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Sobesednik Interview with Khodorkovsky

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The following is a translation of an interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky published in Sobesednik by Elena Skvortsova.

The court – an appendage of the “vertical”

– On December 3, Vladimir Putin spoke out about the YUKOS case. It was essentially understood from his words just what outcome he expects from the trial. Nevertheless, on December 12, you said in the British newspaper Metro that the premier no longer exerts any influence on the trial. Is there any evidence of this?

– Right now, answering that same question now that I know what Putin said, I shall express an opinion: if the premier needed to issue a directive to the court or to the investigators, he could (and can) do this far less publicly. Therefore, his declaration, without a doubt, is political. But there is also no doubt that it has a direct impact on all the structures that are built into the “vertical”. The reason is obvious – the awareness by interested parties in the premier’s retinue of the extent to which the current charge has completely collapsed.


Nevertheless, having learned all about our “legal” realities overthe past 6 years, I maintain: if there were a direct command from him,they would have already convicted me of stealing all the oil in Russia- and the Tsar-cannon to boot.

– What is your reaction to the recent resignations in theConstitutional Court? Both of the judges – Kononov and Yaroslavtsev -essentially suffered for their critical interviews (one of these wasprinted in our newspaper) and “dissenting” opinions”. Can one reallyspeak of any kind of “moving forward” in the reform of the judicialsystem in our country after this?

– The chairman of the Constitutional Court, Valery Zorkin, spokeopenly about the situation in the court in a very self-critical piecepublished in Rossiyskaya gazeta. This was the first time he used suchharsh characterisations: “waiter”, “whatever pleases your lordship”.And he essentially admitted that the court has turned into an appendageof the executive “vertical”.

It is clear that many of the generals of the judicial power do not wantany transformations. They “get fed pretty decently as it is”. However,everything depends on the willingness and the readiness of thepresident to conduct such transformations. There is not going to be anytruly modern Russia without a fundamental reform of the judiciary.

– The whole law enforcement system is in the same distressfulsituation. This became obvious to all after the incident with policemajor Denis Yevsyukov, who shot and killed the patrons of a supermarketin the capital. He has now been put on trial, by the way. Do you seesome kind of opportunities to transform the police, to force it tocarry out its immediate functions with respect to protecting citizens

– If even influential United Russians are coming out for theliquidation of the MVD, then what more can be said? It is obvious toeverybody: the effectiveness of the control over this gigantic machineon the part of citizens and the law – is a dangerous illusion. At thesame time, the police – are a reflection of our society. It isimperative to change the value system at the level of the rulingelites. Without this, any administrative steps, even the most radicalones, are not going to bring about a positive result. And also: withoutdecisive changes in the judicial system, an attempt to reform thelaw-enforcement agencies is senseless. As long as the courts remain anassembly line for issuing guilty verdicts, our siloviki do not and willnot have any incentive to respect the law and to comply with itunconditionally.

A political reform is needed!

– You have often said recently that political reforms are animpe-rative for an innovational economy (and practically all economistswill agree with you here), as well as that the power has yet to adopt adecision in this regard. That is, in your view, does the power have toconduct political reforms in Russia voluntarily, or is a scenariopossible where the trend of the development of the situation itselfwill force this to be done?

– We have all fallen into an extremely not-simple situation, which goesby the name of “the oil curse”. Thanks to oil incomes, the power isable to either maintain social stability without modernisationapproximately until the year 2015, or start modernisation, reducingthe guaranteed period of social stability.

Such a situation is encountered in business. A typical example -AVTOVAZ. Either a trickle of outside social support and a slow slidetowards the point of no return where it becomes easier to demolish thanto modernise – or investments, modernisation, one-time costs andsurvival in a competitive marketplace.

Except that AVTOVAZ – is a comparably small system, capable of beingmanaged “from without”, while Russia – is a huge system, and thetransition that we need is to a modern economy, and not to competitionwith China in the mass production of preserve tins. Our country isunsuitable for management “from without”. And even if “from without” -this is our own corrupt “vertical”. Political reforms are imperative.To behave otherwise is possible. But irresponsible.

– You’ve been published often this year in both Russian and foreignmass information media. Does this bear witness to the existence of somekind of freedom of speech or more likely to an attempt by the power tosave face?

– In Russia I am permitted to address a narrow circle of intellectualelites, including through your news-paper. Attempts to severelyrestrict interaction with this part of our society and with foreignaudiences turned out to be unproductive, albeit unpleasant for me inthe everyday-life sense.

Without a doubt, Dmitry Medvedev’s style in relation to independentmedia is different, but we are still light years away from real freedomof speech, and it is hardly likely that this astronomical distance canbe overcome without all-round political reform.

The power, in my view, needs to understand: it is not justKhodorkovsky and a bunch of intellectuals who need freedom of speech;the whole country needs it. First and foremost the power itself, if itwants to mobilise the creative energy of the people in order to carryout that very same modernisation.

At liberty – more frightening

– In the 70s, those zeks who had done time in the zone for many yearsintentionally committed crimes in order to go back: they could notimagine life at liberty. In your “Maxims” you write that such a thinghappens even now: 90% of prisoners are of no use to anybody “beyond thegates”, and if a person has done 10 years, he is already afraid ofliberty. So where is it more frightening – in the zone or at liberty?

– It is a little bit frightening at liberty, because liberty – this isresponsibility. And the burden of responsibility of a rational beingis never very easy. Our people have lived in a “zone” for a long time.And they have not yet had the time to get used to real liberty, whichimplies bearing real responsibility for themselves. This is why a campration and some gruel seem to many to be a fair trade for not having tobe responsible. But I believe that the situation will change. That weare not going to want to go back to the “zone”. That Russia deservesliberty.
What I would like to hear from the president…

– The president will soon be making his annual New Year’s address to the people. What do you expect to hear him say?

– From president Medvedev I would like to hear an admission that wewere able to mitigate the social impact of the economic decline onaccount of the oil “cushion”, that we will be able to continue thiswork in 2010, but that once again we failed to lay the foundations forgetting out of the crisis and into a modern economy, not one based onraw materials. An obstacle became the inertia of the bureaucracy, thearchaic system of management and administration, and the indifferenceof society. We paid for this with hundreds of human lives in 2009.

I would like to hear some honest words about how, having tried tobreak corruption’s back, the president ran up against not onlyresistance on the part of officialdom and opposition on the part ofsome of the elites, but also the inertia of Russians, for whom it wouldseem that becoming true citizens of their country still lies in thefuture.

I would like to hear that he very much hopes for a profound shift inpublic sentiments in 2010 and will do everything that depends on himfor this shift to occur. That having found himself in such a post bythe will of fate, he does not intend to concern himself with somebody’sselfish interests and ambitions, or even with his own safety, butintends to serve Russia and awaits active support from society for thesteps he is taking.

I am convinced: that part of Russian society which is capable ofbecoming a bulwark of modernisation is waiting for such words and deeds.

But the president’s New Year’s address – is a formal ritual, abackground against which people pop open bottles of champagne andremove the covers from bowls of Oilivier salad. It has nothing to dowith politics, and therefore we will apparently not be hearing anythinglike this.

…and what I would say to Russians myself

– And what would your own New Year’s address to Russians be like?

– Esteemed citizens of Russia, dear friends! We are living in an era ofcrisis, which for many of us is closely connected with big losses,material and otherwise. But the crisis opens up new opportunities forus as well. The time has come for us to understand that the oil-basedfree ride is coming to an end and that we, the citizens of Russia, haveto change our country with our own hands and our own intellect. That we- are the masters of Russia, and its fate is up to us. There is nopoint in relying any more on handouts trickling down to us from above.We need to start to feel that we are free people, and to start movingforward. Only such a life is worthy of a human being. Happy New Year!

■ Elena Skvortsova.