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The Enduring Enigma of Grigory Yavlinsky

yavlinsky1126.jpgWell, it’s about that time of year when everybody pays a little attention to great Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who is making yet another tireless run at the presidency. It has become almost painful to see a talented politician like Yavlinsky, who makes such brilliant and intuitive statements, wither away in a non-inclusive political system where selection and managed choices reign supreme over genuine competition of proposals. There’s no telling how far he would go in a normal functioning democracy (or at least one in which he could get some more TV time). Some excerpts from recent profiles after the cut.

From Russia Profile:

The former junior boxing champion, passionate debater and determined reformer is fighting another struggle he is unlikely to win, but he has not lost any desire to lead his country to democracy. So, he has written a new program, which partially refers back to the ambition of the “500-day plan.” As an economist, he likes using numbers. Consequently, his new program, called “Seven Steps to Equal Opportunities,” sets out the seven most serious problems Russia is facing today and the seven steps towards a solution. The problems that Yavlinsky has outlined are: an authoritarian, bureaucratic, clan-dominated government; dependence on raw materials; widespread poverty; denial of civil rights; ongoing criminal privatization; the prospect of Russia falling behind and becoming a Third World country; and the threat of a crisis that will lead to social upheaval and the disintegration of the state. Yavlinsky offers the people of Russia a new honest society.But Russians might be afraid of more change, and many people consider the word “democracy” to be a negative one. The “democracy” of the 1990s was difficult for most Russians. Privatization resulted in hyperinflation, unpaid wages and the disappearance of social security. Incomes and savings disappeared while, at the same time, a new class of wealthy Russians arose and profited from the sale of national companies. Expectations for democratic development were suffocated. “People do not think in terms of the future. They think in terms of yesterday’s fears,” Yavlinsky said to Novye Izvestia.Russia’s economy has been growing, which is partially what keeps Putin’s popularity high, but the growth depends on the export of natural resources. In an interview with Radio Rossiya, Yavlinsky said that this growth is “growth without development,” which “doesn’t lead to active social policies.”Yavlinsky is still punching the high red walls of the Kremlin, but as The Moscow Times wrote, the presidential elections are “more akin to a scripted professional wrestling bout than a clean fight.” Therefore, March will show if principles will allow the boxer to wring himself free from the arm lock of the judo master.

From the FT:

For six months, Mr Yavlinsky had expected to be keynote speaker at a conference on Russia’s declining population being held on the same premises. The night before, organisers called him to say his presence was not required. As a consolation, he could address an economics class. Such is life for an opposition leader campaigning for Russia’s parliamentary elections on December 2 – even one who remains within the system of “approved” parties that has emerged under Mr Putin.It is a life where meetings and appearances can suddenly be cancelled, election leaflets confiscated, or advertising yanked at the last moment. Mr Yavlinsky said his Yabloko party had just had 100 billboards in St Petersburg taken down, apparently after official pressure on the site-owners.”These people are coming to us, almost crying, asking us not to [display our posters], even if it has all been paid for, because they would be fired,” he said.