The idea of European integration set out by opposition leader Garry Kasparov in an interview with Yezhednevny Zhurnal last November was met by an overwhelmingly positive reaction from its readers. Seeing the idea as a genuine and strategic alternative to current Russian foreign policy, many were left wondering if such integration could realistically be achieved.
Therefore, Yezhednevny Zhurnal recently sat down with Kasparov for another interview, in order to extend the discussion of why European integration is necessary for Russia and how current political posturing on economic and political reforms will inevitably come to naught.
Garry Kimovich, in your opinion, do the nationalist and leftist wings of the National Assembly support the idea of European integration?
The strategic vector of Russia’s future development is, of course, a question for national discussion. At a time when a new global consensus is developing, Russia’s own interests force it to determine who its strategic partners are. It is possible that, as before, part of the left will look towards China. They think that the ruling Chinese Communist Party will implement the correct scenario for the country’s development.
However, in my opinion, if Russia focuses so recklessly on the East, it will inevitably cause our country to lose geopolitical subjectivity. Nothing will come of Russia’s own role, most likely becoming a purely raw-exports role for its active eastern neighbor. China is a very strong player, constantly driving economic expansion. By steadily expanding the limits of its influence, it has already established hegemony over practically the entire Asian expanse.
It is possible that there are some nationalists who, believing in Russia’s divine destiny, will say: “But we don’t need anyone – we’ll handle it ourselves.” I think that all of these utopian theories will come to be rejected as a result of discussion. I do not doubt that in the end, both the nationalists and the leftists will choose the vector of European integration.
Do you think that all Russian citizens support this geopolitical course?
Unlike the United States or China, which have a potentially negative connotation in the Russian consciousness, Europe won’t be rejected outright by Russian citizens. Europe is a related culture with high standards of living and free movement across the continent without the need for a visa. Where do our citizens turn to when they are disappointed with Russian justice? To Strasbourg. Many consider Europe to be a source of judicial justice. On the other hand, there’s a danger that people will get high expectations and hope that integration will solve all of our problems. The integration process is long and requires the introduction of legislation to bring us in line with basic European norms, and also to balance economic conditions and social safety nets.
Over the course of the integration process, the situation in the country should fundamentally change, of course, for the better. It is obvious that industries are beginning to move from the West to the East, closer to sources of raw materials, and that the qualified work force is catching up with them. Indeed, Europe today is suffering from overpopulation, and Russia has a great deal of undeveloped territory. If Russia becomes part of a common European expanse, we will be able to have European technology for, among other things, Russia’s gigantic farmlands. We will come to share such high-tech European projects as Airbus. With European integration, situations like the failed deal between Sberbank and Opel will become impossible. These issues will be resolved without the influence of political factors, even if the Americans don’t like it.
Is it just coincidental that several Kremlin political consultants have recently introduced projects that, in one way or another, promote the idea of European integration?
It is important to stress here that the Kremlin’s projects differ fundamentally from the processes of European integration as we understand them. They would base the integration of Russia with the Western world on alliances, including military-political ones, with various governments in Europe and America. For example, Director Igor Yurgens of the Institute for Contemporary Development proposed forming a military-political alliance with America together with his coauthors in a project entitled “A New Entente.” The United States could choose to enter into an alliance with Russia for their own tactical reasons – to move Russia away from China and to prevent China from creating a raw materials base in the Far East and Siberia. In doing so, the Americans would close their eyes to the lawlessness and absence of democracy in Russia.
The situation with Europe is more complex, but it could also enter into other types of elite arrangements. For example, former German Councilor Gerhard Schröder has already worked for Gazprom’s sister company for quite some time. The former Finnish Prime Minister, Paavo Lipponen, also works for Gazprom. Silvio Berlusconi makes no attempt to hide his close business contacts with Putin. This is precisely why the propagandists from the Kremlin are trying to formulate such projects, so that they can maximally integrate the Russian elite with the global elite. Such plans would ensure that there would be no interference from the West in our own matters, and would preserve the patriarchal-feudal system of the Russian government. Even Dmitri Rogozin has spoken publicly about the use of integrating Russia into NATO. These projects are pure ostentation, and the authorities have absolutely no desire to discuss the process of real European integration that would demand a change in the inner substance of our state. Such changes would be fatal for the government, since they would have to introduce electoral legislation that corresponds to European norms.
Are the experts from the Institute for Contemporary Development, who are often critical of the government and promote various proposals to modernize the economy, really not potential allies for the opposition?
As a matter of fact, they are our antagonists; our ideological opponents. And they are all the more dangerous – in contrast with open fans of authoritarian and totalitarian forms of governance, they put on a show of multi-layered, ostentatious rhetoric to hide their actual refusal to accept political liberalism. That the very meanings of “democracy” and “liberalism” have been cheapened in the eyes of Russian society has been their “contribution.”
Rehabilitating liberal thought in Russia would require overcoming the inertia of a massive consciousness that still include proponents of the views of Gaidar and Chubais. Andrei Piontkovsky devotes much consideration to this important topic in his impassioned articles, constantly pointing out how these types of Russian liberals are incorporated into the infrastructure of the oligarchic regime. The National Patriots, who have shown that they are prepared to work with other ideological groups and abandon current stereotypes, did an interesting comparative analysis of the position of liberals and neo-liberal “liberasts” on key socio-political issues.
Not long ago, Yegor Gaidar made a very important confession. In an interview with Novaya Gazeta, he said that while we had indeed created a market economy, “we did not solve one of the important problems – the separation of power and property.” Herein lies Yegor Timurovich’s trickery: that the problem of the separation of power and property was never solved. We never had real market reform because the market, most of all, presupposes a systematic battle against monopolization in every sector, and not a formal division and privatization by the very same oligarchs of companies such as the Unified Energy System.
In her new book, “The Lonely Power,” Lilia Shevtsova writes that Russian “reformers” came under criticism in the 1990s by Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, then-Senior Vice President of the World Bank. “Privatization is no great achievement,” Stiglitz mocked the “privatizers,” “it can occur whenever one wants – if only by giving away property to one’s friends. Achieving a private competitive market economy on the other hand is a great achievement but this requires an institutional framework, a set of credible and enforced laws and regulations.” Stiglitz convincingly proved that privatization in Russia occurred “in an unregulated environment,” and instead of doing what was needed to creating the environment “to curb political intrusion in market processes, an instrument was created to be used by special interest groups and political forces to preserve power,” Shevtsova concludes.
The oligarchic method of governing – that is to say, the seamless interweaving of power and property – will sooner or later lead to the abolition of democracy as such. Nobody will give up their power if they risk losing their property. Obviously, the ideal of the Medvedev wing that Yurgens represents is the liquidation of various excesses from Putin’s administration. But in doing so, it may not touch the oligarchic essence of the state. The Russian liberals that are incorporated into the system fear free elections like fire, since they inevitably lead to the abolition to the oligarchic model of government rule. Among these people, genuine liberalization brings about a real allergic reaction.
Why, then, was Igor Yurgens present at the conference of the Public Anti-crisis Initiative, expressing his intent to sign a measure that would promote political demands to modernize the political system?
First of all, signing a demand and managing to fulfill it are very different things. Secondly, the political reforms proposed by this group go, at the very most, only halfway. Without a doubt, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Sergei Aleksashenko and even Aleksandr Lebedev can potentially be our allies, but they have never before crossed the line necessary to challenge the system.
What do you think of the idea of gradual democratization of the system, which many have put their hopes in?
An anti-democratic regime can be neither reformed nor modernized; it can only be dismantled. All the hope that goes into finding a way to somehow reform or perfect the current system is in vain. It’s impossible, because the essence of the system will remain the same. Yegor Gaidar was precise in defining this: it’s power and property mixed up in the same bottle. Our situation will not change while the question of the separation of power and property remains resolved. This is a purely political decision. There exists no other way of reforming the system, such as with free elections. The five-second rule doesn’t apply to free elections – they’re basically saying that “we cannot allow irresponsible people to come to power.” We take a directly contradictory stance: “Give the people freedom, and you need not worry excessively about their elections.”
Do you think that the government’s apologists will convince the public that the discussion of unfair elections is a thing of the past, and that now, like they say, the new president is working to curb the “administrative games” of United Russia?
As a matter of fact, Medvedev has said nothing about honest elections; I don’t need to speak on his behalf. Twenty years ago, this was a beloved pastime of Western experts, who based their conjectures on their readings of Gorbachev in translation. Thank god we listen to Medvedev in Russian! On the contrary, he maintained the status-quo, saying: “We shall not rock the boat… We shall not allow the balance to be disrupted… We shall put this to an abrupt stop… We shall put them in jail.” Add to that the fact that the authorities took this as a direct order and put Limonov in jail for ten days for standing up for citizens’ right to freedom of assembly. Nothing in Medvedev’s speeches indicates that the Russian president wants real change. So, let’s leave him alone.
The apologists from the “Medvedev Majority” don’t say anything about free elections, either. This remains the case even when examining very different people. For example, the same Igor Yurgens who talks about the possibility of democracy “from above.” He proposes creating two political parties – one under Putin and another under Medvedev, and making it so that they can replace each other from time to time. Are those really free elections? This is a mask for the regime, unapologetically suppressing any impulses that threaten the bond between power and property. And free elections are a direct threat to the oligarchic method of managing the economy.
This is also characteristic of the regional governments, where the families of governors and state prosecutors control large spheres of business. So the regional elites aren’t interested in free elections, either. But Medvedev’s apologists won’t manage to fool the people. Russia’s main “liberast,” Anatoly Chubais, generally sees these tricks as an empty waste of time, and is calling directly for economic reform, putting a stop to these unnecessary discussions of political reform.
One more apologist from the “modernization majority,” a, is trying to hoist the same agenda upon us, but hiding it behind the name of Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov. Such attempts are typical for the more active Russian “liberasts,” and are especially immoral because they use Sakharov’s humanitarian legacy to justify a purely technocratic approach to governing the country, one based on the innermost contempt for its own people.
Then what does it tell us when, for example, prominent United Russia member Andrei Makarov announces that the Internal Ministry needs to be liquidated? Did he not, in fact, state your proposal?
That’s the spontaneous revolt of individual people who are sensing the dead end ahead. Anyone not completely hardwired into the system is protesting. And within the system, this protest is gaining momentum. “Sartre’s nausea,” as Andrei Piontkovsky writes, is approaching. The Brezhnev generation might see the question of when everything will come tumbling down as a rhetorical one, but for the 40-50-year-olds who make up the basis of the current government, this is not a theoretical question, but a practical one. Today, these people want to understand what will happen tomorrow. They still have the strength and desire to not wind up beneath the wreckage of the system.
And indeed, the system is not going to collapse just because I write that it will – all I do is expound upon the fears and dangers that a lot people are experiencing. I think that the process of the system’s collapse is going to gain momentum. At the end of the day, the stumbling block will be the question of political liberalization.
It’s possible that all of these people will put their hopes in Medvedev until the very end…
But he isn’t planning to introduce any corrections into the political system. After a year and a half of Medvedev’s tenure as president of Russia, Putin’s authoritarian regime has only become more severe. The Internal Ministry now has a special new subdivision for the war on extremism – Center “E;” cases of extremism have begun to appear, demonstrations have begun to be broken up more severely, and political activists have begun getting beaten.
In addition, today we have come face-to-face with a new and extremely dangerous phenomenon – the sharp growth of street violence between neo-Nazi and anti-fascist groups. Violence is pouring out onto the streets, and the thieving, cowardly government tries to use violence to its own ends. All of Medvedev’s attempts to play an independent role are connected with a desire to preserve Putinism without Putin. Further thoughts on this are worthless. Putin and Medvedev are representatives of a single system, one where power and property are combined. This renders the whole conversation about economic reform meaningless. The monopoly in politics and the economy doesn’t go together well with free elections.
Would you, then, recommend those who aren’t hardwired into the system to wait for the regime’s collapse?
In any case, I don’t advise them to participate in Medvedev’s various initiatives – that’s an attempt to shift his civic duty onto somebody else. Such attempts may bring about an opposite result and only prolong the agony of the regime. No attempt to play along with Medvedev’s initiatives will benefit anyone. The citizens that want free parliamentary elections have been effective in uniting into their own networks.
Is this where you got the idea to transform the National Assembly into a series of networks?
Yes, we are planning to reform the National Assembly. We want to make it available for all Russian citizens to join, and also to create regional branches for the National Assembly. The new structure will respond to the demand to represent a maximum number of different ideological trends on the basis of our common values. We hope that the existence of such a wide-ranging structure will help us support the country at a time of catastrophe, and implement a range of necessary actions during the transitional period while the country is preparing for elections – which will be held with clear, transparent rules. Right now, nobody knows where they’re going to be working, whether in the legislative, executive, or judicial branches; we can develop an objective procedure for elections and a system of checks and balances that would suit everyone.
In your opinion, will the National Assembly be the only force vying for power when the system collapses?
Undoubtedly not. A variety of forces will come to the surface during the moment of chaos. The advantage of our organizational structure is that it includes all colors of the rainbow; all political spectrums. The National Assembly is a place to form a new political expanse. We have an important trump card – nobody has learned better than us how to negotiate the most complex issues. And it is only possible to rescue the state during a moment of crisis on the basis of a wide consensus.
Interview conducted by Olga Gulenok. Original version in Russian available on Ej.ru.
Exclusive translation by theotherrussia.org.