“Our fellow citizens are ready for the building of a law-based state”

July 30, 2015

“Our fellow citizens are ready for the building of a law-based state”

On July 28th Mikhail Khodorkovsky was a guest of Hard Day’s Night, a weekly magazine on TV Rain. Below are highlights of the conversation.

Watch the whole interview (in Russian only) here.

TV Rain: In recent days we have been following the drama that has been unfolding around the attempts by the Democratic Coalition to advance to the elections in Novosibirsk Oblast.  You, as Open Russia, support the Democratic Coalition.  However, we are seeing that the list has not been confirmed and, from all appearances, the Democratic Coalition at a minimum is not going to be able to take part in the elections in Novosibirsk Oblast.  Does this mean that the project that goes by the name “Participation in the elections” has already now, at this stage, proven its lack of success, let’s put it that way?`

MBK: My approach to participation in elections is the following:  this is a time when the Russian opposition can present itself as an alternative to Russian society.  It is in this right here that one of the two main tasks lies.  The second task — this is to get a look at those people who may be a political asset for the opposition and, correspondingly, these people are being offered the opportunity to show themselves to society.  I think that both of these tasks can be resolved within the framework of a pre-election campaign and the subsequent elections.  And it is precisely because I consider these tasks to be more important than actually getting elected or not elected to the membership of the current organs of power — which are sufficiently fake in my view — it is for exactly this reason that I support the Democratic Coalition, but at the same time am not a part of it..

TV Rain: It is precisely about the possibility of achieving success that I would like to ask you, Mikhail Borisovich.  You are bringing attention to the fact that Open Russia, all of its activity is aimed at convincing the Russian people of the necessity of democracy, of the vitally important principle of existing in a democratic society.  Exactly what is it that gives you the hope that someone at some time had actually managed to convince the Russian people of the necessity of democracy?  After all, our previous history has shown that what the statistically average Russian most definitely does not need is democracy.

MBK: I consider that to a large extent our problem in communicating with our Russian society lies in a distortion of the meaning of terms.  When you and I talk about democracy, we and those people who are listening to us understand entirely different things by this term.  Democracy — this is a mechanism for running a state, a mechanism for running a country.  This is why I propose talking about a law-based state.

And I am absolutely convinced that our fellow citizens are totally interested in and ready for the building of a law-based state.  A state where there will be independent courts, a state where the bureaucracy is going to listen to the people, a state where the organs of state are going to be carrying out their state duties and not engaging in seeking out opportunities to line their pockets.

TV Rain: What are elections, if a new power isn’t formed as a result of them?  Then the old power can say:  hey, look at you, you’re not capable of anything, you can’t even gather signatures, how are you going to run a country?  This is a kind of never-ending circle.  And you’re now calling for defeatism.  Let’s go and shuffle our feet around the former oblast party committee building a bit and show everyone how pretty we look.  Then we’ll disperse and go and build not a democracy, but a law-based state, about which, in my opinion, Gorbachev was talking in 1986 or thereabouts, as I understand it.

MBK: Just because Gorbachev was talking about a law-based state in 1986, that does not at all mean that one should not be built, at long last.  And so it is that we are going along this path with reverses, with backtracking, there is nothing you can do about that, this has happened in the history of other countries as well.  Now as concerns your opinion that I am calling on somebody to underestimate the significance of victory at elections.  It is precisely because I consider that in the current conditions it is impossible to get power within the framework of elections, which in actuality are not elections at all.  It is precisely for this reason that I am not a participant in the pre-election coalition.  But now, to convince society that elections need to be conducted, and that they need to be conducted in an honest way, and that each subsequent non-election needs to be just a little bit closer to a real election — this is a path on which I consider we are perfectly capable of achieving success.  It is another matter that this path is somewhat longer than many of today’s young representatives of the opposition imagine it to be.  But I think that this is the path to success.

TV Rain: You do not consider that Putin is going to leave after victory at the elections of 2018?

MBK: I consider that in the course of 10 years, that is until the year 2024, there exists a sufficiently high probability — on the order of 50% — that Putin will go. Whether this will take place a year after the elections or two years after the elections is complicated for me to say.  But I do consider that the probability is sufficiently high.  And the reason for this is in general comprehensible to me. Vladimir Putin has gotten used to existing in a situation where everything comes together relatively favorably.  Society’s attitude to him is favorable, the country’s incomes are growing, because oil prices are growing, the international situation is more or less decent.  Now he is finding himself in an uncomfortable situation, and going forward this discomfort is only going to increase.  For now he is not fully feeling it yet, but in general I think that this is inevitable.  And strictly speaking, I think that Putin’s going or not going is a question of his own personal perception of the circumstances and the situation.

TV Rain: Mikhail Borisovich, there are two forks here.  The first fork is that with the exacerbation of the sanctions, their impact on the economy, the number of dissatisfied, so-called state capitalists, is growing among those around the president.  We are seeing today how they’re grabbing up huge chunks of the market, we can see that they’ve been able to get ahold of what they can’t get in the form of loans in the West.  Could this dissatisfaction reach a critical size such that they won’t need Vladimir Vladimirovich any more either?  And on the other hand, they could after all come up with such a successor from their clan that Putin will seem to us to be even a democrat and a shining beacon of light, in the grand scheme of things.  We know people like these too, after all.

MBK: My point of view is that Putin will get to the end of his presidency along a path of radicalization of the regime to the very limit. And none of his followers are going to go a single step beyond that limit.  At any rate not for a more or less long period.  You understand, the elite has its own interests, and I am in agreement with you here that the interests of the elite are now coming into contradiction with the course our country is taking today.  The main interest of the elite — and strictly speaking, in actuality it coincides with the interest of the country — is for the country to get out of isolation.  Because the country can not develop normally in that isolation in which we have found ourselves now.  And not one single successor to Putin is going to be able to stay at this post for anything that could be called a long time if he does not lead the country out of isolation.  This is why I am a pessimist in the short term, but an optimist in the medium and long term.

TV Rain: How does it seem to you, what kind of potential does a palace coup have?  And how does it seem to you, why does Vladimir Putin himself, whom this affects directly, love to joke about this subject so much?

MBK: I will repeat once again, it is complicated for me to give commentaries in relation to the psychological state of a person who for all that is essentially not all that simple a person.  But I think that he assumes that in a certain sense this is fair, that the enforcement structures as of today are getting more power, more money, more opportunities than some other regime could possibly offer them.  In a certain sense this is fair.  It is another matter that they do not have that stability of this situation which they would probably like to have.  Maybe they are not giving it much thought right now, but with each passing year an ever greater quantity of people are going to be thinking about it.  I think that Vladimir Putin’s jokes on this subject are going to become somewhat more strained.

TV Rain: Mikhail Borisovich, what is your attitude on lustration?  You had spoken about how, for example, in the transition period you might take part in the political life of the country.  If, for example, this power would agree to voluntarily transfer it into somebody else’s hands, then what fate would you foretell and decide for those people who had actively participated in this power?  Is it necessary for them to be subjected to lustration?  Or would you be lenient in relation to them in the given situation?  If this depended on you.

MBK: It is not a question of leniency here.  I think that it is hard in general to speak in these terms in the field of politics.  What we are talking about here is what is possible in practice.  In Russia there exists a fully formed bureaucratic class, and this class includes millions of people and millions of members of their families.  And to talk about how these people have to be thrown out the door — this would probably be strange and suicidal for any power.  All the more so given that to replace them realistically within a reasonable time frame would appear to be impossible.  It is another matter that, of course, there are individual people who are so tarnished that you could not tarnish them any more even if you wanted to.  But there always are people like that.  But the overall approach in our country can not involve any lustrations, no matter how much someone might want this and no matter how fair this might seem.  This will just not work for our country.

TV Rain: Mikhail Borisovich, yet another indelicate question.  You don’t have a fear that you might not be perceiving reality in the right way because you’ve missed quite a lot?

MBK: Russia is a huge country, and not a single person sitting in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, or Vladivostok can in all honesty say that he has a picture of how Russia is living as a whole.  Furthermore, not one single person has the opportunity, even travelling through the country, to visit those tens of thousands of towns and cities that our country is made up of.  Which is why all of us know our own country through second-hand information.  And we all have the opportunity to get this second-hand information in pretty much the same way.  The whole question is how effectively we know how to process.  It seems to me that after 10 years in jail I have not lost this ability much, and perhaps have even acquired it a bit better than before, because the absence of full access to information stimulates the mind to work more actively.

TV Rain: I’ve got a political question again.  It was in Brussels that you were speaking, if I’m not mistaken, and you were addressing the West, that it needs to be more prudent with the sanctions, it needs to separate the country and the regime, to aim more precisely in this sense.  I didn’t quite understand what your attitude is about those sectoral sanctions that have now been imposed, and would you call for their toughening in the event of an aggravation of the situation in the Ukraine?

MBK: I do not consider that a citizen of Russia can allow himself to ask for his own country to be punished.  The fact that fairness must prevail in relation to individual representatives of the power vertical — about this there is no doubt.  But I am never going to call for the punishing of my country.