Mikhail Khodorkovsky: “Russian Europeans: Our Goal Is a Civic Nation”

March 2, 2017

The founder of the Open Russia movement details what needs to be done for a bloodless transition of power in Russia.

Photo: Anastasia Khodorkovskaya.

Over the last ten years, the Russian government has been acting more instinctively than politically in its systemic debilitation of society.

The government is not only encouraging, but actively forcing out of the country its most distinguished specialists who dare to think independently, or simply want to go about their business without countless bureaucratic obstacles.

The authorities have repeatedly sought to undermine the authority of the people, state and non-state institutions in the public consciousness.

It’s not the opposition but those in power that are destroying the authority of the courts, the police, governors and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Consider this question: can you name a respected public figure in our society today? A judge? A policeman? A scientist? An entrepreneur? Whose opinion does our society respect?

Over the past few centuries, who was it that prevented the country sliding into the abyss of barbarity at times of great unrest? To whom does the country owe its power, culture, science and military might that our patriots are constantly celebrating? To our leaders, as propaganda assures us? Not in the slightest!

The fact that Russian culture and science are still significant parts of world culture and science is thanks to “Russian Europeans”—a smaller group than one might wish.

These people love their country (even if they hate it sometimes), work in the interests of their people, and solve common problems together as one society.

These people are Russians, but they are also Europeans in so far as they recognize that Russian culture is an integral part of European culture, that Russia has walked the same path as Europe for centuries.

The government has always been afraid of the unity of the “Russian Europeans,” especially now as the key distinction between the Russian and European paths has become the attitude towards the individual and the state.

Is a person a means or an end? Is the state the supreme entity, the high altar upon which countless sacrifices must be made, or is it a means, a tool created by humans for the convenience of the community?

Are bureaucrats high-priests of the altar or are they simply qualified individuals serving an earthly institution? This dilemma scares the life out of our government, which considers itself god-like.

But it is not god-like, and will not live eternally. Even in historical terms. But Russia should.

Until now the government has not wanted to deal with the problem of its inevitable expiry. It sets people apart and destroys authority; it is wary of competition and fears losing control.

Some believe that Putin will simply hand power to a successor and everything will go on as before.

Firstly, “as before” won’t work. Stagnation cannot go on forever. Simply compare our GDP rate with that of our neighbors.

Secondly, such an attempt to pass over the reins of power has already been made. Does anybody think that since then the supporters of Medvedev and Sechin have made friends?

This means is that when the regime collapses it could fall into the hands of people who are not ready to accept power.

To address the challenge of a bloodless transition of power, we need to start thinking together.  But who is this “we”? We are Russian Europeans: the people who decided to work with the current government in the hope of it being the lesser evil, and those who broke all contact with it, considering it unworthy.

We are the “loyalists” and “irreconcilables,” supporters of the role of the government in the economy and advocates of liberal ideas. We are those who believe that “Crimea is ours,” and those who are dissatisfied with what has happened.

But where can we start? We could begin by discussing the transition of power with experts from the Kudrin and Kasyanov camps, from the teams of Yavlinsky and Navalny, as well as the All-Russia People’s Front and Open Russia.

The centenary of the Russian Revolution gives grounds for doing so.

And the goal — the emergence of a united Russian nation — in my view justifies all the inconveniences of such a get-together.

We have to overcome the fear of change. There are more important things than “not sacrificing our principles,” and we are all responsible for seeing that change is brought about. We must put aside our differences, and together develop and present to the public (and to the government) solutions to the problems that promise to tear Russia apart.

The country is in vital need of profound change. And I’m not talking solely about politics and economics.

It is perhaps more important to return society to a functioning state, to free it of aggression, and to help people to cooperate with each other in an open and friendly manner on all levels.

To me it’s clear why irresponsible people are in government, those who wish to stave off their own fall, content with fragmenting society. They want to present themselves as the sole guarantors of stability. Either way, their departure is inevitable at some point, and if we want to preserve our country then we need to restore peace in society now.

The power of the democratic movement lies in its appeal to everybody, not only its active participants. Every citizen prepared to live without infringing the rights of others can rest assured that they and their close ones will be better off in this rejuvenated Russia.

The English translation of the original article (in Russian) has been slightly abridged and edited for clarity.