“The world has changed”

December 10, 2016

Mikhail Khodorkovsky addresses the International Conference on Human Rights, in Tallin, Estonia, 9th December 2016

Photo by Anastasia Khodorkovskaya

“The history of Estonia is the history of a harsh land transformed into an environment suitable for life solely by dint of human effort. People – and their ability to transform the world – are valued here. But people have long since ceased to be instruments of transformation and become its focus. People’s rights and freedoms, guaranteed by a rule-of-law state and civil society – it is these values that have allowed Estonia and the other Baltic states to adapt to life in a united Europe; and to do so relatively quickly and successfully.

“We in Russia have it both easier and harder at the same time. Ours is also a challenging land, and we too have been both conquerors and conquered, making contributions to European culture while absorbing its cultural assets good and bad, from Christianity and book printing to socialism.

“But there’s one dissimilarity – for centuries, our ancestors expanded east and south, giving us the riches of Siberia on one hand, and, on the other, the fertile lands of Krasnodar and Stavropol, Orel and Rostov. But these expansions also created a cult of the state. A cult of leaders capable of spearheading the capture of new riches and not content merely to defend existing territories. A cult of people amplifying their own comforts, the coziness of their own nest, century in, century out.

“The world has changed. Seizing new lands yields nothing but trouble and expenditure. Economic success is predicated upon horizontal cooperation between people, the capital of trust within society, the quality of the rule-of-law state.

“Yet old habits die hard, and the Kremlin’s propagandists are doing their utmost to prevent people from escaping the thrall of illusion. The illusion that they are indebted exclusively to their leader for their lives and well-being, while their problems have all been caused by neighbours, outsiders and traitors.

“In fact, of course, we know that the conditions of life are created by the people themselves. A well-functioning state apparatus is capable of contributing 1-3% to economic growth. But an inefficient, corrupt apparatus, and one geared towards pursuing its own interests, may diminish growth by the same percentage.

“People in Russia have been convinced that, in the absence of the current regime, everything would simply collapse; that the regime sustains the country and holds it together.

“What an insane idea! What an insane lie!

“This regime has burned, and continues to burn, the country’s oil revenues in the furnace of insane projects, and survives by draining people of their prosperity.

“Just a couple of examples. We’re told that Russia has the lowest taxes – 13%. At the same time, real taxes have long exceeded 40%. We’re currently being lied to that the privatisation of Rosneft boosted the Russian budget’s revenues, whereas in fact oil supplies have been marked out for years ahead, and the revenues of the state as Rosneft’s shareholder were simply shifted from pocket to pocket.

“And for what? So that Sechin, a state official who hasn’t spent so much as a day in the private sector, wouldn’t lose personal control over the company? So he could continue paying himself millions of dollars, laundering the revenue through traders, naming 85-metre yachts after his wife, and propping up government officials and security agency operatives?

“Unfortunately for everyone in attendance here, the poison of corruption and propaganda isn’t confined to Russia’s borders. The Kremlin is exporting it to our neighbours as well. People are being lied to. People are being poisoned by lies. People are being bribed.

“Their objectives are simple: generate destabilisation here in order to keep the regime in power there; ensure that Russians have no guiding point of reference nearby, and that they construe themselves as isolated individuals before the Leviathan of the state.

“Only nothing will come of it! Their Leviathan is spurious, their power vertical a myth; and we’ve many friends here who are ready to help out their neighbours instead of looting a house colonised by plague rats. Estonia’s adoption of the Magnitsky Act, which denies visas to individuals implicated in human rights violations, demonstrates that the country’s people consider their values to be inextricable from their politics.

“I’m grateful to our friends in the Baltic states for their help, for their willingness to support us, and, in particular, for giving us the opportunity to hold Open Russia’s independent journalism awards here.

“People of this ilk – honest and brave, European in their outlook on life, prepared to defend their values – do exist in Russia, and there’s a lot of them, too.

“Make no mistake, we will be good neighbours in a united Europe.

“Thank you once again, and I wish you all the best for a productive conference.”