamentable condition, and the fate of the Soviet Unioncould be repeated. We’re existing in very difficult conditions,and our top priority to stand by our professional and politicalposition. Pressure on Yabloko is growing and becoming increasinglyblatant. Yabloko’s clearly politically-motivated disqualificationfrom the St. Petersburg election has been followed by furtheraction against our party by the authorities in other regions. Inthe Orel region, the election commission refused to register ourcandidate list – questioning the validity of 100 signatures out of13,500. The Pskov branch of Yabloko was forced to withdraw itscandidate list due to unprecedented administrative pressure andblackmail directed at candidates – these people received openthreats. In Dagestan, Yabloko’s entire candidate list wasdisqualified on the grounds of one particular candidate’s age. Inthe Leningrad region, the election commission found fault withYabloko’s nomination of its representative and forced it to hold arepeat conference, thus reducing its signature-collecting time bya week and making it practically impossible to collect enoughsignatures. In last autumn’s round of regional elections, ourparty’s candidate list in Karelia was disqualified on a fabricatedpretext – and we had very good chances there, expecting at least20% of the vote. The list of abuses could be continued. To put it briefly, inevery single region where Yabloko is participating in elections,it is subjected to overt and unlawful pressure from theauthorities, in various forms – from media bans on the party’scampaign ads to direct threats and blackmail directed at partymembers and candidates. The purpose of this is obvious: providing suitable conditionsfor the authorities to do whatever they please, without restraint- and maintaining the existing corrupt and lawless system,unchanged. And that’s why we exist: to speak out openly and seriouslyabout what is happening in Russia, explain why it is happening,help people, propose an alternative, and work to make thealternative a reality. That is now our cause. It’s the commonsituation for all political forces who don’t represent theinterests of any faction within the authorities. The situation issomething like this: they’re not destroying us, but neither dothey allow us to influence anything, or operate effectively – theysmother us, put pressure on us, obstruct us, forbid us… In thissituation, existence comes to resemble a cultural phenomenon.Under certain circumstances, this could have a decisive poltiticalsignificance.
Question: What about the real agenda for Russia – thepriorities which the authorities aren’t talking about?
Grigori Yavlinsky: In our view, there are three real problemsfacing Russia. First: the state is extremely disloyal to itscitizens, and they respond with mistrust and fear. The field ofpolitics has been compressed. The authorities have distancedthemselves from the people, and the people perceive them assomething alien – and more dangerous than in the Soviet era. Atleast the USSR had some rules, developed in the post-war decades:and as long as you followed the rules, you probably wouldn’t be atrisk. But now there aren’t any rules or guarantees against beingtargeted. This trust needs to be rebuilt by having citizensrepresented in government. The second question on the agenda is the court system, andthe judicial system in general. It has been absolutely destroyedin Russia. People are unable to find justice anywhere, and theydon’t believe it can be found. Third question: property. There is no confidence in privateproperty rights. What’s more, people are convinced that all majorassets have been obtained dishonestly. There’s complete mistrust. All three of these problems are inseparable. But they cannotbe resolved without evaluating and developing a clear vision ofRussia’s past and future, clearly identifying Russia as Europeancountry.
Question: And the law of the strongest prevails across allareas of the state?
Grigori Yavlinsky: Yes, the law of the strongest. The law ofcircumstance and the law of force.
Question: The answers given by the authorities to thequestions you raise may be formulated as follows: securityrequires creating powerful, highly-paid security and lawenforcement agencies.
Grigori Yavlinsky: What’s that got to do with it? I don’tunderstand. If you’re asking about the security and lawenforcement agencies, they can be trusted as long as they, alongwith all other state agencies, are subject to public oversight andaccountable to the citizenry, not only to their superiors.Legally. People can only feel secure if they are confident thatthe authorities are operating within the law. Not by using thelaw, but within the law. There’s a big difference.
Question: To put it simply, the authorities would just say”no” to all your questions. Then what?
Grigori Yavlinsky: They are indeed saying “no” – and callingit sovereign democracy. They’re deliberately giving that answer.They say we’re not mature enough for democracy, we don’t need ityet, we’ll have it someday, but meanwhile…
Question: And under the circumstances, what can actually bedone?
Grigori Yavlinsky: What we are doing. And probably somethingmore, which we’re unable to do as yet. We need to learn. ThePresident could do a great deal, but he’s pursuing a differentpolicy course.
Question: When you attended Putin’s meeting with ten partyleaders, one report from the Kremlin media pool claimed that youmeet with the President often and advise him.
Grigori Yavlinsky: So I’m a secret advisor. So why are youasking me? What kind of secret would it be if I told you about it?But if I really were advising Putin, I’d advise him to do exactlywhat you and I have been discussing here.
Translated by Elena Leonova
Novaya Gazeta No. 9 February 8, 2007
Author: Sergei Mulingori.