Khodorkovsky: Russia’s European Choice and Our Immediate Tasks

September 20, 2014

The following prepared remarks were delivered by Mikhail Khodorkovsky during the global online forum event organised for the launch of Open Russia:

Any political majority was once a minority, but not every political minority necessarily becomes a majority. Only an organised minority has a political future. The problem is not that the pro-European part of the citizenry in Russia today is in the minority, but that it is disorganised and demoralised. The question of the self-organisation of the minority is the main one on our agenda today.

1. Why are we in the minority today? What is our biggest concern? What distinguishes us from the perfectly satisfied majority? – We share what is customarily called “European values”, and we are not in agreement with the political course that declares these values to be outside the law. What is it that is so particular about these values that they should not extend to Russians? One must really not respect the Russian people very much to consider them undeserving of sensible laws, an independent judiciary, policemen who are not for sale, and a government that can be voted in and out of office.

2. As it happens, the question of the European choice has become the main point on the political agenda for post-communist Russia. Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said that if there is no God, then everything is permitted. Today, the ruling regime is acting according to the principle that since we are not Europe, then everything is permitted to us – to steal, to arbitrarily do whatever we want, to suppress those who think differently, and to wage war. We have been given a choice – either Russia returns to the European path of development that it has been following for the last four hundred years, or it will rot away behind the closed-off fence with which it wants to shut itself off from the world. A third choice, alas, is not given to us.

3. The European path is not an abstraction, it is a recognition of rule of law as the cornerstone upon which Russian statehood is built. The European path means fair laws, their honest (the same for all) application, and, unconditionally, regular rotation of those in power, without which neither the first nor the second can be ensured.

4. The assertion that “Russia is not Europe” is a lie, thought up by those who want to justify their right to rule the country for life, having spit on the law and on fairness. The duty of any honest citizen consists of opposing this lie. Russia is a part of Europe both geographically and culturally. The European vector of Russia’s development was the result of many centuries of moral and intellectual endeavour. It is precisely thanks to it that Russia became a great power.

5. Deviating from the European vector has cost the Russian people very dearly every time. Besides the huge human and material losses, it has led to a critical falling behind in the economic and spiritual development of Russian society. There is no doubt whatsoever that today as well we are going to have to pay the same kind of exorbitant price for the latest historical experiment, being forced upon the Russian people.

6. “Russian Europeans” never disappeared in Russia. Maybe this is why it still remains alive to this day. Russia’s European choice has been passed on like a runner’s baton from one generation to the next over a span of many centuries. Even in the times of the most oppressive and darkest reaction there remained people in Russia devoted to the European idea. True Russian patriots expressed their faithfulness to European values and principles in word and in deed, not limiting themselves to mere intellectual quests for rational answers to the challenges of their time. No, they took action, and, moreover, they did so jointly, in the interests of society, attempting to protect people from the most hideous manifestations of Asiaticism – despotic arbitrary abuse of the law.

7. Russian society today is once again being tormented by the same old demons it already knows so well from Russian history. And it is for this reason that spiritual and political resistance to violence has once again become item number one on today’s political agenda. But resistance – this is an art and a science. New times demand new forms, while new forms are born only through interaction and creative endeavour.

8. The power has destroyed civil peace in Russia and has drawn Russian society into a state of cold civil war. In a matter of just a few months, with a few pinpoint strikes it has transformed the political space into a battlefield without front lines, flanks, or rears. In this scorched political space, should any regular political force — be it a party or some other centralised association — even try to declare about its claims to power, it will be wiped off the face of the earth as quick as lightning. This is why the only possible effective tactic of resistance in these conditions is that of “political guerrilla warfare” – that is decentralised resistance to arbitrariness and corruption by primary cells of civil society.

9. Elections are a vulnerable spot for the regime. They have already been reduced to nothing but a dismal ritual long ago. But the power cannot totally and completely eliminate them as a potential threat without declaring Russia an absolute monarchy. And this means that no matter what you might hear, there is a bit of wiggling room left for the future, and a well organised minority can work its way into this narrow space, and lodge itself in there quite nicely in fact, to the point where it becomes that bone in the regime’s throat on which it will choke. In such a manner, the main goal of resistance is elections of all levels, but first and foremost, of course, the 2016 elections to the State Duma, which has become a bulwark of reaction in Russia. And, by the way, if the power goes for an early dissolution of this Duma that has disgraced itself and attempts to ramrod its placemen through into the new parliament on a wave of “Crimea-is-ours” euphoria – this too will be an excellent result. In such a manner, it will have been proven that elections are indeed a weak link and that the power has a real fear of an opposition minority. But we are in no hurry, we are preparing ourselves for a lengthy struggle.

10. We do not intend to participate in elections as an independent political force. This would be political suicide today. But we do need to create an infrastructure that is ready to support any candidate in elections of any level who adheres in practice to the European choice and who is prepared to fight the cancerous tumour that has consumed Russia – corruption, arbitrariness, and criminality. We will support such people irrespective of what political force they represent. Even more important is to offer resistance to those who come out in favour of isolationism, who have ties to criminality in power, and who are mired in corruption. We are going to put up obstacles in the way of such people irrespective of what political flag they appear under. So if a worthy “United Russian” all of a sudden runs in the elections while a candidate who has discredited himself turns out to be an “oppositioneer”, we will support that one of them who looks more worthy, and not the one who has the “right label” stuck on him. It goes without saying that we are talking about all possible forms of support: informational, ideological, organisational, and, of course, where possible, financial.

11. What is needed now for effective resistance is not a party with yet another “vertical” structure, eager to fight for power, but a “horizontal” alliance of the vast number of “small civic groups” that form the underlying fabric of civil society and that solve their own concrete problems locally. The task consists of teaching these groups to quickly unite and effectively interact with one another in that moment when the need arises for joint action. Including, but not only, during elections.

12. I propose calling such a “networked” movement of the primary structures of civil society, that are a part of the local political landscape and, therefore, less vulnerable, coming out for Russia’s return to the European path of development and for the creation of a law-based state with fair laws and rule of law, as well as for the regular rotation of those in power through the conducting of honest elections, the “Open Russia” movement.

13. The main organisational principles of “Open Russia” must therefore become decentralisation and autonomousness (self-sufficiency). In “Open Russia”, every civic group that aligns itself with the movement must be a stand-alone centre of power, the relative weight and influence of which are determined only by its usefulness to the other participants in the movement. The role of the coordinating centre is going to consist of providing a platform for interaction: an “Open Russia” movement website will be created “online”, while forums will be regularly organised for interaction “offline”.

14. The movement is open to all who are fully or even partly in agreement with its main goal – the restoration of rule of law in Russia. I suspect there is in actuality quite a large number of people in Russia who share this goal, and they are quite capable of providing the movement with the necessary resources – intellectual, organisational, and financial:

– We are looking for allies – civic groups that come out in support of the European choice and in favour of limiting the arbitrariness of the state;
– We are looking for intellectual support on the part of the expert community, specialists in various fields of knowledge who have their own personal viewpoint about the path of Russia’s development;
– We are looking for help in information support that will help to more precisely understand the results of current policy and to bring an alternative point of view to as many people as possible;
– We are looking for financial resources: contrary to the rumours being spread by our adversaries, we are not getting money from America, it is being given to us by our compatriots.

15. We have a plan, which will of course be adjusted taking the results of today’s conference and online discussion into account. We need to provide the “interested minority” with an ideology (content), as well as with organisational resources. Our immediate tasks: to provide a communications platform, to get the work of the expert community up and running, to create an educational module, and to get organisational contacts going between all interested groups.

We must become an organised force by the 2016 elections.

16. Starting tomorrow, we are open for cooperation with all who even partly share our ideals and values. Our slogan: all who are not against us are with us. Our objective is a maximally broad alliance. We regard everyone who is in favour of fair distribution of social wealth, equality before the law, rule of law, public oversight of government, and regular rotation and accountability of the bureaucracy, as our ally. All of us want Russia that is great and free, so differences in opinions about peripheral questions need to be kept out of the equation for today.