Interview with a man who was sentenced for life imprisonment and six more years.
The main shareholder and beneficiary of the YUKOS Oil Company, former rector of the Russian Humanities University, member of the Standing Committee of the Free Russia Forum, an Israeli citizen, Leonid Nevzlin, gave an interview to Natallia Radzina, editor-in-chief of Charter97.org.
- Leonid Borisovich, many famous people were born in Belarus, and lot of these people live in Israel. I know that the roots of your family are also from Belarus. Can you tell more about this for our readers?
- Once I became interested in my roots and, because I had such an opportunity, I contacted specialists from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. There is a research centre there, which I organized back in 2003, before leaving Russia. This centre is engaged in historical research in Eastern European countries. Belarus is covered by this field of research. Genealogy specialists were involved and several expeditions were conducted – everything was going the way it should be.
As a result, a two-volume edition has been published, where the history of my family is intertwined with the history of the places from which they come from, with the history of Belarus. Since then, I began to feel a certain craving for these places. Certain sentiment to my origin, to a small homeland. Although I always had an interest in Belarus as from my childhood I heard about Belarus from my grandfathers and grandmothers who came from this country. They all, strangely enough, came from the same places: they are in the Vitebsk and Mogilev regions, in the vicinity of Dubrovno and Cherikov. All my relatives came from there, from different towns and villages.
Historically, almost all of them were Hasidic. The famous first Hasid Baal Shem Tov came from those places. He and me are not only fellow countrymen, but, according to the Jewish calendar, we were also born on the same day. This fact also ties me with these places.
In this book there are a lot of materials of my family's history and I'm going to continue to dig into it. I am planning to do research on these places and numerous birthplaces. Indeed, all the great people came from there. I'm not talking about myself. I am talking about a great number of people from Belarus whom I met in the world.
- Who exactly are you talking about?
- If it is possible, I will not mention the surnames, as this is not appropriate. But there are so many of such people living in Israel and in America that it's just not possible to name all of them. At one time, when I worked in the Federation Council of the Russian Federation and headed the Russian Jewish Congress, I often came to Washington. I came across people in the Senate and Congress, who turned out to be my fellow countrymen, and, but not necessarily - „Jewish Jews”. They were people of mixed blood; their ancestors came to America. And this as well has spurred my interest in Belarus.
Also, I want to tell you that these places are very important for me because of the Holocaust. Our numerous relatives split in two groups. A part of them evacuated like my grandfathers did. They were military men and took also my parents away, who were children at that time. And the other part of the relatives didn’t leave and was killed almost immediately when the Germans took these places. One of such numerous known cases is when they were driven into the synagogue and burned alive. Most of them were the elderly and children. Well, evacuation was also a hunger, a torment, especially in case of the relatives form my father’s side, because they went to the long-suffering Volga areas, where there was nothing to eat for several years. And all of this also affected the perception of people...
A lot of things about Belarus, in the sense of the exodus, are important for me and relate to me. Even my research centre at the Jewish University, which deals not only with Belarus, was created because I was always interested in this phenomenon, which you mentioned. Why there are so many geniuses coming from one country? From such a small country...
- And why is that? What is your opinion?
- There are many things. I think that Jews lived in Belarus in good and strong families; they were great artisans, good teachers. I mean, there was a good education, plus, of course, studying Torah and Talmud was training the brain. People for many years, for many generations have trained their brains. Then the revolution liberated the Jews from the Pale of Settlement, and they were able to make themselves in the centre of the empire. One part of my family was in Moscow, the other part - in St. Petersburg. They wanted to be the best in school, the best at work (I'm talking about my relatives).
All my ancestors were tailored to benefit the society. It was not a matter of career or earnings, but a matter of working for the benefit of the society, rightness and soundness of which most of them then believed in. Again, this is understandable. Because the revolution liberated them, it gave them the possibility to move and live anywhere on the territory of the Soviet Union.
It does not matter where they went: to America, Europe or Israel. I just think that Belarus was the right place for the exodus. We have very long stories; they are probably starting from the end of the XVIII century. I managed to find my ancestors only from the middle of the XIX century. I have found a man who is exactly our ancestor, but I didn’t find people who were before him. It is impossible to find, as there are no archives or evidence.
- You were the manager of the largest Russian company, the rector of one of the leading Russian universities, the head of one of the most famous news agencies. You live in different countries, you travel a lot and one can see that the range of your interests is not limited only to business. You philosophically look at the world. Such people are called „citizens of the world”. What do you think is happening now with this world?
- I will boast with one more thing. I was also a Jewish leader in Russia and I was a member of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, where for a couple of years I was a senator from Mordovia. I indeed have such a diverse experience. I also worked in the bank, in cooperatives, I went all the way hand in hand with Perestroika until 2003 and then continuing it outside of Russia and, really, I feel like a „citizen of the world”.
Twenty years ago, even less, in times of George Bush in the US and Tony Blair in England, it seemed to me that democracy confidently wins the world because it gives the best economic results for a person, and most importantly - the best freedom, the best development, the opportunity to emancipate, develop, create and so on. But at some point, and for some reason these values, at least in politics, were very quickly replaced by others. The idea of the primacy of human rights has gone. Less and less people are talking about human rights, and, while twenty years ago, dozens of reports on different countries, in different aspects, by different institutions and human rights organizations were published making great impressions, now - even when Freedom House or Amnesty International publish a report, there is no particular attention to it.
It seems to me that a certain substitution of goals and concepts has occurred. I will say very rudely: „God-creator” was changed to „God-money”. And politics has become a way for people to make money, and, in order to earn money and have power, one must try to stay as long as possible in their place and correspond as much as possible to what people want to hear from him. That means to be a populist.
Everything has become business. In former times it was believed that business, big money is also a symbol of power (through lobbying, corruption). But it was not considered that power is money. Although, of course, at those times there was corruption as well, but not on such a big scale as now. And now politicians realized that power plus money is stronger than money plus power. Many people went to politics precisely because of these reasons, because of money and power. At first, a huge number of talented people were attracted by business. And those who were not - I do not want to say that all of them - began to engage in politics like in business out of feelings of envy. And then you see: most politicians are populists, they change their opinion depending on what kind of reaction will follow their actions or words.
In democratic countries, the opinion of constituencies is important, one must be a populist to have enough people who will vote for them. In countries with dictatorships or totalitarian regimes, this would seem to be less important. Well, of course it has some importance, as support still should be present, otherwise even in dictatorships it would be very difficult to „create” 100%. And now people, undemocratic in their nature and by education, lead the democratic countries. And what is happening in non-democratic countries - Erdogan, Putin, constitutional endorsement of the Chinese leader for life, the recent presentation of North Korea, which suddenly broke through to the high society with the help of America, is, of course, frustrating on the one hand. But on the other hand, we must think what to do next, because we are witnessing a time when democracy is weakening. And today America continues to be an economic and military leader, but nevertheless it is closely followed by China, a dictatorship that has enough satellites. Satellite here is used in the sense that China is a very powerful country - other countries of this type are much weaker and cannot claim leadership. I mean such countries as Russia, Iran, Turkey, some Latin American countries.
The world has split. It seems to me that perhaps we are paying for the mistakes, for the blinding light of the success. Perhaps the idea of nurturing the democracy to everyone played a bad trick, because not everywhere people were ready for democracy, „the Arab Spring” failed almost everywhere. People do not want to be imposed by other people's cultural codes and then they become even more vicious and aggressive, and this is recently happening with the Muslim world, which, by and large, is also not a partner of democracy.
- How do you assess the current situation in Russia?
- I hope I assess it sufficiently objective. Stable situation of decay, stagnation, double morality, terrible backwardness in technological development (apparently already irreplaceable), destroyed education, destroyed medicine, general kleptocracy and corruption, low morality. And most importantly - the same and even more than before, disrespect for human dignity. Tortures in Yaroslavl is a vivid example. People are treated as garbage!
The situation there is very bad, but, as I understand it, it suits most of the people. So far. Of course, there is insane propaganda, which, I think, cannot be stopped. It has reached insanity.
Although, I see now some trends, maybe this is due to the „pension reform” and the unsuccessful preparation for its holding. People stop believing. The fact that Putin's rating is declining and will decline is evident, and soon he will not have such massive support. But I also noticed that critical notes began to appear even in the „positive” media, for example, in the newspapers. Basically, this is due to corruption. Although, of course, it is not written about what is happening to human rights, about the fact that repressive laws have been introduced, that several articles are being used for rapid mass arrests and sentences (not yet in the old form of the NKVD, but everything goes quietly there).
Nevertheless, if we talk about economy and corruption, previously this could not take place at all. Moreover, some „talking heads” suddenly began to talk about „thievish” state, about „terrible” corruption and so on, although they are not angels themselves. Something is happening. I do not want to say that this is a turning point, this word is too serious, but the transition process in Russia has begun, I feel it. It is not yet predictable what will happen there.
- Do you have a forecast regarding the situation with the war of Russia against Ukraine?
- Forecast? Oh no! Making forecasts is futile. I understand that Putin wants to get out of this situation with the least moral loss, but it's not so simple. From my point of view, so far everything remains at the same level and does not develop for the worse. Neither side is interested in escalating the conflict. Especially because this conflict already took and is still taking people’s lives.
I do not know, frankly speaking, how they will leave Ukraine. I'm not talking about the Crimea, as it is clear that they will not leave this area at all. But I do not know what will happen in the south-east areas. If they leave this territory, Ukraine may regain control there. And then, naturally, there will be many arrests, authorities’ assignments and so on. Therefore, most likely, Putin cannot leave, so as not to betray „his own” people. Otherwise the “noise” will be strong. Again, former supporters, especially those who were aggressive and who were ardent pro-Donbass, are criticising Putin’s regime, because they were expecting another development of events - establishment of control and annexation. There are no special friends either among them.
- Many leaders of the Belarusian opposition went through prisons and colonies. The Russian so-called court sentenced you to life imprisonment. How does the life with such a sentence look like?
- It is impossible to imagine that such a verdict would have been received not in Russia, but in a normal country, with normal justice. Lawyers say that students of law schools will have my case as an example of unfair justice.
Honestly, I'm not very worried about this, because it does not affect anything anywhere. I have never heard even questions on this topic in the West, there were no doubts. Although I have been in different situations, I never had to explain, justify, or prove anything. I understand that this accusation, this sentence does not exist in the minds of people. In principle, Interpol and some courts, including the High Court of Justice of Israel, have expressed their opinions in this matter. I hope, one day the European Court will also say a word about my case, but so far they do not hurry. Nevertheless, my case is a just copy of Alexey Pichugin's case, with my name added. And European Court of Justice expressed its opinion of justice in relations to Pichugin’s case - so I hope that this is sufficient reason to feel confident in this respect.
I still have a sentence of 6 years for „stealing” shares of the Eastern Oil Company. I want to look into the eyes of the people who accused me of this and sentenced me. I just do not know how it could have been done. It is not supported by the materials of the case. There is nothing in the materials that denounces me of involvement in any actions with the Eastern Oil Company.
Same situation is, incidentally, in the cases of murders: they just put my name there, and then just needed to create some evidence. One cannot just write everything they want, fabricate, falsify, just by basing on the testimony of criminals sitting in prisons for different reasons. No normal witnesses, no proof. In all cases, it is just written „unidentified people in an unidentified place ...”. This is how my cases look like.
- Many Russian businessmen were raided by the authorities. In contrast to them, you have been resisting for already 15 years. Do you believe in victory?
- I do not suffer from a syndrome of a complainant. I just want justice, first of all for Alexey Pichugin, who has been kept in prison for 15 years on a fabricated charge. This is an innocent person, considered by almost all human rights organizations either as a prisoner of conscience or as a political prisoner. How can I not look for ways to achieve justice? I do not have any opportunities to achieve justice without the fact that we will receive one or another judicial decision and will try to implement them. Without this they will not notice us, because we do not seriously interfere with them.
Once it was a huge deal. But even now it is quite an important matter both politically and economically. Since then, these people have stolen so many tens and hundreds of billions of dollars that they could have paid of their own pocket for YUKOS and left people alone. But for some reason, they do not want to do so.
- Recently you became member of the Standing Committee of the Free Russia Forum. It was unexpected. In the minds of people, you remain a businessman and the main shareholder of YUKOS. Why did you take such decision?
- You know, in such a big company as YUKOS, not all the people are businessmen. In a very large company, there are many officials, not businessmen. It's just such a perception. At one time, YUKOS was just a piece of the Ministry of Oil Industry, and at that time absolutely no one was a businessman. Since I dealt mainly with PR and similar issues, then, of course, I'm not a businessman, I just worked in business as a manager in one of the important areas.
Why did I join the Standing Committee? I am a man of quite definite views that I promote for a long time. These views came to me with Perestroika. I believe in liberalism and liberal democracy and I want and need to have like-minded people. My friend and former senior business partner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, turned to public activities. Garry Kasparov was and is actively engaged in public and political activities, same was with Boris Nemtsov, and I can name many others. This is my environment, my friends, like-minded people and I want to be among them, to help them. I do not pursue any goals other than those I said. Personally, I do not see myself in Russia, but I want to help people there live a normal life and I do it.
- In one of the interviews you told that even before the crush of YUKOS these people wanted to leave the business and engage in public activity. Many Western billionaires are engaged in socially important projects, but in Russia, in the late 1990s, it was not typical.
- I roughly knew my strengths and weaknesses. I did not seek publicity or political recognition. I just wanted to do social work, project management. I liked it. Once, in the old „Open Russia”, in the early 2000s, when everything was fine, Khodorkovsky suggested me to engage in the project of Internet education, one of the first large projects of the foundation. I received tremendous pleasure from new people, ideas and most importantly - from how well this project went, how it developed, how it was accurately designed. By the way, many of the projects initiated by Khodorkovsky are still functioning well. Well, how wonderful is it, under the current conditions?
Then I had an aggravation of opposition activities related to the arrest of Mikhail and after his arrest. Naturally, I emotionally could not reconcile with this and I tried to fight for him and for all of us in every possible way. That's how I got to the Forum of Free Russia.
Perhaps, I will say this for the first time. I'm a non-conflicting person. Of course, there are objective and there are subjective. I do not like the subjective conflicts associated with personalities, with the ego. I do not like the fact that the weakening Russian opposition in the years that I participate in it is not subjected to normal healthy pragmatism. People have relations with each other even worse than with political enemies. Just like Muslims - Shiites and Sunnis. Sometimes it seems that they hate each other more than they hate Jews.
It seems to me that I could get different forces to contractual positions, to the possibility of negotiating. The authorities are very good at using the fact that everyone sees themselves as an absolute leader, a future president, although it looks ridiculous. The weak opposition is already crumbling.
By the way, Nemtsov, Kasparov, Ryzhkov, Navalny and many others tried to go together, but against the regime and for real democracy. It does not matter who you are, a Social Democrat, a nationalist, a liberal or even a libertarian, but if you are for elections and democracy and against what is being built in Russia, then, in principle, you can act together. This is not a fashionable idea, I understand. But it seems to me that implementation of exactly this idea led to a serious result. I mean in 2012, the mood of people, the Bolotnaya Square. On the other hand, this forced the authorities to think about the need for a more rigid approach: and then people could not stay together, and the government became tougher, it became unsafe to go out, and everyone had children, families, work. Many people have left and continue to leave.
But nevertheless, it does not matter to me where the people who are concerned with Russia are. Whether they are in Russia or not in Russia – does not matter. I do not understand this conflict between emigrants and those who stayed in Russia. Although this conflict exists. „You do not understand anything, because you have not been here for long” - „But you do not understand anything, because you are under such oppression of propaganda”. Both versions are right, unfortunately. The word „nothing” should be replaced with „there is something that we do not understand, and something that you do not understand” and translate it into a form of dialogue. This is what I would like to do. And I liked the idea of the latest Forum, where I was elected to the Standing Committee - I would like to try to include other people. In part, this has already worked out and, I think, it will continue to succeed. We will be working on it.
- Tell me, why do most of the Russian democrats are so imperialistic?
- Imperialists? There is a word „statesmen”. We have one „statesmen”. Of course, it is a big problem. With the mother's milk, as they say, it is absorbed that Russia, the successor to the Soviet Union, is a superpower, united country. That any fragmentation of the territory is a terrible loss of everything. At one time, even Putin's ideology was built on the fact that he was holding the country from collapse. And under this ideology, he made the pro-presidential constitution super-presidential. Elections in the regions were crippled.
This is present, you are right. This is something genetic and it is impossible to change this perception. I remember how the question of Chechnya was discussed, under Jokhar Dudayev. It was said that if you release and autonomize Chechnya, then Tatarstan, Bashkiria and so on will follow. And what will happen next? The roads, the gas pipelines, the oil pipelines run there. How will this all work? They did not understand that it could have been done on a contractual basis. On a contract basis? They all have in their heads this federal model, where everything is decided in Moscow and then goes down the hierarchy with a decrease in authority, money and so on. If you are talking about this imperial model.
If you are talking about other countries, former Soviet republics, then it seems to me that there is an understanding in the minds of normal people that this is not Russia. The Crimea is connected to the past. But I do not think that normal people consider Ukraine or Belarus to be parts of Russia. I did not hear about it. In this sense, I do not feel imperialism. There are people in power, but they are not the best people.
As for the transformation of Russia itself into a certain confederation, this cannot even be mentioned. Just everyone will tear apart, both Democrats and non-Democrats. Although I believe that the weakening of federalism was one of the main tools of democracy, and the wrong decision to fight with Chechnya, of course, laid a mine in the future of Russia.
But your question, why they are like this ... I, honestly, did not think about this, maybe it is because of the education or traditions, I do not know. By the way, this was the card played by Putin - the alleged rise from his knees, some supposedly victories in international politics. This also works. In any case, from my point of view, he drew one more line inside.
With the Crimea it is clear how people split up, and now people are still divided in relations to the football championship. Among those people who stated that „Crimea – is not ours!”, there is already a certain part that believes that the World Cup on football has become an important event for the unification of the nation. Here, my thinking stops, and people positively discussed the results of this championship, which, from my point of view, just robbed pensioners. This is the Third Rome. There is no money for games, but they hold them.
Colossal money is stolen from the people by all means: wrong management, corruption, kleptocracy, mismanagement. What a huge supply of its raw materials and other resources Russia has, if it is so robbed? Russia was never grabbed at such a huge level it is grabbed now, it was never ruled in such a terrible way it is ruled now. But it still stands and still lives. It's just amazing.
To be honest, there is a certain circle of people who disappointed me in Russia very much. Some of them are called system liberals. Former liberals who successfully found their place in the current government, plus, so to speak, „family liberals” - the former „family” of Yeltsin. Of course, these people had nothing to do with the ideas of democracy. We thought that they were leaders, but they were fellow travellers, they thought only about their personal gain and power.
But on the other hand, where did the normal democrats come from in the Soviet Union? There was a layer of people with normal thinking. I mean the „sixtiers” - people who were dissidents at times of „Khrushchev Thaw” and after it. But they were already very old, unfortunately. Also, they had their own problems, they passed the Soviet-Brezhnev school, each of them had a fear of the KGB. But nevertheless, these people were in fact the real engine of perestroika, publicity for them was in the first place, and this is them who pulled Yeltsin. They made Yeltsin president, also because they believed that they should put as a leader someone from the apparatchiks, but who has oppositional views.
None of them, although they were about the same age, did not want to take responsibility for the country. Neither group, nor individual responsibility. Remember, as Gavriil Kharitonovich Popov said: „I went to the mayor, a year later left the post”. Popov put Yury Mikhailovich Luzhkov in his place. Even the best of them had a craving for the Soviet establishment. Or was this fear or respect?
I assure you that those days they could choose not Yeltsin, but another person, and everything could go differently. But it's a matter of past. Nevertheless, these people played a huge role, a few things that were done then laid the foundation. Primarily, of course, this is publicity. The freedom of the media, which these people opened to us and which Boris Nikolayevich almost did not close, was, of course, a great achievement that allowed us to create a working mood, to build business and democracy. „Soviet Union” won at this stage.
- Now you say that you feel more like an Israeli than a Russian. And in one of the interviews you called yourself a leader of the Jewish people. What does it mean to be such a leader?
- The „leader of the Jewish people” means „one of the leaders” of course. I consider myself to be one of the leaders. For me it is, first of all, to be a Zionist. On the other hand, I am a moderate Zionist, I recognize the right and desire of Jews to live anywhere, better in democratic countries, because the probability of future pogroms and persecutions is lower there than in totalitarian regimes.
But in fact, being a leader is simply creating projects and initiatives that unite people, direct their volunteer and professional efforts with the aim to achieve some important goals for the nation. This always characterised our people. There have always been enough people who have their ideas and who want to implement these ideas, ignite others by energy, investments, all sorts of other social forms of activity - creation of funds, participation in partner projects of various types. And I and members of my family participated and participate in many projects of the Jewish people.
We have such a basic idea - the idea of two words that are not translated into Russian. This is identity and peoplehood, that is, something individual. A person must know exactly who he is in this world. And the fact that I am a Jew, a Zionist, a nationalist, if you like, an Israeli, I am both a liberal and a democrat. First, it does not contradict anything, including the idea of a global peace, which has also been drowned in recent times.
- Nathan Sharansky also has a book about this - „ID”.
- Yes. We recently talked about this with Nathan. And he did correctly that he decided to write it, but his goal was to show that the national identity does not contradict democracy, that one can simultaneously live in a democratic state, and consider himself a representative of one nationality, even being a nationalist in some sense. All the time I'm afraid not to be confused with the chauvinist or with something so different. I, naturally, do not think about chosenness by God or any other things. No. I just think that at the same time there is a person and there is a collective person - nation.
There are many common things, even outside of religion, that unite our efforts to change the world for the better. I have always believed and believe that the Jews came to this world because of the idea of Tikun Olam. I would also like to change this world so that it gets better and better in every period.
And regarding the concrete cases, our biggest project is a project of a museum in Israel. There is a research centre at the Hebrew University, I mentioned it above. There is cooperation with many academic institutions, with Jewish and international organizations. It is exclusively social activity aimed at maintaining the spirit of the people. And of course, I am interested in the history of the Holocaust, which, as you know, has been poorly researched since it is very difficult to find the truth in history, especially on the territory of the former USSR. Plus, I'm very interested in topics related to Gulag and the Stalin period, so I try to participate in these projects.
I know one thing: Jews have always lived normally in developed democracies and have always lived badly in the opposite case. In one of such countries they even came to the „final solution of the Jewish question”. I really do not want such ideas to be repeated one day. But such ideas live in people. The level of anti-Semitism, unfortunately, has been growing lately. I tell you this as a person who reads comments in the Internet.
- But life in Israel is also not very safe: constant missile strikes from the Gaza Strip, a threat from Syria and Iran. Do you feel safe?
- We begin to think about this when the physical danger, the threat is very close. There was the Second Lebanon War, there were serious attacks from Gaza, these 15 years we had to live under fire. But still we believe in our army and we love our army. Both the state and people invest a huge amount of money in the army and serve in it as an honour, not just as an obligation.
The army is very professional, technological institutes are very well developed, and people who leave the army are ready for a serious life, for business, for example, especially in the field of technology. This makes me happy. The army, intelligence, counterintelligence is what the state spares no expense.
There is a threat from Iran. Naturally, this country, if it has an opportunity, will destroy us with pleasure. This country finances Hezbollah, which was creating a disgrace here, Hamas, which is now mainly concentrated in the Gaza Strip. Syria has simply become the arena of a clash of all interests. And, of course, „on the back of Putin”, the Iranians returned there. This, of course, does not make anyone happy, but worried.
In this sense, you are right. Despite all the assurances given by our prime minister, by Trump and Putin, about attention to the security of Israel, the citizens of Israel are worried about the possibility of Iranian forces near our borders. And few people believe in peaceful coexistence with Iran, even those who say that a good treaty has been reached with them and that the IAEA verifies them that they do not create weapons. By the way, do you know that Syria attempted to build reactors for enriching uranium, which Israel was destroying?
But I say once again, as long as there is a firm position of the leadership and the army on the force response to the attack, we feel normal, calm. But everything can change.
- By the way, how do you explain this phenomenon? Belarusians have lived for 70 years with the idea „everything but the war” and at the same time, many people, including those from the same Belarus, leave for Israel, where there is a constant war and there is a threat of terrorism.
- The views on Israel from the outside and from the inside are different. Sometimes it seems that Israel is the safest place to live precisely because here the special services and the army are set for constant increased attention. Here, people walk freely, including at night, including children. We do not have the feeling that we are at war. We live a peaceful and good life.
I think it is logical if we talk about Belarusians who come before the army age and go to serve in Israeli army. Even if we do not talk about Zionist ideas, it's just honourable to serve in the Israeli army, maybe it's unsafe if there are any military actions, but in any case, there is no hazing and rudeness. This is a normal organization that normally treats a person and it is better to serve in the Israeli army than in the Russian or Belarusian army.
People come here as tourists, and then they want to live here, or they often come here. So it is happening. Probably, the atmosphere here is good. People are sufficiently benevolent, in the summer it is hot, yes, but everything is normal. Cannot be compared with the Russian atmosphere, about the Belarusian atmosphere I cannot say as I have not been there. But there is absolutely no comparison with the Russian army. There is no misanthropy. There are a lot of disagreements, up to the fights, associated with religion or politics. But in real life a person is not an enemy at all, and every citizen is a friend. Politics spoil everything, but it's okay. It's everywhere like this.
- You often get interviewed and asked all the time about YUKOS. But I would like to know more about what kind of person you are. What is the most important thing in your life?
- If we talk about my day-to-day life, the usual daily life is, of course, my family, my children, my wife, my parents, my numerous loved relatives, friends, who are for me like a family. This is the most important thing for me. I want them to live well, I want them to be the best versions of themselves – for example, my children – they study and self-fulfil. I want that everyone was interested in living and that they were just happy. This is the biggest part of my happiness.
In addition to everything else, I suffer from different liberal complexes and I want to improve this world and, perhaps, the most important idea for me is a humanistic idea. It is very unpopular. But I consider myself a humanist and I want to, I try to instil this with other people, and this includes freedoms, rights, liberal thinking, which is unpopular. And this is probably the most important thing. But the largest base part is Israel as a country and as a nation. I feel like one of my older relatives in my big family. I even feel some responsibility. I mean, for the people. And I like it.
It happened so that during my whole life I have resources, both energy and material, and I try to help people, do them well, develop someone, treat someone. Naturally, I cannot extend my efforts to many people, but, nevertheless, I'm always busy with it. I try to be useful, because I feel a large reserve of resources in myself, which must be shared. It is interesting for me to live.
- Are there people you would call your teachers?
- Teachers? Not in the literal sense, but in the figurative? Because if you asked if there are ideals, then there are none. But, most probably, I feel great respect for people from the past who influenced me – for Andrei Sakharov, whom I did not know personally, but nevertheless, always followed, especially from the beginning of Perestroika. And the way he behaved, and the way other behaved towards him, and what he said, and what he wrote. Then I read what he had written before. He was a man of the XXII century.
Roginsky Arseny Borisovich, also not alive, unfortunately. Yuri Markovich Schmidt, also not alive, unfortunately. Reznik Henry Markovich, fortunately, alive and cheerful. Academician Yuri Afanasyev, he, unfortunately, does not live. Human rights activist Sergei Kovalev. Thank God, alive.
But without elements of sycophancy or flattery, I do not need this, I will say that most of all I learned from Mikhail Khodorkovsky, even though when we met he was younger for 4 years, that is, he was quite a kid. I appreciate the time spent with him, and the friendship with him, because I learned a lot from him, more than from anyone else. I was just lucky to meet him and become his friend. Therefore, I'm probably lucky to have received more from him than anyone else.
I met a lot of good, important, serious people who were my teachers. Someone I will not name intentionally.
If we talk about the family - grandpa is my favourite, of course. He was teaching me. And the grandmother, to be honest, but in other spheres. They are, of course, my teachers. And my parents are my teachers.
And there were also real teachers. Not many, but there were a few. And there were teachers at the institute, I even remember some of them. For example, the head of our department, Professor Shishkin. I studied automatic control systems, it was then a new specialty. He was an absolutely amazing scientist. And one assistant of the department (now, I think he is a professor) taught me, for example, logical thinking. How can this be forgotten? By the way, we had an amazing teacher in mathematical logic, a teacher of research on operations such as modelling. Everywhere there were serious teachers who taught me the system approach. But, frankly, no one has taught me more than Khodorkovsky.
Now I still have two young teachers - my daughter and my wife. It's still another generation, though not very young. I also learn a lot from them. Both Irina (daughter) and Tatiana (spouse) are very advanced intellectually and morally. I talk to them all the time. They say that I'm teaching them. In fact, maybe, on the contrary. In any case, I get from them a lot of things that I did not get from any other people before.
I had Jewish teachers. There was a chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, then he became an Israel's ambassador to the US - Salai Meridor - a terrific man, from whom I learned a lot. I learned a lot also from Nathan Sharansky, whom we mentioned before.
I almost forgot about my main teachers – Beatles: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, well, and Ringo Star. Their music, their poetry, their behaviour taught me a lot.
- Tell me, is it worth starting a good business if the forces are not equal and the victory is not obvious?
- You know, it depends on the person. We are all different. From my point of view, I am doing something, which is not rational, for example, fighting with Putin's regime. I do it due to the call of conscience. I simply believe that its existence is a great injustice to people around the world, because they now pose a threat not only to their populations. I cannot live peacefully, if I do not do anything with this.
I tried to stop doing it for a year, and even for two years. But how can one, who does not even know the statistics (and I know the statistics of crimes against children, crimes in families, which, by the way, in Russia were decriminalized), accept, for example, „Dima Yakovlev's law”? If I am not mistaken, in my opinion, in the first year about 80 children died, who should have travelled abroad instead, but did not travel because of the adoption of this law. As they cannot be cured in Russia.
In general, the easiest thing is to blame the people for being stupid, being slaves and so on and stop paying attention to them. On the other hand, they are living people and they are pitiful. And the fact that they do not understand something and choose Putin for themselves ... Let's explain them that it can be differently, that they have dignity, and they are also people, not slaves. I cannot look at this calmly.
By the way, this concerns not only Russia. The idea of media freedom is somehow dominant for me. When people talk about freedom, about rights and so on, the media should be put on the first place. This is my belief. Usually justice is put in the first place. But I just know from our history that everything begins and ends with the absolute freedom of the media. Media should be regulated only by a normal media law and nothing else. No intervention, no owners. But people do not believe in it. I see a conscious lack of media freedom. People, even ordinary consumers, often want to limit freedom of expression. I cannot be indifferent to this, I see these problems everywhere. In Russia, this is not a problem, but a tragedy. I know less about Belarus, but I guess the situation is similar. And in Israel, unfortunately, the government has recently been trying to restrict freedom of the media in one way or another and press the left-liberal media.
I put my efforts and money into this, and I think that there should be such media when there is a journalist and an editor and there is no one else. There is no publisher acting as an editor and there is no “proof-reader”. There is no possibility for an official or a politician to call someone and ask something to change. There is a law, it declares the rules of the game. Everyone must comply with this law. Therefore, if the media in which I am a shareholder will write something about me, there will be only one requirement - to comply with the law: for example, if someone lays some dirt on me, I would like to be asked about it too. And they can publish anything. No friends, no enemies, there is a free information space.
This is very important for me. Everything good began with the freedom of the media, and all the bad things started with the clamping of the media. And I feel my indirect involvement, especially in 1996, when major media in Russia moved into private hands, and then turned into satellites of the government. And Putin came, realizing that he had few tools, but most importantly he had television. Yumashev and Voloshin understood this even before him. And Putin was just instrumentally ready to finish building it. So, it happened like this.
- What question should a person ask himself during his life?
- I usually ask myself this question: how do I look in the eyes of others? I always try to look at myself from outside and ask myself: did I become a dogmatist in something, did I interact with people correctly? For me personally, it is important not to form the relationship „I'm the boss - you are shit”, as is customary in the Russian Federation.
I try to maintain an equal relationship with everyone, regardless of rank and position. This applies to ordinary people and to people of large ranks. That is, I do not look down and do not look up. I want to live the way I think is right. And all the time I ask myself: did I make a mistake? Roughly speaking, I control myself not to become a slave of my self-confidence.
I prefer to maintain some level of doubt or uncertainty and I always double-check myself. And the principle that is basic to me is the biblical principle. Do not wish to another what you do not want to be done to you.
In Russia they created an image of a certain „Doctor Evil” from me. And when people say bad things about me, I always try to understand „why? for what?”. And so far, I have not got an answer. Whether it's propaganda, or it's just disbelief. Most likely, it's just disbelief that a person truly lives like that, that he does not show off, lie or hide anything. But then again, I take it easy.