“Я совсем не идеальный человек, но я — человек идеи. Мне, как и любому, тяжело жить в тюрьме, и не хочется здесь умереть. Но если потребуется — у меня не будет колебаний. Моя Вера стоит моей жизни. Думаю, я это доказал.” (М.Б. Ходорковский, 2 ноября 2010)
Stalin’s Russia didn’t allow its internal opponents to speak publicly. Instead these were mostly confined to the Gulag, and/or simply executed. Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and then later in the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev, just prior to the fall of Soviet Russia in 1991, did allow, although never willingly, their internal opponents to speak publicly, with the result that we had dissidents Andrei Sakharov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and many others.
Perhaps to some degree, however small, the demise of the Soviet Russia may be attributed to these men who were able to speak out and make themselves heard. Now in Putin’s Russia, in too many ways no less authoritarian than the Soviet Union under Brezhnev, we have the jailed for fraud and corruption Mikhail Khodorkovsky, speaking out from his Siberian prison, from what he calls “gulag lite” in the town of Krasnokamensk near Chita.
Was he guilty? Did he deserve a sentence of nine years? I don’t know. But regardless of what he was before, the honest or the corrupt billionaire head of Yukos, Russia’s largest oil company at the time, Khodorkovsky is now becoming the voice of what might have been, and perhaps still could be, a democratic, law-abiding country taking its rightful place in a liberal and democratic Europe.
Just recently, at the conclusion of his second trial in Moscow (the result of which will not be known until December), he was allowed to make a public statement, and it was this that first got my attention.
I sometimes think of all the words, the worlds that might have been, all that has been lost, by the fact of Stalin’s inhumanity. Stalin silenced probably the best and the brightest of the Russia of the thirties, by the simple fact of having them executed, perhaps in a dark basement room of the Lubyanka, and by not allowing any statements they may have made prior to their deaths to become public.
Perhaps the very best thing we can say about Vladimir Putin and his man Dmitry Medvedev is that so far they have not silenced Khodorkovsky, but have allowed his voice to be heard, if only from captivity. (Although publications, including the Moscow Esquire and the Novaya Gazeta, that have printed his words have been been just recently “visited” by the government’s security services.)
Here are a few small pieces of that voice, taken from Khodorkovsky’s statement at the conclusion of the most recent trial. For the Russian text of this statement go here.
I remember the end of the ’80s of the last century. I was 25 then. Our country was living on hope of freedom, hope that we would be able to achieve happiness for ourselves and for our children.
We lived on this hope. In some ways, it did materialize, — in others it did not. The responsibility for why this hope was not realized all the way, and not for everybody, probably lies on our entire generation, myself included.
With the coming of a new President (and more than two years have already passed since that time), hope appeared once again for many of my fellow citizens too. Hope that Russia would yet become a modern country with a developed civil society. Free from the arbitrary behavior of officials, free from corruption, free from unfairness and lawlessness.
… what the country needs is not one Korolev, and not one Sakharov under the protective wing of the all-powerful Beria and his million-strong armed host, but hundreds of thousands of “korolevs” and “sakharovs”, under the protection of fair and comprehensible laws and independent courts, which will give these laws life, and not just a place on a dusty shelf, as they did in their day – with the Constitution of 1937.
Where are these “korolevs” and “sakharovs” today? Have they left the country? Are they preparing to leave? Have they once again gone off into internal emigration? Or taken cover amongst the grey bureaucrats in order not to fall under the steamroller of “the system”?
We can and must change this.
“I am not at all an ideal person, but I am a person of an idea. For me, as for anybody, it is hard to live in jail, and I do not want to die there. But if I have to, I will not hesitate. The things I believe in are worth dying for. I think I have proven this.”
And I was no less struck by the earlier interview Khodorkovsky had given to the newspaper, Novaya Gazeta. In particular I was struck by how much of what he said there might be well applied to some of the issues and problems that we are facing in our country right now, and in respect to which we seem unable, quite like the Russian Duma of which Khodorkovsky speaks, to take corrective action.
At one point the interviewer asks a series of questions: What are the key political, economic and social challenges that Russia’s president will face in 2012? How long will the system last without political and economic competition? What candidate would you support and do you see a chance for a real alternative political force to emerge?
And here is Khodorkovsky’s reply with the accompanying Russian text following the English translation:
The key challenges for whoever will be elected president in 2012 will stem from the escalating gap between the imminently declining potential and growing risks in the still backwards economy, plus bureaucratic greed and voter expectations.
Ходорковский: Ключевые вызовы для человека, избранного президентом в 2012 году? Нарастающее противоречие между снижением потенциала немодернизированной экономики — с одной стороны, алчностью бюрократии — с другой, и ожиданиями населения — с третьей.
The Russian economy cannot be retooled under the current government system, which is inefficient, obsolete and thoroughly corrupt. Russia, for a plethora of reasons, will be engulfed in yet another crisis around 2015.
Невозможность модернизации экономики определяется, в свою очередь, неэффективной системой государственного управления с ее архаичностью и тотальной коррумпированностью. По многим причинам очередная кризисная точка придется где-то на 2015 год.
The list of problems is long. Here they are in no particular order:
Список проблем длинный. Среди них (не в порядке важности):
The utterly exhausted potential to sustain our raw-material funded growth. In other words, we will not be able to produce more, while prices will no longer support any sufficient revenue growth.
— исчерпанность потенциала сырьевого роста. То есть и добывать больше не сможем, и цены больше не дадут необходимого прироста доходов;
A steady decline in the working population.
— непрерывное сокращение доли активного (работающего) населения;
A steady expansion of security agencies and government bureaucracy, or, in other words, those who are part of the working population that not only don’t create wealth, but also redistribute it for their own benefit.
— непрерывный рост численности силовиков и бюрократии, то есть той части работающего населения, которая не только сама не создает продукцию, но и перераспределяет ее в свою пользу;
Very slow growth in labour production, because managers’ performance is gauged against quite different criteria.
— крайне медленный рост производительности труда, поскольку не она сегодня — действительный критерий успешности управленцев;
Lack of an industry development strategy, (everybody has already forgotten about the focus growth sectors put forward by the President) seeing as how huge resources are being pumped into hopeless projects aiming to compete with China and, in the future, with India in sectors where these countries have obvious competitive advantages, such as cheap labour.
— отсутствие промышленной политики (про основные направления, выдвинутые президентом, уже все забыли) в результате вбабахивания сил и средств в обреченные на неудачу проекты, направленные на конкуренцию с Китаем и, в будущем, с Индией в тех областях, где эти страны имеют очевидные конкурентные преимущества (например, дешевизна рабочей силы).
So, the next president will face a simple choice: either the working population will have to produce more or the rest will have to consume less.
В общем, для будущего президента выбор прост: либо работающее население больше производит, либо остальная часть — меньше потребляет.
The equation is even simpler for the “rest”: the more bureaucracy consumes, the less is left for the others. And vice versa.
А внутри остальной части — еще проще: если больше потребляет бюрократия, значит, меньше — все остальные. И наобо рот.
Putting pressure on producers won’t work. They will pack things up and leave. They are already leaving.
Давить производителя не выйдет. Сбегут. Уже бегут.
You want my prediction? Our elite will not wake up until things get really bad. All the president’s attempts to make quick fixes here and there will be sabotaged. And he won’t have the nerve to make institutional reforms.
Хотите мое предсказание? Пока гром не грянет — наша элита не перекрестится. На все президентские попытки частных изменений ответом будет саботаж. На институциональные изменения решимости не хватит.
This will lead to:
Rising prices, tariffs and utility bills;
Declining quantity and quality of free healthcare and education services;
Increasing pension age and devaluation of welfare benefits;
Creating a non-competitive third-wave production capacity.
Значит, рост цен, тарифов, коммунальных платежей; сокращение фактического перечня и качества бесплатных услуг в медицине и образовании; повышение пенсионного возраста, обесценивание социальных выплат; создание неконкурентоспособных промышленных мощностей третьей технологической волны.
How much of what he says here might be applied to our own country? I think of these words: So, the …president will face a simple choice: either the working population will have to produce more or the rest will have to consume less….The equation is even simpler for the “rest”: the more bureaucracy consumes, the less is left for the others.
Where is this wise and good man now? Well, he was here (A), as indicated on the map below, at Krasnokamensk near Chita. Now he’s in a prison near Moscow. If he’s sentenced to an additional 8-12 years he will probably be returned to his “gulag lite” at Krasnokamensk in Siberia.