html Published in the magazine: «Znamya» 2009, №10 pattern of thought Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Mikhail Khodorkovsky Dialogues

About the authors | Lyudmila Ulitskaya — writer, laureate of international prizes, Booker prize (2001), Bolshaya kniga [Big book] prize (2007). Curator of the project Drugoy, drugiye, o drugikh [Other one, other ones, about others] — a series of books for adolescents, covering topical questions of anthropology and acute social problems. Founder of the Khoroshie knigi [Good books] foundation, the task of which — is to supply the libraries of small towns, schools, children’s homes [orphanages] with quality literature. Mikhail Khodorkovsky — citizen of the Russian Federation, former executive and co-owner of the largest oil company in Russia YUKOS, founder of the Inter-regional civic organisation Otkrytaya Rossiya [Open Russia], currently serving an eight-year term of imprisonment and being found in expectation of a verdict with respect to a second criminal case; prisoner of SIZO N 99/1 of the city of Moscow. Lyudmila Ulitskaya Mikhail Khodorkovsky Dialogues When in our country they changed the president, western journalists instead of the former standard question ―Do you like Putin?‖ began to ask ―What is Medvedev all about?‖. I answered honestly – I don’t know. By the way, nobody in the country knew. The person emerged out of thin air. It is known that he is a jurist. We will soon find out, — I replied. — If they release Khodorkovsky, that means this is an independent political figure. If not — a fictitious person. They did not release Khodorkovsky. Furthermore, they contrived yet another case, this time already totally pulled out of thin air. But Khodorkovsky in these circumstances behaves himself wonderfully — with a sense of his own dignity, fearlessly and even, if you will, defiantly. I have my own personal history: in general I do not like the rich. I have a sharpened sense of social justice, at times I am ashamed for the rich.

This is my prejudice, I will admit. Others too have weakly motivated biases: some do not like Jews, others Tadjiks, still others policemen, yet others — dogs of the pit-bull breed. I was not particularly interested in either Yukos or Khodorkovsky until I uncovered on journeys through our boundless motherland that no matter where I found myself, Khodorkovsky’s programmes are working everywhere: in children’s homes and [prison] colonies, in schools and in universities. And I, it must be said, had several years ago been at Stanford University, thought up and built with the money of one very hard-nosed capitalist, with even a clouded reputation, mister Stanford. I studied this history attentively. I began to admire Stanford. And I understood that such people are wanting in our country. That is they — the Botkins, Soldatenkovs, Shchukins, Khludovs, Tretyakovs — were plentiful at the beginning of the 20th century, but Soviet power had exterminated them. And it was precisely when I had begun to notice the huge sweep of the social philanthropy of Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky that I rejoiced and thought: our cause is not all that hopeless. And it was soon afterwards that they shut Khodorkovsky down, took away his company and, it seems, demolished it, or at any rate ―sawed it up‖, and of a huge, wonderfully organised system of philanthropy what remained, it seems, was just the one boarding school for child-orphans Koralovo [sic]. Demolishing it and grabbing the good land under it has for now not yet succeeded. In a word, the further [I go], the more I like Khodorkovsky — right on up to entering with him into intermediated (through lawyers) contact. I asked some questions. Received answers that to a great extent satisfied me. Now I know about the circumstances of this case much more than a year ago. Everything is much worse that may seem at first glance. Let us cast aside the unconditional arguments in favour of today’s day: after all, they did not shoot [him dead] in the basement of the Lubyanka on the third day after the decree of a ―troika‖, they did not poison him with radioactive plutonium or toxic sausage, they organised an expensive trial. They held him in Chita Oblast, from where they brought him to the trial in Moscow not in a teplushka,1 but on an airplane, and kerosene is expensive these days. They pay a salary to the judge, the prosecutors, the security guards, the charwomen, the chauffeur who drives the prisoners Khodorkovsky and Lebedev to the trial four times a week on an armoured monstrosity of large, even huge price. We, the taxpayers, are paying for this long-playing mockery of common sense. We, the citizens, can do nothing to put a stop to this farce. We, the parents of children who have to live in this country, can do nothing to change something nobody likes. This is dangerous for the future. I am — for Khodorkovsky and Lebedev. Against absurdity and lawlessness. Against talentless mediocrity and lies.

teplushka – a railway carriage similar to a cattle wagon, used for transporting prisoners. (Trans.)

Lyudmila Ulitskaya 1. 15.10.08 Esteemed Mikhail Borisovich! The opportunity has arisen to interact with you, and I am very glad for this. My family history is such that my grandfathers sat through [prison] more than twenty years in sum, friends from the sixties generation also made their contribution to this kettle. And besides, this topic is very significant for Russian literature — so much so that in the past month I even wrote the foreword to the book Po tyurmam [Through prisons] by Eduard Limonov — a very diverse and hard-toaccept person. It so happened that I am now even overseeing the book Crime and Punishment — a history of jails, kinds of punishments and so forth — for children. Therefore, if we really do get to meet — which [I] would really like — then I would like to talk about this. After all, you know that there are two points of view: Solzhenitsyn considered that the experience of jail hardens a person and is very valuable in and of itself, while another [prison-]sitter, less fortunate, Varlam Shalamov, considered that the experience of jail in normal human life is unusable and inapplicable outside of jail. The last years of Yuliy Daniel’s life we were on friendly terms, and even though he did not like to talk about this time, I nevertheless got the impression then that this is a very important test and for him it did not fall on an empty place, but no his frontline experience. But in any case, for you the time has not yet come when you will be able to remember about the past, today — this is your real life. How do you manage to deal with it? Is there not a sense of a bad dream? [I] would like to know how [your] system of values has changed: what things that seemed important at liberty have lost meaning in camp? Are new internal moves being formed, some kind of unexpected experience? This address of mine — forgive [me]! — is a trial balloon: after all, you are someone people are constantly talking about and remembering, for some — a fighter and a keen political figure, for others — a bogeyman, but either way, your situation has turned out to be endlessly discussed, while the interest in you does not fade. In her time, Anna Akhmatova said about Brodsky, when they banished him: ―They are making a biography for our redhead‖. They truly are ―making‖ a biography for you, and [I] would like to be able to speak about this in the past tense. And this is also one of the reasons why I would like to meet with you and have a chat with you. Respectfully, Lyudmila Ulitskaya 2. 15.10.08

Esteemed Lyudmila Yevgenievna! Many thanks for the letter and support. I have understood the sources of your attention. It must be noted, typical ones for a significant part of our intelligentsia. Unfortunately, since jail — is not the best experience. In connection with which Shalamov is closer to my heart than Solzhenitsyn. I think that the difference in their positions is connected with the fact that Solzhenitsyn considered the authoritarian, and this means the prison, method of running the country acceptable. But as a ―humanist‖ he deemed that a necessary experience for a manager was to try out the whip on his own back. Worthy of respect, but I don’t subscribe to it. Jail — is a place of anti-culture, anti-civilisation. Here good — is evil, lies — truth. Here rabble nurtures rabble, while decent people feel themselves deeply unfortunate, because they can do nothing inside this loathsome system. No, this is excessive, of course, they can and they do, but it is so macabre to see how every day only a few isolated individuals save themselves, while dozens of human destinies drown. And how slowly changes move, turning around and coming back again. My recipe for survival — learn how to understand and forgive. The better, the more profoundly, you understand, put on someone else’s shoes—the more complicated it is to condemn and the easier it is to forgive. As a result, sometimes a miracle takes place: a broken person strands up straight and becomes a real person. Prison bureaucrats fear this dreadfully and do not understand at all — how? why? But for me such occurrences — are a joy. My lawyers have seen, and not once. Of course, without confidence in family, without their support it would be very hard. But in this is the misfortune, and the advantage, of ending up in jail at a mature age: family, friends, a [support network] behind [me]. Here the most important condition is — self-discipline. Either you work on yourself, or you degrade. The environment tries to swallow [you] up, to dissolve [you]. Of course, you can get into a depression from time to time, but it can be beaten. In general, the harsher the external situation, the better it is for me personally. It is most convenient of all to work in the ShIZO,2 where you get the feeling of direct, unintermediated opposition to a hostile force. In the usual (by local standards) conditions, it is harder to maintain mobilisation. Excuse me, I am writing, what is called, ―notes in the margins‖. Not thinking. Tomorrow — back to court. It will be a pleasure to continue the dialogue.

ShIZO – penalty isolator. (Trans.)

With deep respect, M. 3. 16.10.08 Dear Mikhail Borisovich! Thank you for the reply written on the eve of court. Now, at this very time, a court session is going on, and in the evening we will learn something from the radio — almost certainly not joyous. Your letter astounded me. Flung me away into another reality: as if though we are in different corners of creation. But there is one substantive and common [thing] — a conscious attitude towards one’s personal life path. The place where this consciousness takes place so productively, in your situation — is jail squared. What else can you call a dungeon in places of deprivation of liberty? There is no place lower to fall. Simultaneously — the unexpected elevation of an unbroken spirit and of a mind, working tensely. This is how the Tibetan monk sits in the icy wilderness, melting around himself with his warm bum, or by another method unbeknownst to us, the clearing on which grasses and little flowers start to grow. And there grow on this glade rare fruits of awareness of oneself and of the world around, of compassion, of patience. And verily, those lads up above (in both senses!) are making for you not only renown, various kinds of fame — good or bad, in this system of coordinates has no meaning, — but with you is taking place a process which a wise guru, a spiritual teacher, some kind of elder or whoever is appointed to this place could be directing. I was always fascinated by that current in which a person finds himself from birth to death. The current carries you, and you drift with the current, pre-guessing its turns, sometimes ending up in the middle of the current, sometimes making an independent movement, in order to change the direction somewhat. And here there is always a starting point, when you become aware of your life inscribed into the general current and all subsequent moments of ―reorientation‖. This is a very fascinating history — each human fate. I think that you can say more than many people, to whom life had not given such an extreme and diverse experience. They have given you the time to think. Forcibly. But you have turned out to be a good student. It is about this that I want to speak. Let’s take a reference point: childhood, family, guidelines and intentions. How did you plan your life in that time when this idea first appears? For me this took place very early: the parents were more or less scientists. Traditional emeneses,3 albeit with degrees. And I was pointed into a science — this was biology, and ideas of ―serving humanity‖, satisfaction of vanity and an erroneous notion about how science—is the

emenes – from the Russian abbreviation “MNS”, or Junior Scientific Fellow, a low rank in the research institute hierarchy. (Trans.)

freest field cohabited very successfully in my consciousness. Naturally, all illusions dispersed with time. Tell [me], just how you saw your future as a boy? What was your program for life in youth? I know, of course, that you were in the Komsomol, and even functioned in that space which for me (I am older than you by 15 years) was thoroughly unsuitable. You probably felt yourself to be one of them or at the very least mimicked being a ―Komsomol leader‖, then turned out to be ―one of them‖ in the milieu of the ―oligarchs‖, which also has its own interesting life, attractive to the popular masses. You clearly exceeded the limits of the permissible, violated some kind of unwritten law (consciously or unconsciously), that is crossed the boundary of [what was] ―permissible‖ in that upper circle where my eye does not penetrate and, speaking honestly, never even tried to penetrate. And this is exactly what I want to talk about. Each of us chooses for himself his own boundary, which he does not overstep. For an example: my girlfriend Natasha Gorbanevskaya came out on the square in the year of 1968 with a threemonth-old child and then got the ―loony bin‖. Her self-preservation instinct, if not [completely] absent, was obviously weakened. I would not have come out even without a child. Simply out of animal fear. But I could not vote at a general meeting in the Institute of General Genetics, where I worked then, ―for condemnation‖ and marched myself right out of the hall under the astonished gazes of co-workers at that moment when it was required to raise [one’s] hand. This was my boundary. A very modest one. I did not pay dearly — at the first opportunity they dismissed [me]. Eventually I started writing books. Where did your ethical boundaries lie in youth? How did they change with time? I am absolutely positive that you have given this some thought, and have even read some of your statements on this account. But in order that our talk would be productive, we need to take things step by step before we come to today. By the way, I simply must tell you that today they reported to us on the radio that they had not given you conditional early release [on parole]. The court knows its business. We did not expect anything else. In such a manner, we have a certain indeterminate time to talk about this abstract but interesting topic, and we will be able to continue our interaction. Respectfully, Lyudmila Ulitskaya 4. 10.11.08. Esteemed Lyudmila Yevgenievna! Thank you for the letter and for the interest shown. My recollections bear a thoroughly fragmentary (emotional) character, i.e. what is emotionally tinted, — I remember, the rest — almost not at all.

Sometimes a substitution of a memory takes place, that is I remember something that had actually been recounted by [my] parents. Nevertheless since childhood I ―distinctly‖ wanted to become a plant director. In general, this is unsurprising: the parents had worked all their life at a plant, the day care centre [I attended] — the plant’s, the Pioneer camp — the plant’s, the plant director — the top person everywhere. My mom and dad, as I now understand, extremely disliked the Soviet power, but did everything to shield me from their influence in this question, considering that otherwise they would ruin life for me. And I grew up a ―true believer‖ Komsomol member without any doubts about who are the friends and who — the enemies. Choosing my paths in life, I oriented myself not simply on chemical production, but on the defence direction, since I considered that the main thing is — protection from ―external enemies‖. Komsomol work in the institute4 was, of course, not a manifestation of a political vocation, but a striving for leadership. Personally, I never engaged in ideology, my thing is — organisational work. Construction brigades, work practice at a plant — [I] liked all this very much specifically as an opportunity for the self-realisation of a production person, a manager. When after the institute they distributed5 me to a ministry — Gosgortekhnadzor6 — I was extremely disappointed, since I wanted to go to a plant, and therefore begged off to the district committee of the Komsomol, so as not to go for three years into a ministry. Then NTTM7 centres, business, defending the White House… It is interesting that the institute’s party secretary proposed to me in the year 1987 to continue a ―Komsomol‖ career and was amazed when I chose the ―cost-accounting8 stuff‖. Now, as concerns ―barriers‖, for me they consisted of one thing: never to alter9 my position under the pressure of force, and not arguments. We had a wonderful rector10 G.A.Yagodin. He

institute – college. (Trans.) distribution – the Soviet system of assigning college graduates to a job where it was deemed they could be most useful to the state. (Trans.)



Gosgortekhnadzor – the State Committee for Oversight of the Safe Conducting of Works in Industry and Mining Oversight Under the Council of Ministers of the USSR. (Trans.)

NTTM – Youth Scientific-Technical Creativity centres, perestroika-era commercial enterprises created under the aegis of the Komsomol Central Committee. (Trans.)

cost-accounting – a perestroika-era term for a new way of doing business – actually being concerned about the bottom line. (Trans.) The same Russian word also means “betray”. (Trans.)


called me ―my most unruly secretary‖ (meaning secretary of the departmental Komsomol committee). It is understandable that he could easily have broken me, but did not do this, allowing the character to be tempered. Unfortunately, in the year 1985 he left the institute for a promotion. I lucked out a second time as well. The secretary of our Sverdlov district party committee was Kislova, and a member of the buro — minister of the construction materials industry B.N. Yeltsin. I got a real lesson in courage from them, when they were being ―put through the wringer‖, but they did not give in. By the way, Kislova did not betray Yeltsin. What this must have cost her — I can imagine. By the way, while we are on the subject, in the year 1999 the deputy11 from Tomsk Oblast, where I was working, was Ye.K. Ligachev, who did everything possible to put me already ―through the wringer‖. I forbade our people to attack him in response, since he was already a very elderly person, although there was plenty to say ―and then some‖. I considered myself a member of Yeltsin’s team. One of very many. It was precisely for this reason that I went to defend the White House in 1991 and the mayoralty in 1993, it was precisely for this reason that I entered into the informal pre-election headquarters staff in 1995—1996. I suppose this became the most dangerous undertaking in my life (almost). It is specifically because of Boris Yeltsin that I did not come out against Putin, even though I did have my opinion of him. Now, as concerns the ―oligarch scene‖, I had always come out against such an all-encompassing concept. We were completely different people. Gusinsky and Berezovsky, Bendookidze and Potanin, I and Prokhorov. We had completely different objectives in life, perception of life. More likely there were oilmen and metallurgists, mass media men and bankers. And even this will probably be not very precise. I think I can define myself as a Voltairian, i.e. a supporter of free-thinking, of freedom of speech. B.N. Yeltsin in this sense was my ideal, like G.A. Yagodin before him. Work with them did not evoke internal protest in me. The rout of NTV (I had attempted to help them with money, which they imputed to me in the first trial) became my ―Rubicon‖. Specifically the rout of the team, and not the transfer of ownership, understand [me] correctly. I shall break off for now. Thank you for the letter. I hope for a continuation of the interaction. Respectfully, М.

rector – college president or provost. (Trans.) deputy – member of parliament. (Trans.)


5. 18.11.08 Esteemed Mikhail Borisovich! This time your letter surprised me with its unexpectedness: for half our lives, we draw up stereotypes, all kinds of hackneyed phrases and clichés, then we start to suffocate in them, and years later, when the accrued stereotypes begin to crumble, we are very happy to be liberated. For now I am speaking about my impressions. Gradually, I hope, we will get to yours as well. And so. Your parents — are solid people of the sixties with pedigrees — engineers, production people, honest, decent — your dad with a guitar in one hand and a shot glass in the other, cheerful and lively; mom, always ready to receive guests or to help a girlfriend in difficult circumstances. And their relations with the Soviet power are understandable: bug off… The children of the people of the sixties, who in grade nine read typewritten copies of Solzhenitsyn’s GULAG Archipelago and Orwell’s 1984, squeamishly veered away from power and in the best case wrote their dissertations, worked as doctors or elevator operators or participated in a social movement which subsequently was called ―dissident‖. Part of these slightly older children went through the experience of jail and camps in the years of the 70s—80s, part emigrated to the West. But somehow protected yourself from this and successfully fit yourself into the machine of that time, found your own place in it and worked effectively. Particularly touching is the innocence with which a young person is prepared to go even into the ―D‖,12 because the motherland has to be defended. Two decades difference in age rule out a situation that is easy to imagine if we were the same age. When I came, with the nausea of disgust and a trip voucher in the pocket, to the departmental Komsomol committee to get a character reference,13 sitting there were either hardboiled careerists or idiots — and I answered the question of who the secretary of the party CC is over there in Bulgaria. I went there in the 60s, and you were sitting there, or in the office next door, at the beginning of the eighties. Without a doubt, you belonged to the circle of people with whom I, to put it mildly, was not friends. Turns out — and this is what amazed me in your letter, — someone of these people in the 80s could have had a ―positive‖ motivation. You were present there — a young, talented person, dreaming of becoming a ―plant director‖, of sensibly and correctly producing something, maybe even weaponry for the defence of the motherland. And there, in this milieu, you way ―progressives‖, like Yeltsin, and retrogrades, like Ligachev. You were found inside the system, and found yourself a place there, and created a team. You say that ideology did not interest you, and that ―striving for leadership‖ had significance. But this striving — is a respectable definition of the concept of ―careerism‖. This is not an invective, but a definition. A career, business — is

the “D” – defence. (Trans.)


Soviet citizens required a positive character reference from their college Komsomol committee or workplace party committee in order to be permitted to travel abroad. (Trans.)

the most important part of the life of a normal man. Today — a woman as well. But, as it seemed to me, the rules of the game being offered there, inside the system, were such that it was impossible for a decent person to accept them. And you were a boy from a decent family. How did you ever manage to grow up a ―true believer‖ Komsomol member without any doubts about who are the friends and who — the enemies? That means this was possible. I have no grounds not to trust your analysis. That means I was biased in my total aversion to all party and semiparty people. In the eighties, any societal ideology was already completely extinguished in the leadership of the country (and indeed at all levels, right on down to the bathhouse and the pre-school), and what was left was only an empty shell. Now I see that I did not have the complete picture. Perhaps even a completely wrong one. The aversion to the Soviet order was so great in me that I did not allow that one could orient oneself on someone, trust someone, in this late-communist milieu. And even find someone to look up to. Yeltsin was for me one of the party workers, and I got frightfully worried when all my friends ran off to the White House, while I sat at home and lamented: why do I not want to run to this demonstration with everybody else? In several days I said: if there will be a lustration, like in Germany after the defeat of the nazi regime, then I will believe. There was great enthusiasm, but I could not share it. There was no lustration: nearly all the bosses stayed the same, having switched chairs, having driven out only a few here and there. I understand that Yeltsin had charm, and scope, and good intentions. Only it ended badly — he surrendered his country into the hands of the KGB. He found ―clean hands‖. And you, having expressed it in some other words, also, as it seemed to me, admit this. How do you today, a decade later, assess the figure of Yeltsin? If this reassessment did take place, then when? There was a moment when it seemed to me that Gaidar’s reforms could create an efficient economy, but he did not pull it off. His book about the fall of the empire is very interesting, explains much, but retroactively. Did you at that time have some kind of conception of an overhaul, or were you completely satisfied with those big opportunities that then opened up before entrepreneurs? There are no doubts that you turned out to be a very good director of a very big, half the country, plant. Finally, the most painful of all possible questions. So painful that I am prepared not to get an answer to it. To simply withdraw the question. There was a moment when people close to Yeltsin were getting huge pieces in the form of ―factories, plants, newspapers, steamships‖ to manage, or to possess, or to own. There was one distribution, then a series of subsequent ―redistributions‖. Often very ruthless. By this time you had already become a ―plant director‖. Where in this period did the boundaries of what was permitted run for you?

Yes, concerning Voltaireism. The elder stirred up the whole world with his ideas. But children sired with a maidservant he caused to be handed over to an orphanage. Or was that Rousseau? This is simply some kind of capital law of nature: the more exalted the ideas, the more odious the practice of life… There. I introduce an amendment to the question: what did you retain from the ideas of your youth, when you dreamed of being a ―plant director‖? What did you lose? I, of course, am talking about the system of values. I singled out your name from the ranks of the oligarchs when in one children’s [correctional] colony, where I had ended up together with psychologist girlfriends, I discovered a computer class, organised for your money, and then again in different spheres I bumped into traces of Open Russia, your brainchild. Several years later, when you were already arrested, I ended up in the Koralovo [sic] lyceum, made the acquaintance of your parents and saw there an unimaginably wonderfully appointed island for child-orphans and half-orphans. I had not seen anything like this anywhere in Europe. Also a cause built by your efforts. You write that for you the turning point in relations with the power was the rout of NTV. Every person truly does have ―his Rubicon‖. But until this time you somehow lined up relations with a power that was more and more losing a sense of decency. Yet another tough question: did you have a feeling that this process can be changed? If NTV had been preserved, would you have been able to fix the damaged relations with the Kremlin? The press is for sale and obedient to the powers everywhere in the world. The question is that in different countries there is a different-sized [exhaust] pipe for discharging negative emotions. Can it really be that your conflict took place because of the diameter of not an oil pipe, but an informational one? For me this would mean that you, being a pragmatic and practical person, have not lost romantic illusions. You will forgive me, maybe, something came out harsh in this letter. But the ―golden age‖ is ended. The illusions have been dispelled. Little time for reflection. On top of that, I have a most acute sense of catastrophically ―shrinking‖ time. [I] want to ultimately ―get to the very essence‖. By the way, nobody has managed to. Well, at least to get as close as possible. And there is also one problem that [I] would like to discuss: a person — his personal life and the pressure of society. How to preserve one’s dignity, one’s values… How do these values change? And do they change? When a person is found in camp, there arises a unique experience, distinct from the one here. This is me warning you in advance of what else I would like to talk with you about, if there will be such an opportunity. I wish you health, hardness and tranquillity. Respectfully, Lyudmila

6. 05.06.09. Esteemed Lyudmila Yevgenievna, i was very glad to receive your reply, taken by me as a deserved ―wake-up slap‖. My parents specially made it so that I did not become a ―white crow‖ in that society. Now I understand this, then — not. Furthermore — both in school and in the institute I did not see ―white crows‖. School was in the proletarian outskirts, the institute — also extremely ―proletarian‖ — 70% by trip vouchers from plants.14 We did not have any dissidents whatsoever. In the institute especially — it was a defence[-oriented] department, and if they excluded [you] from the Komsomol, then they automatically dismissed [you from the department]. Moreover, we considered this fair. As the secretary15 of the departmental [Komsomol] committee, I refused to exclude those who had been dismissed from the institute from the Komsomol, because I was convinced: not every Komsomol member can be capable of study. But the opposite in a defence[-oriented] department seemed to me absolutely fair. After all, we must if necessary give [our] life for the Motherland even in peacetime, and how can you demand this of a non-member of the Komsomol or a non-communist? I am not kidding, I am not exaggerating. This is exactly how I thought. I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, I was shaken, I despised Stalin as having tarnished the Party’s cause in the interest of the cult of his own personality. Towards Brezhnev, Chernenko I related with humour and disdain — gerontocrats, they are harming the Party. Andropov I respected, despite the ―local excesses‖. You find this funny? I would like to laugh. Doesn’t work. When I was doing practical training, I was not sitting in the plant library, I was shovelling trimethylenetrinitramine (an explosive), working on an automatic moulding press (I nearly sent myself and a buddy to kingdom come through my own mistake). We were at musters,16 they bestowed the rank of sergeant on me and appointed [me] deputy commander for political affairs, but I once again asked to be sent to a plant — to take apart old ammunition rounds. We are Komsomol members, after all; we are supposed to go to the most dangerous sectors. And take them apart I did under the baffled stares of the commanding officers from our military department.


i.e. industrial workers who were sent to the institute by their employer to receive a higher education; entrance requirements for such students were less stringent than for new high school graduates. (Trans.)

secretary – head. (Trans.) musters – military reserve officer training sessions. (Trans.)


I will get you laughing again: I did not understand their bafflement, but they did not say anything. While we are on the subject, I boldly argued with the secretary of the party bureau. I did not even feel any apprehension. He himself would come to the Komsomol committee, where there were 20 women from plants and two-three guys — he and I would argue, and the committee would vote for me, practically 100%. The partorg17 would complain to the rector — Yagodin. The girls, by the way, still write to me. One of them — my first wife, another already 20 years — the current one. True, not only they write, but others too; even the partorg (this is the Party buro secretary’s boss) Lyuba Strelnikova wrote. Do not think anything bad. I was in this sense a very decent young person. I’m joking. Now, as concerns the perception of an external enemy, it was extremely acute, as was the perception of belonging to the ―big nine‖ — the group of defence [industry] sectors. While we are on the subject, when I was already an advisor to Silayev, I took part in the last session of the VPK (the military-industrial commission) — the ―big nine‖ plus the Ministry of Defence. Well, that is a separate topic. I never knew the CC secretary for defence — Baklanov, but later, after 1991, I took him to [work for] me out of corporate solidarity. Yeltsin knew this, but did not say anything to me. And in 1996, the defence people refused directly to give Yeltsin money (as a loan to the government, such a thing was possible then!), but [when] I asked — they gave on nothing more than a handshake. Although they were risking [their] head. It was partially for their money that I bought YUKOS, then I gave the money back. They knew what I was taking [it] for. Some of my acquaintances, whom I consider good people, entered into the CPRF CC, some supported the GKChP18 (as, by the way, Baklanov and Lukyanov, whose daughter is now my lawyer). What I am getting at, Lyudmila Yevgenievna, is that the people were not at all ―twodimensional‖ on that side of the barricade. ―Hard-headed‖ in one thing and absolutely decent — in another. I, just like they, was a soldier not in my own, virtual war. But we were honest soldiers. Defended that which we considered the truth. I am going to tell you something even more risky. We took cooperation with the KGB very seriously. We — this is defence people. They worked for us and at the same time watched over us, only not at all from the point of view of ―political literacy‖, but rather from the point of view of physical security, counterespionage and so forth. These were very serious, very skilled

partorg – party organiser (Trans.)


GKChP – State Committee for the Extraordinary Situation [State of Emergency], the leaders of the short-lived “putch” that attempted to overthrow Gorbachev and reinstate the old system in August 1991; their failure hastened the collapse of the USSR. (Trans.)

specialists. Some of them went through the Patriotic War19 on clandestine work. Their lessons came in very useful for me in jail, because they had everything from jails to concentration camps to zindans20 behind them. They were very happy that their experience is needed by someone. Turns out, and how was it needed! There were others too — the ―NKVD-niks‖. These were not respected, they were shunned both by us and by those specialists about whom I was speaking. While we are on the subject, none of them (of the specialists) ever asked for money from me. Although I did help some of them find work after the year of 1991. But their colleagues saved our life, having refused to storm the White House. Some I know personally, others – indirectly. There you have it — destiny. There you have it — civil war. And how did everything ―intertwine‖ later on… Now about leadership and careerism. I will not agree — different things. A career, in the bad sense, — this is up the steps of the bureaucratic ladder, licking boots and grovelling. Yes, such is the path of the majority of ―successful people‖. That way [I] could have become a second secretary, a deputy plant director, a department chief and even a deputy minister. But not a ―line supervisor‖ — a workshop superintendent, a plant director. They placed others there. Leaders. And they tolerated them, because careerists on line posts ―toppled‖ the business. And for business there was demand. Both Yagodin and Yeltsin tolerated me as a ―line supervisor‖ absolutely ―in the spirit of Party traditions‖. This was the same kind of place for ―different ones‖ as was science. Only ―different ones‖ in another sense: politically orthodox, but ―bad at bending‖. If we are to speak of Boris Nikolayevich, then I can not be impartial. I understand all his shortcomings. More than that, I considered in the year 1999 that he ought to go. Although I did not welcome Putin’s candidacy, and Putin knows this. But Boris Nikolayevich was a figure. A giant rock. A real Russian tsar with all the pluses and minuses of the given hypostasis. He did much that was good and much that was bad. Which one more — not for me to judge. Could one have globally changed Russia more strongly or better than he did? Could we have gotten by without a ―thermidor‖ and a new stagnation, without the return of the ―comrades from the organs‖? Without the Chechen war, without the storming of the White House? Certainly. We did not manage to. Not he — all of us. And what right do I have to judge?


Fought between the USSR and Germano-fascist invaders in 1941-1945. (Trans.) zindan – a traditional dungeon-style Central Asian prison (Trans.)


When he and I made each others’ acquaintance, I was 23. And I want to keep those memories of mine. He has already died, and this does not bother anybody. In the Gaidar times I did not have ideas about the overhaul of the country as a whole, as a historical edifice, but there was a vision of the ―overhaul‖ of the economy. I was a supporter of the creation and subsequent privatisation not of individual enterprises, but of large scientific-andproduction complexes along the lines of Gazprom (not always of such scale, but analogous in structure). We in Government called this active industrial policy (not only the creation, but also a certain definition of objectives, determination of tasks and priorities). When my ideas did not ―please the court‖, I left, having warned that I would make use of the balderdash they would write. Including freely tradable vouchers. It must be said that I said right from the start that this would end badly, that the Czech example was better (there [they had] ―closed funds‖), but they declared to me — as always — about my obviously selfish interest. True, it is not entirely understandable — what one [exactly]. And I did not start to argue. You don’t want it — don’t do it. But then later — and right here we can talk about the boundaries of the permissible — I made use of any loophole in legislation and always personally recounted to members of the Government which loophole in their laws and how I would use it or was already using it. Yes, this was petty revenge, perhaps — the sin of vanity. But, it must be noted, they behaved themselves decently: they litigated, filled in the loopholes with new laws and instructions, got angry, however they never accused me of playing dirty. This was our continuing jousting match. Was I right at the end of the day? I am not convinced. On the one hand — I objectively raised up industry, on the other — I set up far from the worst government. On the one hand — of course, I put all the funds accessible to me into industry. Efficiently put in. I did not go in for bling myself and did not let others do it. But at the same time I did not think very much about people, about social responsibility beyond the confines of my collective, even though it be a very big one. Now, as concerns ―ruthlessness‖ during takeovers and redistribution, the question has a funny, implausible answer. Playing in the ―top league‖ was a score of players at most. There simply were no more. But the list of enterprises, for example, for the ―loans-for-shares auctions‖ was 800 positions. All of us together had enough strength, in my opinion, for 70. I myself was forced to drop everything else in order to deal with YUKOS. To sit in endless business trips, to drop the bank, to sell off and give away just about all the enterprises purchased earlier. For example, before this I owned the entire construction materials production industry of Moscow, a series of metallurgical plants, that same infamous Apatit. This is not a joke, this — is real work. And absolutely no outside affairs interested me. We all very rarely competed amongst each other in a real way, we were fighting a common mess and

ruin. Gangsters too practically did not attack us, since it was absolutely incomprehensible to them what can be grabbed in such a gigantic machine and how. Of course, there were ―cutthroats‖, there were risks, but in general the times in the ―top league‖ were ―vegetarian‖ as compared to the present ―day of the raider‖. When, for example, Volodya Vinogradov (Inkombank), presently deceased, was getting in my way in the fight for VNK,21 I offered him a fee to back off, but when he refused — I ran him down with the sum of the security deposit at the auction. Which, of course, cost me dearly. And this was the usual practice. PR campaigns, lobbying, money. But not the police and not crime. If someone had been noticed at something like that, they would simply stop having dealings with him out of safety considerations. And they would quickly set him up. It is precisely for this reason that all the quests of the General Prosecutor’s Office in recent years have led to such unconvincing results. In the ―top league‖, at any rate, until the coming there of citizens with a ―law-enforcement past‖, a barrier stood there, where it could be defended in commercial court (perhaps not a fully independent one, but neither a controlled one, like the Basmanny [Court] today). A barrier stood also at the level of acceptable support on the part of officials, who could take your side out of their own personal considerations, but understanding that they would have to seriously defend their position with the Premier and the President, and not only, but also — horrors! — in the mass information media! That is, today’s level of ―cutthroat-ness‖, when people feel complete irresponsibility having correctness of ―political position‖, — no, such a level was difficult to imagine. I had dismissed an NGDU22 chief, Fazlutdinov, who, maintaining the unlawfulness of the dismissal, got all the way to the SC RF23 and won, having received from me in the capacity of compensation more than 40 thousand dollars (then — very big money). And my Legal Department, knowing how it would ―get it‖ for a defeat, was unable to do anything. Rosneft, which replaced us, simply threw him out of court ―by the scruff of the neck‖. He came to cry to my lawyer, who had conducted his case in the company. No. Seeking out loopholes in laws and making use of them in full measure or restrictedly — this is where our barrier passed. And demonstrating the Government’s errors in legislation to it — is the main intellectual pleasure in this sphere.


VNK – Vostochnaya neftyanaya kompaniya, also known as Eastern Oil Company. (Trans.) NGDU – oil-and-gas production administration, the largest management unit of an oil-and-gas production enterprise. (Trans.) SC RF – Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. (Trans.)



I can not but note that the main reason for the shift in my personal life guidelines in the socialentrepreneurial sphere became the crisis of the year 1998. Until this moment I saw business as a game. Only a game. Where you need (want) to win, but even defeat — is not a problem. A game where hundreds of thousands of people came to work in the morning to play together with me for a while. And in the evening they went off to their business and concerns not connected with me. This, of course, is very schematic. I had encountered problems even before the year 1998, but these were problems for which I personally did not bear responsibility: I had come, and it ―already was‖ like that. And so the year 1998. Fun at first — we’ll survive! And then — August. Catastrophe. An oil price of 8 dollars a barrel, cost of production — 12 dollars a barrel. And there is no money with which to pay debts, and there is no money for payroll. But people realistically have nothing to eat, and this — is my personal responsibility. And nobody is buying oil inside the country, for export the pipe is full to overflowing. Nobody is paying. Creditor banks are threatening to block accounts abroad. In Russia the banks simply do not put payments through. Berezovsky gave me a credit at 80% per year in [foreign] currency! You come out to the ―shift‖24 — the people are not yelling, not striking — the understand. They are simply passing out from hunger. Especially the youth, that does not have its own farm25 or [with] small children. And the hospitals… After all, we had both bought medicines and sent [people] for medical treatment, but here — no money. And the main thing, — these understanding faces. People who simply say: ―But we, you know, weren’t expecting anything good. We are grateful just because you came, are talking. We will endure…‖. There were no strikes whatsoever from August 1998 onwards. As a result, after overcoming the crisis, my life guidelines started to change. I could no longer be simply ―a director‖. In the year 2000 we created Open Russia. Once again about mutual relations with the Law. I have never considered and do not consider justified the position — ―everybody violated‖. If you violated — answer [for it]. My position is in something thoroughly different: our legislation (like, by the way, the legislation of any other country) leaves a multitude of ―white spots‖, scope for interpretations, which, indeed, are the subject of the activity of a court (primarily the Supreme [Court]). The lawlessness, or, to say it politely, the ―selective application of the law‖, in the YUKOS case, consists of the fact that for YUKOS is applied a separate, special definition of the law. A kind that is not applied (and can not be applied) to other subjects of analogous legal relations. I consider that on the whole our laws are normal, no better and no worse than in the rest of the countries, but with the application of the law though, with courts — a disaster.

the shift – oil workers living and working at remote fields in rotating multiple-week shifts. (Trans.)


Actually more of a vegetable garden plot, the harvests from which formed a substantial part of many Russians’ diet during the economic crisis being described by Khodorkovsky. (Trans.)

Now about the ideas and values of [my] youth. — ―The country — is a besieged fortress, therefore all — for the strengthening of defensive capability, enemies are all around‖ — this, of course, passed, being replaced by the concept of the interests of countries and peoples, which do not always (to put it mildly) coincide with the interests of states and elites. In so doing [my] patriotism — you will laugh — in relation to Russia remained. It is inside and, for example, gets in the way of saying nasty things about the country, even when [I] want to very much. — The idea of communism as the universal ―bright tomorrow‖ has passed, having left a bitter taste in the soul from the deceit that has been exposed. After all, behind the beautiful dream was hiding a brazen bureaucratic totalitarianism. Moreover, the very idea of a social state, providing for a system of society’s concern for its outsiders (free or unfree), for an equal chance for each of the children — this idea lives. But it became an internal supplementary support pillar only after the crisis of the year 1998. Before that — [a sense of] injury and a desire to prove that ―I can‖… — But universal human values took a long time to get through to me. I think I rose up [in rebellion] precisely then, when they ―got through‖. This was in the year 2001 — NTV, — and the uprising was ―on [its] knees‖. But it was precisely then that the question arose at the RSPP:26 which is ―first‖ — ownership or freedom of speech? After all, NTV’s debts to Gazprom were real. And then I came to a conclusion for myself: you can not have the one without the other, and I gave NTV 200 million dollars. Which they then put down for me in the indictment. I am no revolutionary. And if they had saved NTV, then I would perhaps have had a less attentive attitude towards the rest of the events. In general, I would not have rushed to ―stand out‖, leaving ―politics‖ to more active ―comrades‖. Like I always had acted, by the way. Here —I could not. The feeling of a noose around the neck had arisen. From this point of view jail — is something more certain, less oppressive. Although, of course, in everything else — it’s definitely no picnic. And, of course, such an outcome was not my objective. But they drove me into a corner from which there was no other dignified way out. A wise person, probably, would have avoided such an alternative. As concerns the ―cultural anthropology‖ project, I am not convinced that in the realm of money I am the best specialist. I will think about it. For now, if possible, give my lawyers the references, what to look at. Once again thank you for the letter. M.


RSPP – Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. (Trans.)

7. 24.06.09 Dear Mikhail Borisovich! More than half a year ago I sent you a letter, which, as has become clear now, did not get to you. I hope that this one will. The trial taking place — absolutely Kafkaesque — has dragged out somewhat. I have even bethought myself: this talentless mediocrity — is [it] natural, ―the way it always is‖, or some kind of satanic scheme, which takes into account the weariness of society, which gets tired of reacting to events that develop slowly and weakly, like in bad theatre. It is good that there are two participants, you and Platon Lebedev, who from time to time break up this bad dream. In so doing[, there is] a constant sense that what is being played out is a game of live people with either shades or phantoms. Maybe puppets? Not people, but some kind of soap bubbles, it could have been said — Gogolesque personages, if all this had not been staged with such agonisingly talentless mediocrity. No, no, of course, it is clear that there is an intent to drag out the [trial] process, at the very least in order not to set you free. And what do you, Mikhail Borisovich, say to this: is this the bad work of the producers of the show or an artful move that counts on the inevitable tiredness of public opinion? The hope that the whole world will forget about this trial? But — it will not forget. It will figure in the history textbooks of the country, like the trial of Sinyavsky and Daniel. Literally a few days ago, I was at a reception at general Kalinin’s on account of books for children’s colonies, we collected 62 parcels. For the first time in my life, I saw a live general of this agency. The general left the impression of a live, educated and professional person. Simply an entirely good impression. I understand that the administration of the federal system of punishments — is not a ladies’ charitable organisation for assistance to homeless pussycats, but still… And what do you think, Mikhail Borisovich, this flurry of punishments that is falling upon you, of the dangerous-for-life and laughable ―squeeze plays‖ that are taking place, — at what level is it organised: the local jail leadership or the very highest level? Or is it descending from an altogether different diocese? I have in mind the Kremlin, of course. I in no way wish to put you in a heavier situation than the one in which you are already found. Therefore you may not respond to this question [if you wish]. When Dmitry Medvedev became president, beyond the border all the journalists asked this question that troubled them: what do I think of the new president? What can one answer a person who has the luxury of not having to think about them at all — either about the old one or about the new one? There are many more interesting things in life. But I always answered one and the same thing: we will soon find out about the new president: if they release Khodorkovsky — that means this is a different president, and if not, that means — there is no new president. There is a Sphinx’s riddle for you!

And you, Mikhail Borisovich, on your own hide, excuse me, did you feel that the power had changed, or — had not changed one bit? You have a remarkable fate, Mikhail Borisovich: You have already lived through several different lives, and, I hope, yet another wonderful piece of life awaits you ahead — business and public or private and open, but in any case this will be a meaningful, creative life. I can not imagine you on a pension. How do you imagine your life after release? Now you are defending yourself and are doing this magnificently. What are you going to do when you return home? A month or so ago I was in Koralovo [sic], in the lyceum for orphans that you in your time had organised. There is a new director there, a very good and clever person, Marina Filippovna and Boris Moiseyevich are surrounded by kids, and it can be seen what wonderful relations they have. They have defended themselves against the idiotic tax on the remaining parents of the fosterlings, and the entire lyceum as a whole — is some kind of social utopia incarnate. I encounter traces of your philanthropy often — specifically traces. A wonderful cause has been destroyed. I am not even speaking about your company. But in the given instance it is you who interest me, not the money taken away from you. What are you going to do after release? I can not imagine you not building plans relative to the future. I wish you strong health and patience. You are certainly not lacking in courage and strength. We await you at liberty. Lyudmila Ulitskaya 8. 24.06.09 Esteemed Lyudmila, a big thank you for your letter and I am very glad for the opportunity to [intellectually] spar, even though you do pity me in your commentaries. This, by the way, is not sporting: you are depriving me of the right to argue my very briefly expounded assertions, with which you, as I understand, are not in agreement. If you write something more vituperative, ―not for print‖, — I will not be offended at all. I am indeed a ―statist‖, i.e. consider that for the nearest 20—40 years (I do not look beyond that), the role of the state in the life of Russia (of Russian society) must be greater than today. However, by no means am I for a ―tough hand‖. I am convinced: the state — this is wellworking institutions, living on account of the taxpayer and in the interests of the taxpayer. With time, many of them must be replaced by civic structures. I.e. cease to live at the expense of the taxpayer, and become an element of self-organisation and civic service. And, of course, I am certainly against the continuation of ―Tatar-Mongol‖ traditions, when the state is an occupier,

collecting tribute from a submissive people and not obligated to account for the use of this tribute, not interested in the wishes of the citizens and dictating to them the rules of life. Now, as concerns globalisation, then I — am a globalist. Read my article about the causes of the crisis. However, I am convinced that national-territorial division is not going to outlive itself any time soon. And if in the realm of economics, the environment etc. globalisation is imperative and positive, then in the realm of culture — I doubt very much. I personally want to live in my Moscow, [to which I am] accustomed since childhood, and not in Baku or Chinatown. Even if because of this my city does not fully reckon up some kind of incomes. I ask to understand me correctly, I am not judging about people by origin or nationality, but if a person comes to ―my city‖, then he has to accept my rules, and not impose his on me. And many think this way. Comfort is created by cultural milieu, far from everybody likes New York. If I remain in the minority, that means I will leave to seek that place where people live the way I have become accustomed to since childhood. And this striving to seek a society with the same cultural roots — is a very strong stimulus. Stronger even than the purely economic one for very many people. As concerns ―honest soldiers‖ … I am afraid you are mistaken. With the ―honest soldier‖ we did not find mutual understanding, since what is taking place brings harm even to the state. Everything is much worse — we are dealing with an absolutely depraved part of the bureaucracy, which consciouslly serves not society and not even the state, but its own pocket, its own venal interests. In this is the problem: we are living in a state of cynics, who do not have an ideology, even the ―Soviet‖ one. I am afraid that even ―a great Russia‖ for the majority — is purely a slogan, which they will easily abandon in the name of money. They will simply leave for that same USA, if they obtain guarantees of safety there given the risk of losing what was ―amassed beyond their strength [to hold on to]‖ here. Now about equality of opportunities. I am convinced, and will do everything that depends on me to attain for us in Russia, equality of opportunities for every child. The ideal is unattainable, as in everything. But I do not mind spending a life getting closer to this ideal. I consider that the ―right to a chance‖ — is the main thing that we must ensure for all children in Russia. And indeed in the whole world. The environment, education, political liberties — these are a means to ensure not only a certain minimal standard of living and comfort for all, not only in order to raise the average standard of living, but also to grant every child, every person the opportunity to fully realise himself irrespective of what family (or country, ultimately) he was born in. I do not undertake to answer for the whole world, but for the next Russian generation I want and can fight. I am convinced that this is not only one of the main objectives, but also the main resource of societal development.

As to what to engage in ―after‖, I think about this rarely and in the abstract. Life will show. In my opinion, you have to do that which you can here and now, every day, as if though it is the last. Then there is no time to be afraid. Do as much as you have the strength and talent for, so that then ―it would not be agonisingly painful‖ when suddenly you find out that the time has ended… If things are on the bad side with talent, then at least ―by example‖. This is exactly what I try [to do]. Once again thank you for the letter. Respectfully, M. Khodorkovsky P.S.: Forgive me for the excessive pathos and clumsiness of the letter. I write sitting in the ―trial‖, they distract… 9. 26.06.09 Dear Mikhail Borisovich! We shall put aside the sport at once. You and I are not competing in the art of rhetorical. And our talk — is not for the victory of some kind of opinion, mine or yours. It — is for the establishment of internal order, for testing our own positions. Perhaps for their changes. This is useful for any thinking person. What kind of vituperation can there possibly be from my side: even your enemies today do not inveigh against you — for the reason that you have demonstrated huge moral superiority. You and I completely coincide in the assessment of our state — it is no good whatsoever. Precisely for the reason that it does not serve its country, but feeds on it. The breed of statesmen who truly care for the weal of the Fatherland has completely died out in our country. To the core. But when you speak about how ―for the nearest 20—40 years, the role of the state in the life of Russia (of Russian society) must be greater than today‖, I am struck dumb. Today’s power has huge, never before seen powers, it is decisively doing everything that delusionally pops into its head, both in the realm of the economy, and in the realm of political relations with the world. It distributes national resources with complete unaccountability, transfers state values into private hands and successfully moves them out beyond the border. How else, how can one further increase the role of this state? And this is being said by a person who has experienced the cruelty of state vengeance, the incapacity of the law, the complete absence of logic and common sense in actions on her own hide. No, of course, the question, from my point of view, is in something else: how to bring what is taking place in the country into some kind of rational bounds, how to limit the ―lawlessness‖,27 about which is known to you far better than to me. What needs to be done so that what laws do

The Russian term “bespredel” literally means a state of “limitlessness” or “no limits”. (Trans.)

exist, good or bad, would begin to work, how to restrict total power, the tyranny of officials, from small to great, their unbounded love of gain and avarice. I do not know. Now you, Mikhail Borisovich, consider yourself a ―statist‖. But what is this thing, the state? How do you understand it? It is inseparably connected with the concept of law. How will we define this? Like Plato, who understands the state as the expression of the idea of justice under the condition that everything is common for everybody (that is a prohibition on private property), including wives and children? Like Kant, who maintained that the state — is a union of a multitude of people under the dominance of the law? Like Aristotle, who understands the state ―as intercourse, organised for the sake of the common good‖? Or like Lenin: ―The state — a machine for the oppression of one class by another‖? When you start to read these archaic books, it turns out that everything has become horribly antiquated, everything is unacceptable for different reasons, besides Vladimir Solovyov: ―The law — a certain minimum of morality, equally binding for all‖. It is precisely on this law that a state is built. Theoretically… These ancients have already thought about everything long ago — it is interesting to read them (just do not think that I am such an educated person, — this is all, as Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelshtam used to say, ―from a tear-off calendar‖). And also there is a sense that in our time, the terminology requires reconsideration, that many concepts require new definitions. Even such fundamental concepts as ―good‖, ―virtue‖ — even they require rethinking. It is difficult at times to determine what is socialism, communism, liberal, conservative, where is the left, where is the right, where is forward, where is backward. I will try to send you a of a wonderful collection of essays by Umberto Eco Polnyi nazad [Full Astern], he talks through these things superlatively there — one of the cleverest people of our time, after all. In such a manner, Mikhail Borisovich, your declaration that you — are a ―statist‖ (I do not cast doubt on this, as you say so), — completely disheartens me. One can not be a ―statist in principle‖. This declaration demands clarifications: just what kind of state are you a supporter of? The Platonic? The Leninist, that is the Marxovian [sic]? Perhaps, ours? And this state’s role has to be even greater? I too, just like you, consider that our state is not doing too good a job with its direct obligations (protecting the population from wars and poverty). It would be good if it worked better. But how do you imagine the transition from what we have in realty to what you are drawing in the imagination? Neither you nor I are in any way revolutionaries: revolution — is a much more frightening evil than bad administration. Poverty, universal squalor and absence of comfort — is a lesser evil than sailors smashing chairs in the palace and burning libraries, proletarians looting shops, and rabble killing passers-by in dark alleys. Not to even mention civil war, the companion of revolution. On this point we, it seems, agree. But the state is not going to evolve by itself in that direction which seems desirable to both you and me. In just what way will these ―well-working institutions, living on account of the taxpayer and in the interests of the taxpayer‖, which with time will even be replaced all by themselves by civic structures that are an ―element of self-organisation and civic service‖, arise all of a sudden?

A new Lenin is needed? A new Trotsky? No, here prince Kropotkin and Hertzen are more agreeable to me. You and I are also in agreement that [we] both, each in our sphere and with our opportunities, are maintaining our line of behaviour, doing what we consider useful for our society. I can in no way compare my very modest movements with your wonderful, huge activity, the traces of which I observe to this day, although they have plundered you and shut off the oxygen for you long ago already. We shall not indulge a vain hope — to feed invalids, to ensure for them decent living conditions, to deal with a million homeless children and orphans, to establish order in the medical servicing of pensioners and all other citizens of the country, to concern ourselves about giving an education to a generation that does not want to read books, but thirsts for the little golden fish for the satisfaction of its desires, — it is the state that is obligated, not philanthropists. But the state is not coping with this alone, yet it prosecutes any initiative to make do without it. This looks especially bitter and tragic when the discussion concerns the adoption of children from children’s homes. Without bribes — it does not go through. By the old measures — trade in people… The reason is understandable: any interference of society straight away shines a light on the complete and total putrefaction of the officials’ apparat. It is impossible to catch the ―fall guy‖, because he shares with his bosses, and they will protect him. The most vivid illustration — the case of Budanov: he is being protected by everybody who stands higher than him in service status, because all this — is one company with the very same principles and mores. That is, I want to say — to fix this system is impossible. To knock it down is impossible. To replace it is impossible. This — is our system, it suits everybody. But what is possible? In its bowels to do one’s business INDEPENDENTLY: I know people who do not take bribes. There are few of them, it is difficult for them, but they do exist. I know people who do not steal: there are few of them, it is difficult for them, but they do exist. In contrast to our ―honest soldiers‖, they are not obligated to carry out orders, because they are not waiting for either a supplement to the salary or a promotion in service. Such people I meet both in Moscow and in the provinces: in libraries, in children’s institutions, in museums and even among doctors such heroes appear now and then. Only they can change the atmosphere in society a little. That faceless evil that is appearing in our country, like a mould from the damp, can be resisted only individually. This is dangerous. It evokes suspicion, irritation, envy and hatred. You, probably, have heard not once: ―Ah, you want to be considered good? To be loved? Showing all of us, around you, what scum we are?‖. That is the kind of society we have. That is the kind of state we have. Strong, without morals, cruel. How much more [of this could one want]… And so, we have come to globalisation and the crisis. Nobody invented and advanced globalisation — they noticed it, like they notice a phenomenon of nature: a cooling or warming. It, by my notions, is a process, thoroughly not subject to being managed. Of course, one can slow it down, one can advance it, but it as a phenomenon of the social life of the planet is a fact akin to a natural one. Whether we like this or not is another question. Something can be corrected. But the jinn has already gotten out of the bottle, and the peoples are going to move

around the planet, mix, interact, and this is a heavy process. There is an entire dying continent, Africa, and what is going on today in Spain—Italy in connection with illegal immigration is very difficult to stop. Globalisation signifies that neither African countries nor European ones will be able to resolve this problem in a ―proscriptive manner‖, and to seek ways of resolution is possible only jointly. Several years ago in Florence on the square in front of the Baptistery, Africans struck up a camp. The square drowned in urine and in faeces. But this is not globalisation — this is the eternal struggle of culture and barbarism. Along with globalisation goes yet another mighty process — that of barbarisation. And it in some sense is both stronger and more frightening. I also do not like living in Moscow, which has begun to look like Baku or Chinatown, but not because of the large quantity of Chinese or Azerbaijanis, but because in actuality it is becoming transformed into a focal point of barbarism, and a place where everything that resembles culture is being trampled. In my entranceway there are no Chinese or Africans — this is my neighbours who are tipping slop buckets beside the refuse chute, emblazoning the lift and the walls with large felt-tip pen letters not even of obscenities, but of the names of football squads. In spring, when the snow melts, the yard turns out to be piled with dog poop and empty bottles. The Chinese are not at fault, the Azerbaijanis too. I, just like you, have fallen out of love with Moscow. A dirty, boorish and dangerous city, and ugly into the bargain. The last architectural ensemble on Manège square is destroyed by the efforts of today’s barbarians. The chiefs of the city, not out-of-town Chinese and Azerbaijanis. Although globalisation — is also a part of culture, but still, culture has its own independent language — that of music, the figurative arts, literature. Thanks to globalisation, languages are intermingling more quickly, perhaps, even some kind of new common language is being created, in which the letters of the alphabet turns out to be the music of The Beatles, the McDonald’s snack bar, Microsoft Word, Spiderman and Chinese qìgōng exercises. Globalisation does not demand the sacrificing of the precious gems of national culture to it. National culture surrenders all by itself. That place to which you have become accustomed since childhood already does not exist and will not be again. [Whether you] seek — or do not seek. This is in store for our children to create such places for life where it will be good for a person. And there will no longer be societies with single cultural roots, other than perhaps in Iraq. We are all going to have to make this choice between a multicultural society and an integral, traditional one, like in Iraq or Afghanistan. Perhaps there are some other ways, but I do not know them. Other than buying an island? Speaking of ―honest soldiers‖, I, more likely, had in mind that there is no such thing. This is nothing more than a convenient cover. We truly do live in a state of cynics, and the trouble is not in that they do not have an ideology, the trouble is that they do not have a conscience. Here, the modern-day communists have something resembling an ideology, and the unirussians28 have the ideology of a ―great Russia‖, but beside the feeding trough they all behave the same: they push each other aside with snouts and champ away with appetite.


unirussians – the United Russia party. (Trans.)

For equality of opportunities I would be prepared to work together with you. Already today you have given hundreds of children from the Koralovo [sic] boarding school the opportunity to rise up from a very difficult, even hopeless situation. I am a witness to this. I shall end with a joke: ―Einstein dies and stands before the Lord. He says: here, I’m dead, now it doesn’t matter any more. Write the formula for the Universe for me. The Lord God takes chalk in hand and writes it. Einstein looks and looks, scratches the back of his head and says: ―But there is a mistake here!‖ ―Yes, I know‖, God answers him. This is certain. We lives in a world where a mistake exists. In the very conception. Perhaps not even one. Perhaps it seemed to you at some moment that it can be corrected? I am not convinced of this. In order to finish our talk: You, Mikhail Borisovich, are an idealist. They have not admonished you for this? Yes, yes — a magnificent analyst, rationalist, scholar and practitioner, but in so doing — an idealist. You believe that there are in principle correct solutions, and that everything can be worked out. And if something does not go just so — that means an error in the calculation. But to me it seems — [this is] not so. Life — is more likely art than science. There are no common solutions at all, there are only particular ones: at the given moment, for the given situation, applicable to these concrete circumstances. And the here-and-now precise movement is more important than an all-encompassing concept. And all that you are now doing and saying convinces me that all is in order with you: with the mind, with the heart, with the conscience. I compliment you on your birthday! 10. 1.07.09 Esteemed Lyudmila Yevgenievna, allow me to presume upon your attention and make several remarks with respect to your last letter relative to the state and its role. I shall start with a definition. We very often confuse ourselves, using identical terms both in historical science and when describing contemporary processes, which sometimes are the consequence of many centuries of evolution of the original ideas. The most obvious example — democracy as a method of state administration. Today, were we to attempt to restore the institution of Greek democracy, — we would get totalitarianism (or

authoritarianism at best). That system of state institutions which we call democracy today was elaborated by several scholars in the course of primarily the 18th century. The same concerns too the more general concept of ―state‖ (more general as applies to the question of state administration). A state — this is a method of self-organisation of society, based on the property contributions of its members (contributions in one or another form, including undistributed combined income). This definition describes, naturally, once again a state from the point of view of the function of administration, about which, really, the discussion was. Can a state, for example, not possess a special apparatus of coercion? Of course. No small number of states is known to us where society dealt with this function itself. But can a state be ―external‖ in relation to society, i.e. not rely on the desire to support specifically such a form of administration on the part of the majority of its interested members? (The inert part of society does not participate in administration.) No! I underscore: today — no. I am convinced: the form of ―external‖ organisation of society in today’s conception is not a state in the direct sense of the word. This — is an occupation regime, which is unstable without external support. In Russia today — is a state. Whether we like it or not. (I shall note straight away: there are transitional forms, but they live within the limits of one generation (20 years).) This is my point of view about the state as a term (as applies to the question of administration). Now about the role of the Russian state. I would very much like for us to treat the concepts of role and powers the same way. Our state truly does have huge powers, i.e. lawful rights of interference in civic and individual life, weakly regulated and having extremely weak counterbalances, but as to the role, i.e. real participation in the life of citizens, — [it is] inadequately small. When I say ―inadequate‖, I have in mind not adequate to the condition of society, which for now does not know how and does not want to resolve many of its problems by itself (apart from the state). Our society in this is not alone, but then the role of the state must be higher. In particular: the share of GDP (i.e. the social wealth) redistributed through the state is in our country lower than [in] the majority of developed countries, and most certainly lower than for our neighbours with similar climatic conditions. And this — is the main, generalising indicator, which finds its practical reflection in the weak pension system, the system of health care, the transport and public utilities infrastructures, etc.

But even if one were to take the topic of industry, then here too the role of the state is unjustifiably small. Of course, Putin can personally adopt a decision on actual nationalisation or a change of owner at any enterprise. He can create 10 state corporations and put gigantic property into there. This — is powers. But their influence (these powers’, realised into practical actions) on the industry of the country is very ungreat. It remains raw-materials-based. And here there are two ways out: either ―liberalism‖ and we shall see what the market does, or a thought-out industrial policy. In practice, naturally, — always a combination. But I (and in this sense I — am a statist) consider that in the current conditions to the share of industry working within the framework of ―industrial policy‖ ought to come a significant part of industrial manufacturing. Probably 60%. What do I have in mind under ―industrial policy‖? Where, when and how much oil, gas, lumber, diamonds and, perhaps, several more strategic types of raw material should be produced. How? That is the business of business. Where and in what form this raw material can be delivered. How and the concrete choice, within the confines of the assigned variants — the business of business. Where, how much and in what manner of electric power should be produced, where it must be delivered (what is being spoken of is strategic capacities — approximately 70% of production). Where to build roads, where to develop cities, universities. And other such questions — on a hundred pages, and an adjustable, flexible plan (a five-year one, as repugnant as that may [sound]) — on hundreds of thousands of pages (if one is to include the regional aspect). What for? Again the problem of administration. For a market to work, you have to have no fewer than three, and better — four independent suppliers of concrete services (output) in each point where it may be needed. In a small country, the external market can resolve this problem. In giant-in-territory Russia (and here it is precisely territory and transport accessibility that are important), the role of the external market is limited, albeit substantial. The structure of industry and transport in our country is bad. Especially after the collapse of the USSR. One could wait very long for the market to reconstruct what is lacking. It is necessary to compensate the key problems with a structural industrial policy, and then, to the extent that the ―bones‖ are restored and the ―meat builds up‖, to jerk out the ―titanium pins‖ (as with a compound fracture). I have been asserting this position since 1991, even though I know that many liberals, my friends, are not in agreement with me. Alas, conceptually they are mistaken, while in practice today the quality of the state is such that it is incapable of managing the resolution of these questions. Yet they need to be resolved. Therefore the powers of the state can (and must) be diminished (there are exceedingly many of them, and they are unbalanced), but as to the role of

the state, its actual participation in the economic and social life of society, at this stage — elevated. Once again excuse me for having taken up your time. The topic of ―honest soldiers‖ and so forth, as the interrelation of calculation and artistry in life, I read with pleasure and interest. Your point of view seems to me not absolute, but very useful for such a ―komsomolist‖ and ―techie‖ as I. Thank you. I will think. With respect and appreciation, M. Khodorkovsky 11. 08.07.09 Dear Mikhail Borisovich! Your reflections about the state and state administration appear fully convincingly. I am a biologist by education, and certain principles that work in nature, I with internal readiness easily carry over to social mechanisms. Here there is very much in common, and evolution in the biological world presents itself to me as the most fundamental law. The nervous system, that is the system of administration in the higher sense, arose out of undifferentiated tissues. We do not know why this happened, — probably on the strength of internal necessity, not graspable by our intellect. Let us say approximately thus. But examining creatures at different level[s] of evolution, we can understand how specifically this process went. Every creature — a monument to a certain step. Here it is substantive that this ―higher formation‖, the nervous system, in principle does not work ―against‖ the organism. If such a thing were to happen, the organism would respond with prompt death, and the nervous system would die together with the organism. Really, this analogy can be applied too to the system ―state—society‖. The state works badly — society dies; the state, correspondingly, dies too. Biological processes absolutely do not have an ―ethical‖ aspect. Social ones — do. Such a strange thing as morality is never class- or group-[based] — it is attached exclusively to the individual. Whatever the state structure may be, administration is always in the hands of one person or of a small group of persons. The level of their morality, as it seems to me, determines very much. A theocratic, monarchic, democratic of socialist state are good or bad, as it seems to me, depending on the level of morality of its leaders. In this sense, a good monarchy is better than a bad democracy. A hundred years ago Lev Shestov said: ―Where there is no freedom, there is no bread‖. Where there is no morality, there can not be any social justice — thus will I allow myself to paraphrase. It is difficult for me to engage in discussion with you — you have big experience and concrete knowledge of the process of administration. But here, last week an acquaintance came to me —

a theoretical physicist, living thirty years in Europe, translator of many books on management 29 theory, and for several evenings he and I ―ground‖ all these questions that you had touched upon in your letter. I was your self-styled representative, while he attacked me frightfully, was drawing up a completely different system of arguments. You would have had a much more productive talk with him than I. As a result, having been sucked into a circle of problems with which I am little acquainted, I undertook to read the fattened tome of John Ralson [sic] Saul (Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West). I do not know if I will read it to the end, but [I have] such a feeling that this book polemicises with you far better than I could. I honestly admit that much of what you have written in the last letter elicits internal protest in me. I admit as well that I wrote you a very diligent reply — to each utterance of yours — the whole week long and then understood that I do not have either sufficient qualification or a genuine interest in those topics that are so important for you. To the point that there arose a sense of boredom, familiar to me from school years, when it was necessary to pass an examination in social studies, or later, at university, in the history of the party. No, impossible. After all, my role in essence boils down now to giving you a reason to express everything you have pondered over the last six years, so that a multitude of people, whose eyes are directed at you and whose souls are turned to you — first and foremost to you as a person compelled to pay for large societal accounts with his personal, unique, unrepeatable life and health, — would find out for what specifically you are paying. I fervently hope that there will still happen in life a moment when we will sit, the three of us, together at tea — I shall invite my friend, with whom we discussed your considerations relative to the state, its powers and role, for a whole week, — and you shall do battle, and I [shall] sit in the corner, observe and listen; this is my favourite pursuit since youth — to listen to clever disputes. I wish [you] strength, health, vigour. Lyudmila
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“Administration” and “management” are the same word in Russian. (Trans.)