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Grigory Yavlinsky: 'Change Is Only Possible If There Is An Alternative'

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I caught up with Yabloko founder Grigory Yavlinsky, who was in Prague this week to participate in the Forum 2000 conference, for a brief on-the-record chat.

We discussed a range of issues including Vladimir Putin's decision to return to the presidency, the possibility of change in Russia today, and how his strategy of working within the system differs from Boris Nemtsov and other members of the so-called "non-systemic opposition." The Power Vertical: When you announced your return to politics you said you said that this was one of those moments when change was truly possible. That was before United Russia held its congress on September 24 and Vladimir Putin announced his intention to return to the presidency. Do you still see a opportunity for change?

Grigory Yavlinsky: I see an even greater opportunity. People now see that if there isn't a change things will be just like they are now for another 25 years. People want the situation to change. I think Putin's return and Putin's [United Russia] congress showed people the necessity of change even more than before. The reaction in society and in the elite shows this. For example, after the congress the number of people who want to work with me and with Yabloko rose sharply. Even those who were more moderate or indifferent are now in a different mood. They have been under pressure from these conditions for such a long time. What does [Putin's return] mean? It means the preservation of the previous style and the previous agenda. It means the same faces on television. It means everything will remain the same. People can't take this anymore.

The Power Vertical: Do you agree with the assessment of many observers that there is a risk that Russian politics and society could enter into another so-called era of stagnation as in the late 1970s and early 1980s?

Yavlinsky: There is already stagnation. It isn't a risk. It's a reality. There is no dynamic in society. There is no engine of development. Fatigue is rising in society. Dissent is rising. Alienation is rising. Not only due to corruption, the lack of human rights, the lack of property rights, but also because everything has been the same for a long time and this has caused alienation. Change is only possible if there is an alternative. And right now is a moment when this can happen.

The Power Vertical: And you believe that Yabloko can be that alternative?

Yavlinsky: There is nobody else. Some like me and some don't. But it is a fact of life that other than Yabloko there is nobody else. Those who don't like what is happening in Russia today are far greater in numbers than my [traditional] electorate. But who else is there for them [to voter for]? The Communists? [LDPR leader Vladimir] Zhirinovsky? There's nobody else. [A Just Cause leader Sergei] Mironov? Right Cause has already died.

The Power Vertical: You recently appeared on the talk show Mnenie (Opinion) on Vesti-24. Things like that don't happen by accident in Russia. There has been a fair bit of speculation in the media that if you get into the State Duma you are being set up to play the role that Sergei Mironov once played or that Mikhail Prokhorov was meant to play -- that of a nominal opposition figure who is loyal and obedient to the regime. Is there any truth to this speculation?

Yavlinsky: I will be myself. I will be the same as I have been for the past 20 years. Moreover, in order to do something serious you need to appear not on Vesti-24, but on Channel One or RTR for an interview. Vesti-24 isn't a political channel. Sure, that was some kind of sign. They're playing some kind of game. And as for those who are writing in the press that I will play the role of Mironov, it is in their interest to destroy the idea of some kind of alternative [to the current authorities].

The Power Vertical: So you don't see yourself becoming part of the so-called "systemic opposition"?

Yavlinsky: The real non-systemic opposition is in the mountains of the Caucasus. [Opposition figures Vladimir] Ryzhkov, [Mikhail] Kasyanov, [Boris] Nemtsov, [Garry] Kasparov, [Eduard] Limonov, and all the others are the systemic opposition as well. They pay their taxes they fulfill their civic obligations participate in Russian politics in their own way. This suits the authorities. Anybody who the authorities don't want to tolerate is already not in Russia.

The Power Vertical: But these people, Nemtsov, Ryzhkov, Kasparov, etc, they are very different from those traditionally seen as the systemic opposition like Gennady Zyuganov, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Sergei Mironov.

Yavlinsky: Sure, they are different in that they speak differently. But they pay their taxes and this finances the state, they finance Mr. Putin. So if they believe in their strategy, let them follow their strategy. I don't know whose strategy is more correct, mine or theirs. I only know that there is a moment right now. And there is Yabloko's strategy and there is Nemtsov's strategy.

The Power Vertical: But Nermtsov and the others differ from you in that you are permitted to participate in the elections while they are not. Their strategy, as you called it, is born of necessity. They would participate if they could, but the authorities would not register the Party of People's Freedom (PARNAC).

Yavlinsky: If they want to participate, then why are they criticizing me? If they were allowed to participate then they would. This means they would like to be part of the systemic opposition.

The Power Vertical: Do you see them as allies?

Yavlinsky: I see anybody who is fighting for democracy in Russia as an ally.

Article copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036 http://www.rferl.org ; article also appeared at http://www.rferl.org/content/interview_with_grigory_yavlinsky/24357791.html

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