Photo by RIAN
Dmitry Muratov: A protest rally is scheduled for the 24th. Why do you think people are going?
Mikhail Gorbachev: I wanted to be the first to ask you that.
D.M: I can say that our whole editorial board went to the protest at Bolotnaya Square, and our one wish, as I see it, is to show that we are people, we cannot be manipulated, and that we represent modern Russia. This is what people are going to the protest for. They are going for their own freedom; the rally is a place for people to declare what they stand for and have themselves be heard, rather than just sit in the kitchen whispering about freedom.
Gorbachev: I admire the Russian people's stance, and I am confident that this time around the authorities won't intimidate us.
D.M.: Wouldn't you say that society has had a change in attitude? The repulsiveness has gone away.
Gorbachev: Yes, the attitude has changed and society is getting out of its funk, so all this time didn't go to waste! We were cursed, castigated and torn to pieces for Perestroika. Now, however, the link with everything that we selflessly began, the reason we took the risk we took, is making a recovery. Freedom and personal honour is what we wanted. Far from everything worked out; we weren't able to complete Perestroika. Now, though, I am amazed by what's most important...
D.M.: That Russians can have a “freedom gene”? One that was planted and now, a generation later, has sprung up?
I was amazed on 10 December at Bolotnaya Square at how the people, 100 thousand of them, when they left the grounds, cleaned up their trash. Clean!
There were some small attempts to instigate violence, but they didn't work! This, incidentally, needs to be kept in mind for the future! There could be subsequent attempts to instigate disorder, and more substantial ones at that.
D.M.: Do you think that there will be efforts to instigate disorder on Saturday, 24 December?
Gorbachev: Yes, I think so, because a lot of people don't like it when the public raises its voice.
D.M.: Mr Gorbachev, you were the first to say that the election results need to be thrown out. Is this still the same rallying call?
Gorbachev: I'm still taken aback by what happened. I followed the events on 4 December during the day and into the night. I listened to all the information coming in from all sides, and saw how they rigged the voting process. The authorities stole the people's right to choose. Then, the “wizard” suddenly appears. I am referring to the chairman of the elections commission.
D.M.: The Internet has labelled him Churdini...
Gorbachev: He kept on saying that we are going to have “the fairest elections”. He was convincing himself of this and forced it upon the public. I think he flummoxed even the president.
D.M.: That's to say that Churov is the axe that plunked itself under Medvedev's compass? He threw the president off course...
Gorbachev: You're asking such difficult questions! I don't think he knew everything. He still doesn't have the required experience to know everything. He needs to get those bumps, bruises, and even lumps, to understand how it's all done. What words did he use exactly?
D.M.: He congratulated United Russia on having won a place in the parliament.
Gorbachev: What's more, he told the media, “I don't have any remarks or doubts about the elections.” This is what, I think, put an end to Medvedev.
D.M.: It’s too bad.
Gorbachev: I think so too. He just needed more time, whereas now he’s in a tough spot; people are mocking him. Well, he needs to tough it out.
D.M.: Going back to the call to annul the elections, is it going to keep being made or is throwing them out already unrealistic?
Gorbachev: It’s not going anywhere! How can you just leave this kind of Duma in place for the coming five years during such a difficult, historic time? The people need to be told the truth, because you cannot build relations on a lie! Solzhenitsyn was right: “You cannot build the future on a lie.”
D.M.: Medvedev said that he is satisfied with the election results, while Putin stated that annulling them won’t be even discussed. This isn’t something that is decided during protests or on the Internet. So then whom is to be given Bolotnaya Square’s ultimatum to throw out the elections?
Gorbachev: The authorities.
D.M.: I was present when you told Novaya Gazeta and said on Echo of Moscow that the authorities should initiate throwing out the elections. But the authorities have refused to take the initiative. So what now?
Gorbachev: Frankly speaking, I was looking for a formula to “give them an initiative” for annulling the elections. Let them do this themselves!
D.M.: But they refused to. A two-week deadline that the Bolotnaya Square protest rally gave them has expired. So now you are suggesting that we should appeal to the authorities again?
Gorbachev: I still haven’t suggested anything. We haven’t got to that yet. First, these two weeks, from the 10th to the 24th, are a time for drawing a lot of lessons…
D.M.: What lessons?
Gorbachev: About the country, the authorities, the public, etc. The public has begun to renew itself, to change! The public voice has roared!
D.M.: I am proud, for example, of what I saw at Bolotnaya Square. Oh, the people’s faces! I recognise them as our readers. I was happy.
Gorbachev: We saw our country, our people. Again, it was said that we cannot go on like this any longer, with the people being shoved away from the fate of the country because it “cannot do anything.”
D.M.: Well, Stanislav Govorukhin, as I see, can go on like this. He was tapped to head Putin’s election campaign.
Gorbachev: And I find that deplorable. I don’t just respect him, I love him. Let him figure it out himself.
D.M.: All in all, what do you think people should do on 24 December?
Gorbachev: I think the most important thing is that we must link this to the presidential campaign.
D.M.: In other words, link the demand to throw out the State Duma election results with the upcoming presidential election campaign?
Gorbachev: I’ll explain: we can trust our votes only with candidates who will bring up the issue of annulling the elections.
D.M.: “Bring up” or annul them?
Gorbachev: Annul them! They will take on the obligation to throw out these election results.
D.M.: I have another question: who are the people who will come on 24 December to Prospekt Sakharova. Besides their being free people who love their country and who came to the protest for their country, who are they for you?
Gorbachev: They are new generations. They are voters. They are already a powerful civil alliance of voters!
D.M.: Social networks, like Facebook, are voting to choose the speakers for the 24 December protest, and people aren’t picking those currently in power or people from the opposition. Internet users prefer Leonid Parfyonov, Boris Akunin, Yury Shevchuk, etc. In other words, they are picking non-politicians instead of politicians. The people don’t trust any of the politicians, and not just those in the ruling party. Why?
Gorbachev: Because a lot of politicians don’t want to hear the people. For example, Gennady Zyuganov calls the protesters “an orange infection”. He claims that the non-systemic opposition is gunning for something and that it shouldn’t be paid attention to at all. He’s taken his seat in the Duma, while others are “non-systemic”. That’s where the mistrust comes from.
Putin’s call-in show after the Bolotnaya Square protest is another example. The whole thing was held to warp people’s minds. It was offensive and shameful, including for me. I used to feel connected to Putin in the sense that when he first came to power, I was an active supporter of him both at home and abroad… Now what?
D.M.: The authorities are making it clear to the protest organisers, social activists and newspaper editors that “if blood is spilled, then the opposition will be at fault.” It’s as if people took the square not because of the authorities’ manipulations…
Gorbachev: The government’s objective is to keep the people safe! The people have started to personally take part in important state affairs. This is their right. Protect them!
D.M.: A protest will be held on Saturday. The New Year’s holiday will begin and people are going to go off on vacation. Holiday trees, presents, hangovers… Then what? Should this Saturday’s protest create some kind of organisational, permanent authority?
Gorbachev: All even say that doing so is necessary! The ad hoc organisational committee founders are capable of leading it.
D.M.: Will they have a falling out with each other, Mr Gorbachev?
Gorbachev: They haven’t so far. This could be the beginning of when democrats will come to terms with each other. What we are seeing is a situation where other things are going to be popping up: our bonds to old, strictly ideological things are going to come to an end, and elections will be a central issue. No matter how you approach it, this is an extremely important issue for the entire country.
D.M.: The authorities are saying that free elections would bring either the communists or the nationalists to power. And then you’ll understand that our government was much better. That’s their logic.
Gorbachev: Any country, any society has nationalists. I think that level-headed nationalists’ feelings of unrest are feelings that should just be expressed in a different public atmosphere.
D.M.: Do you know any people like that, level-headed nationalists? I don’t.
Gorbachev: A level-headed nationalist in Russia is someone whose heart aches for his people, but at the same time realises that Russia is a country of the worlds, a country of cultures. It is a convoluted country and a complex society that has taken shape over centuries. Incidentally, this society has survived and grown.
D.M.: As I see it, nationalists today are the people who murdered our journalist Nastya Baburova and the attorney Stanislav Markelov, the people who kill Tajiks and guest workers. That’s who they are.
Gorbachev: I don’t agree with you that those types of people are nationalists. They are criminals.
D.M.: Still, the authorities are using scare tactics: if they and their so called stability in the country, fall, then either the communists or nationalists will come to power.
Gorbachev: They are shoving the same alternative down our throats as they did in 1996: “Vote for Yeltsin or the communists will take power!”
D.M.: Would it be better if the communists had come to power?
Gorbachev: They were forcing this game on us and now they want to use it again. This is a deceitful choice! Having fair elections means that there is no need to be afraid of the results, because fair elections provide for a change in power.
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D.M.: What must happen at the protest on 24 December?
Gorbachev: First, on this day we should confirm the slogan “For New, Free and Fair Elections!”. The criteria for supporting a candidate for president should be that he or she agrees with this slogan. Second, on this day a new organising committee of the Voters of Russia must be formed, and a day for the Congress of the Voters of Russia must be set. These will be people with various different political views, but at the same time with one common value: the elections should be fair, the press should be free and the authorities should be under the public’s control.
D.M.: Mr Gorbachev, should people be afraid of the unpredictability of free elections or not?
Gorbachev: No, they shouldn’t be afraid. Neither should they be afraid to vote in the new elections after the rigged ones have been thrown out.