Journalist Grigory Pasko recently had the opportunity to sit down with Andrei Illarionov, former advisor to the President of the Russian Federation, and currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute in Washington.
GRIGORY PASKO: Andrei Nikolayevich, appearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives in February of the year 2009, you said: “Today’s Russia is not a democratic country”… And further: “The members of the Corporation do share strong allegiance to their respective organizations, strict codes of conduct and of honor, basic principles of behavior, including among others the principle of mutual support to each other in any circumstances and the principle of omerta.” But is this not a characterization of a classical mafia? Can one fight with a mafia using democratic methods: honest elections, unbribable independent courts, free mass information media?
ANDREI ILLARIONOV: A very good and complex question. But I will not give you an answer now. Inasmuch as we have to make several sub-points here. First: is this phenomenon a mafia? It has very many features that look like a mafia, that are close to a mafia. Nevertheless, this is not exactly a mafia. More precisely, this is some kind of a special mafia. A mafia of such a kind – a siloviki corporation, as we have, – belongs to the group of special siloviki structures that exist in different human societies. By the way, states as such ought to be included in this as well.
Such corporations – this is groups of people who are connected with one another by mutual relations and mutual obligations, but who are prepared to use force – and regularly do use it – in relation to the remaining part of society. The difference between a state and a mafia, between criminal groupings, between it and criminality and siloviki corporations, is in the fact that for a state of the modern civilized type – ones like in the majority of the countries of modern Europe, and indeed North America as well – the existence of law is characteristic.
Each of these states, naturally, uses force. But the use of this force, first and foremost inside the country, and even beyond the confines of these countries, is subject to strict legal rules. The difference between other organisations that use force – including siloviki corporations, the mafia and criminal groupings – and states of the civilized type, and the similarity of these organizations with states of the predatory type – this is even in sociology, in the political sciences there is such a concept as state of predatory tape. An example – Zimbabwe, Somalia, Afghanistan – this is the absence of law or a specific law, under which members of society possess unequal legal rights.
When there is a group of people that de facto possesses a substantially greater volume of rights than other people. And is sometimes even completely released from any legal liability whatsoever. Therefore I would say that our siloviki corporation falls into one group with the mafia, and falls into that sub-group of siloviki organizations that act in conditions of the absence of legal equality between members of society and in conditions of the absence of a single legal regime for all of society.
PASKO: And with all that, we’re still supposed to hope for honest elections?
ILLARIONOV: This is the first part of the answer to the question. The second – what to do with this? This is a question about which humanity’s best minds of not one century have been banging their heads. Both the works that have been written in this regard, and the people who have sometimes given their lives for this, in order to come to a modern state, have attempted to liquidate or to weaken siloviki organizations. A vivid example of this – the struggle of the Italian state with the Italian mafia. Different people of every level have died in this struggle.
Nevertheless, the problem with the mafia is not fully resolved there. Although on the whole, democratic institutions are maintaining control over the state. There, the state turned out not to have been captured completely by the siloviki structures. As opposed to our unfortunate country. And our situation is much more complex than in Italy. What methodology to propose to fight with such structures – this is a big serious question. This is a topic of discussion for Russian society and for other societies that have found themselves in a comparable situation.
I could not bring myself to say that there are ready easy answers. What needs to be said is that democratic methods possess lesser degrees of freedom, because they are restricted by rules. At the same time as the opponents – strategic, existential opponents from the side of the siloviki corporation are not restricted in their actions by anything – neither resources, nor finances, nor legal frameworks. Not restricted by legal frameworks. And there is no need for me to tell you how this takes place.
PASKO: How to you assess our opposition?
ILLARIONOV: Our opposition is week. This needs to be admitted. The main reason for this – on the whole in Russian society. Over the past 20 years – and this needs to be admitted – the most urgent needs of people have been satisfied. The launch of the market economy helped to resolve one of the most acute problems – ensuring a standard of living higher than 20 years ago. A significant part of the people was able to find a niche in the economy for themselves and their close ones. This was accompanies by a certain level of dynamism. Many people felt an increase in the standard of consumption. This removed one powerful block of irritation, including political problems in the country as well.
Another powerful block was removed as the result of the dissolution of the USSR. Although nationality problems were not fully resolved, their scale became different – not the kind that was on the eve of the breakup of the Soviet Union. There are problems in Tatarstan, in Bashkortostan, in the North Caucasus, in other republics. But these problems are found on another level than 20 years ago. The removal of these two colossal layers significantly eased the existence of the power. It was not the current power that resolved these problems – this was done by another power – but it is making use of the unique baggage of the predecessors. And is exploiting Russian society – one of the most individualistic in the world – for its objectives.
Our society is little inclined towards cooperative behavior, towards the resolution of problems without an intermediary in the person of the state power. The last mass cooperative behavior was recorded in our country 400 years ago – the famous movement against the Polish intervention: the appearance of two militias, financed by private individuals; really, by the civil society of that time. Under the leadership of local authoritative leaders – Minin and Pozharsky.
Strictly speaking, this was a phenomenon of cooperative behavior, not intermediated by a central power, and, more than that, even oppositional to it. It can not be said that many remember how it was – such behavior. That is why we have such a too-great gap in memory. It is difficult for us to do this for now. But, apparently, there is no other historical path besides reviving 400-year-old memories.
PASKO: From all appearances, this is going to be difficult, considering that a specially created commission for counteraction against the falsification of history has begun working…
ILLARIONOV: If the commission really is going to be working, then it is going to have to show that the celebration of 4 November is a flagrant fact of the falsification of history, because exactly nothing happened on 4 November 1612. While the liberation of the Kremlin from the Poles took place on 8-9 November 1612: the Poles came out of the Kremlin themselves, by an understanding with the militia, of course. But not on the day of the so-called «national unity», but four days after that date which is celebrated now as the day of national unity.
PASKO: By the way, I noticed that words like «struggle», «counteraction» predominate in the names of organizations, events, commissions, etc. in states of the predator type…
ILLARIONOV: …Attack, offensive, front, mobilization…
PASKO: Andrei Nikolayevich, have you gotten the feeling that Medvedev is hinting at a so-called thaw?
ILLARIONOV: Oh come now! Heaven forbid! What have we done to deserve such kindness. Who takes this seriously? Of course not!
PASKO: Well, they did soften the law on NGOs…
ILLARIONOV: Russian experience teaches us not to say «nice landing» until we’ve seen the results. So far I have not seen a single result – and more than a year of the new power has already passed. So far I see only a toughening in a series of directions, including the «commission for counteraction…» Demonstrations have not become more peaceful and there isn’t less OMON at them than there was before this. And as concerns foreign policy, the Russian powers implemented the first full-scale aggression against a neighboring state in August of last [year] already with the new leader. Therefore I do not see a single sign that even just the atmosphere has changed here in our country, not to mention some kind of legal actions.
PASKO: I’ve got to ask: has the case of YUKOS, of Khodorkovsky rendered on the economic situation in Russia, on relations towards Russia on the part of the western democracies?
ILLARIONOV: Of course, both the arrest of Khodorkovsky, and the theft of Yuganskneftegas. and the ultimate smashing of YUKOS have rendered, as can now already be seen, – while at the beginning of this process a series of people were expressing the conjecture that such a thing could be, including, in part, myself – after a lapse of 5-6 years it became evident that these events had become the biggest economic event in the modern history of Russia. From my point of view, in scales they are comparable with the crisis of the year 1998. That crisis was important from the point of view of economic short-term trends. But the years 2003-2004 – this is the biggest cataclysm, a revolutionary event ( I do not put any political context into the word “revolutionary” – I have in mind merely a watershed moment in the trends).
This is a revolutionary event of a structural character. Of a structural and an institutional character. We are seeing that the entire fuel sector, the oil, the energy sector have radically changed their trajectory of development. Until this, the rates of increase of the production of oil were 12% per year – this is a fantastic boom, not a single analogue of which we see in the modern world among the large companies. This is a unique phenomenon. And after this – a fall to 2 5% a year, and now – to negative values. Instead of the model of free competitive development we are seeing a model of a monopolistic, moreover not state, but like a … siloviki monopolistic behavior on this market. Naturally, this had consequences not only for the energy sector, but for the whole country as well.
PASKO: Despite the YUKOS case, the mafiosity of the entire structure of management in the country, the West, nevertheless, continues to have dealings with Russia both in business and in politics. Is this a weakness of the west or its pragmatism?
ILLARIONOV: This is the usual state of affairs of the West. As strange as it may seem, in actuality the West during the course of two centuries, and, perhaps, even longer, has supported any regimes at all. What is important for the West is its own short-term interests. And the West supports relations, including commercial ones, as we know, with Russian special services generals, and with Chinese communists, and with Iranian ayatollahs, and with Saddamist generals… In the 1930s, the West actively cooperated with Hitler’s regime – the flow of French, American and British investments into Germany was huge.
So one simply needs to understand that that state of affairs which many of us remember from the period of the cold war, when partially certain western leaders – Reagan and Thatcher – took a moral political position in relation to the Soviet Union – such a phenomenon is historically still the exception , and not the rule. The west is extremely pragmatic and sufficiently lacking in principle in relation to external phenomena. The west is extremely principled and consistent within a country – although there is corruption there as well. But in the leading societies of the West moral principles are highly held within. But when interests go outside the bounds of the national borders – the rule of the Peace of Westphalia goes into effect: no matter what may happen in another country, no matter what the authorities there might do – respect for the sovereignty of this country signifies that the West accepts this as a given.
It is only in recent years that the conception of humanitarian intervention is developing in western conceptions, when it is considered possible to intervene, when the national powers are implementing actions with respect to the destruction of their citizens -ethnic cleansings and genocide. This did take place in a series of situations. Such an approach is obviously new, revolutionary in relation to the Westphalian system. We are already seeing what sparks are being chiselled: the attempts at humanitarian intervention in Rwanda, the Albanian population in Kosovo… And we see what a reaction this is evoking among representatives of traditional approaches.
PASKO: There were predictions, I believe by Mikhail Kasyanov, in particular, about how the crisis could change the state of society – it will wake up and topple the regime.
ILLARIONOV: Just a year ago, participating in various discussions on this topics, I warned that the crisis would not lead to the activization of political life in the country. This has not happened. The reason – not the inability of the crisis, but the nature of the political regime in the country. An acceleration of political life is taking place in the democratic countries. And there we are seeing that governments have been replaced in Latvia, Iceland, the USA. In the USA it is comprehensible that this took place in the conditions of regular elections, but the defeat of Bush’s party in part can be connected too with the fact that this was the reaction of the citizens of the USA to the crisis.
But these rules don’t work in authoritarian and dictatorial regimes. We can look at what was and is taking place in Cuba, in North Korea – no matter what happens there – monstrous crises, no matter what quantity of people die (from 2 to 3 mln. persons have died of hunger in North Korea ) – there is nothing there even close to a political opposition, to destabilization. Why? Because such is the nature of the regime. In such a kind of regimes people die of hunger and of other things, but this does not lead to political destabilization.
PASKO: That is, the current power will be around for a long time?
ILLARIONOV: I did not say that. I only said that to expect instant changes from this kind of crises is groundless.