In the name of God for our and your Freedom!
14:40, — Politics
A celebration was arranged in Warsaw in honor of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and the future of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia was discussed.
On 9 May Poland’s leading newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza celebrated its 25th anniversary. Poland’s president Bronislaw Komorowski, the leader of the underground Solidarity Zbigniew Bujak, the father of Polish economic reforms Leszek Balcerowicz, legendary Polish actors Daniel Olbrychski and Andrzej Sewerin as well as practically whole country’s political and cultural elite came to congratulate the legendary newspaper.
Poland’s president presented the newspaper’s journalists with state awards. After the solemn ceremony the chief editor of Gazety Wyborczej Adam Michnik led a discussion ‘Europe, Russia, Ukraine’, in which tool part a famous Russian politician, businessman and a former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, British historian and analyst Timothy Garton Ash, leader of the European Belarus civic campaign, a former presidential candidate and political prisoner Andrei Sannikov, advisor to the acting president of Ukraine and a former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko and the chief editor of the Russian Novaya Gazeta Dmitry Muratov.
Adam Michnik asked Timothy Garton Ash to start the discussion, having asked him about the current state of the European Union. The answer of the British analyst was unconsoling: today the European Union is unable to respond to the new challenge, which is the aggression of Russia’s Vladimir Putin regime.
“Where is Europe now? In 1989 the answer was very simple. Poland returned to Europe, which has always been there geographically, culturally and historically. Many countries were inspired by the Polish example.
15 years passed and what did we get in 2004? The European Union’s enlargement, which included many Eastern European countries. None other community had had so many liberal democracies before. In Athens, in Dublin, in Lisbon, in Ljubljana, in Tallinn alike people were optimistic, had the same prosperity level and freedom. This gave young people the feeling that Europe was united. The key point at the time was the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. This was a “velvet”, peaceful revolution, which led to changes as a result of agreements.
Another 10 years passed very fast and look, where we are now. We are on the brink of chaos. Constitutional agreements do not work, there is practically nothing left of the Lisbon Treaty, euro is under the influence of the financial crisis. The consequences of that may be absolutely terrible for many and many Europeans.
We go to elections and see that in many countries (France, Hungary, the Netherlands) anti-European parties emerge. And it is not the matter of them, but the states themselves. We thought that the EU had united for democracy. But what do we have instead of that? Silvio Berlusconi, Viktor Orban? Instead of drawing a clear line between the, let’s call it “the Kingdom of Light” - the European Union and other countries, through “berlusconism” and “orbanism” we are moving towards “putinism”.
The Euromaidan in Kyiv took place at the moment, when people in the EU increasingly doubted the European progress. Faith in the European model came from outside Europe, which reminds us of our values. But in the recent six months Ukraine turned from an image giving hope into something very dreadful. While the Orange Revolution was the best of all the European revolutions, then now we observe dangerous tendencies in Ukraine. This is Bosnia of the 1990-ies, something that Solzhenitsyn described as the most dangerous thing that can be there in a country - a combination of violence and big lies, ideology, imposed by the Russian authorities.
Again there is the question: where is Europe now? What is Europe doing under the conditions of this dangerous challenge? First of all, the majority of European countries do not even have that grade of danger on their scale. We need to wake up. The key EU’s instrument is economy, the key to the economy is Germany. We need to speak with Putin in the language that he understands – the language of power. This means that our goal is to strengthen German and explain it how to speak with Putin”, - Timothy Garton Ash said.
But Vladimir Putin is learning much today from the “classic of dictatorship” Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Adam Michnik pointed out.
The leader of the European Belarus Andrei Sannikov reminded Gazeta Wyborcza’s chief efitor that in 1995 he had written an article about Lukashenka calling him a “collective farm bonaparte”.
“From a “collective farm bonaparte” Lukashenka turned into Europe’s last dictator, who has stayed in power to 20 years already. There is no Belarus in the name of the conference, but we would like to see Belarus on Europe’s agenda, because it actually all started in our country. Belarusians have always fought for European values, including in the streets at protest manifestations. But there are several stereotypes, applied to us today. One of them – you should solve your problems yourselves. This is true. But can this be applied to Ukraine today? Will Ukraine survive without significant assistance – political, financial, economic, moral? It will not.
I this that Putin looked at us very closely, since he studied Lukashenka’s experience. He observed how the West would react to political prisoners, which would be the sanctions and consequences. That Lukashenka has stayed in power for 20 years tells that he bore no punishment for his crimes.
Let’s now speak of Ukraine. It was not that Yanukovych did not sign the agreement with the EU, bit that people were fed up with the corrupt authorities, they wanted democracy, civil society, European values. For us the European Union is a success story. But something went wrong, the ideals faded that are so needed today in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. They faded, because the Europeans did not pay attention to what was happening in our countries.
I am quite critical in my assessment of what took place in the EU within the recent 10 years. At first it was success, the expansion of the democratic space. But then we became just a background. Our neighbors used the consolidation of dictatorship tendencies in Belarus for their advance into the European Union and NATO. Today is very important to clearly understand what is taking place in Belarus and Ukraine”, - Andrei Sannikov said.
A former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky pointed out that Russia’s president Vladimir Putin is restoring the “archaic system” in the country today.
“I already said that Vladimir Putin is trying to build or restore an archaic system in Russia. When I spoke of that, he still wanted to be the president of all the Russians: to a certain degree he tried to hear, rely upon and persuade of his rightness all the segments of the Russian society. At some point Putin realized that it was no longer possible, and made a choice (this choice seems wrong to me), having decided to rely on the stereotypes of the Russian society that are the most archaic. He decided to become a representative of the conservative majority. Probably, from the political point of view this is a winning move, but from the point view of a state actor, who cares about his country’s future, this is a road to nowhere.
Today Russian society to a significant degree is united under the idea of expanding the territory, the territorial re-creation of the Soviet Union. I hope, this idea will dominate over our society for not too long, because it leads to self-destruction. The conference that we recently held together with Yuriy Lutsenko in Kyiv, showed that even in this tense and even somewhat hysterical atmosphere, created in my country by propaganda, there is a large number of people (not seven, who in their time went out to protest in the Red Square 50 years ago) are ready to protest against the archaic vision imposed on the society, and do not want our country to turn into a sieged fortress. Only moving forward together with the world, developing in the global world, it is possible to build a normal country. I really hope that Russia will return to this path. There already were moments in our history, when we stopped, but for many centuries we have been moving together with Europe. We actually have no other way”, - Mikhail Khodorkovsky said.
The chief editor of the Novaya Gazeta Dmitry Muratov started his speech saying: “I cannot imagine that the president of Russia on the 25th anniversary of the Novaya Gazeta…” This caused laughter and applause among the audience.
“Speaking seriously, it seems to me that in Europe an opinion started to exist that Russian people are anthropologically not suited for democracy, that Russians hate what they never experienced: free elections, democracy and the freedom of speech. This is not true, - the journalist said. Russia’s elites are hugely to blame, who are lying, corrupt, self-interested, but no the people. Despite Mikhail Khodorkovsky saying that the bet has been placed on the conservative majority, I want to say that it is the fault of the elite, which makes terrible and barbarian propaganda. On the Victory Day the word “fascism” is used towards the brotherly nation by TV media. This is impossible. We must create new information agenda, which would destroy the myths being created. Before the start of the conference Yuriy Lutsenko told me that both his grandfathers spin in their coffins, when they hear that Germany asks Moscow not to bomb Ukraine.
The main question for me is whether Russia and freedom are compatible. Of course, they are. Actually, a new kind of people is being born in our country, which is committed to it. This is not yeat the majority, but I think, it is there and it can be proud of. I think that Ukraine is a great challenge of war. I am a pacifist, because I was there at all wars that our generation faces – from Afghanistan to Chechnya. I saw as mothers recognize their children in special refrigerator cars of the 124th laboratory in Rostov, where the soldiers of the Chechnya war were brought. Now nay Russian and Ukrainian nationalists, on which state sometimes tries to rely forgetting that one cannot rely on Nazis, try to start a war. It is very important now to resist that, a war must not be permitted. We must speak and hear one another and, despite our politicians, remain humans”.
The advisor to the acting president of Ukraine Yuriy Lutsenko stated that today’s events in his country are not only a war between Ukraine and Russia, this is “a war for the borderline of a free Europe”.
“Once this borderline was drawn along Vistula, then it went along Bug, and now, God willing, it will move a thousand plus kilometers to the East. For me the second Maidan attempt is very hard, paid for by the deaths of the shot boys, who refused to take bulletproof vests, because they said they came to die for freedom. This victory means a great thing to me – the freedom’s border is moving. The border that once was manifested in small medieval town, in Europe’s free universities, in reformatory movements, then took a shape in the west, in the center and the east of Europe, and has come to us today.
Ukrainians are fighting for the border of free Europe to go along our eastern border. I am sure that we will succeed in that. It is not for winning over Russia, but for this border to move further. I dream that we live to see the border of free Europe much further to the east of Ukraine. I always remind to Mikhail Khodorkovsky that there are very nice paving stones in the Red Square. The main thing is to have enough people, willing to stand for freedom there, in the center of Russia’s capital.
I do not think that economy is the basis of Europe. It seems to me that the basis of any civilization I culture. Probably, it was exactly the commitment to European culture, which, fortunately, remained alive in Western Ukraine, not destroyed by the Soviet authorities, that have us such an opportunity to be a little freer than our friends from Belarus. I mean to have a little more free citizens, than there is today in Belarus and Russia.
Maidan is not only European integration, this is not only an anti-criminal uprising. This is also an anti-colonial war. Today we paid in three more deaths in Mariupol for Ukrainian pro-European authorities standing strong there. One of the killed had his year cut off and eyes pierced. We are not dealing with Russians, not with Russian-speaking, we are dealing with barbarians, paid with the money of a bloody dictator, who was toppled off his golden toilet and is in the territory of the Russian Federation today. The he has Ukraine’s one-year budget some of money, turned in cash dollars and taken out of the country.
The victory of democracy in Ukraine is important to Russia, Belarus and post-Soviet Asia. It is important to prove that the former USSR can live better than today. We are capable of living free and rich, capable of destroying Bastille and change the foundation of our Soviet barrack for a modern European home. This is what we are doing, and this is exactly what Putin is fighting”, - Yuriy Lutsenko said.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky noted that pro-democracy citizens in Russia wholeheartedly empathize to the Ukrainian people today, because “if Ukrainians are lucky, then the democratization of Russia will go faster”:
“Despite all the historic examples, despite multiple researches, people regularly come back to the problem: what is better? A democracy, regular change of power, the necessity to independently decide your destiny or authoritarianism, choosing a leader, who makes decisions for all the people? There are two sides of the problem – economic and emotional. From the economic point of view, there are many examples, when authoritarian regimes show better growth rate during a number of years, than democratic countries. Nevertheless, there are practically no examples, when the average economic growth rate in an authoritarian country for 40 years was higher than the average growth rate of a democratic country. The reason for that is quite understandable – an authoritarian regime makes for a large price of a mistake, and a mistake takes place sooner or later. With unchanging authorities degradation takes place – by age or by eliminating from power the people, who may be of competition to an authoritarian leader (the so-called negative selection). Actually, we are observing this now in our country – the level of the specialists in power decreases by a year.
But this is only a half of the issue. The second half is emotional. It would seem that any person would want to decide their own destiny themselves. But actually a large part of people prefers for the choice to be made by someone else, and, unfortunately, tradition plays a great role here. Freedom’s borders move mentally – in the consciousness of the people ready to take responsibility. This is not simple, and many refuse from that. This is exactly why authoritarian models are so popular still, although the costs are huge and the efficiency is very doubtful in mid-term. ”
Unfortunately, yet another time the two models clash, and now this clash is taking place in the territory of Ukraine. It is very obvious that president Putin fears the most of the contagiousness of the Ukrainian case – the case, when a country, linked to Russia with related ties of dozens millions families, suddenly as a result of an anti-corruption revolution, as a result of hard construction of a democratic society, God forbid, shows high rates of economic growth, improvement of the quality of life, the ability of people to independently decide their own destiny and to live better. This would undermine the foundations of the Putin regime and gives the role model that Russia needs. This is exactly why we empathize so much to the Ukrainian people today, because if they are lucky, the democratization will go faster in Russia. If they lose, the possibility of democratization in my country will move back for another generation. I really wish you to succeed”, - Khodorkovsky said.
Yuriy Lutsenko reminded that Khodorkovsky had recently called Putin “the main source of corruption”.
“Today Putin infects whole Europe with that corruption through gas, oil and other economic instruments. This is a challenge to the system. The war in Ukraine already uses automatic weapons, but the war of a dictatorship and democracy is taking place on the whole European continent. While Ukraine has taken the first trench of the hot war, then the best help in this war on the part of the peaceful Europe would be to stop the corrupt dealings of the Kremlin’s host, who is destroying democratic values”, - the former head of Ukraine’s Ministry of Interior said.
“If Putin infects whole Europe with corruption through gas and oil, then what Lukashenka’s power lies in?” – Adam Michnik asked Andrei Sannikov.
“Lukashenka’s power is in that he got into power by accident, in the best suitable historical moment. Where did he take his model? From the handbook of a Soviet times military propagandist. He saw the model of the communist authorities before him.
His other strength is in the weakness of Europe. Why do I appeal to Europe on defending the values? In 1999 he had all the opposition leaders killed, who were real competitors to Lukashenka. If the elections had taken place and they had been alive, Lukashenka would have stood no chance Europe’s reaction came in 5 years. The Council of Europe produced a reports, which quite clearly established the connection of high officials to the kidnappings and murders of opposition leaders. If you want to know, what the Kremlin will do, what can take place in Ukraine, look at the experience of Belarus. Look why this dictatorship was allowed to exist for so many years”, - Sannikov said.
The leader of the European Belarus civic campaign urged the new Ukrainian authorities not to repeat the previous mistakes and stop cooperating with Lukashenka’s dictatorship.
“Values should be universal. There were hundreds Belarusians in Maidan in 2004. We welcomed the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, but after the inauguration president Viktor Yushchenko first thing started lobbying for Lukashenka’s interests in Europe. What has happened now? It is a kind of nightmare to us. First, and it seems like the only, foreign visit of the acting president Oleksandr Turchynov was made to Belarus. I do not know whether by coincidence or not, but the exports of cigarettes grew by 40 times at the same time. This should not be!
There were thousands Belarusians and you, Yuriy, know that very well. Now, when much depends on you, such things are inadmissible. Do you want to be democrats with Warsaw, Berlin and Brussels, and do business with Lukashenka? This is impossible. Like in 2005, it will mean the defeat of the values, while the defeat of the values will mean the defeat of the Ukrainian revolution. You are very right speaking of corruption in Europe and that everyone bows to the Kremlin money, but for some reason you do not notice that the same takes place in the relations of Ukraine of the Lukashenka dictatorial regime.
There are all the possibilities to set a screen before the dictatorship, because there had been no successful experience in the post-Soviet countries. Georgia and Moldova are not quite indicators. Ukraine is fighting for all of us today. So far Europe has actually been unable to oppose dictatorships that are now threatening Europe itself. I am more than sure that Putin’s plan is the destruction of the European Union, the destruction of the value system. I am not even speaking of territorial claims, which evidently lie beyond Ukraine”, - Andrei Sannikov said.
After the discussion Adam Michnik on behalf of Gazeta Wyborcza awarded the ‘Person of the year’ prize to the former Russian political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Khodorkovsky was named the ‘Person of the year’ for “bravely leaving the path of Nelson Rockefeller in order to take the path of Nelson Mandela”, for the firmness of spirit, firmness and humanism.
“That you are free today, that I am, that Andrei Sannikov and Yuriy Lutsenko have been released tells us that the world is becoming a better place after all”, - said Adam Michnik, who spent five years in prison in the times of the communist Poland.
The speech, introducing the laureate, was made by a famous Polish economist Leszek Balcerowicz, in which he spoke in detail of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s life and professional path.
Khodorkovsky thanked for solidarity and urged to fight for the freedom of other Russian political prisoners: YUKOS’ employee Aleksey Pichugin and the “prisoners of the 6 May”.
The former political prisoner was awarded a copy of the flag of the 1831 uprising. The Poles dedicated the flag to the Decembrists. Words were written on it in Polish and Russian: ‘In the name of God for our and your Freedom’.