Yavlinsky began by thanking the Belfer Center for the invitation
and said that the main topic of his talk will be to explore the
progress of Russian Democratization.
According to Mr. Yavlinsky, the process of democratization involves
not only creating some set of democratic procedures, like free
elections or free press. It is necessary to look behind the formal
democratic institutions to ask what people applying and using
them have in mind. Only after analyzing such motivations is it
possible to understand how essentially democratic and legitimate
institutions produce results contrary to their nature.
The value of freedom of speech is nonexistent, if people have
nothing to say, the freedom of action is needless if people are
only willing to march in military ranks. Hence democracy can only
work if the society enacting it has some basic democratic values,
education, beliefs or moral principles. The democratic institutions
and procedures per se are merely tools, able to transform these
ideas and beliefs into reality. That is why the benefits of mere
democratic procedures are so limited. It is for this reason that
the economic base of any democracy is one of its crucial elements,
providing for independent individuals as its basic members.
In Mr. Yavlinsky's opinion, these facts represent the main challenge
for Russian democracy. Russia's small and middle business enterprises
are important for its democracy. Mr. Yavlinsky called them a "conditio
sine qua non" for any democratic society. Only if the economy
of the country can ensure the independent economic behavior of
its citizens and only if these citizens have a certain level of
democratic education and democratic values, only in this case
the democratic procedures can work for the common benefit.
From Yavlinsky's point of view the main challenge for the Russian
reforms is that the country has to perform an acrobatic act, similar
to riding a bicycle, where it must accomplish two operations simultaneously:
the Russians have to engage in actions preparing democracy and
at the same time practice this democracy with no reference to
any previous historic democratic record.
After presenting these general thoughts Mr. Yavlinsky moved on
to a deeper analysis of the present Russian situation. He assumed
that the present political elite consists of people coming from
the Soviet administrative system and still thinking in Soviet
categories. To achieve their goals they use a democratic cover
"quasi democracy," a somewhat modernized version of
the famous "Potemkin villages." Just like Stalin's constitution,
which was considered to be one the most progressive democratic
constitutions, the present formally democratic institutions in
Russia do not constitute real democracy.
Yavlinsky described the present state of political life in Russia
as a controlled or managed democracy. This is a state where the
democratic tools are used to achieve any result desirable for
the leader of the country.
The most recent example of this type of manipulation was a recent
proposal drawn up by the parties close to the Russian president.
According to this proposal, elections should only be considered
valid if voter participation was at least 50 percent and only
if one of the candidates was able to achieve more then 50 percent
of the votes. In the opinion of Mr. Yavlinsky such a regulation
would easily lead to an election deadlock, which would benefit
Mr. Yavlinsky underscored the difference between this type of
controlled democracy and a totalitarian rule. While the latter
destroys all the democratic institutions directly and openly,
the main strategy of controlled democracy is not to destroy, but
to adjust the institutions to serve the goals of the ruling elite.
If any adjustment of institutions is impossible, the government
prefers to replace the people controlling these institutions (like
replacing the owners of the free TV stations) or substitute these
institutions with new, more easily manageable organizations (as
happened in the case of the Media Union, which was created to
weaken the influence of the Union of Journalists).
Speculating on the future of the Russian democracy, Yavlinsky
stressed the special and very important role of bureaucracy in
implementing this new "vertical of power." However as
any bureaucracy, it will lead to more corruption. In order to
keep the corruption under control, the government will have to
use intense enforcement mechanisms, which might go as far as creating
a police state.
Of the three core democratic elements - free press, free elections,
and an independent judiciary - Mr. Yavlinsky specifically spoke
about the press.
Yavlinsky said that the situation with the press in today's Russia
is certainly not comparable to the situation in the Soviet Union.
Everyone can read anything in the press, even the most incredible
and slanderous information about most prominent political figures.
Restricted is any systematic explanation or critical analysis
of the political events. For example, state television stations
have a list of people who are not to be shown on the air. The
same is true for the list of forbidden topics. Certainly there
still are a some newspapers who still cover critical topics (e.g.
Obschaya Gazeta and Novaya Gazeta). However, they unfold their
activities in a kind of a glass box, their presence is not really
essential, and is only useful for the government in order to demonstrate
to foreign observers that free press exists.
As a result of such media control, the Russian population is
subject to the management and manipulation of human choice. According
to Mr. Yavlinsky this ability to manipulate and control is actually
one of the main results of the last 10 years: it is not hard to
manipulate the choice of the Russian public. Just like one could
convince it to vote for Yeltsin or vote for a totally unknown
newcomer Putin, you can always manipulate the public opinion.
In the question and answer section Yavlinsky addressed various
issues. In speaking about the best way western countries could
assist Russia on its way towards democracy, Yavlinsky rejected
any form of financial credits or subsidies. He is convinced that
the help must be conducted in a smart way and this means in the
first place the west should give up any policy of double standards
towards Russia and address Russia as an honest and valuable ally.
Regarding Putin's intentions, Yavlinsky mentioned two of them:
the intention to make Russia a strong state and to protect his
own power. The question is not whether these goals are good or
bad, but rather which instruments Putin is prepared to use to
implement those goals.