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“Putin still does not take the ‘new opposition’ seriously”
Mikhail Khodorkovsky — The New Times What can be expected from the power? What ways out of the current political crisis might it choose? What is the possible optimal strategy for the opposition? Where is the boundary line for compromise, including for an individual person, that can not be crossed, — The New Times posed these questions to the country’s most famous political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky In his public pronouncements, the chief claimant to the post of the future president of the country and the current premier has already let it be understood that he does not believe in broad protest, while the people coming out on the square have a self-serving interest in this. You know “the collective Putin” pretty well: what might the power clan’s response be to the opposition’s demands? Vladimir Putin considers himself to be a successful ruler, and his methods — to be correct. His position in relation to those who do not agree: either crooks, or hirelings of the western special services, or urban lunatics. In Putin’s opinion (thus he has declared), the right of the power — is to press, the right of society — to resist. In this sense rallies really are resistance — in that measure in which they have shown the quantity of those who disagree, “enemies”. In what way are “enemies” dangerous to Putin? They can hinder his getting elected in the first round. Why is it important for him to get elected in the first round? Otherwise the entourage will start having doubts. Once it starts having doubts — it may stop being loyal. As concerns concessions on the part of Putin, they are possible, but only personal ones (remove a “block” from on-the-air television, finance somebody). Anything else would signify doubt in his successfulness as a ruler and in the correctness of his methods.

Putin vs the square
Aleksei Kudrin, just recently still the minister of finance, is coming out in favour of

negotiations between the protestors and the notional Putin. Do you deem there is sense in this? And who can/should speak on behalf of the square at such negotiations? Aleksei Kudrin can now represent only Vladimir Putin and only if the latter wants substantive understandings. As concerns the “new opposition”, from my point of view at the current stage negotiations can be conducted only about the allowable methods of struggle (the rules of the game). Putin still does not take the “new opposition” seriously. And it can be represented at negotiations with the power by those who are not participants in the current elections. For example, Alexey Navalny, Yevgenia Chirikova, Sergei Udaltsov and Boris Akunin. But — only together. We need to keep an eye on the League of Voters too. The “new Putin versus the old one” situation — is déjàvu that nobody needs. The country needs a new political philosophy of cooperation instead of the archaic “vertical”. Now — about objectives. In my opinion, the objective of the “new opposition” — is an honest power, that is: — honest elections;  — honest independent and fair courts;  — honest independent mass information media;  — intolerance for corruption;  — a coalition government (that is transparent for society on account of the presence of an opposition;  — a president with balanced powers. Another round of worshipping a leader with boundless power, the “tricks” with the third term — unacceptable. Chieftains [Vozhdi] — be they old ones or new ones — are something Russia does not need any more. What you are proposing in the capacity of objectives, — this is a game for the long haul, but in the nearest future — in the next few weeks that are left before 4 March? The strategy of the “new opposition”, in my opinion, — escalation of non-violent protest, up until all the demands have been executed. As the demands get executed — a transition to normal political competition and political representation. The methods are spelled out in textbooks on non-violent resistance, with an adjustment for modern-day information technologies and achieved understandings with the power. The immediate short-term objective: honest elections of the president in the second round. Consequently: mass monitoring at polling stations, mass campaigns “For honest elections”, mass participation in voting. Expansion of the ranks of observers. Active interaction amongst one another on the day of the elections. People must see for themselves and understand for themselves that place which is being offered to them by the power. And then — accept it or reject it.

To go for a compromise for the sake of a goal that you consider important? I’ve had to, and how many times! Such is life. What is important is to honestly juxtapose the significance of the goal and the consequences of the “giving in”, so that you wouldn’t feel ashamed later


On propriety
The question of the measure of compromise, of cooperation with the power — a question that came up acutely before thinking people in the Soviet time and is once again sticking out like a rib now? When, in my opinion, is no cooperation with the power impermissible [sic, probably “permissible”.—Trans.]? In the event of support by the power of illegitimate force. What kind of force is illegitimate? The kind that contradicts the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms — Russia has obligated itself to execute it and to comply with the decisions of the European court of Human Rights. Abandonment of the Convention’s principles — grounds for the prompt termination of any cooperation with such a power. As concerns negotiations, they are always permissible. Even with those — I’m talking cooperation, — to whom it is unbecoming to extend one’s hand? We are speaking of whether to shake hands with the power and with the people in power. In our conditions today, unfortunately, it is hard to expect moral leadership from people simply because they occupy some kind of post, inasmuch as moral leadership, — this is that quality which must be internally inherent, given to a person by nature. This does not signify in any way that the Russian intellectual can allow himself to have a contemptuous attitude towards a person who does not differ from the average Russian in the moral sense. Otherwise, one really ought to find another country for oneself, another people. The criterion by which I determine for myself the possibility of cooperation with a person (taking into account that I know about him reliably) is sufficiently simple: does he or does he not overstep the bounds of the behaviour that is acceptable for the majority of my fellow citizens. Let me try to illustrate with an example how I understand what I was talking about above: carried out a sausage from the factory — a pilfering little thief, of course, but not a scumbag. Lifted that same sausage from a little old lady’s bag — a nit. I won’t shake your hand, I won’t sit

down at a table next to you if I’ve got a choice. The difference is in who the damage was directly caused to and what kind it was. Another example, more brutal: killed a person in combat, even unrighteous combat — bad, one may not forgive — but accept. Burned a live cat to death in a furnace — can’t accept. At the level of feelings — unacceptable. Either you’re sick, or you’re not one of us, or you’re a moral degenerate. In any case better not to have dealings. And so, our power on the whole has not yet overstepped this boundary. At any rate, in those of its actions that are reliably known to me. Its individual representatives — criminals, but this is another conversation. It is precisely for this reason that interaction with the power as a whole, as an institution, today, in my view, is permissible. With individual people in power — understandably, it depends. Another question — in what form? To what extent can one allow oneself to “give in”? Quite so: where is that boundary line, beyond which self-destruction begins? The key, starting-point question — for the sake of what to “give in”? For the sake of saving the life of someone defenceless — I will give in to anybody. Absolutely anyone at all. But if what we’re talking about is my own dignity and about today’s power, which we all, to put it mildly, “under-love”, then for me the only thing that is unacceptable is to abandon my own convictions for the sake of personal gain. If words, actions or simply silence are a rejection, perceived by a person himself, of his own life position for the sake of getting some kind of gain for himself — this is unacceptable. Anything else — permissible. The internal motivation here can be different for different people, I would not go about trying to impose my own point of view. One person considers it unseemly for himself to receive a prize from “not entirely” clean hands, another will deem that same prize to be a trophy that will serve the cause of further struggle for fairness. If a person is honest to himself and does not renounce his own principles and dignity, both the one and the other are acceptable. In contrast with conduct that is internally perceived of as dishonest, unworthy. It is horrible when a truly talented person consciously puts his talent at the service of Evil, and there are no few examples of this in Russian and world history. Such is my view, with which, perhaps, many may not agree.

What kind of programme And just who are they have they got? anyway?

To ’ell with ’em!

The price of well-being
Odious are times in which a person is forced to make a choice between his own civic position and the well-being, let us say, of close ones. How, excuse the rhyparography, to avoid “going bad” in such a situation? After all, you too faced such a choice?

You are asking about the price of well-being. About the choice between the well-being of one’s own family and the notion about what is good and permissible. Let us agree: what is being spoken of is not life and death, not hunger or a serious illness, but specifically well-being, that is — of a greater or lesser degree of satisfaction with life beyond the bounds of what is minimally necessary in the material sense. Here, of course, the question of the criteria of what is minimally necessary arises right away. For me, one such criterion since early youth has been the opportunity not to have to count money. Inasmuch as it was earned with difficulty, the opportunity to “not count” it was often achieved by cutting back on your needs. In order to take a girl you liked out to a café, you had to not breakfast at school for two weeks and to top up your “savings” with the money saved. But then in the café itself, you wouldn’t have to count pennies. So it has remained in my mind to this day: well-being — this is living with the conveniences minimally necessary for a civilised person, but having the opportunity to arrange a holiday for yourself and your close ones from time to time — this is what is needed. The rest — nonessential extravagances, to pay for which with moral discomfort, let’s put it that way, is inappropriate. Why? To then deaden the discomfort with booze? This way, a glass with a good mood is more pleasant than a dreary bender in an attempt to deaden your squeamishness towards yourself. To go for a compromise for the sake of a goal that you consider important? I’ve had to, and how many times! Such is life. What is important is to honestly juxtapose the significance of the goal and the consequences of the “giving in”, so that you wouldn’t feel ashamed later.

I’ve had to reassess a few things myself nowadays. The restoration of industry, the creation of the biggest company, turned out in actuality to be less important in its consequences than the concessions with respect to the development of civil society and democratic institutions that we had to go for for the sake of this — questions of principle, although it seemed then that they were extremely abstract. Today, as it seems to me, some not-bad people are repeating the same kind of mistake. They are keeping silent about something you can not keep silent about, for the sake of positions “close” to the power, for the sake of retaining or obtaining financing of some kind of projects that are important for them. Although I will admit that to find irreproachably precise scales, in order to be able to “weigh” the significance of concession and acquisition, can be not-simple in such situations. What is important is to say honestly to yourself — it is not about my well-being that I’m concerned, not for the sake of personal benefits that I’m trying. Then you can live with this. I judge by myself. When I recall the gigantic Priobskoye field, developed by the most modern methods, saved for Russia, or the revived Angarsk Petrochemical Combine, the town of Strezhevoy, the settlements of Kedrovy, Poykovsky, the joint work with Tomsk Polytech, and indeed a lot more besides this that I managed to accomplish thanks, among other things, to compromises and concessions, what took place afterwards in the country — perhaps, also because of my concessions, my “giving in” — becomes less bitter. But now, if behind them there stood palaces, yachts and the gilded handles of limousines, it would be repugnant indeed. Incidentally, my past activity and its scale are not such that they could have a direct impact on the mindset and the civic activeness of the majority of our citizens. Perhaps, if what had been created by me personally had been used by the power in order to suppress the young Russian democracy, to break destinies for tens and hundreds of thousands of people, it would be much heavier for me. That same question of the directness of the damage again… A year has passed since you and Platon Lebedev received a new, 13-year term, have gone by stage, have turned up in a zone, Lebedev was denied conditional early release on parole. Just two months ago the situation seemed completely dead-end. But demands for your freedom were sounded at the rallies both on Bolotnaya and on Sakharov. Rumours have begun to crawl around Moscow that Putin, in order to satisfy at least some of the demands of the protesters, may go for such a step. Have you received any kind of signals, offers, conditions from people of power in recent weeks? And if such conditions are going to be advanced, then what for you is acceptable and what — is not? I have not been receiving any signals from the current power in connection with the latest changes in society. A deal with the conscience is out of the question for me. I don’t want to make fortune-telling predictions about my future.