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Interview of Grigory Yavlinsky for the "Zerkalo" (Mirror) TV Programme
RTR channel, October 24, 1999
Interviewer: Nikolai Svanidzye
Svanidzye: Today we have invited the leader of the Yabloko faction Grigory Yavlinsky. My first question concerns you personally, Grigory Alexeyevich, as it also concerns the election struggle, in which you are actively participating. As a politician, how do you assess the situation that has developed from Evgeni Primakov's answer to Boris Yeltsin? Boris Yeltsin invited Evgeni Primakov to a meeting, but Primakov said that he did not want to go. Your comments, please.

Yavlinsky: You have already answered that question. Next day he agreed to meet and it is right that he agreed. I can understand Primakov's emotions in this situation with the President and people who work with the President, but a prominent politician must meet with the President. If he is critical or disagrees with the President, he must say so directly. He can say it even on television, but he must say it directly, to the President's face. In addition, Primakov worked for a long time with the President: he was head of the secret service and also minister for foreign affairs and prime minister. Only four months have passed since his dismissal. Therefore I think that all politicians must negotiate with each other.

Svanidzye: Do you think that if a politician says: "No, I don't see anything interesting in meeting the President" or "I am dissatisfied with the people around the President. So I am not going to meet the President". Is this not potentially a good answer?

Yavlinsky: I think that this would be wrong in the present circumstances, with due account of the relations between Boris Yeltsin and Evgeni Primakov. In my opinion, this is incorrect. In general politicians must speak to each other, this is the crux of the issue. If we say that there should be negotiations in Chechnya, there should be negotiations between Boris Yeltsin and Evgeni Primakov.

Svanidzye: Maybe this only applies to the politicians who stick to certain rules of the game. You won't negotiate with Makashov (Ed. former army general, an extreme nationalist), will you?

Yavlinsky: No. But I don't see him as a politician.

Svanidzye: Ok, let us turn to another topic. Another prominent politician was going to come to Moscow and make a speech in the State Duma on the invitation of the Duma, but he postponed his visit until next Wednesday. I am referring to the President of Byelorussia Alexander Lukashenko. What is your assessment now? What do the State Duma and you yourself personally expect from Lukashenko, in particular after the recent events in Minsk?

Yavlinsky: On July 20 1999 the presidential term of Lukashenko expired. Since July 20 1999 he has merely been Alexander Lukashenko who remains unconstitutionally in power. The State Duma, and here I mean its left wing, simply does not understand the precedent that it is creating here for us in Russia. It provides an opportunity, in a certain political situation, to say to the left: "You invited a president whose term has expired to speak in the State Duma. Why should you demonstrate your dissatisfaction now when President Yeltsin has, by dint of some tricks, decided to prolong his term for another 12 or 18 months"?

Svanidzye: Do you suspect that he has decided to stay for another 18 months?

Yavlinsky: We are not discussing this now. Today we are discussing another issue. You are asking me what the State Duma thinks about this. I am telling you what the State Duma does not think about. The Duma does not understand what it is doing. It elevates Lukashenko's status and puts him at a state level, but it should not do this. In addition, the Duma invites him here to clear up his relationships with the opposition: the opposition in his own country.

Svanidzye: Through Russia's Duma.

Yavlinsky: Through Russia's Duma. We have once again expressed our firm protest and we will do so again. We will find a way to declare our disagreement. In general we oppose a situation where an individual, whose presidential term has expired, comes to Moscow, the State Duma of the Russian Federation and calls himself the President of Byelorussia, settles accounts with his own opposition. This is absolutely wrong. That is why we think that we should not move further along in that direction.

Svanidzye: Nevertheless the decision of the State Duma to invite Lukashenko or not does not depend solely on you: and the decision to invite him has already been adopted. Lukashenko, unless he changes his mind which is unlikely, will make a speech in the State Duma. Please, tell us what your faction - and you personally as leader of the faction - will do in this case. Let us imagine that Lukashenko is on the tribune: what will you ask, what you will say?

Yavlinsky: If the speech focuses simply on the events in Byelorussia, we will not participate at all.

Svanidzye: Does this mean that you will not come to the meeting?

Yavlinsky: We will not participate in such a meeting. We have already passed a joint decision by the faction on the previous speech. If this issue is related to the discussion of relations between Russia and Byelorussia and takes place after the meeting between Lukashenko and Yeltsin, then we will be given the right to express our opinion. We will not have to simply sit and listen to Lukashenko. We will be able to explain our position and we will say the following. First of all, as long as president Lukashenko is a self-proclaimed president and is not elected as such, we should not sign any agreements with him. We cannot sign any agreements with a man whose term has expired.

In addition, there is no legitimate parliament. Therefore we think that elections should be held in Byelorussia. In this sense we think that all the opposition to Lukashenko are right on this issue. Except for the fact that we oppose the use of force. We think that negotiations between Lukashenko and the opposition are necessary, so that elections can be held as soon as possible. We can only speak about all the state unions and inter-state unions after the elections.

As nothing was done prior to July 20, now there is nobody for us to speak to: there is no elected president in Byelorussia right now. They have a man who is usurping this status through an illegal referendum. However, the use of force is inadmissible.

Negotiations between Lukashenko and the opposition are required to designate a date for the elections and then hold the elections. Only then can we speak about relations between Russia and Byelorussia. We would like to say on this second issue that we favour a union between Russia and Byelorussia, based on the European model, where each country preserves its sovereignty in full; we advocate a situation where the democracy we have in Russia (irrespective of the level of democracy we have in Russia now) will be transferred to Byelorussia, and not vice-versa, with the totalitarism in Byelorussia penetrating Russia.

Svanidzye: Your position here is clear: we can agree or disagree with it legally, but that is life. Public opinion polls among the citizens of Belarus, and here I am referring to objective polls, would appear to demonstrate that most of the population are dissatisfied with their lives, but who isn't? But they are ready to elect Lukashenko once again: they trust him, And here their position clashes with your viewpoint. You claim that he is an illegitimate president, while Byelorussian citizens think that he is legitimate. What will you do?

Yavlinsky: You said something interesting. Polls are polls, but I am interested in the elections. And this state is very close to me, as people live there who really are very close to me in terms of their history and culture. As I am not indifferent to their fate and am interested in the elections there, I am interested in formal elections. I need to see an elected parliament and an elected president there.

Svanidzye: Do you mean that, until new legitimate elections take place there, irrespective of whom they elect - whether it is Lukashenko once again or someone else - you will consider him an illegitimate figure and won't talk to him about serious matters?

Yavlinsky: That is absolutely correct. Everyone must act in this way, as whatever he signs today may simply be rejected tomorrow on the premise that the document was signed by a president who did not face elections. Once again, I insist that the holding of elections should be the main task of the Byelorussian opposition. They should approach the issue of elections through negotiations with Lukashenko and make him hold elections. What is he afraid of here?

Svanidzye: How they can make him do it, if all the force, both political and physical, is on his side?

Yavlinsky: At least they should not do it by throwing stones and fighting each other. There must be negotiations. Pressure on Lukashenko by the European Union and all his neighbours is important. Incidentally, if Russia, at state level, the level of the President of the Russian Federation, assumed a clear position on this issue and stopped all this political gambling, he would have no choice.

Svanidzye: But here they are gambling with Byelorussia rather than with Lukashenko. Presidents come and go, but countries remain.

Yavlinsky: We should not hurt the people who live in Byelorussia. But when they advocate the country's annexation or something similar, we firmly oppose such moves. We have stressed on a number of occasions that Byelorussians are a fraternal nation for us. You should not deprive your brother of his passport: you should let him retain his independence. If you are his brother, you should not deprive him of a passport, citizenship and independence: you can't do this. We must do something else. We have certain proposals to make on this matter. I have a draft treaty on economic union with Byelorussia on my table right now.

Svanidzye: Only please don't read it to us now.

Yavlinsky: I am not going to do that. However, this draft was sent to Lukashenko and we received an answer. It stated that he did not intend to do anything of the kind. Therefore, President Lukashenko is the main obstacle impeding the creation of sensible and harmless unions and treaties for Russia, which are moreover useful for Russia and the people in Byelorussia.

RTR channel, October 24, 1999
Interviewer: Nikolai Svanidzye
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