Vision for Russia

January 13, 2014

From the editors of

Mikhail Khodorkovsky has long been an advocate of a socially progressive, market-oriented democracy that respects human rights and the rule of law – a vision of Russia he promoted long before his unjust imprisonment made him an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience.

Philanthropic programmes

Khodorkovsky believes that the future of Russia depends upon education, and his philanthropy has always been heavily focused upon education programmes.

In 1994 he founded the Podmoskovny Lyceum. The school, located in the town of Koralovo, near Moscow, provides a rigorous education to roughly 130 underprivileged children. Students hail from around the country and include orphans, victims of terrorism and children of military servicemen.

The school’s highly qualified staff members are dedicated to helping students qualify for a state grant to attend university in Russia. The students also receive lessons in civil society and democracy.

The school still operates, and receives funding from the Khodorkovsky Foundation, a charity in the United Kingdom. Khodorkovsky’s parents, Marina and Boris, support the school.

After Khodorkovsky’s arrest, to discourage enrolment at the school, Russian authorities targeted the guardians of students there with large tax assessments based on the value of the schooling received. This showed that there were no limits to the authorities’ zeal in attempting to destroy everything that Khodorkovsky has built – and particularly those things that Khodorkovsky personally cherishes.

Other projects supported by the Khodorkovsky Foundation include cultural and exchange programs designed to increase awareness and understanding between Russians and citizens of other countries. The Foundation funds Russian universities and charities in the United Kingdom to administer scholarships, and also provides funds for training and research projects and student/teacher exchange programmes. Via the Oxford Russia Fund, supported by the Khodorkovsky Foundation, 3,236 undergraduate students at twenty Russian universities were awarded scholarships in 2010 to encourage the study of the humanities in Russia. In addition, over 2,000 English-language academic books in disciplines across the humanities have been distributed to each of the twenty Russian universities, and 457 titles have been made available from an e-book library. In 2009, Oxford University’s St Antony College opened a new Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre Library, funded in part by the Khodorkovsky Foundation.

In 2001, Khodorkovsky travelled to Washington DC to participate in the announcement of a $1 million gift from Yukos to the United States Library of Congress. The funds were earmarked for a Russian rule of law programme and for fellowships for Russian scholars and students with leadership potential to access the Library of Congress collections during an academic residency in the United States. Khodorkovsky stated: “Firm establishment of the rule of law within the Russian Federation is critical to our forward movement.”

Also in 2001, Khodorkovsky launched the Open Russia Foundation. The Foundation’s mission statement declared: “The motivation for the establishment of the Open Russia Foundation is the wish to foster enhanced openness, understanding and integration between the people of Russia and the rest of the world.” The programmes of the Foundation were diversified across education, technology, leadership, cultural development and freedom of the press. In 2006, despite being one of Russia’s largest foundations, donating approximately $15 million per year to a wide variety of civic and charitable institutions, Russian authorities forced its closure.

Speaking out against corruption

Through Yukos, Khodorkovsky introduced progressive principles of corporate governance, transparency and corporate social responsibility to Russian industry. He was unlike any other Russian business leader at the time; indeed, in 2000, then-Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko stated: “I call upon other companies in Russia to follow Yukos’s example in the country’s social sphere.”

Well before he was incarcerated – and in fact a major cause of his arrest – Khodorkovsky spoke out against state corruption in Russia. In February 2003, in a televised meeting between President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Khodorkovsky cited statistics showing that corruption was spreading in Russia and stated that the administration “must be willing to show its readiness to get rid of some odious figures” in the regime, to prove its readiness and ability to combat corruption.

In June 2003, pushing back against Khodorkovsky’s outspoken positions, President Putin stated that Russia would not allow individual business people to influence the political life of the country in their own corporate interests. He stated that those who disagreed with this principle should remember that others had tried and failed, ominously declaring: “Some are gone forever and others are far away.”

In the days before his October 2003 arrest, Khodorkovsky travelled across Russia’s regions delivering speeches on democracy and calling on Russian youth to become politically engaged. He gave an interview to German newspaper Die Welt, saying the Kremlin had sought to create a “managed democracy” that operates “a liberal economy in an authoritarian state.” Khodorkovsky was not backing down from expressing his views.

Continuing the fight for Russia’s future from his jail cell

Continuing the fight for Russia’s future from his jail cell

Even after being jailed in 2003, Khodorkovsky continued to espouse his vision of Russia’s modernisation. Through writings in prison that were published in Russia and around the world, Khodorkovsky cemented his status as one of his country’s most progressive thought leaders.

Khodorkovsky published numerous essays, opinion pieces and other texts, including correspondence with acclaimed writers such as Boris Akunin and Lyudmila Ulitskaya. He was placed in solitary confinement in connection with his exchange of letters with Akunin in 2008. His exchange of letters with Booker Prize winning author Ulitskaya was awarded a Russian literary prize in 2010.

Khodorkovsky’s works have appeared in numerous languages across the world including in English, Estonian, French, German, Italian, Lithuanian and Polish.

Through his writings Khodorkovsky has warned the Kremlin that Russia’s citizens will not endlessly tolerate the endemic corruption and lack of rule of law plaguing the country. In a joint interview with his business partner Platon Lebedev in December 2010, Khodorkovsky said that “bureaucratic greed” and dependence on raw materials will cause a new crisis in Russia by 2015. In a Vedomosti article of October 2011 entitled “Generation M – the end, or a continuation?”, Khodorkovsky commented on the announcement of Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency and Dmitry Medvedev’s failed reform programme. Khodorkovsky argued that Russia’s modernisation was atrophying and called upon his fellow citizens to unite in a push for action.

In a written address to the eighth Khodorkovsky Readings in February 2012, Khodorkovsky set forth comprehensively his views on Russia’s future. Commenting on the “shamelessly false Duma elections” and the “no-alternative presidential elections” Khodorkovsky said serious transformations in the public consciousness are inevitable, with the current political cycle having reached a point of exhaustion, and with the birth of a new order brought about by the growing demographic of educated and prosperous Russians.

Khodorkovsky described the outlook for the next couple of years as a “conservative scenario in politics” along with a “more or less liberal economy”. He expected that to avoid threats to Vladimir Putin’s hold on power, little will be done to support the development of civil society, and the president will become even more dependent upon corrupt officials that surround him.

A violent confrontation between the citizenry and the authorities may erupt in the coming years, Khodorkovsky fears, as the middle class becomes larger and younger generations feel more empowered. Khodorkovsky believes that violence could be avoided if civil society and the rule of law are able to flourish, and if controls over government bureaucracy lead to reduced corruption.

Khodorkovsky argued that Russia is “being destroyed by amorality”, corruption of which perpetrators “are not ashamed”, and “cruel and loutish behaviour”, and he affirmed his belief that “the role of our generation is to attempt to change the paradigm without a civil war.”


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