Khodorkovsky’s Speech at the Freedom House Awards Dinner
The following is the prepared text of the speech delivered by Mikhail Khodorkovsky at the 2014 Freedom House Awards Dinner on October 1. The text was originally posted here.
The European choice, social justice and national mobilization
1. There is a legend about how nearly 200 years ago, the Russian political émigrés of that time asked the Russian court historian Karamzin for the news about what was happening in the Motherland. Karamzin thought for a moment and then replied with a single word: “Stealing”. Little has changed in Russia since those times. Except maybe that the stealing has become even more sophisticated. Everything gets stolen in Russian, but the main thing – and this is unique, I suppose – is that in Russia even time gets stolen.
2. A little over 10 years ago I flew away from the USA to Russia, in order to strike out 10 years from my life and the life of my family. These ten years were taken away from me. In exchange I received some unique life experience that allowed me to rethink if not everything, then certainly a very large part of what I had been living by and what I had believed in the previous decade. But there is no way to bring back the time.
3. But the worst thing that I discovered when I got out of prison was that those ten years had been stolen not only from me, they had been stolen from the entire country. Time had struck the Putin decade out of Russia’s life. Concealed behind a façade of outward prosperity is the fact that the country has stopped its development. Not only that, in most areas it has been flung back far into the distant past: politically, economically, psychologically. The profusion of goods in the stores and the abundance of money in people’s pockets should not fool anybody. The regime can not take credit for this; it is a function of the oil market.
4. But that is not all. It turns out that the regime has robbed not only Russia, . It is trying to throw the whole world back into the era of the cold war (if not a hot one), when disputes are resolvedat the point of a gun, while one’s superiority is proven not by rates of economic growth, but by military aggression. Russia and the world have come to a very dangerous point, beyond which looms a Third World War.
The return to Europe
5. A return to the European values that lie at the foundation of the Euro-Atlantic civilization, – a mental and political return – is the starting point for the new political course that could help Russia work its way out of the historical snare it is now in. Russia has just two ways it can go – forward into the post-industrial era together with Europe, or back into the Middle Ages , and after that into outright non-existence.
6. All that my country has today, everything that it considers truly “its own”, everything that has allowed it to become a great power and that is now its “calling card”: space exploration, the nuclear shield, literature and art, the high level of education and science (which even thirty years of “timelessness” were incapable of destroying) – was created within the scope of the European cultural tradition, in interaction with European culture and within the milieu of European culture. All of the deeds of spiritual valor of the Russian people, all of the innumerable sacrifices they have brought to the altar of their independence, were performed within the fold of the Christian tradition, which was and remains European in its nature.
7. A break with the West, with its values and its knowledge, is a dangerous step, one that leads to Russia losing its true cultural identity. The “Eurasianism” that is being actively forced upon society as the new totalitarian ideology is nothing more than a verbose justification for militant ignorance and barbarism. In order to preserve Russia as a single, independent, and sovereign state, it is imperative to return it to that path of development which it had followed in achieving its glory.
8. European values (or Euro-Atlantic, as it is now the common practice to call them) are first and foremost values of a strong and just state with effective institutions and laws that work. Russia needs these no less than any other people in the world do. Russia needs a law-based state and an open economy not because this will please Western Europe and America, but so it can work together with the Euro-Atlantic world – and if necessary compete with it as well – on equal terms. Peter the Great did not build the Russian army based on European models just to make the Swedes happy.
9. Whoever wants to be strong must not allow himself to fall behind. Russia can not and shut itself off from progress with some sort of Chinese Wall (in the literal and the figurative sense of this word). Anti-Western hysteria is a manifestation of psychological insecurity and fear of competition on the part of those fringe elements who are today’s elite in Russia. Churchill once said that the reason there is no anti-semitism in England is because the English do not think they are any stupider than Jews. We have no reason to fear Europe, because we are no stupider than other Europeans.
10. To be together with Europe does not mean dissolving into Europe. Russia has both its own distinct cultural identity and its own particular national interests, which it has to know how to protect. Denying Russia a European choice under the pretext of protecting its national interests or using the European choice as an explanation for refusing to protect national interests are both equally unacceptable.
A return to fairness
11. Modern Russian society is structured unfairly. Whoever has the biggest fist in it has bigger rights as well. In Russia today might is right, but it should be the other way around – what is right has the might. Restoring the “balance of fairness” is a top-priority task for all of the forces that have the transformation of Russia into a modern and dynamically developing state as their objective. If a solution is not found for this strategic task, society is not going to put its support behind any economic, social, or political reform. Paraphrasing Engels, we can say: all previous reforms in post-communist Russia led to an increase in social injustice; now the task consists of eliminating or at least reducing this injustice.
12. A return to social justice in Russia is impossible without repairing the damage caused by an unjust privatization. Privatization was a painful historical task without which Russia’s further development would not have been possible. But the way it which it was accomplished led to the emergence of extremely severe social side effects. The point of the next stage of Russia’s history will consist of eliminating these “distortions”. Today, the power is de facto reconsidering the results of privatization in its own peculiar way, taking ownership out of the hands of some people merely to transfer it immediately into other, supposedly more “on our side”, hands. This is not what our people are waiting for. This is not going to lead anywhere except to even more stealing and corruption.
13. To begin with, restoring fairness will have to also address the question of subsoil use – the main source of the Russian people’s wealth, and as of today its only one. At the given stage of historical development, we need to acknowledge the fairness of a simple formula – the income from the exploitation of Russia’s subsoil needs to belong to the people of Russia. The subsoil can be in the private ownership of those who extract this income for society – specifically for society – and who are efficiently managing operations and growing them. But it can not remain at the disposal of nomenklatura rentiers, who pay themselves disproportionate “salaries” and are incapable of working efficiently.
14. It is imperative to bring back fairness in income distribution as a whole as well, restoring proportional taxation rates. . We have got to create the image of the “responsible taxpayer”, with all of his obligations, but also, needless to say, with rights as well. Only someone who pays taxes has the right to ask the state – what has it done for him with these taxes? A rentier-nation does not have such a right, and this is why the power is doing whatever it wants with the nation.
15. The vector of development of Russian liberalism, which is exclusively political today, needs to be rethought. Producing draft constitutions and plans for radical political and economic reforms is a futile exercise until society begins to feel that the liberal idea is a fair idea.
16. Society has enormous potential for self-organization when there is an idea around which a matrix can form. For Russia, such an idea can only be a socially oriented nation state. The only question is will this socially oriented nation state be liberal or fascist?
War – the ultimate unfairness
17. Fascism – this is war. Russia is already making real war. those who send heroes to die not in the name of national interests, not to defend the Fatherland, but in order to keep in power a small group of plutocrats who are trying in this way to prolong the life of a regime that has already outlived itself.
18. War has become the sole driver of the moribund regime. It is happening in the Ukraine, but this war is not for Ukraine’s or Russia’s sake, but for the sake of power. What got such a wildly enthusiastic reaction from the man in the street is going to bring innumerable trials and tribulations to the Russian people in the nearest foreseeable future already.
19. The ruling regime is turning Russia into a Chinese protectorate. This is not even a question of the annexation of Siberia,. Today it would be enough just for Siberia to be completely locked in on China, which for all intents and purposes is going to be sucking resources out of it for free, like from a colony.
20. Russia has gotten stuck on a dangerous historical track, getting out of which is very complicated. In order to simply stop, and all the more so to switch to some other track, is going to require mobilization of all of the energies of the Russian people. The task of true Russian patriots is not in promising the Russian people smooth sailing but in telling the truth. Only if they understand the scale of the threat and of the historical significance of the moment can the people be moved to perform heroic deeds. And without heroic deeds, Russia today can not be saved.
21. The heroic deed of the Russian people must consist of constructive labor, of inculcating discipline and moderation, and of developing the ability to work together and to help one another – in other words, of reviving all those moral skills that had helped Russian culture to develop and that have been lost to a large extent in recent years. In order to raise the people up to be able to perform this heroic deed, the pro-European minority needs to prove its moral soundness and its readiness to observe, not in word, but in deed, the principle of equality of all before the law. It is precisely this equality of all before a law that is the same for all, before an adversity that is the same for all, and for a common cause that is the same for all, that the true sense of liberalism consists of. If the people come to believe in this, then everything else will fall into place – the reforms, economic progress, and prosperity for Russia.
22. Russia has been wasting time these past ten years; now is when we must begin to make up this lost time.
Photo Credit: Stephanie C
Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.
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