Grigory Pasko: Interview with Andrei Illarionov

illarionov100208.jpgJournalist Grigory Pasko recently had the opportunity to sit down with Andrei Illarionov, former advisor to the President of the Russian Federation, and currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute in Washington.

– Andrei Nikolayevich, appearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives in February of the year 2009, you said: “Today’s Russia is not a democratic country“… And further: “The members of the Corporation do share strong allegiance to their respective organizations, strict codes of conduct and of honor, basic principles of behavior, including among others the principle of mutual support to each other in any circumstances and the principle of omerta.”  But is this not a characterization of a classical mafia? Can one fight with a mafia using democratic methods: honest elections, unbribable independent courts, free mass information media?

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– A very good and complex question. But I will not give you an answernow. Inasmuch as we have to make several sub-points here. First: isthis phenomenon a mafia? It has very many features that look like amafia, that are close to a mafia. Nevertheless, this is not exactly amafia. More precisely, this is some kind of a special mafia. A mafiaof such a kind – a siloviki corporation, as we have, – belongs to thegroup of special siloviki structures that exist in different humansocieties. By the way, states as such ought to be included in this aswell.

Such corporations – this is groups of people who are connectedwith one another by mutual relations and mutual obligations, but who areprepared to use force – and regularly do use it – in relation to theremaining part of society. The difference between a state and a mafia,between criminal groupings, between it and criminality and silovikicorporations, is in the fact that for a state of the modern civilizedtype – ones like in the majority of the countries of modern Europe, andindeed North America as well – the existence of law is characteristic.

Each of these states, naturally, uses force. But the use of this force,first and foremost inside the country, and even beyond the confines ofthese countries, is subject to strict legal rules. The differencebetween other organisations that use force – including silovikicorporations, the mafia and criminal groupings – and states of thecivilized type, and the similarity of these organizations with states ofthe predatory type – this is even in sociology, in the politicalsciences there is such a concept as state of predatory tape. An example- Zimbabwe, Somalia, Afghanistan – this is the absence of law or aspecific law, under which members of society possess unequal legalrights.

When there is a group of people that de facto possesses asubstantially greater volume of rights than other people. And issometimes even completely released from any legal liability whatsoever.Therefore I would say that our siloviki corporation falls into onegroup with the mafia, and falls into that sub-group of silovikiorganizations that act in conditions of the absence of legal equalitybetween members of society and in conditions of the absence of a singlelegal regime for all of society.

– And with all that, we’re still supposed to hope for honest elections…

– This is the first part of the answer to the question. The second -what to do with this? This is a question about which humanity’s bestminds of not one century have been banging their heads. Both the worksthat have been written in this regard, and the people who have sometimesgiven their lives for this, in order to come to a modern state, haveattempted to liquidate or to weaken siloviki organizations. A vividexample of this – the struggle of the Italian state with the Italianmafia. Different people of every level have died in this struggle.

Nevertheless, the problem with the mafia is not fully resolved there.Although on the whole, democratic institutions are maintaining controlover the state. There, the state turned out not to have been capturedcompletely by the siloviki structures. As opposed to our unfortunatecountry. And our situation is much more complex than in Italy. Whatmethodology to propose to fight with such structures – this is a bigserious question. This is a topic of discussion for Russian society andfor other societies that have found themselves in a comparablesituation.

I could not bring myself to say that there are ready easyanswers. What needs to be said is that democratic methods possesslesser degrees of freedom, because they are restricted by rules. At thesame time as the opponents – strategic, existential opponents from theside of the siloviki corporation are not restricted in their actions byanything – neither resources, nor finances, nor legal frameworks. Notrestricted by legal frameworks. And there is no need for me to tell youhow this takes place.

– How to you assess our opposition?

– Our opposition is week. This needs to be admitted. The main reasonfor this – on the whole in Russian society. Over the past 20 years -and this needs to be admitted – the most urgent needs of people havebeen satisfied. The launch of the market economy helped to resolve oneof the most acute problems – ensuring a standard of living higher than20 years ago. A significant part of the people was able to find a nichein the economy for themselves and their close ones. This wasaccompanies by a certain level of dynamism. Many people felt anincrease in the standard of consumption. This removed one powerfulblock of irritation, including political problems in the country aswell.

Another powerful block was removed as the result of thedissolution of the USSR. Although nationality problems were not fullyresolved, their scale became different – not the kind that was on theeve of the breakup of the Soviet Union. There are problems inTatarstan, in Bashkortostan, in the North Caucasus, in otherrepublics. But these problems are found on another level than 20 yearsago. The removal of these two colossal layers significantly eased theexistence of the power. It was not the current power that resolvedthese problems – this was done by another power – but it is making useof the unique baggage of the predecessors. And is exploiting Russiansociety – one of the most individualistic in the world – for itsobjectives.

Our society is little inclined towards cooperativebehavior, towards the resolution of problems without an intermediary inthe person of the state power. The last mass cooperative behavior wasrecorded in our country 400 years ago – the famous movement against thePolish intervention: the appearance of two militias, financed byprivate individuals; really, by the civil society of that time. Underthe leadership of local authoritative leaders – Minin and Pozharsky.

Strictly speaking, this was a phenomenon of cooperative behavior, notintermediated by a central power, and, more than that, even oppositionalto it. It can not be said that many remember how it was – suchbehavior. That is why we have such a too-great gap in memory. It isdifficult for us to do this for now. But, apparently, there is no otherhistorical path besides reviving 400-year-old memories.

– From all appearances, this is going to be difficult, considering that aspecially created commission for counteraction against thefalsification of history has begun working…

– If the commission really is going to be working, then it is going tohave to show that the celebration of 4 November is a flagrant fact ofthe falsification of history, because exactly nothing happened on 4November 1612. While the liberation of the Kremlin from the Poles tookplace on 8-9 November 1612: the Poles came out of the Kremlinthemselves, by an understanding with the militia, of course. But not onthe day of the so-called «national unity», but four days after thatdate which is celebrated now as the day of national unity.

By the way, I noticed that words like «struggle», «counteraction»predominate in the names of organizations, events, commissions, etc. instates of the predator type…

– …Attack, offensive, front, mobilization…

– Andrei Nikolayevich, have you gotten the feeling that Medvedev ishinting at a so-called thaw?

– Oh come now! Heaven forbid! What have we done to deserve suchkindness. Who takes this seriously? Of course not!

– Well, they did soften the law on NGOs…

– Russian experience teaches us not to say «nice landing» until we’veseen the results. So far I have not seen a single result – and morethan a year of the new power has already passed. So far I see only atoughening in a series of directions, including the «commission forcounteraction…» Demonstrations have not become more peaceful and thereisn’t less OMON at them than there was before this. And as concernsforeign policy, the Russian powers implemented the first full-scaleaggression against a neighboring state in August of last [year]already with the new leader. Therefore I do not see a single sign thateven just the atmosphere has changed here in our country, not to mentionsome kind of legal actions.

– I’ve got to ask: has the case of YUKOS, of Khodorkovsky rendered onthe economic situation in Russia, on relations towards Russia on thepart of the western democracies?

– Of course, both the arrest of Khodorkovsky, and the theft ofYuganskneftegas. and the ultimate smashing of YUKOS have rendered, ascan now already be seen, – while at the beginning of this process aseries of people were expressing the conjecture that such a thing couldbe, including, in part, myself – after a lapse of 5-6 years it becameevident that these events had become the biggest economic event in themodern history of Russia. From my point of view, in scales they arecomparable with the crisis of the year 1998. That crisis was importantfrom the point of view of economic short-term trends. But the years2003-2004 – this is the biggest cataclysm, a revolutionary event ( I donot put any political context into the word “revolutionary” – I have inmind merely a watershed moment in the trends).

This is a revolutionaryevent of a structural character. Of a structural and an institutionalcharacter. We are seeing that the entire fuel sector, the oil, theenergy sector have radically changed their trajectory of development.Until this, the rates of increase of the production of oil were 12% peryear – this is a fantastic boom, not a single analogue of which we seein the modern world among the large companies. This is a uniquephenomenon. And after this – a fall to 2 5% a year, and now – tonegative values. Instead of the model of free competitive developmentwe are seeing a model of a monopolistic, moreover not state, but like a …siloviki monopolistic behavior on this market. Naturally, this hadconsequences not only for the energy sector, but for the whole countryas well.

– Despite the YUKOS case, the mafiosity of the entire structure ofmanagement in the country, the West, nevertheless, continues to havedealings with Russia both in business and in politics. Is this aweakness of the west or its pragmatism?

– This is the usual state of affairs of the West. As strange as it mayseem, in actuality the West during the course of two centuries, and,perhaps, even longer, has supported any regimes at all. What isimportant for the West is its own short-term interests. And the Westsupports relations, including commercial ones, as we know, with Russianspecial services generals, and with Chinese communists, and with Iranianayatollahs, and with Saddamist generals… In the 1930s, the Westactively cooperated with Hitler’s regime – the flow of French, Americanand British investments into Germany was huge.

So one simply needs tounderstand that that state of affairs which many of us remember fromthe period of the cold war, when partially certain western leaders -Reagan and Thatcher – took a moral political position in relation to theSoviet Union – such a phenomenon is historically still the exception ,and not the rule. The west is extremely pragmatic and sufficientlylacking in principle in relation to external phenomena. The west isextremely principled and consistent within a country – although there iscorruption there as well. But in the leading societies of the Westmoral principles are highly held within. But when interests gooutside the bounds of the national borders – the rule of the Peace ofWestphalia goes into effect: no matter what may happen in anothercountry, no matter what the authorities there might do – respect for thesovereignty of this country signifies that the West accepts this as agiven.

It is only in recent years that the conception of humanitarianintervention is developing in western conceptions, when it is consideredpossible to intervene, when the national powers are implementingactions with respect to the destruction of their citizens -ethniccleansings and genocide. This did take place in a series of situations.Such an approach is obviously new, revolutionary in relation to theWestphalian system. We are already seeing what sparks are beingchiselled: the attempts at humanitarian intervention in Rwanda, theAlbanian population in Kosovo… And we see what a reaction this isevoking among representatives of traditional approaches.

– There were predictions, I believe by Mikhail Kasyanov, in particular,about how the crisis could change the state of society – it will wake upand topple the regime.

– Just a year ago, participating in various discussions on this topics, Iwarned that the crisis would not lead to the activization of politicallife in the country. This has not happened. The reason – not theinability of the crisis, but the nature of the political regime in thecountry. An acceleration of political life is taking place in thedemocratic countries. And there we are seeing that governments havebeen replaced in Latvia, Iceland, the USA. In the USA it iscomprehensible that this took place in the conditions of regularelections, but the defeat of Bush’s party in part can be connected toowith the fact that this was the reaction of the citizens of the USA tothe crisis.

But these rules don’t work in authoritarian and dictatorialregimes. We can look at what was and is taking place in Cuba, inNorth Korea – no matter what happens there – monstrous crises, nomatter what quantity of people die (from 2 to 3 mln. persons have diedof hunger in North Korea ) – there is nothing there even close to apolitical opposition, to destabilization. Why? Because such is thenature of the regime. In such a kind of regimes people die of hungerand of other things, but this does not lead to politicaldestabilization.

– That is, the current power will be around for a long time?

– I did not say that. I only said that to expect instant changes fromthis kind of crises is groundless.