The following is a translation of a rare interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky by the French newspaper Le Figaro. See the original source here. “When Russia is wrong, Europe must say so” Interview by Laure Mandeville Le Figaro September 20-21, 2008 INTERVIEW – “Le Figaro” has obtained the first interview granted to the French press by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian tycoon imprisoned in Siberia. His lawyers provided us his written answers to our questions. For five years, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oil tycoon who made his fortune in the tumultuous and dangerous waters of the 1990s, has been serving a nine-year prison sentence following a highly politicized trial and conviction for “grand scale tax evasion”.
LE FIGARO – With the election of Dmitry Medvedev many hoped for a thaw in Russia. From your prison have you shared this hope? What does the Georgia crisis change?Mikhail Khodorkovsky – In my speeches, just before my arrest in 2003, I used to say that there can be no efficient economy without democracy. Many people, including many of those now in circles of power in Russia, understand this and hope for the establishment of normal democratic institutions, with free elections, independent media and an opposition. Others are afraid of changes. They cling to “stability” of a Brezhnevian type, which will inevitably lead Russia to a loss of competitiveness and then a “new perestroika”. Today’s choice between economic growth or controlling inflation arose exclusively due to the poor quality of democratic institutions and the suppression of entrepreneurs by a corrupt bureaucracy. But I have hope. Medvedev himself has clearly defined the key issue of the independence of the judiciary. Now we have brought to the surface that which everybody knew but was afraid to say: there is a practice of exerting pressure, notably by the presidential administration, on the processes of investigations. Now it is important not to get cold feet, but to continue the cleaning of the Augean stables.The rejection of your application for parole, this past August, is not encouraging…Both my friends and my foes understand the enormous symbolic meaning of my case for the country, and its meaning for those who have fallen under the steamroller of Russian justice. Today it is obvious that no state official will take risks in my regard. Any decision will be a decision of the power, and a message to society. The question is simple: does one have the right to take revenge on political adversaries, seizing their property and sending them to prison, through an arbitrary interpretation of the law? If this is the case, our country is ruled under the “might-is-right” law of the cave man. If this is not the case, then we have to put an end to this affair.Has the Sechin clan, which you identify as the principal instigator of your downfall, been weakened?My persecutors will continue exerting pressure on the power. They will threaten me, and perhaps not only threaten. Their methods are known; and they have an inextinguishable desire to keep me in jail forever. Do not think that the positions of my persecutors have really weakened following the change in the presidency. Enormous economic and administrative resources are still under their control. However, after the arrival of Medvedev, I have noticed changes. Previously, after an interview like this one, I would have been sent alone into the dungeon of solitary confinement. But from May to August there have not been such harsh consequences for my public declarations. Nevertheless, the denial of my parole application shows that there is still a long way to go before there are any major changes. Two days before the court hearing, the prison authorities informed me I would be penalized for the absurd reason that I supposedly did not report to the prison director the number of prisoners in my cell! My parole application was denied using the pretext that I had not mastered the skills of a seamstress in prison! Is this not a mockery of justice? Meanwhile, the investigation continues for a second trial against me, in which I am accused of having stolen all (!) of the oil that Yukos extracted in a decade. The investigators understand well that they are being used as tools. They are trying to understand and to do what the hierarchy desires.Angela Merkel raised your case with Medvedev. What do you expect from Europe?For Europe and Russia, the worst scenario would be that one tries to dominate the other. That is the clear path towards a senseless confrontation. But a strictly pragmatic approach is just as unproductive. To live on the same continent and to deepen economic and cultural interdependence, yet not to share each other’s values, is simply not possible. The only realistic path is that of mutual integration of elites in compliance with the fundamental rules enshrined in our national constitutions and European agreements. I have in mind the “third basket” of Helsinki, human rights. Europe successfully followed this route in the middle of the last century. Russia by no means has an authoritarian genetic code. Yes, it is a large country, demanding careful attention to maintain a balance between centrifugal tendencies and excessive centralization. But it is a European country in spirit and cultural traditions, with an educated population capable of absorbing new experiences. Believe me, I now know my country from every angle. Even this famous resurgent-nation syndrome, so noticeable today in Russia, is not something new for Europe. From being an empire, Russia is gradually transforming into a classic nation-state. This is a road that France has travelled. Our path is a difficult and thorny one, but if all goes well we will become an ally of Europe, not a hostile continental adversary. Europe and Russia must not be together due to gas and oil, but rather due to common foundational values and a single system of security.Your reasoning had more weight before the intervention in Georgia…It is now commonly said that the “five-day war” in the Caucasus, and the recognition by Russia of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, will bring great harm to Russian-European relations and will bring to an end hopes for liberalization in Russia. I am not convinced of this. There cannot be an iron curtain between the West and Russia. The Russian elite have neither the desire nor the ideology that would permit this. On the contrary, this crisis could push the Kremlin to take steps to improve its relations with the West. Such steps will not involve the surrender of Russia’s geopolitical positions. The developments in South Ossetia have shown that the founding members of the European Union, such as France, have a multi-dimensional understanding of Russia’s problems and those of its former empire. The role of President Sarkozy in the peaceful management of the crisis was not just happenstance.Is the West firm enough when Russia steps out of line?When Russia is wrong, Europe must speak loud and clear, and not fear for its gas and its oil. Russia is just as interested in having stable consumers as Europe is in having stable producers. This does not mean that Russia is always wrong. But what is clear is that it is very difficult to listen to the falsely patriotic outcries of some of my compatriots.Interview conducted in writing.Laure Mandeville