Clever boxing by Russia's champion of democracy

Phil Reeves meets the combative Grigory Yavlinsky

Moscow - Grigory Yavlinsky used to be a boxer, but these days he likes to win his bouts with a rhetorical upper-cut, culled from the pages of 20th- century history: "The successful reform of Germany and Japan after the war was prepared by completely changing the political elite. In Russia, that did not happen."

Doubt has long been raised about the politics of the autocratically inclined President Boris Yeltsin, the magnates who underpin his rule and the former apparatchiks who crowd the corridors of government.

Many are assumed in the West to be reformers and democrats, despite evidence that their priorities have less to do with ideology than a desire to retain power.

But Mr Yavlinsky, head of Russia's Yabloko (Apple) party, has impeccable credentials, being leader of what he describes as "a real, federal democratic party of European values, of human values, of human rights, of competition, private property and the open market." That makes him relatively rare in Moscow: a largely pro-Western liberal ideologue. With Mr Yeltsin's second term in intensive care, Mr Yavlinsky has also emerged as one of his most caustic opponents, matching and often outsparring the Communist- nationalist opposition which dominates parliament.

Russia is in the grips of a "semi-criminal oligarchy" which has sprung from and coalesced around the remnants of the Soviet system, he told the Independent. The media is tamed; even the opposition is something of a sham. "The government is working hand-in-hand with the Communists and the nationalists ... They are the main forces which are supporting the government."

The timing of such attacks is no coincidence. Like everyone else, the 44-year-old economist senses Russia is preparing for the possibility of a future with a new president, amid a mood that dusk has set on the Yeltsin era. Last week he was on the offensive again, writing in the Financial Times: "The ruling elite is neither democratic nor Communist, neither conservative nor liberal, neither red nor green. It is merely greedy and rapacious."

Given such failings, the leadership is, he warns, unable to cope with new menaces to Russia and the West: loss of control over nuclear weapons, development of a breeding-ground for terrorism and crime, and the "high probability" of an environmental disaster.

He told the Independent: "A very small number of people have benefited from what happened in the last five years, maybe a million out of 158 million. That million is really rich. But all the others ... got no access to resources, access to property, freedom to set up their own business."

Mr Yavlinsky wants Mr Yeltsin's successor to be subject to more checks and balances; there should be no more massive tax breaks issued with a stroke of the pen, no more secret decrees. "We need a system where it would not be possible for the president to have a morning cup of tea, and then to start a war."

Should an election be called, Mr Yavlinsky would run, although he is overshadowed by the front-runners, notably the nationalist-leaning Alexander Lebed and Yuri Luzhkov, Mayor of Moscow.

Yabloko enjoys strong support among the urban educated but Mr Yavlinsky's 10 million supporters are too few to put him high in the field. He could winkle a promise of a top position by offering an alliance with whatever candidate the ruling establishment fields under the tattered banner of democracy and reform. But he prefers to remain aloof, an uncompromising democratic voice.

"If we went to the oligarchy, they (the voters) would say 'you are the same. You are only looking for your own'. The people would be disappointed. We have to show that there can be a clean democracy, with clean hands." Fine words. But in a country angered and humiliated by Nato expansion, the loss of the Chechen war, and botched economic reforms, the outlook for liberal ideologues is not great.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map