Alexander Yakovlev was the most liberal member of Mikhail Gorbachev's politburo and a one-time chief of the Communist Party Central Committee's ideology department. Yakovlev, 75, is working on compiling documents from the Soviet regime, writing a history of 20th-century Russia and a history of the Bolshevik regime.
In an interview published in The Russia Journal on Sept. 20, Yakovlev looked back at the Soviet era in Russia. In this issue, he looks at the current political situation in the country.
RJ: You are a member of the Pravoye Delo (Right Cause) coalition. How do you get along with your fellow members?
AY: Fine. We all support a liberal economy. We agree that people are the priority, and we advocate cooperation with all countries - above all, with Europe. We need to get along with everyone. There's no point in dividing people according to nationality, ideology, citizenship. It's a thing of the past. We are entering an era of globalization, and many theories predict positive change ahead.
RJ: You're known to be friends with [former Prime Minister Yevgeny] Primakov. What can you tell us about him? Many think he would usher in a new form of totalitarianism.
AY: No, he wouldn't. But as someone untainted by corruption and connections with the oligarchs, he would take a tougher, perhaps even ruthless, stance regarding corruption.
RJ: But wouldn't this pave the way for denunciations, settling scores, all you've already come up against in your work on the rehabilitation commission?
AY: That's what the law is for. It's not Primakov who would decide, but the law. We have this investigation into BONY [Bank of New York] at the moment. Let the law do its job. If it's proven that someone took bribes, let him go to prison. If there's no proof, let him sue for slander. Everything has to be lawful. I don't need emotions, I need evidence.
Once I was told one thing about the Soviet regime, and the evidence turned out to say something different.
RJ: Was Primakov right to join forces with [Moscow Mayor Yury] Luzhkov?
AY: I think he should have stayed on his own.
RJ: Have you discussed that with him?
AY: He has his own ideas. He's a centrist; he likes pragmatic people. He's felt offended by the right-wingers since he came to power and they began criticizing him mercilessly.
RJ: Is he offended by all the right-wingers?
AY: No, I think he gets along fine with [Anatoly] Chubais; he thinks he is a talented manager. As for me, Primakov and I agreed 30 years ago that never, not in any circumstances, would we mix friendship and politics. That is why I can hold different views. But when it comes to our friendship, these political differences don't matter a bit.
RJ: What prompted this vow 30 years ago?
AY: Nothing special. We were introduced by Nikolai Inozemtsev, director of the Institute of World Economy. That was in Brezhnev's time. I often worked with Inozemtsev preparing reports for the top bosses, and he would often bring Primakov along. Over time, we became friends.
RJ: Do you share his views on the economy?
AY: He's more of an economist than I. But I agree that the emphasis should be on the real economy. We shouldn't forget either that even some well-equipped factories are standing idle. That's because there's no working capital, no chance of getting loans. My friends on the right thought we could get the oligarchs to drive the economy forward, but that has failed miserably. The oligarchs made money, but they haven't taken the economy anywhere.
RJ: Have the right-wingers taken note?
AY: Yes. [Boris] Nemtsov and [Sergei] Kiriyenko are sticking the boot into the oligarchs now. They say we need to get power out of the oligarchs' hands and make them play by the rules. In that, they have something in common with Primakov.
RJ: But Luzhkov doesn't have the best reputation on that count.
AY: I don't like to get personal and judge people. Let us see real evidence. I've read so much from 1937. All the compromising material around reminds me of those denunciations, notes to the KGB! It makes me feel sick. Even if it were true, I don't want to just accept it. It's psychological; I've headed the rehabilitation commission for 11 years now. It's all about settling scores. Who is Luzhkov? He and I are not friends, I might not agree with his views, but that's normal. As for accusations, come up with the proof. We have the pro-secutor's office, we have courts. In a democratic country, it is their job to examine these accusations and not our job to decide whether someone is wrong or right, a swindler or a thief.
RJ: Do you feel the same way about the accusations regarding the president's bank accounts and so on?
AY: Yes. It's a two-way scandal, a war of interests. And if it's a war, there's something devious going on.
RJ: Doesn't it frustrate you then to see your friend Primakov involved in this battle?
AY: Why? He won't get dragged down by it. Luzhkov and [Vladimir] Yakovlev head the federal list with him, but Primakov alone heads the electoral bloc. Luzhkov heads Otechestvo [Fatherland], Yakovlev heads Vsya Rossiya [All Russia], but neither is a co-president of the bloc. Primakov formed the coordination council with those people he wanted. He's not as simple as he sometimes seems.
RJ: But why take part in these parliamentary elections?
AY: Perhaps to win the support of some of the governors. He needs to create a Duma [lower house of parliament] faction capable of forming a government; all the more so as he wants to change the constitution to give the parliament more powers.
But when you have a Communist majority, such change would automatically drag the country backward.
RJ: How do you see the new parliament looking?
AY: I don't want to predict. People say it will go Otechestvo's way, but that is not entirely convincing yet. Of course they'll get something. But how will these campaigns of slander culminate, in court, in the prosecutor's office? In murder? I do think that the Communists will win fewer seats.
RJ: But the right is so divided, it could get the Communists more votes.
AY: It's the same old story. The villains are the first to join forces. Did the Cadets [center right party] really have a weaker position in the pre-revolutionary Duma? But it was a handful of extremists who grabbed power.
RJ: What is your opinion of this concept of a Russian national idea?
AY: I think any national idea - Vietnamese, Indonesian, whatever - is a load of nonsense. There's no such thing as a national idea except to live in respect of the law and human rights. You don't just find national ideas lying somewhere under the table.
I understand calling, say, defending the country from a fascist aggressor a national idea. As for the national idea of building Communism, everyone knows how that finished.
What other national ideas can there be? What's the national idea in America?
RJ: Something born out of all the individual dreams of its people.
AY: Yes, everyone has his own idea. I have my interests, my political preferences and so on.
RJ: But if we're talking of common values, the motherland, Russia?
AY: My motherland is not Russia, but the village of Korolyevo in the Yaroslavl region. And why should I love myself for being Russian? I'm not guilty for it, nor did I earn it - it just happened that my parents were Russian.
RJ: But should there be some kind of state idea?
AY: I wouldn't leave Russia; it means something to me because I was born here, because my parents are buried here. But here, the national idea merges with patriotism.
RJ: And what about patriotism then?
AY: It's become a profession. Look at how the Communists have set up this Union of Patriotic Forces. So they're the patriots, and if you're not with them, you're not a patriot. It's an old Bolshevik idea, professional patriots.
The only one personal, state, religious, whatever idea that can work for everyone is freedom. Everything else is inventions by those in power to be able to rule people. My religion is freedom - that's enough for me. There is, of course, the freedom based on compromise that we call the law. So, freedom and responsibility you could say; responsibility for freedom. After all, we act irresponsibly even with regards to freedom.