fbpx

Esquire Interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Part 4 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 4, click here to read Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3. khodorkovsky070308-thumb.jpgGrigory Chkhartishvili: Being found in confinement, you published several articles, some of which evoked a kind of alarm among people who considered you to be a like-minded person. Before switching over to this topic, here’s what I’d like to ask about. You have already explained why you so rarely give interviews. But articles – this is different? Are they written due to the lack of someone to talk with or is the monologue mode of interaction nevertheless closer to you than the dialogue mode? Mikhail Khodorkovsky: You know, I never was much into writing. I loved to read, but writing… More often girlfriends would produce compositions for me in school. Talking to people, public speaking – yes, this was a part of my usual work as the head of a large organization. Interaction with the press, appearances before labor collectives, before investors. There were not dozens, but hundreds of those in a year. When I started engaging in civic activity – even more was added. It needs to be said that before any audience I always felt myself absolutely comfortable. I lie – I never liked rallies. I need to see the eyes in the last row – otherwise I lose contact with the audience. And now there’s jail, interaction with cellmates and lawyers. No problems, but they’re interested only in specific questions, which personally concern me little, as funny as this may be. With these people I am forced to talk not about what is interesting to me, but about what they need. In the case of the lawyers – okay, I need this, but [only] from a narrow legal point of view. So that’s why I started to write. Gradually I learned how to express my thoughts on paper. This is not as good as appearing live before an audience. But it’s better than nothing.

Now I’ve already accumulated many texts, but I’m compelled to think about “how my word will be received”. It is understandable that it will be received in the political and cultural elite, but not in the “broad strata”, who still aren’t reading such things. After all, from a purely technical standpoint I won’t be able to clarify my position, to argue with adversaries who won’t understand me correctly. Consequently, what I have written could be adversely interpreted and used goodness knows how. When I start to write, I don’t know what will come out – the text just flows out on its own. Not having someone to talk with, I talk with myself, I argue with myself, I clarify [things] to myself. A sort of “creative schizophrenia”.G.CH. Well, then let’s argue about your articles. If not for the prison bars, which for a decent person rules out harshness of polemics, you would probably have really gotten slammed by various worthy people. I too categorically don’t agree with you on a series of points. Shall we talk without any allowance for jail? The damn thing hasn’t gone anywhere, but after all, ideas can’t be stopped by bars.M.KH. Hooray, thank you! There’s nothing better than a good adversary.G.CH. First of all, about the notorious crisis of liberalism. It is bitter to me that you have joined the chorus of those who disparage this direction of thought. Today’s Russia’s already got more than enough gravediggers of liberalism as it is without you. You’re absolutely correct when you write that the liberals of perestroika vintage turned out unable to deliver – “they accumulated way too many mercedeses, dachas, villas, night clubs, gold credit cards”. But why make pejorative generalizations on this basis, saying that intrinsic to domestic liberalism is “servility encoded at the genetic level. A readiness to forget about the constitution for the sake of one more portion of sevruga with horseradish. Such was the Russian liberal, such he has remained”, you write. Is this said about Chaadayev? About Hertzen and Korolenko? About Sakharov, who for me is the absolute pure image of a liberal? Liberalism – this isn’t the domination of “bucks over evil”. It’s “not about money” at all, it’s about a sense of one’s own worth.I’m already sick and tired of hearing abuse to the address of the “damned nineties”. Where would we all be today without the nineties? There’s no need to reject liberalism just because a part of the liberals (not the best, just the most nimble) talks the talk but isn’t able to walk the walk. All this means is that democracy will come to us not from above, but the natural way – that is, the hard way – “from the roots”, from below. The “old rightists” need to leave and quickly; they have been irreversibly discredited. They will be replaced by “new rightists”, and they’re the ones who will have to build a civil society from the bottom up, and not from the top down. To build with those same well-known liberal templates: respect for individual rights, tolerance, quiet courage, patriotism without xenophobia. To use the language of our own dear alleyways, all of this boils down to the formula “don’t bend before the strong and don’t squeeze the weak”. You don’t agree? Object.M.KH. First, let’s not talk about the multitude of genuinely very good people with liberal or not at all liberal views. You throw Hertzen at me, and I’ll come right back at you with Pushkin and his “agreement” with Benckendorff and Nicholas, with his glorifying of the tsar. You give me Chaadayev – I’ll give you the Decembrists (well, maybe without Lunin). You give me Korolenko, I’ll give you Korolev: not a liberal, but a very not-bad person. Therefore, let’s talk about the mass of people who adhere to liberal views, moreover not so much in economics (which is another topic altogether), but in politics.A liberal – is a person who maintains that the individual has precedence over society, the state, and all the other things humanity has invented. Human rights – here, to my view, is the main liberal idea.Judging by the quantity of applications to the Strasbourg court, half our country are liberals (just kidding). But all kidding aside, there are quite a few now, and there have always been quite a few. But here’s what’s funny: coming to power, to financial success, very many liberals forget about their liberal past. Not all [of them], of course, but… What is even more unpleasant for me personally – Russian liberals both before and after the revolution did not want or did not know how to quash personal ambitions for the sake of the common goal. This seriously disparages the liberal idea and, what is most important, reduces its success rate in our country. It is imperative to note that the Western liberal community is much more effective in this regard. There they consciously sacrifice a part of their personal freedom for the attainment of common goals. And they attain them. But we’re either “I’m on my own and I’m the smartest and all who don’t agree with me – are practically enemies”, or “I’m a liberal, for now not successful, but if success has come, well then ‘down’ [to everybody beneath me] – no liberalism”. Second (if you still remember, everything that has come before was all “first”), when I wrote this article in March 2004, I was seriously upset by the results of the parliamentary elections and allowed several excessive generalizations, to which, as a rule, I’m not inclined. And when I was talking about liberals, I was really to a large degree talking about myself.But in general, I personally am not especially a liberal, in that sense which is usually injected into this concept. I’m for a strong state in Russia, and I have a whole series of arguments. I’m for an active industrial policy, a social state. In general – the Scandinavian model.Russia – is a huge country with heavy climatic conditions, with very not-simple geopolitical surroundings. A weak state simply will not be able to capably deal with all the extraordinary situations. About the significance of climatic conditions: the USA have a more liberal economy than Canada, where nature is much more harsh.Another matter – a strong state, so as not to degenerate into yet another totalitarian mess, must not only be balanced by a strong civil society, but must also possess an irreproachably working system of checks and balances: separation of powers, public control, a strong opposition. In other words, a strong state must be beyond the rule of law, if one can express oneself thus.New liberals – or, more precisely, democrats – will no doubt come (I don’t like the term “new rightists”, “right-left” – that’s from another opera). Our children will be them. Only what will we tell them? Kids, we’ve left you this mess because we chickened out? We were saving up for a car that’s got rust on the bottom? For an apartment from which a bureaucrat is kicking us out? Or we didn’t chicken out, but simply couldn’t agree with one another because of elevated “aesthetic requirements”?If we need democracy, we all need to fight for it together – both the leftists and the rightists, both the liberals and the statists.Together, for the sake of ourselves and children, against authoritarianism and corruption, for a rule-of-law state and democratic institutions. And then, in a real parliament, on the screens of independent television, in an independent court, we will see what kind of taxes there should be, whether to nationalize or to privatize the raw-materials industries, should there be fee-based medicine, etc. An absolutely normal quarrel. Where should we begin? By building a civil society from below? Not harmful, but very slow. Now there exists another opportunity, harsh, but one that does not transfer responsibility onto future generations. I have in mind the struggle with corruption, and, as a key link in this struggle, – an independent judiciary.I am convinced that the struggle with corruption in Russia – this is a struggle for democracy. It is precisely for this reason that an independent, uncorrupted judiciary – is the question of questions for modern-day Russia. This is the task of today. Having combined the efforts of the entire left-right-liberal-statist intelligentsia, we could attain joint success. I am absolutely not in agreement with the calls for liberal, democratic society not to work together with the power. This – is the way of the weak. The way of the strong – in any place to stand up for democratic values, human rights, to struggle with corruption, which is defined by the euphemism “the administrative resource”, and not to yield to temptations. Let the power, as long as it is the power, choose itself with whom to go, knowing in so doing that we will bring into power not only our knowledge, but also our ideals.