An interview with Yabloko party leader Grigori Yavlinsky

Yabloko leader Grigori Yavlinsky: “Life has improved a little, and people are thinking a little more about what is going on. Where are our independent courts? Where are our affordable education and health care? Where are our normal Armed Forces? Where is respect for property rights?”

Grigori Alekseyevich Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko party, turned 55 on April 10.

Question: After the regional elections on March 11, all the political analysts said that Yabloko is dead. Even in the regions where it wasn’t disqualified, your party got only three or four percent of the vote.

Grigori Yavlinsky: That’s a good proviso – “where it wasn’t disqualified”! It’s like blindfolding a person, binding their hands and feet, then pointing out that they can’t run very fast. Russia’s political analysts have a pathological problem: first they acknowledge that there’s no such thing as a fair election in Russia, and then they display figures showing that Yabloko’s percentages are low. How is it possible to analyze the results of something that doesn’t exist? Look at the vote-counting records from election commissions in the Moscow region – one fraud on top of another! Yet even in these conditions, there are places where we get 14% or more.

Question: But aren’t you tired of “running with your feet tied”? Sergei Glaziev has announced that he’s quitting politics and returning to academia. You hold a doctorate, you’re a professor at the Higher School of Economics: maybe it would be better for you to quit politics and devote yourself to teaching students?

Grigori Yavlinsky: I want Russia to have an efficient and fair economic system, without a gulf between rich and poor. That requires substantial research and knowledge, and students do have to be taught – but we also have to fight for our goals by political means. I do get tired sometimes, but that’s the nature of the job!

Question: The impression is that Yabloko is stuck between the opposition within the system, such as the Communist Party, and fringe groups like the National Bolshevik Party (NBP). You’re often disqualified from elections, but you haven’t been banned like the NBP.

Grigori Yavlinsky: But what do you mean by “opposition within the system”?

Question: The kind of opposition that doesn’t scream and shout about the “bloody regime” and doesn’t fantasize about climbing over the Kremlin wall.

Grigori Yavlinsky: Those who can do nothing more than scale the wall aren’t an opposition – they’re rock-climbers. An opposition means people who are prepared to get something done once they’re over the wall. Let’s say Garry Kasparov asks Eduard Limonov to send some NBP activists over the Kremlin wall and get them to open up the Spassky Gates from within. But what are they going to do once they’re in there? Play chess?

Yabloko, as a political force, is always situated in between hysterical cries of “Long live…!” and “Down with…!” Though if the authorities wanted to, they could probably come to our head office, “discover” traces of bird flu, and shut us down.

Question: Attempts to unite the Union of Right Forces (SPS) and Yabloko have failed. What was the point of carrying on with this farce – continuing your negotiations for so long?

Grigori Yavlinsky: When Nikita Belykh took over as SPS leader, I thought he might make some changes. But it turns out that he’s only following the orders of Anatoly Chubais and Leonid Gozman. And they’re people who will stop at nothing. In terms of their views, they’re somewhere between the LDPR and United Russia. And why should we unite with people like that?

Question: That’s up to you, of course – but the people have an impression of Yavlinsky as the most stubborn and intractable politician.

Grigori Yavlinsky: We need alliances with intelligent, honest people, and we are forming alliances of that kind: with the Greens, the Soldiers’ Mothers, rights activists. As for being stubborn – that’s an essential quality in politics, if you want to achieve anything good.

Question: Will you run for president in 2008?

Grigori Yavlinsky: Let’s wait and see what the election is like. If it’s buffoonery, like in 2004 – when the only choice was between Putin and Zhirinovsky’s bodyguard – then what’s the point of participating?

Question: But if you ignore the “buffoonery,” won’t you end up all alone with your ideas? You’re fading from the public view already.

Grigori Yavlinsky: No, I won’t be left alone. People change. They were so beaten down in the 1990s that they didn’t have the strength to think about anything. Now life has improved a little, and people are thinking a little more about what is going on. Where are our independent courts? Where are our affordable education and health care? Where are our normal Armed Forces? Where is respect for property rights? By the way, do you know why the idea of confiscating assets from oligarchs is so popular? Because in the wake of a criminal privatization process, nobody – not the people, the authorities, or even the oligarchs themselves – believes that those assets truly belong to them. That is precisely why there are big problems with the private sector in Russia.

Question: But what kind of new ideas can you propose – “confiscating and distributing”?

Grigori Yavlinsky: No. We are working on a system including a compensation tax, social reparations for the damage done to society, rules for the use of major assets, deconcentrating capital, people’s stakes, shares, land allotments. We’re not proposing to take from the rich and give to the poor. What we need are equal starting opportunities for all: “people’s capitalism.” Building a state that will protect everyone alike.

Question: And what kind of state is being built at present, in your view?

Grigori Yavlinsky: In practice, unfortunately, it’s a state based on oil and corruption. Peripheral capitalism, servicing the developed nations.

Question: But the authorities seem to be sincere when they say it’s time to end Russia’s dependence on oil exports – time to develop science and industry.

Grigori Yavlinsky: An alcoholic can say sincerely that it’s time to quit drinking – right up until he goes to the store to buy more. It’s the same with the authorities: after all, they don’t have anyone putting pressure on them! No normal trade unions, no powerful opposition parties – and the people are silent. The government probably does think about how to make the economy more effective – before lunch. But after lunch, it reaches for the bottle again – the oil pipeline.

It will take a long time for an effective socially-oriented market economy to emerge in Russia. We don’t have one yet. We have money, but we don’t have an economy.