The outcome of the election is tailored to suit the authorities
An interview with Grigori Yavlinsky of Yabloko.
Question: Judging by decisions of the Political Council, war on the regime is the party’s priority now. Do you plan to boycott the election?
Grigori Yavlinsky: Not yet. Still, the outcome of the election is tailored to suit the authorities. It is necessary to have a clear picture of consequences of participation in the election with the party’s political position remaining unchanged. If the party is bent on criticizing the president and the state of affairs in the country, if it is determined to bring up the problems the authorities would rather keep under a lid, then the party should disabuse itself of all illusions concerning the outcome ordered by the regime, bulletin count, and rules of the game.
Question: Do you think you are in a position to turn down compromises? The Yabloko has been steadily losing votes from one election to the next…
Grigori Yavlinsky: We have systematically encountered electoral machinations since 1996. Do you think anybody but the authorities themselves knows how many votes the Yabloko or any other political party really polled in the last parliamentary election? What you are asking looks like venality more than anything else. What is a compromise in the situation “you shut up and we’ll permit your existence in return?” Compromise is when the two compromising parties meet each other halfway; it is not a one-way movement. So, I do not see any chances of a compromise with the authorities at this point. The situation is far too serious for that.
Question: But if Yabloko that would not accept any compromise does not make it to the Duma again, voters may forget you for good.
Grigori Yavlinsky: Yes, this danger exists too. On the other hand, the party views abandonment of what we have fought for these 15 years for the sake of seats on the Duma as an even worse danger. Once a compromise is made, it won’t be us anymore. Certain individuals for whom a seat on the Duma means more than views and convictions had better try and side up with the parties that will certainly make it. As for voters, they will not forget our position and our views now that the moral and political crisis of the Yeltsin-Putin system is worsening. They will not forget because we are right. It is clear to everyone.
Question: Left to its own devices, no democratic party may hope to make it to the Duma or even remain in political life.
Grigori Yavlinsky: Artificial construction does not really mean anything in an authoritarian system where the outcome of the election is rigged and tailored. Life should have already taught us that false alliances lead to degradation. But whenever anything serious is suggested, Yabloko is ready for an alliance.
Question: In other words, you are prepared to accept activists of other parties in your own ranks. Is that what you are saying?
Grigori Yavlinsky: We are ready for an alliance with whoever thinks the way we do on the basis of a common political platform and program of action. It should be done in a smart manner so as to reduce the risk of destruction of the party. The Yabloko comprises 80,000 activists. Quitting one party for the sake of joining another is the height of folly or a dangerous provocation. Besides, we know as well who it is that is using the idea of unification in order to destroy the Yabloko.
Question: When democrats were defeated last time, you promoted the necessity of consolidation of all parties (right and left alike) to prevent the ruling party from having a majority in the next Duma. Are you saying now that this is way is too dangerous?
Grigori Yavlinsky: When I’m talking of pooling efforts, I do not mean that all parties should merge to form one party. And by the way, what existing political party save for the Yabloko openly proclaims itself an opposition to the government and the president? Limonov and, I think, Communists. Besides, nobody banned alliances in elections eighteen months ago. Neither were there other restrictions. All the same, I can only repeat that democrats should aspire for no less than 30% of seats in the Duma. But it requires a program, a nationwide project of the Russian post-industrial society, something to be offered to the country as a road leading to the future. Not a battle for 7% to ensure jobs for activists of a small faction of the Duma that will enable them to solve their personal problems.
Question: Perhaps, the opposition should unite first in order to make it to the Duma and then, when it is there…
Grigori Yavlinsky: No “then”. Formation of a coalition “against” is easy, but everything will be paralyzed afterwards. It will be impossible to do anything afterwards by way of amending the situation in the country. Because ideas on what should be done – if they exist in the first place, that is – differ. And not amending the situation would be wrong. That is why we should discuss and agree on what is to be changed and how at this point. That is what the Yabloko suggested principles of unification for.
Question: But the first principle you suggest is “against”.
Grigori Yavlinsky: That’s a necessary term but not sufficient in itself. Not everyone who objects to the president’s policy is our ally. Our allies are those who understand that the country needs a special policy to dismantle the oligarchic system of the 1990’s, to establish a fully-fledged institute of private property, to put an end to regular comebacks to the outcome of criminal privatization, a pledge not to revise them anymore on the terms clear and understandable to society. Our allies are those who understand that the social gap in society is colossal and counterproductive and must be overcome. Our allies are those who care about how political activities are financed. And finally those who understand that preservation of the democratic system, Constitution, human rights and freedoms is the first priority.
Question: How do you hope to dismantle the oligarchic system and avoid violation of the fundamental principle of inviolability of private property?
Grigori Yavlinsky: It is not at all impossible unless we get down to criminal nationalization and rearrangement of assets. We suggest the policy which will withdraw major private property from its current state where nobody recognizes it. The population does not trust owners of major chunks of property; it does not think that they are its rightful owners. Businesses in their turn do not believe that they are owners of the assets bought at auctions. And the authorities do not recognize these men as owners. They believe that they enabled these men to own the property in question for a limited amount of time only. We have to change the relation between all these three subjects. Recognition of all privatization deals as legitimate and unquestionable is one of the measures we suggest. All but the ones connected with murder and other grave crimes.
Question: Say, all non-criminal deals are recognized as valid. Will it instill trust in these owners in the population?
Grigori Yavlinsky: We will need something like Thatcher’s Windfall Profit Tax. We will also have to introduce the mode of the use of property obtained in auctions. This should be a one-time tax only. Everything should be widely discussed in advance. With the indemnity received and with the understanding of how the once state assets are now used, the population will have better confidence in the system. We need to cultivate the feeling in the country that the authorities can be fair.
Question: Do you expect the authorities to agree to all of that?
Grigori Yavlinsky: Not the authorities we have nowadays. They are a worthy successor to the outrages of the 1990’s. Moreover, the authorities we have nowadays are using what was done then to their own benefit. But we are talking of a different regime now. We are talking of the state living by the Constitution. Dividing the authorities and businesses is what counts. First and foremost, the authorities should become transparent. It concerns funding of political parties, establishment of public television that does not belong to the state or businesses. A whole number of anti-corruption and anti-monopoly processes is needed… Replacement of personnel is desperately needed. We must do everything to prevent these men from setting the rules for the future. Who will ever trust the changed promised by all these men? In fact, our problem is not with the authorities as such. It is with the whole elite.
Question: Will it be all by way of dismantlement of the old system?
Grigori Yavlinsky: We’ve only discussed property so far. There is also the judicial system to deal with. Unfair verdicts have to be revised. We have to work out the mechanism of revision, and the mechanism of responsibility of judges for the unfair verdicts. Last but not the least; we need a rearrangement of the authorities themselves. We have to bring them in line with the Constitution. The regime of the oligarchic system we have nowadays is thoroughly distrusted by society.
Question: But the president’s rating remains high.
Grigori Yavlinsky: What rating Putin has does not matter. What matters is that a Russian is afraid to meet a policeman in the street. And the Russians fear the police, you know. When the reforms were initiated, society trusted Yeltsin completely. It is this trust in the authorities that has to be restored now.
Question: On the one hand, you intend to divide the elite and the authorities. On the other, you promote restoration of trust in the authorities…
Grigori Yavlinsky: Trust in the authorities, not in the elite. There is only one way of accomplishing it. Various strata of society should be given a chance to participate in decision-making.
Question: Are you saying that the Duma election should follow Yeltsin’s rules of 1993?
Grigori Yavlinsky: Why not? Even that will do. We have to return the 5% barrier, permit alliances again, defend the column “Against Everyone” on voting bulletins, enable small parties to participate in elections…
Question: But amendment of the electoral legislation requires a majority in the Duma and that is impossible without consolidation of effort. It seems that Mikhail Khodorkovsky is right in his call for an alliance between democrats and the left.
Grigori Yavlinsky: In order to change the rules of elections meaning freedom of expression, equal chances, and fair calculation of votes, a different policy and different authorities are needed. As for Khodorkovsky’s message, let us not discuss letters from a Soviet jail here. History itself teaches us not to. I do not know who wrote it or why. As for the title, there is no need to make any turns. What we need is a Western-type democracy. What we need is less lies and thefts. What do Bolsheviks and nationalists have to do with it? Viewing the left as a “delivery means” is dangerous, believe me.
Question: But it surely is possible to consolidate in the regions. Irina Khakamada for one is convinced that united democrats with a common list may win up to 30% seats of the Moscow municipal legislature this December and develop this success in the federal election afterwards.
Grigori Yavlinsky: Bearing in mind the absurdity of the municipal electoral legislation, we intend in compilation of the list to invite representatives of democratic organizations and everyone who shares our views to join us. There will be no bosses on the list. Everyone will be on equal footing. Do not forget, however, that the election in Moscow – its outcome, that is – will be rigged too. Only the mayor’s office and the presidential administration know the results in advance.
Question: But refusal to follow the rules means being left behind, unable to wield any influence whatsoever…
Grigori Yavlinsky: And following the new rules of manipulation and falsification means reinforcement of the authoritarian regime. The only question is how long the population intends to play the herd and shepherd game. Everything will change as soon as a substantial part of the population refuses to play ball.
Question: It does not look like we are heading for an orange revolution.
Grigori Yavlinsky: No, it doesn’t… The regime is trying to put the still weak Russian society into a stiff corset of dumb authoritarianism. The regime does not care that it is asking for trouble, that it will beget a freak. Still, we have two years more. Everything may change yet.
Question: What if it doesn’t?
Grigori Yavlinsky: The Yabloko will go on doing what it has always been doing. The party is learning to exist and operate beyond the Duma. We will go on working on an astute political product so as to offer it to the country when conditions permit it.