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Kasyanov: Russian Opposition Must Stand Up And Be Counted

Mikhail Kasyanov now heads the Popular Democratic Union of Russia.
Mikhail Kasyanov now heads the Popular Democratic Union of Russia.
Mikhail Kasyanov was finance minister under former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and later prime minister under then-President Vladimir Putin until 2004. After his dismissal, he eventually went into opposition.

Kasyanov has now published a book, "Without Putin," on that transition, in which he fiercely criticizes Putin. He discussed the book with RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Mikhail Sokolov.

RFE/RL: Politicians usually write their memoirs at the end of their careers. Have you decided to withdraw from active politics?

Mikhail Kasyanov:
You are correct to say that politicians write memoirs when they are winding up their activity, but you are wrong that this is what I have done.

This book is not a memoir. Rather, it is a political dialogue, a discussion of various events that took place in the recent past and are continuing now. It is a discussion between myself and Yevgeny Kiselyov, in a two-sided format. We started in the period of 1995-96 and walked up to the present day.

So I am certain that it will be interesting to many people who are following what is going on in the country and who are not indifferent to the matter of what kind of country we are living in and what kind of country our children will live in. So I think that people will find something interesting for themselves in our ruminations.

RFE/RL: And what about the title? It seems to be about the future -- "Without Putin."

The book is called "Without Putin" and this means that we understand that the Russian Federation lived without Putin and created a democratic society. And then the Russian Federation -- that is, you and I -- lived together with Putin (I worked with him for five years) and now we don't have such a society. And very soon, I am sure, the country will once again live without Putin. So the title is meant to generalize about that entire period.

For me, what is important is today. I think it is obvious that the country has entered a new stage of its existence, I would say a new stage of its development, but there is no development, so let's just say existence.

Today it is important to look back, in this transition phase, to look back and draw some conclusions. I hope that our book will help those people who are interested in politics, who are interested in their own lives and are not indifferent to the future, to find something useful for themselves.

RFE/RL: It's called "Without Putin," but Putin is the main hero, or one of the main heroes, perhaps, together with Boris Yeltsin, of the book. I got the impression that Putin is not a very nice person and one with, if you'll excuse me, paranoid tendencies. When you talk about the point where you were removed as prime minister, there is a strange story involving denunciations and some sort of gossip and eavesdropping. I couldn't tell if you were trying to overthrow Putin or if this is just some gossip by one of his enemies.

I don't want to retell episodes from the book, but I do want to say clearly that this book is not, of course, about Putin. Neither is it about Boris Yeltsin. The book is about the events that happened during this period.

Naturally, since Yeltsin and Putin both played key roles in what transpired in our country, a lot is said about them. Many political decisions are tied to them. As far as my removal goes, I have already explained that there was no reason for it. In the book, I repeat that no one has ever explained the reason for it to me or to the government or to the Russian people.

RFE/RL: Despite Putin's promise.

Yes, that's right.

RFE/RL: He promised you that he would not dismiss you without a reason.

He did.

Going Into Opposition

RFE/RL: You write that Yeltsin approved of your decision to take a role in the opposition. What do you think he understood by this?

It is hard to say what Yeltsin saw since, unfortunately, fate did not give us the opportunity to work together further. But of course I think that I can say that Yeltsin -- who was once an opposition figure himself -- understood what we were talking about. He had in mind -- and he told me this -- that it didn't just mean getting the authorities to compromise, but it meant forcing the authorities against their will to do the things that are laid out in the constitution.

Today my party is doing just that. It is trying to convince the public that the current regime is unacceptable and to force the regime -- through the power of public opinion -- to change the situation, to give citizens the chance to use their constitutional right to free elections.

RFE/RL: And how can you force them? Look what is happening in the elections now. Opposition candidates in Moscow are not registered, including your own party. There is one party, Yabloko, that is considered more or less genuine opposition and I have even heard some of your colleagues saying people should vote for them. How are Muscovites to express their will in these elections? How would you advise them and what are you personally planning to do? What is your party's position?

You are asking two things. One is about the current Moscow City Duma elections. The other is about what we can achieve.

As far as the concrete situation in the run-up to October 11, it is clear to me and my party colleagues and to other opposition organizations that these are not real elections. We used the opportunity to distribute our newspaper, "Another View." We informed Muscovites about what is happening in Moscow and in the country. We told them that the Moscow government is part of the vertical of power and does not exist in its own right. It is not a separate evil, but part of one big evil, the so-called power vertical.

As far as voting goes, our position is simple: these are not elections and any participation in them merely plays into the hands of the authorities.

Boycotting Elections

RFE/RL: Why does it help the authorities? Say people go and vote and as a result there are two or three people in the City Duma who will criticize the mayor.

The election commissions are staffed with Muscovites who under a variety of threats, including the possible loss of their jobs (we are talking about teachers, doctors and other state-sector workers) are forced to falsify the vote. We need to stop these people.

If you go to the polls, you leave your real signature on the voter rolls. But you don't know what will happen to your ballot. You can't control that. You might make your mark anywhere, and they can easily make 10 more. But if you don't go to the polls, the place next to your name is blank.

RFE/RL: Or they sign for you.

If they sign for you, that is a crime. You can carry out an analysis and so on. That is a much more serious act, a real crime. We shouldn't help people who have agreed to such manipulations and falsifications. We shouldn't help them avoid a criminal act.

RFE/RL: One opposition activist said we should spoil our ballots because if there are a large number of spoiled ballots, the authorities won't be able to hide that fact.

It isn't difficult. I never worked in an election commission, but I don't think that would be hard to hide.

Now we are getting to your second question -- what should we do now? These people are not manipulating and falsifying the vote out of conviction but because they are being forced to. They are being threatened with the deprivation of their livelihood or, as in the last elections, people are being forced to vote and prove by taking photos with their mobile phones that they voted properly. This is what we have come to.

RFE/RL: Yes. I have heard that we should mark our ballots with a pencil, then photograph it, then erase it and vote again.

See? Now, the question of the future is a matter connected with, so to speak, the elites. There is the technical intelligentsia, the creative intelligentsia, the business community, and those citizens who are active in political life. This is a huge portion of the Russian population.

Stand Up And Be Counted

If we are able to shape public opinion about what is happening, then this is very important. And at the same time, of course, we shouldn't help those who are working on election commissions to falsify. We shouldn't encourage them to participate in this sham, and we shouldn't give others the opportunity to do so. We don't want to see business financing Nashi or United Russia or A Just Russia. We don't want our singers and artists performing shows for Nashi.

RFE/RL: But they love the money.

That's the point. We need to think a little about the future of our children. That is why -- with such small acts -- everyone who is active in the life of our country.... Athletes should not sign up to have their names on the candidates list for A Just Russia or any other kind of Russia of that sort.

RFE/RL: In that case, they won't be athletes, but former athletes.

Those risks exist for all of us. But if that happens, it will also shape public opinion. The authorities will see that society is changing and it will understand that people might come out into the streets if expectations are formed that there will be normal elections in 2011 and 2012 and if those expectations are dashed.

If such a transformation of public opinion occurs, the authorities will see it immediately. They will understand that it won't be a matter of 5,000 people in a March of Dissent, but of 50,000 people in the center of Moscow. They will understand that they could lose power in a single day. They know this from the example of the 1991 coup attempt, from the events of 1991.

That is why our political work now is the formation of public opinion. So that people -- the intelligentsia or the elites, including the bureaucracy -- stop thinking they can sit in the corner and not take any risks and that thousands of people will come out into the streets and sweep away the regime.

Of course that isn't right. We are against violent revolutions and for years we have said this. But we favor a velvet revolution achieved by a consolidation of public opinion capable of compelling the authorities to move forward with democratization and the restoration of constitutional norms.