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Grigory Pasko: Interview with Yuri Schmidt

One of the participants in the conference on «The new agenda of the democratic movement» that took place recently in St. Petersburg was the well-known lawyer Yuri Markovich Schmidt. Our Russia correspondent, Grigory Pasko, who was present at the event and has already filed several reports from it, took advantage of the opportunity to get another exclusive interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s defense attorney. Yuri Schmidt: “Medvedev needs to be given a chance…” Interview by Grigory Pasko, journalist shmidt041508 Yuri Schmidt (photo by Grigory Pasko)

Yuri Markovich, in recent times you could be seen at the Dissenters’ March in St. Petersburg, where you gave a memorable speech and the slogan “The Kremlin mafia has joyously celebrated the changing of the don…” in reference to the recent presidential elections. And now – participation in the democratic conference. What has motivated you to participate in such events and how do you assess the current conference?Various people have begun to see the light, they have understood that to just keep on sitting in their apartments is dangerous for the country and for the people themselves. This has served as the cause for an active reciprocal desire by representatives of various political forces in opposition to today’s power to get together and discuss plans for the near future. I like the tonality of the conference – I too spoke and didn’t say anything incorrect. From a non-politician person of my generation, I think, it was useful to hear what I said. A broad democratic movement will be forming, which sooner or later will play a perceptible role in the life of society.And which will be prepared, when the regime starts to topple – and it is rotten in view of the absence of criticism and total corruption – that there will be structures prepared that will be able to take authority and responsibility upon themselves.What about the gathering on 6 April in Moscow of the left forces – representatives of various organizations like the «Vanguard of Red Youth»? They too are in favor of unification. Your opinion on this count? [Editor’s note: If one discounts radical fringe groups, the Russian opposition broadly consists of “rightists” (in the European tradition from free-market liberals to moderate social democrats) and “leftists” (various strains of communist-leaning groups). Since these were sworn ideological enemies in the Soviet days, they have tended to regard one another with mutual suspicion rather than recognizing the advantages of a tactical alliance in the face of a common enemy – the power.]Contact with them is being planned. Everything depends not on disagreements of little consequence, but on the principles on which these forces stand. If the principles can be united at the stage of [creating] a counter-weight to the power, then a unification is possible, excluding the ultra-nationalists, the fascists – with them it is impossible to find one’s position ever. The planned National Assembly – it is entirely possible that different political forces will be represented there – also will become a normal platform for negotiations. With whom it is impossible to unite – is known. There are fundamental human rights. No contradictions in views on freedom of the press, separation of powers, an independent judiciary…Recently-elected president Dmitry Medvedev also recently proclaimed this whole laundry list of democratic values… And at the same time, they were shackling Vasily Alexanyan with chains to a hospital bed, arresting Maxim Reznik, expelling the journalist Natalia MorariAnd Putin too proclaimed these values. Putin really knows how to put on a show – like when he accepted the offer to head the party «United Russia», when all the delegates to the congress of this party literally burst into bloom with smiles and joy. Or let us remember how four representatives of pro-Kremlin parties proposed the candidacy of Medvedev to the post of president… And they show this to us, as the “unity of the people”. The same identical words are uttered by different people with a different meaning.It seems strange: Putin’s a lawyer, Medvedev’s a laywer… But the lawlessness in the country is flourishing like never before…I agree. I understand one thing, that today we have in power a certain [inseparable] tandem, a kind of Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky, as someone put it [Author’s note: the heroes of Nikolai Gogol’s novel «The Inspector-General»], or Dolce and Gabbana. What one of the members of this tandem is all about – we already know. About the other one – to a significant degree we’re [only] making conjectures. My opinion: several months, for example, half a year, we need to watch Medvedev and listen to him. How he will act… A new president needs to be given a certain chance for a certain period. Then it will become clear what he intends to carry out from what he says, how he understands the basic values… Some kind of chance needs to be given.The departing regime, the current Kremlin group, have done much for the illegitimacy of the new president. And they did this, in my view, consciously. I refrain from negative evaluations of the activity of Medvedev, one should not add him an inferiority complex. If he’s smart, he can not but feel his incomplete legitimacy.Yuri Markovich, I have to ask this question: what’s the news “from the front” – the judicial prosecution of Mikhail Khodorkovsky?We had expected that in April they would once again establish a deadline for us for familiarization with the case materials. The deadline was extended to 2 May. They can prolong the investigation with one stroke of a pen, but the term of confinement under guard – you need to go to court. The term they do not intend to establish. Until the inauguration of the new president there will not be [any] abrupt movements. The entire burden of decisions with respect to this case, evidently, is going to fall on the new president. How he will act – and this will become understood soon already – this will be a very precise “smell test”.The balance is like this: I consider that the new president needs to be given a chance, and in a public appearance I have indicated this position. Until Medvedev’s actions don’t show that the tongue is given in order to conceal true intentions, criticism until that time must not be a deluge.The YUKOS case was started by Igor Sechin, who, judging by all appearances, got the blessing of the president. But there are many reasons to consider that Putin was to a significant degree disinformed concerning YUKOS and Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky did finance parties, but he didn’t even dream of taking Putin’s place in the Kremlin. There is reason to consider that the Sechin group kept driving this idea into Putin’s head, like sticking him with a cattle prod. Pushed him to extremes. We’ll see what place Sechin will occupy in the new configuration of power, and what kind of influence he’ll have. Dual power, as has always been the case, is not going to be peaceful coexistence. That’s why we need to give the elected president a chance. Of course, it’s a choice between bad and very bad, but it’s better to choose the lesser evil.On this account there’s an assertion that the Americans, for example, don’t even choose at all between one evil and another. Thank you for the interview. Good luck to you, Yuri Markovich!From Yuri Markovich’s speech on 5 March 2008 at a rally of dissenters in St. Petersburg:“The Kremlin mafia has joyously celebrated the changing of the don… Remember, as Alexander Galich said: “No need, people, to fear…” Many have had to overcome the fear that the ruling Kremlin plutocracy is attempting to instil.“In eight years of Putin they have put up obstacles and barriers… What do they fear? (A cry from the ranks of the rally participants: “The People!”) The People, right! It was understood that the majority of the duped people would vote for the Kremlin’s protégé. But even in this situation they… did not risk giving a single independent candidate access. …They fear the truth. History teaches that all totalitarian regimes end ignominiously. I am confident that an ignominious end awaits today’s ruling regime as well.”