Grigory Yavlinsky

Only a new generation of Russian politicians can be strong enough to preserve human rights, democracy and the future of the country.

Grigory Yavlinsky, April 1996

In April, 1996, prominent democrats and human rights activists Yelena Bonner, Sergei Kovalev, Yuri Afanasiev, Ella Pamfilova, and Arkady Murashev formed a commitee to support Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky in the presidential campaign. Bonner is the widow of Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov whose close associate was Kovalev, a biologist by training. Their declaration said, ``Is it possible that there is only a Communist alternative to the current regime? No, and no again.'' ``Whether he is good or bad, Yavlinsky has won recognition with his uncompromising position in recent years... Yavlinsky is true to fundamental values -- human rights, democracy, private property, and market economy.'' This step towards recognition of the liberal economist as leader of the pro-reform democratic forces of Russia may look like a birthday present to Yavlinsky, who turned 44 on April 10. Yet, it is also a sign of apparent dissatisfaction with the so-called "peace plan" for Chechnya proposed by President Boris Yeltsin on March 31 and immediately dubbed a pre-election stunt by many observers. Back in the end of 1994, Yavlinsky helped to negotiate release of a group of Russian prisoners by Chechen guerillas. He went to Grozny (the capital of Chechnya, then controlled by Dudayev's rebels) as an envoy of peace and offered to stay there as a hostage if the prisoners were freed. His offer was rejected, and the prisoners were released soon afterwards, in exchange for a promise by the Russian government to start peace negotiations with the separatists. The promise proved hollow, because, without withdrawing it, Russians started a massive military invasion in the breakaway republic. Yavlinsky, along with many other Russian democrats, condemned the Chechen war. By then, he was already well-known to the Russian public for his active role in the market-oriented economic reforms.

The star of Grigory Alexeyevich Yavlinsky rapidly ascended in July 1990, when Boris Yeltsin appointed him deputy chairman of the RSFSR Council of Ministers and the chairman of the State Commission of the RSFSR for Economic Reform. In the spring of 1990 Yavlinsky had prepared a plan to shift the Soviet economy onto the path of market reform, entitled "400 days". His work attracted the attention of Academician Leonid Abalkin, who recommended him to Yeltsin. Yavlinsky thus found himself in a position to try to launch his now-renamed "500 Days" plan, which was the first openly declared economic reform program in Soviet history. However, Yavlinsky's project fell foul of the political standoff between Yeltsin and Gorbachev, at the head of the Russian Federation and USSR respectively. Over the summer a working group chaired by Stanislav Shatalin came up with an amended version of the reform program, which was acceptable both to Gorbachev and to Yeltsin and the other repubic leaders. However, Nikolai Ryzhkov, Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, opposed the plan, which was rejected by the Congress of the People's Deputies of the USSR in October 1990. Gorbachev and Ryzhkov came up with a compromise variant, and as a result the revolutionary "500 Days" was transformed into an impotent "Main Trends of Development". Yavlinsky resigned on October 17. That was a still bigger sensation: a deputy prime minister voluntarily stepped down because there was no chance to implement his ideas! Anything of this kind was unheard of in the Soviet corridors of power.

Yavlinsky was born on April 10, 1952, in the Western Ukrainian city of Lvov, into a family of a Russian army officer and a chemistry lecturer. His father ran an orphanage, while his mother taught at the local forestry school. Yavlinsky left school after nine years and completed his secondary education at an evening school while working on the shopfloor of the Raduga glassworks in Lvov. In 1969, he entered Plekhanov Institute of National Economy in Moscow, where he also completed his Ph. D. degree in Economics. Among his teachers was Academician Leonid Abalkin. Between 1976 and 1989, Yavlinsky occupied a number of research and managerial positions at the Institute of Coal Industry Management, the Research Institute of Labour, and the USSR State Committee for Labour and Social Issues. He is married with two sons.

Gorbachev's perestroika opened a period of promises and downfalls in Yavlinsky's career. He proved himself a talented economist but the scope of his activities has remained below his potential. In 1991, after the failure of his "Five Hundred Days" program, Yavlinsky worked as an economic advisor to the chairman of the RSFSR Council of Ministers, and was a member of the Supreme Economic Council of Kazakhstan. Since January 1991, he has headed EPICenter, the Center of Political and Economic Research, an independent academic institute in Moscow. In 1991 Yavlinsky put together an ambitious reform plan with Graham Allison of Harvard University, the "Grand Bargain", which posited Western aid in return for Moscow implementing radical market reform.

Following the August 1991 coup, Yavlinsky was appointed deputy chairman of the Committee for Operational Management of the Soviet Economy. It seemed that fate had provided Yavlinsky with a second chance to implement reforms aimed at bringing about democracy and market reform. Yavlinsky worked on the reform program "Chance" and on a new economic cooperation treaty between the republics which made up the Soviet Union. However, this attempt also ended in failure, since Yavlinsky had lined up with the organs trying to keep afloat a USSR-wide federation. In December 1991 the USSR quietly died, and power shifted to the republican governments. Yegor Gaidar became the head of the Russian Cabinet of reform, in which there was no place for Yavlinsky.

Unwelcome in Moscow, Yavlinsky turned to the periphery. In 1992, he became an economic advisor to Boris Nemtsov, the governor of Nizhni Novgorod province. Over the summer of 1992 Yavlinsky and his team worked out the strategy and tactics of economic reform in the region. The program has proved successful - Yavlinsky's first large-scale project which he has seen through to fruition. The Nizhni accomplishments brought Nemtsov national and international recognition as the leading Russian reformer in the provinces, and allowed Yavlinsky to create a solid platform for a new attack on the center. Already by the fall of 1992 Yavlinsky seemed to be positioning himself as a presidential candidate, using the EPICenter institute as his political base. In October 1993 he formed the electoral bloc "Yavlinsky-Boldyrev-Lukin" (Yabloko), with former US Ambassador Vladimir Lukin and former Yeltsin aide Yuri Boldyrev. (The latter quit the bloc recently.) The bloc included various small political parties. Yabloko won 8% of the vote in the December 12, 1993 election, and gained 27 seats in the Duma. Yavlinsky heads the Yabloko deputies' fraction in the Duma, and has emerged as a resolute critic of Yeltsin's policies. Yabloko reportedly has close ties with new commercial organizations including Most Group and Menatep Bank.

Yavlinsky is usually counted among the "liberal marketeers" - proponents of market-oriented economy, such as Yegor Gaidar, Konstantin Borovoi, Sergei Shakhrai, and Gavriil Popov. Nevertheless, Yavlinsky has consistently opposed Gaidar, arguing that his focus on monetary instruments was ill-conceived and would not work in Russia, given the absence of a reliable currency and a functioning financial system. At times, he has been particularly sharp, accusing Gaidar and his team of cynicism, indifference to their country, and arrogance. Yavlinsky has maintained that their reforms worked to the benefit of a minority and created a system of nomenklatura democracy. Yavlinsky's main intention has been to prove that the prospects of Russia's development are not limited to the sole dilemma, the reforms of Gaidar or the restoration of communism, and that there could and should be an alternative to the current government's line. A separate privatization program for Moscow and the Nizhnii Novgorod experiment, both the creations of Yavlinsky, were intended to demonstrate that such an alternative is already there.

A highly qualified economist, Yavlinsky is also a skilful polemicist who has a refined sense of humour and a remarkable talent to strengthen his arguments by vivid metaphors. Having lived through a series of failures, he became, perhaps, less charming and more rigid in his style, but he is undoubtedly a charismatic leader. His charisma is based on his image of an "honest and decent" politician who heads a democratic opposition to a pseudo-democratic regime. The deficiencies of that image could emerge as the continuation of its strong sides: it may appear that Yavlinsky is a little too idealistic, a little too educated, and a little too honest to be a real politician. Then, the love of his supporters would remain platonic and his high popularity rating would not transform into an adequate number of votes.

Last year, he dismissed criticism of other democrats by saying, ``I can't just campaign for intellectuals sitting around the kitchen table in Moscow. I listen to them, but I don't always take their advice, so they call me arrogant.''

Currently, Yavlinsky seems to have found a framework for his political credo as he has emphasised a direct link between the economic reform and the development of a "new federalism" for Russia. In his view, Russia should be revived "from below", by the way of horizontal integration of regions whose economies are interdependent. He has formulated an idea of the "nuclei of crystallisation", that is, the emergence of the regions which would lead the process of reforms. Economic coordination with the former Soviet Republics has also been part of Yavlinsky's platform.

Grigory Yavlinsky presented his electoral program at a meeting in Moscow on 5 December. He said that reducing Russia's dependence on exports of raw materials is his first priority, NTV reported on 5 December. His other goals are to correct the errors in privatization, to revive the Far East, and to rebuild ties with the CIS. "The present government and president are not only unable to solve these problems, they are not even able to identify them," he said. Yavlinsky confirmed that in contrast to other parties, Yabloko is not using its leader's face in its campaign advertising. Yavlinsky told Interfax on 4 December that he intended to use a strong showing in the Duma elections as "a springboard to win the presidential ones." He expected only three forces to emerge from the Duma elections: the present government, the Communists, and himself as the only viable democratic alternative.

Yabloko won 6.89% of the Duma party list vote and 45 Duma seats (10%) in the December, 1995, parliamentary elections. On January 27, 1996, Yabloko nominated Grigory Yavlinsky as its presidential candidate.

On February 28, Konstantin Borovoi's Party of Economic Freedom announced that it would support Grigory Yavlinsky in the presidential campaign.

On March 30, the Yabloko party started a series of demonstrations around Russia against the Chechnya war.

On April 15, Yavlinsky gave an interview, in which he urged Yeltsin to drop out of the race. ``Opinion polls are saying Yeltsin can't win in the second round. That's why I'm trying to make a democratic coalition in order to be in the second round and to win,'' he said. ``A fresh democratic candidate -- that's absolutely essential in order to win the race,'' said the unsmiling Yavlinsky, dark curls bouncing with emotion and leaving no doubt who he means. ``The problem with Zyuganov is that it's absolutely unpredictable what those guys are going to do. The problem with Yeltsin is that...if he continues four years more we would really have an oligarchic, over-monopolistic, criminal state covered with the mafia.'' ``Only a new generation of Russian politicians can be strong enough to preserve human rights, democracy and the future of the country.''

Yavlinsky pledges to complete the halting shift to a market economy by breaking up cosy monopolies run by businessmen close to the administration and reinforcing private property rights. Raising taxes on rich oil and gas firms, halting the costly war in Chechnya, slashing bureaucracy and encouraging Russians to stop sending their savings abroad would provide cash to help the poor who are turning to communism, Yavlinsky says.

Halting the war in Chechnya may be the most eye-catching plank of his manifesto. Yavlinsky would simply grant the Chechens full independence if they voted for secession. He dismissed the chances of Yeltsin, who sent the army in in the first place, succeeding in his latest bid to restore peace. ``They're not going to talk to him. He has no idea how to speak to the Chechen people after 70,000 people have been killed,'' Yavlinsky said. ``Only a new president can end the war.''

Grigory Yavlinsky was officially registered on April 19. His initiative group turned in 3,003,364 signatures.

On May 7, Yavlinsky downplayed the possibility of an alliance with Boris Yeltsin, saying that the two had to resolve numerous difficult problems, including Chechnya, economic and social policy, and most importantly, personnel questions. However, on May 8 he said that he was willing to discuss with Yeltsin the possibility of "uniting the democratic candidates". Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov said that the negotiations "are not a surprise" and that they will end Yavlinsky's career since people will cease to trust him. However, a widely discussed deal where Yavlinsky would be offered the Prime Minister position is virtually impossible, because the State Duma would never approve his candidacy. Also, the support of Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and his Our Home is Russia party has been essential for Yeltsin's campaign.

Grigory Yavlinsky made public his campaign program "I choose freedom" on May 12, laying out plans for the first 730 days of his presidency if he is elected. He plans to stop the Chechen war within the first 100 days, and will take measures to halt the implementation of President Yeltsin's plans to rebuild the Chechen economy. Instead, he plans to organize the relocation of all who want to leave the republic. Chechnya's status will be decided by a referendum. Between November 1996 and April 1997, he plans to increase the minimum wage three times, average government salaries two times, average pensions and stipends two times, and aid for children five times. In later months, he would carry out tax, bank, and land reforms, full economic union with the other CIS countries, put a halt to inflation and increase production. Basing his estimates on the experience of "economic miracles" of countries like Germany, Japan, and South Korea, he claimed that prosperity would only come in 10-15 years.

On May 25, Grigory Yavlinsky announced that his negotiations with President Yeltsin will not resume until after the first round of the elections. Not surprisingly, Yeltsin failed to meet Yavlinsky's conditions outlined in the document you may read here in English or in Russian (KOI-8). The document is a letter by Grigory Yavlinsky. He gave it to President Yeltsin on May 16, 1996. The document set forth the conditions on which Yavlinsky would agree to form an aliance with Yeltsin. The Russian version of the document was first published by Izvestia.

Yavlinsky came fourth in the first round (7%) and is, therefore, out of the race.


Materials by Elena Chinayeva and Peter Rutland of Open Media Research Institute.

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