Mikhail Khodorkovsky: “The Struggle For Power With an Authoritarian Regime Always Involves Serious And Mass Sacrifices”

June 18, 2013

The Krasnodar branch of the YABLOKO political party published an interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky in its newspaper ‘YABLOKO na Kubani’

Yana Antonova, a member of the Bureau of the Krasnodar regional branch of YABLOKO, collected a series of questions from people who are sympathetic to Khodorkovsky’s fate and received answers to the questions by post. The interview is published in an issue of ‘YABLOKO na Kubani’ devoted to the topic of political prisoners in the Russian region of Kuban. 

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  Dear Yana!  Thank you for your letter.  I am delighted to answer the questions, but I don’t believe that my answers deserve such attention as you have suggested in your letter!

Yana Antonova:  Mikhail Borisovich, there was a time when you were providing financial assistance to the YABLOKO party; you were supporting its pre-election campaign in 2003.  This was adroitly used by the Kremlin PR people against you and against the party:  the party lost the elections and didn’t get any seats in the State Duma, meanwhile, at the same time, you were arrested.  Much water has flowed under the bridge since then.  What is your attitude towards the YABLOKO party now?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  You should not overstate the significance of one element of the PR campaign.   The only thing that connects my arrest and the opposition’s lack of success is the start of the regime’s general determination to get rid of independent and strong opponents – the usual modus operandi of an autocracy.  But as for the people in Yabloko, I continue to be sympathetic towards them.

David Kankiya:  What is the protest movement lacking?  Why does power outfox its opponents time and again?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  The struggle for power with an authoritarian regime always involves serious and mass sacrifices – the loss of a business, a job, or liberty.  The opposition is not willing to make such sacrifices yet.  Nor does it have a strategy for winning without sacrifices (other than hoping that the regime will come to its senses by itself).  Unfortunately, there are going to be big casualties nonetheless – a historical inevitability.  Usually, these kind of authoritarian regimes have a maximum 40 year life span (but usually its 15-20 years) before reform occurs.

David Kankiya:  Is a compromise possible between the authorities in power and the opposition?  If yes, then who should take the first step and what is the line in the sand as far as making concessions goes?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  For an authoritarian power to compromise with a powerless opposition will require Vladimir Putin to behave with true selfless devotion in the best interests of society.  I don’t think that is likely to happen.  There is another way – a split among the elites – but this requires protest with sacrifices, something for which the opposition is not yet ready.

David Kankiya:  Any kind of participation in any kind of civic activism is perceived by many Russian people as weakness or stupidity, an irrational waste of one’s life.  Such an attitude to life – is  this the result of “effective management” by Vladimir Putin or is it a peculiarity of the national character after all?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  The deficiency in civic activism arises from the absence of corresponding cultural traditions and organisational structures.  Unfortunately, if social protest builds up in an unstructured society, it turns into a revolt, “senseless and merciless”.  However, in a more structured society social protest would become a stimulus for the civic activism that eventually modernises a country.

Andrei Filimonov:  Attempts by the opposition to participate in a series of municipal and regional elections remain unsuccessful, with the low involvement of rank and file citizens in the electoral process being one of the reasons.  But by highlighting to the voters the unsatisfactory state of the institution of elections, the opposition is actually helping to reduce this involvement even further.  What would you advise doing in this situation?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  Your three-step chain of logic is ambiguous.  So the call:  “Everybody to the elections!  We won’t allow falsification” is perfectly appropriate.

Andrei Filimonov:  Speaking of civil society in Russia, we see much more citizen activism in the big cities and significantly weaker activism in the regions.  What do you think are the ways in which  centers of civic activism can be formed in the regions?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  Sociologists confirm that people lose patriarchal consciousness more quickly in big cities.  Today half the population of Russia now lives in big cities and the process of urbanisation is continuing.  So there is no need to take on a task too big to handle.  Big cities are a worthy political objective.

Yana Antonova:  In your correspondence with Kseniya Sobchak, you advise the opposition movement to address itself to the problems of housing and public utilities.  Would it be effective to organise “anti-housing” and “anti public utilities” centers in the large cities, where people could consult with accountants and lawyers for free and organise an opposition internet portal on this topic?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  Without a doubt, do consult people on pressing problems.  Transitioning from consulting to helping them self-organise is the right path.

Yana Antonova:  One of the biggest commuting districts of Krasnodar, Yubileyny, is being threatened with infill development – yet already around a hundred thousand people live there, the schools and pre-school day care centers are full, there is no cinema, no youth or arts center and the traffic is a nightmare.

The officials in the city administration explain that without infill development, the hundred-thousand-strong district will end up under threat of being flooded by the Kuban River, which surrounds it on three sides.  The construction company is going to reinforce the banks of the river, and in exchange for this will get permission to build nine multi-story houses on the Rozhdestvenskaya Embankment.  At the public hearings that the city authorities conducted on 12 March outside the boundaries of the district, the development project was presented by the son of the head architect of Krasnodar region.  These people are rich and mighty, they have power, while we are merely citizens, merely residents of the city.  How can we stand up for our district?  How can we save it from both flooding and greedy officials?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  Not everything that the authorities propose is bad a prior – even if their motive is gain.  But if there are strong arguments “against” a proposed action, they need to be given broad publicity.  After all, an official understands that tomorrow a rival for his position will appear from within the governing fraternity, and this bad decision could end up “sticking to him” and doing him damage.

Leonid Zaprudin:  You actively engaged in awareness-raising activity, you financed Open Russia.  There are many who believe that it was this activity that was one of the reasons for “putting the squeeze” on you.  In connection with this, how do you assess the prospects for Alexei Kudrin’s “Committee of Civil Initiatives” and Mikhail Prokhorov’s activity?  Can they be trusted?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  I consider all the forms of civic activism mentioned by you to be a positive phenomenon. Today our common task is to promote the self-organisation of civil society.  There will be time to discuss the subtleties later – in a democratic country.  As for M. Prokhorov and A. Kudrin, they certainly can be trusted where they take clear-cut obligations upon themselves.  To expect more from them and then get upset because they didn’t do what others expected of them is not right.

Yana Antonova:  What, in your view, has Vladimir Putin done for Russia?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  Vladimir Putin is a typical not-stupid “custodian”.  He even managed to force himself not to hinder the economy where it ran contrary to his idea of “custodianism”. But the main thing is that he managed to turn the conflict in the Caucasus from a “hot” one into a “smoldering” one -even if it was at a high cost.  As a result, the country has lost a decade in which it could have been developing, but at the same time people have had the chance to rest after an era of revolutionary transformation.  Of course, we’re going to have to pay for this inactivity in the future (with low pensions and a road, housing and public utilities infrastructure that is still in ruins), but maybe the rest period was needed.  What’s important is not to drag it out any longer than necessary.

Andrei Filimonov:  Do you think a balance between the libertarian and social democratic models in  Russia is possible and in what form is it most acceptable?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  I consider the European model of liberal social democracy perfectly acceptable for our country, given the natural resources we have.  The more subtle distinctions between the German and, for example, Norwegian models are not significant for us for now.

Andrei Filimonov:  In your reflections you speak of post-industrialisation as an inevitable process that will sooner or later impact Russia as well.  What, in your opinion, are the actions that civil society should be facilitating to enable Russia’s transition into the new era?  In what sequence are these changes going to be taking place given the significant “heterogeneity” of the country’s economy?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  I prefer to talk about the knowledge economy which, besides the service sector (the post-industrial part), also includes modern industry (that is high-tech and flexible and where know-how is a large component in the final cost of the product) and modern high-intensity agriculture (that is highly efficient, environmentally friendly and based on modern technologies).

It is obvious that a modern economy is impossible to achieve without a modern society, since highly educated and creative personnel are its chief resource.  Therefore, you should expect the formation of a knowledge economy first in the mega-cities, gradually spreading throughout the entire territory of the country.  However, some zones may remain outside this process for centuries.

Yana Antonova:  What do you think of the government’s attempt to introduce fee-based secondary education?  The free high school – is this the nation’s social achievement for which we ought to fight, or can we allow ourselves to lose it?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  I hadn’t heard about such an attempt, although I am not about to rule out the possibility of alternative educational institutions.  The right of every person to an equal chance in life, enforced – among other things – by equal access to education, seems to me to be an absolutely indisputable, fundamental and we should expect this from the government.  A government that is incapable of ensuring that such an expectation is not fulfilled is really no good at all.

Yana Antonova:  You assume that a peaceful sacrificial process will split the elite.  The narodniki movement did not split the elite in the nineteenth century, so why are we going to be luckier?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  I’m not talking about the process, but about the protest.  Peaceful sacrificial protest leads to a change of power either by splitting the elites, or by causing collapse and making it impossible for the authorities to run the country.  The narodniki movement, in its early manifestations, was not a sufficiently mass peaceful protest.  More recently, Poland’s Solidarity movement is an example of such success – and there are quite a few other such examples.

Alexey Mandrigelya:  What is the attitude of other prisoners and the prison authorities to political prisoners in the prison camp?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  Towards me – not bad; towards nationalists – it varies.  Here, it is more likely to depend on the person themselves.

Alexey Mandrigelya:  Are you afraid of getting killed in jail?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  I don’t even think about it.

Yana Antonova:  In 2007, you submitted a request for conditional early release on parole.  You were denied.  You’ve got elderly parents who are in poor health and teenage sons – a transition age for children which is always hard.  Are there any considerations that could encourage you once again to apply for parole?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  In 2007, I submitted what I knew would be a useless request for parole in order to demonstrate to certain respected but naïve people that our courts are completely controlled by the State and that the process is influenced by politics. This cost me yet another visit to solitary confinement. In 2011, I repeated the parole application in order not to stay too long in the SIZO [investigative isolator].  It worked splendidly.  But in the prison colony I naturally didn’t bother to continue doing this.

Yana Antonova:  You’ve been in jail for ten years.  A prisoner can be granted a two-week break from prison for good behavior.  Is there any chance of this for you?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  Such breaks, as a rule, are granted to stoolpigeons when the operatives need them on the outside for their own reasons.  And everybody knows this.

Leonid Zaprudin:  What in today’s Russia inspires optimism in you?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  Quite a lot.  Our people are wonderful.  The Putin regime isn’t forever.  Everything will be good.  Only one thing is sad – I’m 50 already.

Dmitry Karamazov:  In your first final statement in 2005 in court, you said that you had never in your life taken part in wild revelries with gypsies and bears.  Don’t you want to catch up on what you’ve missed out on when you’re released?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  I’m afraid it’s a bit too late for that.  Earlier I didn’t have the time or the desire really.  Now it will be more interesting for me to go down to the zoo with my granddaughter.  With my children, unfortunately, it’s also a bit too late.

Alexey Mandrigelya:  If the doors of the jail were to open before you tomorrow, where would you go?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky:  Straight ahead.

The questions were asked by:
Yana Antonova, member of the Buro of the Krasnodar regional branch of RODP YABLOKO;
Leonid Zaprudin, editor in chief of the newspaper YABLOKO na Kubani;
David Kankia, civic activist, graduate student;
Dmitry Fyodorovich Karamazov, hero of F.M. Dostoyevsky’s novel;
Alexey Mandrigelya, chairman of the Krasnodar regional “Youth YABLOKO”;
Andrei Filimonov, organiser of the 26 June 2012 picket in support of M. Khodorokvsky in the town of Segezha, the place where correctional colony No. 7 of the UFSIN of the RF is located.

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Mikhail Khodorkovsky: “The Struggle For Power With an Authoritarian Regime Always Involves Serious And Mass Sacrifices”

June 18, 2013

The Krasnodar branch of the YABLOKO political party published an interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky in its newspaper ‘YABLOKO na Kubani’

Yana Antonova, a member of the Bureau of the Krasnodar regional branch of YABLOKO, collected a series of questions from people who are sympathetic to Khodorkovsky’s fate and received answers to the questions by post. The interview is published in an issue of ‘YABLOKO na Kubani’ devoted to the topic of political prisoners in the Russian region of Kuban.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Dear Yana! Thank you for your letter. I am delighted to answer the questions, but I don’t believe that my answers deserve such attention as you have suggested in your letter!

Yana Antonova: Mikhail Borisovich, there was a time when you were providing financial assistance to the YABLOKO party; you were supporting its pre-election campaign in 2003. This was adroitly used by the Kremlin PR people against you and against the party: the party lost the elections and didn’t get any seats in the State Duma, meanwhile, at the same time, you were arrested. Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. What is your attitude towards the YABLOKO party now?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: You should not overstate the significance of one element of the PR campaign. The only thing that connects my arrest and the opposition’s lack of success is the start of the regime’s general determination to get rid of independent and strong opponents – the usual modus operandi of an autocracy. But as for the people in Yabloko, I continue to be sympathetic towards them.

David Kankiya: What is the protest movement lacking? Why does power outfox its opponents time and again?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: The struggle for power with an authoritarian regime always involves serious and mass sacrifices – the loss of a business, a job, or liberty. The opposition is not willing to make such sacrifices yet. Nor does it have a strategy for winning without sacrifices (other than hoping that the regime will come to its senses by itself). Unfortunately, there are going to be big casualties nonetheless – a historical inevitability. Usually, these kind of authoritarian regimes have a maximum 40 year life span (but usually its 15-20 years) before reform occurs.

David Kankiya: Is a compromise possible between the authorities in power and the opposition? If yes, then who should take the first step and what is the line in the sand as far as making concessions goes?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: For an authoritarian power to compromise with a powerless opposition will require Vladimir Putin to behave with true selfless devotion in the best interests of society. I don’t think that is likely to happen. There is another way – a split among the elites – but this requires protest with sacrifices, something for which the opposition is not yet ready.

David Kankiya: Any kind of participation in any kind of civic activism is perceived by many Russian people as weakness or stupidity, an irrational waste of one’s life. Such an attitude to life – is this the result of “effective management” by Vladimir Putin or is it a peculiarity of the national character after all?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: The deficiency in civic activism arises from the absence of corresponding cultural traditions and organisational structures. Unfortunately, if social protest builds up in an unstructured society, it turns into a revolt, “senseless and merciless”. However, in a more structured society social protest would become a stimulus for the civic activism that eventually modernises a country.

Andrei Filimonov: Attempts by the opposition to participate in a series of municipal and regional elections remain unsuccessful, with the low involvement of rank and file citizens in the electoral process being one of the reasons. But by highlighting to the voters the unsatisfactory state of the institution of elections, the opposition is actually helping to reduce this involvement even further. What would you advise doing in this situation?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Your three-step chain of logic is ambiguous. So the call: “Everybody to the elections! We won’t allow falsification” is perfectly appropriate.

Andrei Filimonov: Speaking of civil society in Russia, we see much more citizen activism in the big cities and significantly weaker activism in the regions. What do you think are the ways in which centers of civic activism can be formed in the regions?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Sociologists confirm that people lose patriarchal consciousness more quickly in big cities. Today half the population of Russia now lives in big cities and the process of urbanisation is continuing. So there is no need to take on a task too big to handle. Big cities are a worthy political objective.

Yana Antonova: In your correspondence with Kseniya Sobchak, you advise the opposition movement to address itself to the problems of housing and public utilities. Would it be effective to organise “anti-housing” and “anti public utilities” centers in the large cities, where people could consult with accountants and lawyers for free and organise an opposition internet portal on this topic?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Without a doubt, do consult people on pressing problems. Transitioning from consulting to helping them self-organise is the right path.

Yana Antonova: One of the biggest commuting districts of Krasnodar, Yubileyny, is being threatened with infill development – yet already around a hundred thousand people live there, the schools and pre-school day care centers are full, there is no cinema, no youth or arts center and the traffic is a nightmare.

The officials in the city administration explain that without infill development, the hundred-thousand-strong district will end up under threat of being flooded by the Kuban River, which surrounds it on three sides. The construction company is going to reinforce the banks of the river, and in exchange for this will get permission to build nine multi-story houses on the Rozhdestvenskaya Embankment. At the public hearings that the city authorities conducted on 12 March outside the boundaries of the district, the development project was presented by the son of the head architect of Krasnodar region. These people are rich and mighty, they have power, while we are merely citizens, merely residents of the city. How can we stand up for our district? How can we save it from both flooding and greedy officials?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Not everything that the authorities propose is bad a prior – even if their motive is gain. But if there are strong arguments “against” a proposed action, they need to be given broad publicity. After all, an official understands that tomorrow a rival for his position will appear from within the governing fraternity, and this bad decision could end up “sticking to him” and doing him damage.

Leonid Zaprudin: You actively engaged in awareness-raising activity, you financed Open Russia. There are many who believe that it was this activity that was one of the reasons for “putting the squeeze” on you. In connection with this, how do you assess the prospects for Alexei Kudrin’s “Committee of Civil Initiatives” and Mikhail Prokhorov’s activity? Can they be trusted?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: I consider all the forms of civic activism mentioned by you to be a positive phenomenon. Today our common task is to promote the self-organisation of civil society. There will be time to discuss the subtleties later – in a democratic country. As for M. Prokhorov and A. Kudrin, they certainly can be trusted where they take clear-cut obligations upon themselves. To expect more from them and then get upset because they didn’t do what others expected of them is not right.

Yana Antonova: What, in your view, has Vladimir Putin done for Russia?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Vladimir Putin is a typical not-stupid “custodian”. He even managed to force himself not to hinder the economy where it ran contrary to his idea of “custodianism”. But the main thing is that he managed to turn the conflict in the Caucasus from a “hot” one into a “smoldering” one -even if it was at a high cost. As a result, the country has lost a decade in which it could have been developing, but at the same time people have had the chance to rest after an era of revolutionary transformation. Of course, we’re going to have to pay for this inactivity in the future (with low pensions and a road, housing and public utilities infrastructure that is still in ruins), but maybe the rest period was needed. What’s important is not to drag it out any longer than necessary.

Andrei Filimonov: Do you think a balance between the libertarian and social democratic models in Russia is possible and in what form is it most acceptable?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: I consider the European model of liberal social democracy perfectly acceptable for our country, given the natural resources we have. The more subtle distinctions between the German and, for example, Norwegian models are not significant for us for now.

Andrei Filimonov: In your reflections you speak of post-industrialisation as an inevitable process that will sooner or later impact Russia as well. What, in your opinion, are the actions that civil society should be facilitating to enable Russia’s transition into the new era? In what sequence are these changes going to be taking place given the significant “heterogeneity” of the country’s economy?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: I prefer to talk about the knowledge economy which, besides the service sector (the post-industrial part), also includes modern industry (that is high-tech and flexible and where know-how is a large component in the final cost of the product) and modern high-intensity agriculture (that is highly efficient, environmentally friendly and based on modern technologies).

It is obvious that a modern economy is impossible to achieve without a modern society, since highly educated and creative personnel are its chief resource. Therefore, you should expect the formation of a knowledge economy first in the mega-cities, gradually spreading throughout the entire territory of the country. However, some zones may remain outside this process for centuries.

Yana Antonova: What do you think of the government’s attempt to introduce fee-based secondary education? The free high school – is this the nation’s social achievement for which we ought to fight, or can we allow ourselves to lose it?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: I hadn’t heard about such an attempt, although I am not about to rule out the possibility of alternative educational institutions. The right of every person to an equal chance in life, enforced – among other things – by equal access to education, seems to me to be an absolutely indisputable, fundamental and we should expect this from the government. A government that is incapable of ensuring that such an expectation is not fulfilled is really no good at all.

Yana Antonova: You assume that a peaceful sacrificial process will split the elite. The narodniki movement did not split the elite in the nineteenth century, so why are we going to be luckier?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: I’m not talking about the process, but about the protest. Peaceful sacrificial protest leads to a change of power either by splitting the elites, or by causing collapse and making it impossible for the authorities to run the country. The narodniki movement, in its early manifestations, was not a sufficiently mass peaceful protest. More recently, Poland’s Solidarity movement is an example of such success – and there are quite a few other such examples.

Alexey Mandrigelya: What is the attitude of other prisoners and the prison authorities to political prisoners in the prison camp?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Towards me – not bad; towards nationalists – it varies. Here, it is more likely to depend on the person themselves.

Alexey Mandrigelya: Are you afraid of getting killed in jail?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: I don’t even think about it.

Yana Antonova: In 2007, you submitted a request for conditional early release on parole. You were denied. You’ve got elderly parents who are in poor health and teenage sons – a transition age for children which is always hard. Are there any considerations that could encourage you once again to apply for parole?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: In 2007, I submitted what I knew would be a useless request for parole in order to demonstrate to certain respected but naïve people that our courts are completely controlled by the State and that the process is influenced by politics. This cost me yet another visit to solitary confinement. In 2011, I repeated the parole application in order not to stay too long in the SIZO [investigative isolator]. It worked splendidly. But in the prison colony I naturally didn’t bother to continue doing this.

Yana Antonova: You’ve been in jail for ten years. A prisoner can be granted a two-week break from prison for good behavior. Is there any chance of this for you?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Such breaks, as a rule, are granted to stoolpigeons when the operatives need them on the outside for their own reasons. And everybody knows this.

Leonid Zaprudin: What in today’s Russia inspires optimism in you?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Quite a lot. Our people are wonderful. The Putin regime isn’t forever. Everything will be good. Only one thing is sad – I’m 50 already.

Dmitry Karamazov: In your first final statement in 2005 in court, you said that you had never in your life taken part in wild revelries with gypsies and bears. Don’t you want to catch up on what you’ve missed out on when you’re released?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: I’m afraid it’s a bit too late for that. Earlier I didn’t have the time or the desire really. Now it will be more interesting for me to go down to the zoo with my granddaughter. With my children, unfortunately, it’s also a bit too late.

Alexey Mandrigelya: If the doors of the jail were to open before you tomorrow, where would you go?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Straight ahead.

The questions were asked by:
Yana Antonova, member of the Buro of the Krasnodar regional branch of RODP YABLOKO;
Leonid Zaprudin, editor in chief of the newspaper YABLOKO na Kubani;
David Kankia, civic activist, graduate student;
Dmitry Fyodorovich Karamazov, hero of F.M. Dostoyevsky’s novel;
Alexey Mandrigelya, chairman of the Krasnodar regional “Youth YABLOKO”;
Andrei Filimonov, organiser of the 26 June 2012 picket in support of M. Khodorokvsky in the town of Segezha, the place where correctional colony No. 7 of the UFSIN of the RF is located.

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