Grigory Pasko: Putin’s Failure

The Khodorkovsky Affair – a Failure for Putin Russian Alternatives Conference Takes Place in Moscow By Grigory Pasko, journalist A conference entitled «Russian Alternatives» recently took place in Moscow. Three topics were on the agenda: the law and justice in the light of traditions and today’s realities; liberal ideas and social processes in the light of individualism and social solidarity; and problems of partnership and confrontation between Russia and the West.


The hall in the «Radisson-Slavyanskaya» hotel before the start of the conference (Photo by Grigory Pasko)

Seemingly an ordinary conference with an ordinary agenda. However, right from the start of the conference, the organizers underscored that the event also had another name – «The Khodorkovsky Readings». In giving the conference such a name, the organizers, in the words of the chairman of the management board of the «Memorial» society, Arseny Roginsky, were proceeding from the premise that Mikhail Khodorkovsky is one of the few big Russian businessmen who is trying to put questions of the strategic development of the country before society. In addition to this, the initiators of the conference underscored that they were paying homage to the intellectual bravery of Khodorkovsky, his civic courage. Bearing witness to the fact that the intellectual bravery of the prisoner of the Chita SIZO has not remained unnoticed (I’m referring here to the articles written by Mikhail Borisovich when he was already in prison) was the impressive list of participants in this conference. I’ll name just a few of those who took part: deputy to the State Duma of the RF Vladimir Ryzhkov, president of the INDEM foundation Georgiy Satarov, researcher with the Carnegie Moscow Center Lilia Shevtsova, president of the «Liberal mission» Foundation Yevgeny Yasin, president of the National Project Institute «Social contract» Alexander Auzan, head of the Center for the Study of the Elite of the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences Olga Kryshtanovskaya, justice of the Constitutional Court of the RF (ret.) Tamara Morshchakova, writer Marietta Chudakova, president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation Alexei Simonov, and many others. The greatest activeness of the participants, as was expected, was aroused by the topic of the law and justice in modern Russia. I particularly liked the way in which the question was framed by one of the speakers: in the unlikely event that Khodorkovsky were lawfully acquitted right now, would society regard this as justice or not? Many came to the conclusion that the majority of the people of Russia – those who support today’s power and president Putin – would consider such a verdict of the court to be unjust. However, a representative of the Yuri Levada Analytical Center, Alexei Levinson, reminded the results of surveys of public opinion in the year 2006. Thus, in the opinion of 42% of citizens of Russia surveyed, YUKOS employees are being wrongfully persecuted by the state; 43% are convinced that «the Kremlinites» had pillaged YUKOS; over 40% consider that Khodorkovsky was locked up because he “had not come to an agreement with the power”. In the opinion of Yevgeni Yasin, the law was and remains a tool in the hands of the power. Society’s opinion is such: it makes no sense to seek justice in the courts, because legality there is replaced by expediency. As to the conflict between the power and business, it is not a new phenomenon in the history of humanity. However, it can be put in a lawful framework only when there is a democratic system and an independent judiciary. Yevgeni Yasin reminded of the story with the Prussian Kaiser Frederick the Great, who issued an edict on an independent judiciary. The very first appeal to such a court was won by a peasant, who had complained about the Kaiser’s officials. “In Russia”, noted Yasin, “we still have never had such cases to this day.” “The Khodorkovsky affair”, said Yevgeni Yasin, “is a failure for Putin in that mission for which he had been called to the post of president.”


Conference participants (L-R) Olga Kryshtanovskaya, Alexander Auzan, Yevgeni Yasin, Tatiana Vorozheikina, Tamara Morshchakova, Alexei Levinson (Photo by Grigory Pasko)

Alexander Auzan started his talk with the following sentence: “Mikhail Khodorkovsky – this is a national problem.” Then he gave examples in support of his premise. Public disavowal of the wealthy – the person of Khodorkovsky has to do with this problem. The use of the courts as a tool of pressure by the state – Khodorkovsky. The pressure of the state system on the individual through the organs of the execution of punishment – Khodorkovsky. Then Auzan, who has an education in economics, touched upon the topic of state monopolies. In his opinion, state monopolies are a manifestation of quasi-nationalization, because behind each such a monopoly stands a société anonyme sitting on the money flows. In actuality, what is going on in Russia is a process of reprivatization, which, in the end result, will lead to the deligitimization of the entire state. Director of the New Policy Center of the Institute of the Problems of Globalization Ilya Ponomarev considers that the laws used under «Putin-the- Stabilizer» are out of keeping with tradition. Consequently, they will not be carried out by society. And this means that the power is going to use authoritarianism in attaining the carrying out of its laws. “The power needs to be honest, because the people will quickly see through a dishonest power”, summed up Ponomarev. Tamara Morshchakova is convinced that the law must serve as a restraint on power. But today’s power still has not accepted the premise about the need for independent justice. The whole sense of law is being annihilated. Tatiana Vorozheikina, an instructor at the Moscow Higher School for Socio-Economic Sciences, noted that Mikhail Khodorkovsky in his articles sets out a program that rejects the essence of today’s regime in Russia. Under the current regime, the law can always be changed to suit the whims of arbitrariness. Selective application of the law destroys a legal environment more than anything else. Olga Kryshtanovskaya, famous for her works in the field of studying the Russian elites, talked about how the power may be cynical, but it nevertheless does have its ideology – the ideology of the siloviki, who were nurtured and learned about life in closed special schools and are convinced that they are “higher forms of life”, that only they know what needs to be done and how, and who is a “true enemy of the state”, while the people should not know more than they are supposed to. Deputy to the State Duma from the CPRF [Communist Party of the Russian Federation] Yuri Ivanov cited some interesting facts in his talk. He said that the rank-and-file members of the CPRF share Khodorkovsky’s views on many of the events taking place in the country. He came to such a conclusion after a large number of meetings with his voters in 70 regions of the country. Georgiy Satarov painted a graphic collective portrait of the power in Russia, who, having a “microscopic world view”, had decided that if the building of capitalism in an individually taken country had not succeeded, then we will build it in an individually taken residential compound. Marietta Chudakova called upon those gathered to conduct enlightenment work among the people. Journalist from Rostov-on-Don Alexei Fedorov agreed with her.


The author Marietta Chudakova calls for enlightening the people (Photo by Grigory Pasko)

At the end of the discussion of the subject of the law and justice, Tatiana Vorozheikina once again returned to the topic of «Khodorkovsky in prison». She said that she had liked the framing of the question “What if they acquit Khodorkovsky?” (True, she immediately added the caveat that she has little faith in such a turn of events). “The triumph of the law over expediency”, said Vorozheikina, “will have great educational significance for society.”