Below is a partial transcript of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s interview with the Financial Times on Feb. 6 in a Chita court.
Transcript of Khodorkovsky interview highlights Partial transcript of the FT’s interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, conducted by Neil Buckley in Chita regional court, Chita, Siberia. 6 February 2008 Financial Times: How long will you continue your hunger strike? Mikhail Khodorkovsky: I said I would continue my hunger strike until the question is settled about an independent inspection into the conditions [of Vasily Aleksanyan] and whether he can be treated in the detention centre. And according to the results of that commission, some kind of action should be taken. That’s what I’m saying. As far as I know, Russia’s human rights ombudsman Lukin he announced the same demands to the prosecutor.
FT: You went from a dry hunger strike to accepting water because Aleksanyan’s conditions had been improved?MK: He said that they had been, and we can only judge by what he said. Only by what he told the media, that the conditions of his imprisonment had radically improved.FT: How is your health?MK: I’m OK. I think I’m fully ready for a long bureaucratic procedure while they check the health of Aleksanyan. But as long as our bureaucrats drag out that procedure, I’m ready to continue.FT: Why did you decide there was no other option than a hunger strike?MK: What other way was there? Aleksanyan himself announced that the director of the investigative group had demanded false evidence from him against me, and made a direct link between him giving this false evidence in exchange for allowing him treatment. Alexanyan refused, and they are not providing treatment. He announced this in the supreme court of Russia. What can I do in that situation?FT: What conditions are you held in? How many people in your cell?MK: Under Russian law, if a person announces a hunger strike he’s held in isolation. Before that, there were two or three other people in the cell. I don’t really have any problem with the conditions of my imprisonment. For our country, they’re the norm.FT: But the reputation of this detention centre is very poor.MK: I can’t really get into discussions about that. But my conditions are standard, they meet the usual norms for Russia.FT: What does your family think about your hunger strike?MK: What’s important is how my parents feel, the rest is not important. I’ve been thinking most of all about my parents. My wife understands me, so she doesn’t question what I’m doing. She’s already been through a lot.FT: Are you able to continue familiarising yourself with the material for the new trial?MK: I’m still able to read 200 pages a day. The only really problem I have is with speaking, when my throat is dry.FT: Some people say fear is returning to Russia, that things could go back to the Soviet era…MK: I hope that that won’t happen. We need to be ready for the best…I don’t think it will happen. People can leave freely, the internet works. It’s just not possible.FT: But the Federation Council will examine a law on internet this week?MK: That’s just not possible. Everyone clearly understands that innovation is important, we won’t be able to survive without innovative technology.FT: But does the government understand that?MK: The government understands it very well. Even the oil industry can’t work properly without innovation. There can be situations where it’s very difficult to develop an oil well. Without innovation you can’t do it.FT: But in China, there’s less democracy than here, but economy is developing.MK: There are two important differences. First, I read an article by [Andrei] Illarionov [former economic adviser to Vladimir Putin]. Very interesting. He said three countries are considered examples of how authoritarian political regimes can develop their economies – China, South Korea and Singapore. How do these 3 countries differ from Russia? It’s very interesting. Singapore is number one by the state of its judiciary. South Korea is at a very high level, and even China is better than Russia. That’s the basic difference. The presence of the rule of law. If there is the rule of law, the level of authoritarianism of the executive branch is limited.Another reason why we can’t take China as an example is because we’re a country where competition of ideas is important. The west is accustomed to competition in the political sphere, competition between parties. In China there is also an important kind of pluralism, but it is territorial. There is a Beijing party organisation, a Shanghai party organisation, which wield very serious economic and political power, and in the competition between the three possible systems, they are able to work out some kind of consensus opinion among the elite. So there is a kind of pluralism. It’s just different from the west and the west doesn’t understand it.For Russia, the Chinese route is impossible because for us territorial pluralism could lead to the collapse of the country, and we can’t afford that. So accordingly, only a more standard form of pluralism is possible for us.And to take the city state of Singapore as an example for Russia is not possible.FT: So Russia’s biggest problem is the lack of an independent legal system?MK: The lack of the rule of law, as a whole. Laws can be better and they can be worse. But people must abide by laws, and not use them for their own ends.FT: Do you think Medvedev believes in the rule of law? When he becomes president is some kind of change possible?MK: It’s very difficult for me to predict, because it will be so difficult for him. I can’t even imagine. Honestly speaking, if you asked me how to get Russia out of this situation, I would be utterly lost. Tradition, and the state of people’s minds, and the lack of forces able to [support] any movement towards the rule of law, everything’s against him. So…may God grant him the strength to do it. All we can do is hope.”FT: But you still have an optimistic view on the future of Russia?MK :Broadly, yes. But that’s a question of my personality. I can’t provide a lot of arguments for and against, but on the whole I’m optimistic.FT: Has your view on the future of Russia changed during your imprisonment?MK: You know, I ended up in prison at a fairly mature age to be able to seriously change one’s views. I’m convinced that Russia is a European country, it’s a country with democratic traditions which more than once have been broken off during its history, but nonetheless there are traditions. People are educated, they’re absolutely normal. You wouldn’t believe the extent to which I was able to speak in the same language – I’m a Muscovite, with a relatively high level, by our standards, of education – the extent to which I was able to speak the same language to people who live deep in the Chita region, who have only school-level education. We’re people of one culture, one understanding of the world. …Here in Chita, to say Russia is an Asian country, I think for many people that would be, well, I wouldn’t say an insult, but if you ask people are you more like a Chinese person, or more like a European, here I think the people’s understanding is fairly unambiguous. We’re a European country. That’s how we developed. And the way forward for us is the European way.FT: How do other prisoners treat you?MK: I, of course, to a certain extent am a being from another world, an alien, and in the camps it’s the tradition to rank people on a kind of scale. I said to them, So didn’t have a political prisoner before? Well now you have one. They were around before. Get used to that situation. Bring in new ranks.FT: Was it true you were given the nickname “clever”?MK: No, that wasn’t the case…Young people have nicknames, but not the older ones. For me, for example, it’s usual to refer to people by their name and patronymic, or by the patronymic, so people referred to me as Borisovich. It’s not unique, it’s a relatively accepted situation.FT: Perhaps how they referred to you between themselves?MK: Maybe, but it’s not important.FT: What’s your attitude to what happened to Father Sergei [former priest at Krasnokamensk, defrocked after declaring Khodorkovsky a political prisoner]?MK: When I first heard about it, I was upset. But in his second interview, with Moskovsky Komsomolets, he told the truth. I didn’t look closely at the first one. Perhaps he overstated things. But in the second one he got it right. He came to me, said Mikhail Borisovich, this will probably be the last time we will see each other. And I said that can’t be true, I know [patriarch] Aleksy fairly well. He’s the kind of person who couldn’t do that. And he said, you know Aleksy, and I know our church system. And he turned out right. He knows our church system better than I do. That upset me, but you have to say he went into all this with his eyes open. I very much respect him for that, and thank him. But a person has his beliefs, he was in prison with Kovalyov. He’s a man with convictions.FT: Do you consider yourself an Orthodox person, a believer?MK:That’s a complicated question. I have thought a lot about this. And I’d rather keep it to myself.FT: People say that you raised the level of people’s legal awareness in the prison…MK: I don’t know to what extent I was responsible for that. I don’t think that I was responsible. But people understood that they could defend their rights by legal means. Previously, when there was a problem, there were protests etc. But when I came to the colony, the situation changed in that commissions started to arrive constantly, and the prosecutor came. And the first time the prosecutor came, one person went to see him, and only to talk about his case, not about his imprisonment. And everyone looked at him like he was nuts. The second time the prosecutor came, there was a whole queue waiting for him 40 people. So to a significant degree, life started to change.FT: What can you say about the new case against you?MK: I have already said everything in my original statement. But I’m being accused of stealing all the oil produced by Yukos over six years. It will be interesting to see how they intend to prove that. It will be curious.There have been various verdicts against Yukos. And the judges contradict each other on all sorts of questions, even in spite of the fact that the cases have all been supported by the federal prosecutor. So even they can’t make sense of it all, because they’re so confused about what they want. The accusations are connected not with a crime, but with a desire, the desire to take away people’s conscience, the desire to convince a witness to give evidence. It’s all about their various, conflicting desires. So the verdicts start to contradict one another.FT: What’s your attitude to the auctions of Yukos assets that took place last year?MK: I reacted to all that fairly calmly. Because I used up all my nerves in 2004, when a company that was working well was seized and handed over to Rosneft. Rosneft today is basically Yukos with a bit added on. To a large extent, it’s the same people. The production capacity is 75 per cent the same. Rosneft is Yukos after three years of peredelok.FT: But now its market capitalisation is something like $80bn.MK:Yes. But for me, to a significant extent, it’s more important that people didn’t lose their jobs, that they didn’t have to move to other cities and so on. That would be a catastrophe. I was always concerned that production would stop. A few times we came close to that, but fortunately, thanks to the efforts of the people who were themselves often under the threat of arrest, we preserved production. And people didn’t lose their jobs.