Esquire Interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Part 3 of 5

The Russian version of Esquire magazine has published a very interesting and extensive conversation between Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the writer Grigory Chkhartishvili – who is better known for his extremely popular fiction writing under the pen name of Boris Akunin. Each day this week we will publish a section of this important article. Below is Part 3, click here to read Part 1, and here for Part 2. khodorkovsky070308-thumb.jpgGrigory Chkhartishvili: Please talk about this in greater detail. This is very important. So you said your goodbyes to colleagues beyond the border. And with family? I’m intruding here on territory where outsiders have no business being, but this is a question to which half of my books are devoted. A real man has two zones of responsibility: the Big World (the work that he does; the idea or faith which he serves; society, country, art – it doesn’t matter what it is) and the Small World (family, close ones). The heaviest conflict that can arise here is the necessity of making a choice between the first and the second. It is unthinkable to betray the Big World, because, as you very precisely stated, it will become impossible to live. But then you sacrifice the Small World, without which life loses any kind of happiness. You’re hitting out at people who are dearer to you than all the rest of humanity taken together. One acquaintance of mine said to me with regard to you: “For children it is better to be proud of an absent father than to be ashamed of one who is present”. This may be true, but it still is a pretty frightening [thought]. And, most importantly, where to find the strength to make the decision?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: My wife and I are together for more than 20 years, and have gone through a lot. I don’t know how many times she said her goodbyes to me in her thoughts, but it was at least twice – during the time of the events of 1991 and 1993, I, leaving in order to protect my Big World, as I understood it, left her a rifle and bullets, so that she could protect our Small World. This is in the direct sense, not allegorically. I know she would shoot till the end. Although this is very hard to imagine today. Or maybe not hard… I asked my wife: “Maybe you’ll depart from the sin?” After all, there had already been searches at the neighbors’, and they had come to Nastya at school. She said “no”. Parents? For them honor was always dearer than life. Their own [life] – definitely, and maybe even mine. So here I had no doubts.Many of my colleagues decided to leave, and this too was right – why breed hostages? And so, after travelling to Israel, the USA, and England, I returned to Russia. Now some people are saying that I had put my hopes on somebody’s guarantees. This is not so. All my friends and acquaintances suggested [to me] to stay there, get US citizenship, but reacted with understanding to my decision to return. I think that if I had stayed, they would of course have helped me to resolve all questions, but I’m afraid they would have lost respect for me.I very much hope that my children too, knowing well since pre-school that “papa’s in jail”, will grow up understanding why I could not have done otherwise. My wife promises that she’ll be able to explain this to them.Towards October of the year 2003. [sic] it became clear – we had lost this round. The scales and the forms of the vengeance of the adversaries, of course, had been underestimated by us. Nobody thought that the company would be destroyed, that they would completely strangle the judicial system, that they would plug up the independent mass information media. All this was rather hard to imagine. But that I would be in jail, that they would take the company away from me – this I understood even then.And here, inasmuch as the decision not to leave had already been adopted, I decided for the first time in my life to travel to the regions with a lecture that I had given before on numerous occasions at «Open Russia» events. A lecture about democracy. I managed to travel to seven or eight regions with five-six appearances in each. I called [on people] to vote for SPS and «Yabloko». In the main, the appearances took place before large student audiences of 500-700 people each. You will no doubt be surprised, but they were a success. And, what is most interesting, they invited me to speak to a military unit, there was a [military] college there. I thought they’d carry me out [in a body bag]. But no, I spoke for around three hours, answered questions. They responded well. Perhaps the appearance in the military college became the last straw. Right after this a summons for questioning came to the office. Then there was a forum of human rights advocates and a flight to Irkutsk for the next appearance. The flight from which I returned on a special FSB plane under convoy.I don’t enjoy tearing on the nerves and dramatizing the situation. My wife and my parents, of course, were watching television, but we had not discussed “what might happen”. No reason to. Everybody understood everything and did what they should have. This was the latest battle [of many] from which I might not return. And from which I have yet to return.My family understood that it would be hard, but of course in practice it turned out to be even harder. Slander every day on all the television channels. The whole social circle destroyed. The first meeting through the wire grille…In general, the whole of the year 2004 I simply prayed that they would endure. If [something] had broken within the family too, it would have been really horrible. In general, I did not understand this to the end before jail, but now I’ve understood. If something had happened with my family, I would have done something foolish. But they did not break. Maybe also because of the huge support of good people, because of the attitude that was manifested towards the children both at school and in the pre-school, because of the letters, because of total strangers on the street. You know, I really do love my country, my Moscow. It seems like one huge apathetic and indifferent anthill, but it’s got so much soul… You know, inside I was sure about the people, and they turned out to be even better than I’d thought.As to the family… Of course, nothing’s simple, but I am very happy that they exist. Remember the song: “It was enough for me that a small mark was left from the nail”. Well, I don’t have a mark from the nail. Mine is always with me.And another thing. More than 20 years ago I parted with my first wife. Our son is already grown, finished university, is working. And he, and she, and her mother have been writing all these years, supporting me, my parents. I seem to be lucky with good people [in my life].G.CH. In December of 2004 you wrote: “And I have already realized that property, and especially big property, in and of itself does not make a person free at all. Being a co-owner of YUKOS, I had to spend enormous efforts on the protection of this property. And I had to constrain myself in everything that could have harmed this property. And here I have crossed into a new quality. I am becoming an ordinary person (from the economic point of view – a representative of the well-off part of the middle class), for whom the main thing is – not possession, but existence. A struggle not for property, but for myself, for the right to be me”. You know, from your answers I’m getting a feeling that sitting in jail, you feel yourself much more free than the “prisoners” of the Kremlin and the White House, who are tied hand and foot, are afraid of everything, hide their incomes from the public. You’re a unique person: first you earned more than anyone else, then you lost more than anyone else, and seem not to have regrets about this. Is this so?M.KH. Ever since I was a child, I wanted to become the director of a plant. Not a cosmonaut, not a military man, but a director. And this dream stayed with me all through school, college, with this dream I entered the “big world”. Very little time passed by and the dream was realized. The Center for the Scientific-Technical Creativity of Youth, the bank, brief work in the government, and then – privatization. Privatization for me signified not money, but the opportunity to fulfill a dream. A childhood dream. «Avisma», «Apatit», and then – there was YUKOS. A gigantic enterprise, for the encounter with which I had been preparing all my life until that point. It demanded all my education, all the experience [I had] accumulated. I worked like a madman, 14 hours a day, I was perpetually on the go, I went around the labor collectives on a gigantic territory of hundreds of thousands of square kilometers. Money… what’s that? When I worked in the bank in 1993, I had more than in 1999 in YUKOS, and way more than I needed for personal needs. You can’t imagine the elation when projects move from paper to metal, into thousands of purposefully moving machines, into gigantic structures, into a dream come alive…And then comes the fatigue, and you feel the whole weight of the responsibility that has fallen on you – responsibility for someone’s hopes, for hundreds of thousands of destinies, for the inevitable misfortunes that you couldn’t prevent. And here you understand: this is already no longer you bringing your dream to life, but the dream come to life snatching your fate into its own hands. You’re saying what you’re supposed to say, your time is planned out for months and years, you’re interacting with those who are needed by the “dream come to life”. You are its slave. You look around and see: the dream has acquired a life of its own, but [real] life is going on in parallel, and what had seemed important to you is not simply unimportant, it even gets in the way of something far more important that you could have been – no, not could have been – should have been doing!The first time I was “jolted” after the default, when I understood: I’m building on sand. The main thing isn’t steel, but people – moreover, not our collective, though it number many thousands, but the entire country. But then there was no time to really stop and think, I had to save the situation, to fight for the survival of the company. You know, I got a lot of help from people, colleagues. You can imagine: the exchange rate had fallen, the ruble had lost value, but there’s a problem with sales and marketing too – the new prices for gasoline, nobody’s paying yet. What to do?I appear before representatives of labor collectives (several hundred people) and ask that they vote for a reduction in wages. And the people vote, they go among their collectives to convince [them] that this is right. I go too – to the remote-site work camps, where it was supposed to be the most complex of all. And the workers agree. They understand! Maybe this became that extra drop that helped the company survive. And then, in 2000, when everything became good, the uncomfortable thoughts returned once again. Thus began «Open Russia» – an organization founded in order to help those who are in need of help.In 2002 I announced at the board of directors that I would leave the company by 2008. Before – [it would be] hard, but longer than this period I will not remain the slave of the dream I had brought to life. Money, status – all this is important when what you’re doing doesn’t diverge from your internal understanding of what is right. When it does diverge – there arises a sense of unfreedom. But the force of habit gets in the way of breaking free. And so you become a slave of things, of the system, of the situation, of property. I am convinced: the only right conduct – to drop all this and to get far away.My wife and I, when we felt that we were “drowning in things”, simply took the most necessary [things] and moved. We didn’t have our own apartment, a permanent home, but we were happy because we were independent. And I hope we managed to raise the children in the same way. I believe: a person carries what is most important and most necessary in the soul. Five years of jail – also constant moves, a multitude of constraints. You can’t take much with you. It’s sad to leave behind accumulated books, to lose notes. But they’re with me, in the head. Everything else – worthless trifles. In this sense jail makes a person free.G.CH. Now I’d like to touch upon another thing you’ve said that raised a lot of questions. “Now only Faith”, you wrote, discussing the topic of morality and justice. “The problem of today’s Russian liberal society is that the main argument for liberal values lies on the plane of Faith: “a person is born with a striving for freedom and happiness”, while Russian liberals – nonbelievers for historical reasons, do not take the argument of Faith seriously”. What did you mean by that? This is to substantial a declaration to remain insufficiently intelligible.M.KH. Why is democracy better than dictatorship? Because freedom is better than un-freedom? Why is it bad to lie and to do bad things? Because you need to love thy neighbor? Why do you have to defend the Motherland, save another person, sacrificing your own life? After all, there won’t be anything “afterwards”! Or, maybe, there will?What is morality? Where does it come from? There’s no logic in it. You can think up a logic to fit this kind of morality, or one to fit another kind. Scoundrels are often more successful than decent people, but are they happier? – that’s the question. If they were happier, then we’d be living among nothing but scoundrels. In the world would triumph strength and meanness. But it’s not at all like that, after all. Strength loses out to courage, meanness – to honesty, hatred – to love. Not at first, but always in the end.And the world becomes a better place. Why?We – our civilization – are 2 thousand years old; humanity – millions [of years old]. We are what we are. A society that’s closer to what man really is will be happier and more successful. Science is gradually discovering man, but is man knowable, or is he, like the world, infinite? I don’t know. What I do know is that for now – we are a mystery for logic and science. But at the end of the textbook there’s an answer. From where? I don’t know. Experience shows – the answer is correct.I believe – man internally strives for freedom, for love, for truth, and only on this path can he be happy. Where’s the evidence? I don’t have it. That is, I could give a discourse on the subject, but that would be demagogy. There are a hundred “fors” and a hundred “againsts”.So what will this man liberated from outside pressure be like? An avaricious beast or the lord of creation? If a beast, then we need to build cage-states, in order to keep people from destroying themselves. If a lord of creation, then nothing created by man (the state, a corporation, society) will be able to be higher than mancreated- by-God.I believe in man. That’s what Faith with a capital F is. Forgive me for a certain unclarity of thoughts. The topic is such that I decided simply to lay out my emotions.G.CH. Faith with a capital F? And also you wrote in one of the articles: “I am grateful to God that, unlike my persecutors, I have understood that the earning of big money – is far from the only (and, perhaps, far from the most important) point of human labours”. Does this signify that in jail you’ve turned to religion?M.KH. In general, I wasn’t exactly an atheist even before jail. God, doom, fate, destiny – nearly everybody believes in something that’s higher than us. And indeed it would be strange not to believe, living in a huge unknown world, not really even knowing ourselves; to consider that everything around us – is the product of a random confluence of circumstances.One can believe that there is no God, one can believe he exists. Faith does not demand evidence, as is known. But if there is no God, and all of our life –is but an instant on the way from dust to dust, then what’s the point of everything? What’s the point of our dreams, our aspirations, our sufferings? What’s the point of knowing? What’s the point of loving? When it comes right down to it, what’s the point of living?I can’t believe that everything just is and that’s all there is to it. I can’t and I don’t want to. It does make a difference to me what will be after me, because I too will be. Because someone was before me, and someone will be after me. And this is not senseless. This is not simply “that’s the way it is”. We do not live simply to pollute the water and the air. We all exist for something greater. For what – I don’t know, and I will never know. Each of us individually – for happiness. But all together? I believe that there is a Great Goal for humanity, which it has not been given unto me to behold. People have called this goal God. When we serve it – we’re happy, when we stray aside – we’re met by Emptiness. An Emptiness that nothing material can fill. It makes life empty, and death terrifying.Continue reading Part 4 here.