The Russian National Assembly, a gathering of political and social forces dedicated to democracy in Russia, recently held its second conference on the future organization of the country, “Russia After Putin.” A series of articles of the same name were published by National Assembly bureau member, United Civil Front leader, and Solidarity co-leader Garry Kasparov.
The thoughts and proposals laid out in these articles elicited a stormy reaction from within the internet community. In an interview with Yezhednevny Zhurnal on November 23 to further explain his positions, Kasparov discussed the goals of Russia’s united political opposition, the importance of Russia’s integration into Europe, and the futility of Medvedev’s plans for modernization.
Garry Kimovich, in your opinion, how successful overall has the opposition been in moving forward in the development of its “way of the future,” given that it has been criticized for lacking one?
The National Assembly is an arena that was created for different ideological forces, united by a rejection of the current system, to discuss an agenda for the future of our country. The inability of the governing regime to make changes adequate for the demands of the 21st century has imposed this necessity upon us. Preserving the status quo has lead to the ruin of our state. An understanding of the doom of this regime and of these other menaces – which invariably lead to an uncontrolled collapse through our rotten government agencies – formed the basis for the unification of the opposition.
From the moment of conception of the United Civil Front in 2005, I have not tired in repeating that dismantling Putin’s regime is an applied problem. Dismantling does not presume total destruction; on the contrary, in order to avoid tragic consequences, maximal moderation is necessary to analyze the elements of the faulty structure that may still be used when forming a new statehood. The National Assembly defined a minimum set of basic elements: free elections, abolishment of censorship, and the observation of human rights. These simple things are written in its charter. The stage was therefore set to produce a national consensus. The task is to identify reference points to use to draw up a new state structure. This series of conferences is dedicated to drafting a new constitution, since the current one is, frankly, authoritarian. So that process is going forward rather intensely.
What place does your series of articles “Russia After Putin” have in this process?
They are the result of long discussions, including within the National Assembly, on political problems in this country. I dedicated the first piece of material to the morphology of the regime, since I think it’s important to find the root of the problem in the search for an exit from the crisis. It’s well known that many people, unprepared for a critical perception of reality, are easily subjected to ideological influence. The authorities use this effectively to their own ends, imposing their own perceptions onto such people by using various myths that unabashedly exploit the understandings of democracy and liberalism. We perceive a close interdependence between Yeltsin’s and Putin’s periods of rule. This position is now becoming commonplace even among experts.
The second part of my article, “Project Display,” characterizes the state of mind. I did a survey of ideas thought up by the opposition, since the official public arenas are intentionally “scorched” (even our parliament has ceased to be a place for discussion, and there are homunculi breeding in [Kremlin ideologist Vladislav] Surkov’s test tubes that are unable to think up any creative, original ideas). In the third part, I tried to lay out my vision of Russia’s future without changing my political views, which with a stretch of the imagination can be classified as left-liberal.
My first attempt to formulate this project strives to determine what will be acceptable to society. It’s possible, of course, to dream of various things – for instance, of the restoration of our state within the boundaries of the 1975 Helsinki Accords (a project that the nationalist-patriots announced at the conference), but my intentions are not so ambitious. I believe that in order to achieve a consensus, the project should take into account both the domestic political situation and the realities of our foreign policy. The National Assembly is an extremely representative platform that includes the main ideological camps of Russian society.
For your project, did you try to keep in mind ideas that would accommodate various groups?
When you’re looking for a consensus between different groups, you don’t attain anything by just tallying ideas. Politics, in any case, is not math. The main thing is that, understanding that we must somehow come to an agreement, we have already put a stop to the “citizen cold war” within our association. Moreover, such a consensus is necessary to counter an ideological ghetto, which is the atmosphere that the authorities are trying to reanimate. The authorities don’t try to suppress, for example, ideologically homogeneous demonstrations. On their own, the communists, nationalists, and liberals can have their own protests – but as the united transideological opposition undertakes any joint effort – for example, [Eduard] Limonov and [Lyudmila] Alexeyeva holding a joint rally – there, the authorities react in the blink of an eye, cruelly suppressing their effort. That very unification is seen as a menace. The ability of various ideological forces to agree with each other on government management methods, on the constitution, on the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, and on the transitional period, represents an alternative to the existing authorities. And we cannot make do without compromise. In particular, I try to develop political formulas that such a “motley crew” could accept. Certainly, any draft reflects the convictions of the person who wrote it, and for me there’s a fundamentally liberal trend, but I’m prepared to make a compromise in the decision and take a more eclectic view.
In your opinion, how could a window of opportunity open for the opposition to implement your project?
The world is facing global change. In developed countries, there are attempts to extinguish it through financial influence. This even includes publishing houses that act in violation of their own basic beliefs. This, in my view, is the agony of the current world order. The fact that the system doesn’t follow the trends of the times is leading to a global cataclysm. During such periods in history, the world usually went through war. I hope that now it will make do without a major war; there’s an understanding, in any case, of the catastrophic scale of the consequences. But there are, in fact, localized wars. We live in a time of permanent war, when change comes at the expense of the weak and ill-equipped.
Right now, Russia is the weakest player on the global geopolitical map. The country is turning from an object into a subject, most of all in Chinese politics. As we can see, the Sinicization of the Far East is proceeding at full speed. Our government is helping China to prepare this gigantic staging area. The second menace is radical Islam, which comes from the south where the North Caucasus are a hotbed of tension. Illegal immigration exacerbates danger for Russia with its accompanying demographic problems.
Given these circumstances, I have a clearly formulated task: To preserve the core of Russian civilization, preferably within its current borders. There is an excellent toast from a classic Soviet film that comes to mind: “Let us drink so that our wishes would always corresponded with our opportunities!”
In any case, what concrete events could there be in our country that would dismantle the regime?
In commentaries to my article, many citizens wrote: “What Constituent Assembly – there are no elections here in general!” They say all that you’ve described – that it’s a utopia and will never correspond to reality. It seems to me that we don’t need to mix up these particulars of our reality with the general direction of our strategy. Of course, we can’t examine any scenario separate from its existing reality, but if we begin making adjustments to the things that we must necessarily build so that they correspond with today’s realities, then in the long run we drift into this so-called “Medvedev modernization.”
That’s not something that can last. I can’t make an exact prediction as to when the system will fall apart, but in my view it is inevitable. For example, it suddenly became clear in February 1917 that the government was non-functional. Today, state institutions are in an even worse crisis than back then. Today, disgust with the regime is spontaneously beginning to engulf the most varied, previously depoliticized strata of society, and furthermore, its support – the Ministry of Internal Affairs. This is attested to by these virtual (for now) police riots. It’s happening because of the sense of the hopelessness of the regime and of its dead end. It is itself tumbling towards catastrophe; we have no influence on it.
The possible types of scenarios can vary. It’s possible that I’m mistaken, but I’m incredibly certain about these events. When it happens is not important, but it is the duty of every honest citizen and patriot of our country to have a plan of action to propose – not to this regime, but to the people who want to form the core of a new statehood. The sooner we come to an agreement and reach a consensus, the more certainty there is that we will be able to find a common language in the frame of this new structure. This will be our greatest contribution to the creation of a future Russia.
And what will be the fate of the entire class of bureaucrats?
It’s not necessary to automatically write the whole class of bureaucrats into one category to cleanse and purge. However, we cannot repeat the mistake of the past and say that for the sake of civil peace we should close our eyes to the fact that many high-ranking civil servants, judges, police commanders, and deputies have acted in obvious violation of the law. It is obvious that anyone who tarnished their reputation by grossly violating the law cannot operate normally in our new state institutions. So a purge is inevitable, but what has to be discussed is the scale of the purge of the executive administration.
In my view, reforms in Russia cannot be taken gradually, even moreso if they concern such conservative social strata as the civil servants. My rather radical proposal is to organize the state administration’s structure by cutting the number of branch ministers and transfer administrative functions to the regional – and to a greater degree, the municipal – level. By doing this, we strip off a part of the federal bureaucracy that lived by distributing quotas and issuing permits, and by being able to extract bureaucratic duties. Shifting the focus of the administration’s burden is a more down to earth approach, and is closer to the spirit of the people’s traditions – and that is a better way to preserve the state.
One could theoretically agree with your thesis that reforms need to be taken quickly. But practically speaking, how will people react to this that have already lived through the shock of the beginning of the 1990s and don’t wish to repeat it?
As a matter of fact, it’s not the reforms that frighten people, but the material deprivation and psychological discomfort. A well thought-out plan and clear actions by administrative specialists, including ones in the financial sphere that could prevent businesses from stalling, would help avoid any social chaos. I believe that the population will accept many of the reforms with enthusiasm. For example, allotting more authority to smaller regions is a popular idea. Indeed, the majority of Russian citizens see Moscow as a vacuum cleaner, sucking out money from the provinces. That or the Ministry of Internal Affairs takes it. It’s perfectly obvious that the current form of the ministry, a hotbed of corruption and suppression of dissent, is completely out of date. The police are seen more than anything as menaces to the citizens, and by no means as a force to curb the crime rate. That’s to say nothing about the internal military troops, which are nonsense in general. We need an army for state defense from foreign expansion, which it is necessary to strengthen. I would intend for the internal security services and the Investigative Committee to be the ones fighting crime. The police should work to enforce the law, which is primarily a question of the local government. It is therefore necessary to hold elections for the municipal chief of police, as well as for local judges and prosecutors.
In your opinion, how important is the list of ministries and departments in the structure of government that you are proposing?
That’s a question of the essence of the government. As a matter of fact, the list of ministries and departments, which itself could make you laugh, defines both the social direction of the government and the ability to weaken its capacities for repression. This is something that I demonstrate clearly. Monsters such as the Internal Ministry disappear, but the government departments show up and expand the scope of the state’s concerns.
I, for example, propose to institute a department for the affairs of veterans of military action and the armed forces. There are many such people, many more than we think – veterans of the Great Patriotic War, military actions in Chechnya and Afghanistan, and participants of other military conflicts where Soviet specialists were unofficially involved. Our work with them should not be limited to one-time cash payouts or other compensation – the ability for veterans to adapt to peaceful life is a large, systemic problem for the government.
Additionally, many strategic planning problems need to be solved during the transitional period, and central planning agencies like the Ministry of Economic Development will become necessary. Something that I consider fundamental is for state agencies to direct their actions towards solving key problems, and for Russia, among the most important of these is to decrease income disparity within the population. In my opinion, we should make a conscious decision to put this task at the forefront of state politics. It cannot be solved without restoring citizens’ trust in the state. We have to put a stop for good to the practice of deceiving citizens and finally repay old debts. This would include, for example, holdings kept in Sverbank and other Soviet credit institutions.
That question will be of interest to people in the 40 to 50-year-old generation. What about your project could attract young people?
We invite young people most of all to participate in the creation of a normal state, one that you don’t have to run away from. A state interested in its citizens. A state in which bureaucrats don’t just stand on the path of freedom and social development, but work on it. What I’m talking about requires the cooperative work of a massive number of people. Will we have this? I don’t know; nobody can guarantee that. If young people want to get everything for free, then let them go work with the Nashisti. There they give out t-shirts and tell you what needs to be done. That’s one algorithm of behavior.
I’m appealing to conscious people who think about what’s going to happen next with their country. All I’m proposing is a new structure of government that has no limits on citizen participation. We don’t want talented, intellectual people to leave our country. We want to give them additional opportunities and make perspective work available in different areas of study, whether it’s road or bridge construction or designing and launching spacecraft…
And this is all within a single political and legal realm that would stretch from Lisbon to Vladivostok…
Show me someone who can demonstrate a different way to keep Siberia and the Far East as part of Russia. Left to fend for itself, Russia winds up face to face with China in the east and radical Islam in the south. Only by integrating Russia into a single expanse with Europe can we maintain our territory and stop Chinese expansion.
That said, a Russia integrated into Europe would have an increased weight in world affairs. Only through integration and cooperation with Europe will Russia begin to solve its problems. It seems to me that this is an acceptable option for the overwhelming number of Russian citizens, since they are related by blood to Europeans.
Is this the key idea of your project?
This is not a project for the next 50 years; this is what we need to do now. Bringing Russian legislation into compliance with pan-European laws needs to start immediately. It is completely believable that Turkey’s inception into the European Union, which I also see as a positive development in world politics, will become a reality within the next decade. That said, Turkish society will have to overcome a much more elementary gap with the European Union because of a combination of historical, religious and social factors.
Are you saying that Russia’s current leadership is not trying to enter the European Union?
If you’re talking about the country that they’re in charge of, then to our general misfortune, it turns out that of course they are not. You can only see that aspiration in a personal capacity – by looking at bank accounts, purchases of soccer teams and real estate, and so on. Many civil servants’ children, including Putin’s, live there. I’m talking about the integration of our country, not of the individual families of billionaires.
And is Russia awaited within the European Union?
In its Putin-Medvedev version, of course not. Currently, the legal system in Russia is different from the norms of the European Union. Its political and legal structure makes it alien. We need a new vector of development. Infected as it is with corruption, Russia cannot become a full member of the European Union. Nevertheless, it’s easy for Europe to see the possible benefits of reconciliation. It makes it possible, within a single framework, to use the industrial strength of Europe to open up Russia’s vast natural resources. By and large, Russia has a gigantic territory and is poorly populated, whereas Europe has been resettled. The general concept of development based on new technology in the decades ahead, creating a united network of highways all the way up to Vladivostok, will allow for more unified job distribution. Many Russian citizens that left the country because they saw no prospects for themselves will be able to return to their homeland. The weight of the European Union will also increase with Russia becoming a part of the European expanse.
Why doesn’t Europe see all of these benefits to itself?
If you have to deal with corrupt authorities, you wind up forced to speak at arm’s length. When Russia makes a clear declaration of a course of reconciliation with Europe, it will be met there by open arms.
By and large, there are two major geopolitical players in the world today – the United States and China. The European Union is too fragmented to resist both the United States and China by itself. But a European Union that included Russia – that’s a powerful player, and it would be counted right alongside the United States and China. As a matter of fact, it would alter the world map dramatically. Such an incredibly powerful political and economic union would bring the world ballast and stability.