Debating liberalism and Realpolitik: liberals requested not to worry


As Kommersant-Dengi reported early in the week, there are rumors that Mikhail Khodorkovsky “will be released from his prison cell” towards the end of May. The word is that the ex-oligarch has agreed to all the terms set down by the authorities, and now all that remains is to select a “legal way” of setting him free.

It is even said that no one is insisting any longer that Khodorkovsky should emigrate, since he – unlike Vladimir Gusinsky or Boris Berezovsky – “poses no threat to the fate of democracy in Russia.”

Reportedly, efforts are now under way to find “some neutral form of business activity” for the former head of YUKOS, “which he could take up after his release from detention.” This is especially relevant given that all YUKOS assets “except main production facilities” have now been frozen at the request of the Taxes and Duties Ministry, as the Vedomosti newspaper reports.

Meanwhile, to impart weight to its report, Kommersant-Dengi considered it necessary to stress that it came from the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta cited an interview of Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin for The Times as a comment to the latest events from the front of anti-oligarchic struggle.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the minister “openly admitted that the Russian authorities have been “knocking out” money from the domestic business.” Arresting Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, both are YUKOS shareholders, became the main tool of influencing the obstinate businessmen.

“Already there are some results; many businessmen decided to become more transparent and honest so that they are protected from such action by the law enforcement agencies,” he said.

Besides, as reported by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Kudrin even promised the oligarchs amnesty of their capitals if they abide by “new rules.”

“Developing the idea of the finance minister suggests that if the government needs money for some purposes in the future, the law enforcement agencies will arrest a couple of renowned businessmen more so that the rest would collect an amount for the authorities,” says the newspaper.

Anyhow, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta, this is not equidistance of oligarchs anymore, but “something, which nowise complies with the liberal ideas, to which all Cabinet members are adhere in their sayings.”

Besides, given the “unlawful spirit” of the finance minister, notes the newspaper, his thesis that the amnesty of oligarchs is more likely to acquire a “repressive” sense. It is not ruled that the amnesty may actually take place, but the oligarchs will be enforced to “voluntary” give the capitals to the state – “otherwise, it’ll be like in the case of Khodorkovsky.”

Sources of Nezavisimaya Gazeta say that many Russian businessmen are concerned for the spirits prevailing in the power circles, but dare not give their straightforward statements on this subject. Only “Chubais the Brave” came out with quite a sharp statement at the Russian Economic Forum, which is underway in London.

“Despite the unfavorable political moment, for the sake of saving the future of our country somebody must announce clearly and openly that private property must be inviolable and sacred,” CEO of RAO UES said.

In the opinion of Chubais, no matter what are the motifs, redistribution of property is absolutely unacceptable and attempting it could be a complete collapse for the Russian economy.

Moreover, says Vremya Novostei newspaper, Chubais has again rejected Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s call to repentance of liberals.

Vremya Novostei cites Chubais: “Khodorkovsky repents for his own sins and leave my sins to me. Khodorkovsky had only been a liberal in 1996, being a successful fighter against liberals afterwards, together with Berezovsky and Gusinsky. Therefore, I wish Khodorkovsky would repent for his own sins. A person is in prison and he needs to get out – that’s what his message indicates. He’ll write a denunciation if necessary.”

In general, as kind-hearted Ksyusha Sobchak told to a glossy magazine, “it’s nice that /Khodorkovsky/ is in jail; otherwise he’d be stoned.”

This is Chubais’ second attempt of responding to Khodorkovsky. He took his first, more substantial attempt in The Financial Times, says Vremya Novostei.

Anatoly Chubais told the British newspaper: “We have created oligarchs as a phenomenon in Russia, and they have done a lot of harm – corrupting political and judicial processes. But they have also created blue-chip companies which Russia is famous for today… Talking about Russia’s cumulative economic growth of 38% over the past five years, we must realize that what is growing is the private sector which we created during the unpopular privatizations. The economy is working and it is working according to our blueprints.”

The fact of Chubais’s response to Khodorkovsky in a Western newspaper has given Vremya Novostei a plea to remind the appeal of the prisoner at Matrosskaya Tishina to “seek truth in Russia, but not in the West.” In his opinion, the image in the US and Europe “is very good” but it would “never take the place of respect of compatriots.”

To all appearances, notes Vremya Novostei, “Chubais thinks that the time, when he could count on the respect of citizens, hasn’t come yet…”

Meanwhile, Yegor Gaidar, the economic guru of Russian democrats has decided to join the argue with Khodorkovsky.

He resolved to do that not without moral torments – there’s little honor in arguing to what a person may write from the custody, Gaidar confessed to Vedomosti.

However, after the Justice Ministry published an explanatory note in which Khodorkovsky said that he had passed no “materials written by his hand” into the newspaper) a group of unidentified persons united by the pen-name “M. Khodorkovsky” became the collective author of the article. However, the text is of public interest, no matter who its author is.

Moreover, says Gaidar, “as soon as the written ceases being Khodorkovsky’s article, it becomes a bunch of trivialities.” Being a “printed denunciation” – in this aspect Gaidar fully agrees Anatoly Chubais.

Further on, the author scrutinizes Khodorkovsky’s claims addressed to the 1990s and recognizes them absolutely baseless: “Any sensible person realizes that the structural results give positive results with a time log… Despite the difference in personal qualities, beliefs, priorities, political style of the 1st and the 2nd Russian presidents, the Yeltsin’s and Putin’s periods in our history are parts of the single process of political-economic transformation.”

Gaidar also rejects Khoorkovsky’s thesis about a guilt of liberals, admitting a decline in the popularity of liberalism nowadays: “A defeat is always unpleasant. I don’t reject responsibility for it. However, it is unwise to arrive at a conclusion that liberalism in Russia has collapsed following our defeat in the election.”

In general, in opinion of director of the Institute for the Economy in Transition (Gaidar’s official post), “a lost battle is not a lost war.” Moreover, “as a Phoenix, Russian liberalism constantly tries to revive from ashes,” apparently “because the political and economic liberty is in demand in Russia, which means the supply is to follow.”

Following Gaidar’s first article entitled “The Rumors of Death are Strongly Exaggerated,” Vedomosti published the second article “No Success Without Democracy.”

In the latter, the author gives arguments to prove that in its development Russia has closely approached the level, behind which formation of normal, stable democratic regimes is both possible and inevitable.

As for the so-called “managed democracy,” which the author believes has shaped as a simple response to challenges, related to absence of democratic traditions, minor level of development, this way is fruitless, at least for Russia.

On the one hand, retention “of semblance of free elections and the constitutional regime” is a trait, which enables to observe some decency in the eye of the global community. This is the trait differing “managed democracies” from obviously authoritarian regimes, for instance that of the Turkmen kind.

On the other hand, warns Gaidar, development of corruption is a generic feature of the regime of “managed democracy” (as if centurial Russian traditions of the same kind are insufficient), as well as the ability of successfully resisting to the reforms (“scleroticity,” as defined by the author), and, undoubtedly, catastrophic inability to retain the intellectual potential of the nation.

“Experience shows that the majority of people who are competitive on the global market of qualified manpower want their opinions to be heard when the future of a country is chosen,” explains the author. Therefore, consolidation of “managed democracy” in Russia is a powerful stimulus for acceleration of the “brain drain.”

In general, summarizes Gaidar, it is evident that building real democracy in Russia is harder than building the simulation of it. However, this task is to be resolved: “As translated into the language of deeds it means that the outcome from the regime of “closed” democracy which has taken shape now, revival of the fundamental democratic institutions, restoration of free media, fair elections, the judicial system independent on the executive power, real political competition – is the most important task, which is to be settled within years.”

Following these conclusions, former rightist leader expresses his complete disagreement with observations “of a team of comrades under the pen-name Khodorkovsky,” who said in their article: as a matter of fact, we are now observing surrender of the liberals. “They could have come with a more precise definition: would wish to see that. Napoleon had wanted the keys from the city at Poklonnaya Mountain and he had failed. So they will, Gaidar says sternly.

Following Vedomosti, Yezhenedelny Zhurnal published both these works by Gaidar under the common title “To Diggers of Graves to Liberals.”

“If fact, the text offered to readers of Vedomosti only consists of excerpts from a big conceptual work by Yegor Gaidar, as we think not always the brightest and most significant. Moreover, the title of this article (as you, dear reader, can make sure) is different,” says Yezhenedelny Zhurnal.

Therefore, the magazine decided to provide its readers with the full text of the article, a multitude of literary and historic reminiscences, which embellish it greatly, being the main difference from the version offered by Vedomosti.

As it turned out, Gaidar has been profoundly and repeatedly citing Lermontov, Brodsky, Bulgakov, Saltykov-Shchedrin.

For instance, he finds that the belated torments related to the fact that many should have been done otherwise over the course of Russian reforms, a monologue of the first dragon’s head from the battle with Knight Lancelot from a play by Yevgeny Schwartz.

The phrase from the article of conventional Khodorkovsky made Yegor Tmurovich recall the text by Mikhail Bulgakov: “Fiery red words leaped out from the walls: ‘Hand over all foreign currency!’

Besides, the author draws historic parallels with the political processes of the 1950s, the earlier case on the murder of Kirov, when Zinovyev and Kamenev had tried to reach an agreement with Stalin and avoid execution by shooting and claim responsibility for organizing the assassination.

Khodorkovsky’s explanation that he hadn’t composed the article but fully agrees it generated in Gaidar’s memory a reminiscence about the Soviet times, when the people, who had never got the hold of “Doctor Zhivago” novel by Pasternak were nevertheless writing indignant letters of protest regarding the contents of this novel into the newspapers.

In a word, we face a fundamental familiarity with both Russian literature and historic realities related to the latest past; however, it’s no wonder for a person with Yegor Timurovich’s genealogy.

Finally, most substantial and “non-illusory” (said Nezavisimaya Gazeta) of Gaidar’s studies on the prospects of economic liberalism in Russia was reprinted by Nezavisimaya Gazeta from The Herald of Europe magazine.

In this article Gaidar also starts his analysis with a well-known postulate: Russia’s prospects to a great extent depend on the understanding that everything taking place in the economy now “has originated from the events of early 1990s.” The present-day events and tendencies determine Russia’s future to a great extent.

The hardest, stresses the author, “is to make this understanding typical of society and those who passes groundbreaking political decisions.”

Moreover, unlike in Russia of former time, we now have to resolve “not the task of overtaking development, where the economic structure of more economically advanced states could be taken as a landmark are imitated.” We have to settle “the task of overtaking post-industrial development, where the patterns are studied worse and the changes occur very fast.” There’s a risk of being unlucky with guessing: by choosing some priorities Russia may face “an annoying fact: results of this implementation are unnecessary, not needed on the market.”

To detect a rightful way, explains Gaidar, first of all we need structural reforms, the necessity of which the government, economists and politicians of all tints have been stressing for long. These must be the “interactive” reforms: “If Russia has good taxation system, but have no reliably protected property rights, we won’t receive big capital investment, which are required to ensure the steady growth.”

That is, emphasizes director of the Institute for the Economy in Transition, “we need continuation of responsible macroeconomic policy and structural reforms, rather than adventures.”

Besides, during the reformation Gaidar calls to make adjustments to local conditions: “Experience of leaders for countries of overtaking development is not about copying it blindly but realizing the strategic problems one may face; so that avoid reiteration of somebody’s mistakes, minimize risks during elaboration of national strategies.”

Russia’s specific features are rather sad: according to author’s calculations, by the level of development our country lags by almost two generations (i.e. 50 years) behind the advanced states. In the Russian economy is developed with the current speed (the annual growth of 4%), there’s a hope to pass this distance within 25 years. We should keep in minds, says Gaidar, that the leaders won’t be standing still.

However, in his opinion, Russia shouldn’t chasing anyone; it’s task “is to learn to be developing steadily under conditions of post-industrial world,” developing “using the private incentives and initiative, rather than the tools of constraint.”

This is by far harder task than whipping the economic growth for a short period, stresses Gaidar; however, resolution of this problem will alone help ” overcome the style, typical of our country since the start of the XVIII century, when a breakthrough is followed by stagnation and crisis.”

Boris Nemtsov, Gaidar’s recent associate in the URF, proceeded with his views on liberalism in the same tonality, though in lighter style, as should be expected.

“If you ask me, it is political liberalism (not economic) that is the problem on whose solution the future of the country depends. Only free people in a free Russia may be successful – for their own sake and for the sake of the country,” Nemtsov told Novaya Gazeta.

In his opinion, “by scorning civil liberties, establishing a mono-party system, suppressing justice and the media the Kremlin makes a “fatal mistake:” “They think that the people that is not free will work constructively and be happy on the Kremlin’s orders alone.” That’s nonsense, thinks Nemtsov, “this never happens.”

Moreover, in opinion of Boris Nemtsov the overtaking development of the United States is mainly accounts with the fact that the people there have known no restrictions of freedom – until lately, when the necessity of combating terrorism generated some difficulties. “In Russia freedom has been constantly suppressed and eliminated. This is the reason why we are lagging behind.”

As for the differences between governments under Yeltsin and under Putin, Nemtsov said the differences are essential: “Yeltsin could not rule and run everything for a number of reasons, the state of health among them, but Putin is running everything.”

Moreover, Russia’s problem is that “Putin is everything for us now,” says Nemtsov. Russia, a colossal country “has entrusted a single man with its own fate. He is adequate, he is smart – I grant that – but he is alone.” That’s what is dangerous, says Nemtsov: “Putin has concentrated everything in his hands.”

He will never have Russia make any progress this way: “Sure, life is fine and dandy while oil remains expensive, but the Soviet Union knew one such period one. We all remember how it all ended.”

“Are liberal reforms possible in a country with keenly outlined anti-liberal spirits?” asks Leonid Radzikhovsky in Versiya weekly. And, he replies: “Not only it is possible, but also very convenient for the authorities.”

If Russia has powerful liberal spirits, they’d generate influential liberal parties, to which the Kremlin would have to share its power. “If the country hates the liberals, they are drawing closer to the salutary leg of the power as kids to mother’s skirts.”

A conclusion: the country has no liberal politicians, it only has “what the power needs – liberal bureaucrats, special service agents.” This is the place of Gaidar.

For decorum (for the West) it is possible to form a new rightist party, at least on the basis of Democratic Alternative by Vladimir Ryzhkov and Mikhail Zadornov.

Not in vain “the Kremlin has felt that an inconvenient and unpromising situation is arising in the protected political area it has been into,” Alexander Konovalov, president of the Institute of Strategic Assessments told Novye Izvestia.

Absence of democrats in the political field, explains the newspaper, is not only damaging Russia’s international image, but also “disabling a modernization spurt for the sake of settling its domestic problems.” (Another spurt!)

At the same time, at least for an outside view the situation looks even more strange: “judging by the statements the president becomes more advanced liberal, while the regime in Russia is on the contrary moving towards authoritarianism.”

By the way, Khodorkovsky (that is “conventional Khodorkovsky”) noted that in his letter…

However, Nikolai Zlobin, director of Russian and Asian programs at the US Center for Defense Technologies noted to Profil magazine, it’s better not to be carried away about the liberal spirit of the authorities. It is not ruled out that the extremely painful and unpleasant reforms, declared by Putin, won’t even be launched by 2008, not to mention finishing them.

Undoubtedly, the president is in a difficult situation now, says Zlobin: “As soon as the public and the elite seriously realize that he won’t run for his 3rd term in office, his role and influence will start declining sharply. Everybody will turn away from him: what’s the need of linking one’s future with a person who leaves anyway?”

The situation will looks different if the uncertainty with the reforms is preserved: according to Zlobin, Putin will be in demand then.

A public consensus in favor of extending his authority (for a year, two or three) may appear: the form for this could always be found. In particular, hints Zlobin, Putin could easy resign as president (will respect the Constitution!), but preserve his dominance and the completeness of power by taking another post “for instance, post of prime minister or head of the Russia-Belarus Union.”

Does it actually make any sense to hurry with the reforms and in general be worried about which path Russia’s development will take?

These liberals are so ridiculous…