Because he was unable to rid himself of his foreign assets in time, Mikhail Prokhorov, leader of the Civic Platform party has declined to take part in the mayoral elections in Moscow this year. As a result, the main candidate from the opposition is now Sergei Mitrokhin, chairman of the Yabloko party, who told Izvestia in an interview why the opposition does not need a united candidate and why it is necessary to disband the Moscow City Duma.
Izvestia: Now that Mikhail Prokhorov has declined to take part in the elections, you have been called Sobyanin’s chief opponent from the opposition. Sergei Sergeyevich, do you acknowledge this and do you have a slogan and a program?
Mitrokhin: My slogan is as follows: “Let’s start changes in Moscow!” As mayor, I will start with Moscow to reform the current extremely ineffective state machinery of Russia. This is logical because Moscow is the capital. As they say, the fish rots from the head down, so you have to start the healing of our country from the head. I will show what the separation of powers means with the example of Moscow. I will disband the current Moscow City Duma, which was elected in an extremely dubious manner. And there is a reason for the disbanding: a number of laws passed by the Moscow City Duma contradict federal law. In March 2014, I will hold early elections to the Moscow City Duma, it simply wouldn’t work to do it earlier.
Izvestia: What do you see as ineffective about it?
Mitrokhin: There isn’t a system of feedback with Muscovites. It is expressed only in the taking of phone calls with complaints about a broken fence in a yard. But I propose that Moscow should have a civilized parliament of the European-type which would represent the real interests of Muscovites. For that, we must increase the number of deputies, and along with that sharply decrease their privileges. I think that Moscow must rid itself of any cottage communities for officials and deputies, and the special hospitals for officials must become accessible to everyone.
The second most powerful tool is local self-government. The powers of the Moscow boards must be transferred to municipal assemblies and municipalities, and the boards must be liquidated.
And one other important mechanism for feedback is the public hearing. I would propose an amendment to Law 68 of the Town Planning Code of Moscow. The recommendations for hearings should become obligatory. If two thirds of the participants of public meetings oppose a project then regardless of whether it is related to urban planning or roads, it should be sent back for re-working.
Izvestia: If you look at things realistically, what percentage are you counting on gathering in these elections?
Mitrokhin: I plan to win.
Izvestia: In the first round?
Mitrokhin: No, of course it’s not realistic to do that in the first round. In the first round, I aim to achieve a second round and then get into it.
Izvestia: What are you basing such optimism on, given that in the last elections, Yabloko got only 8.5 per cent of the vote in the elections to the State Duma in Moscow? That is obviously not the percentage you need to win today.
Mitrokhin: Some political analysts have said that our real percentage was much more. And the Communists assessed our real result as more than 12 per cent. We don’t know what happened in Moscow and that’s why there were such massive rallies. It was all for good reason, after all. We feel that we got somewhere around 12 per cent. In fact, that’s how much we got in 2009 in the elections to the Moscow City Duma. At that time, we were cut by two thirds, and here, in half.
Izvestia: No matter what you say, that’s not enough to win…
Mitrokhin: This is a case when you can count on a second round. Because one of the other candidates will gather the comparable percentage in the first round, and Sobyanin will have less than 50 per cent. And a second round is a completely different reality.
Izvestia: Several representatives of the opposition have announced their intention to run in the elections (Navalny, Udaltsov). It turns out that you are taking votes away from each other. Why doesn’t the opposition come to an agreement and put up a united candidate?
Mitrokhin: That would be an extremely harmful activity for the opposition and useful for Sergei Sobyanin. Each candidate has a certain resource: personal (his support group); free air time; campaign spaces, newspapers and so on. Several candidates are putting all these resources together. You only have to agree that they all work against the candidate from the party of power. But if you put up a common candidate, then all these resources collapse. For example, many of my voters and members of the Yabloko party will not vote for Navalny, and many supporters of Navalny don’t like Yabloko, if for no other reason than he was expelled at one time. And they won’t vote for me. It’s advantageous for me if Navalny and Prokhorov exist (unfortunately, the issue for the latter is now closed), that Udaltsov is registered, because all of them together take away votes from Sobyanin much easier than one person.
Izvestia: Who are your sponsors?
Mitrokhin: It’s small and medium businesses. But those are the sponsors of the party. Now our main sponsor is the government, the [state] budget.
Izvestia: Which billionaires are helping you?
Mitrokhin: We try not to take money from oligarchs. We took such a decision after the elections when we didn’t get into the Duma.
Izvestia: Maybe it is worth uniting with Prokhorov?
Mitrokhin: We made a principled decision not to cooperate with oligarchs who are connected to the loans-for-shares schemes. Before going into politics, they should return some of this money to society. We propose introducing the so-called tax on the results of privatization. The difference between the market value of the asset and the price for which they were purchased would be subject to a certain tax.
Izvestia: That’s some kind of populism…
Mitrokhin: The Labor Party in England introduced such a tax in their day after Thatcher’s privatization. We believe that oligarchs have a moral right to go into politics or become involved in public activity only after they do something like this. Let this money go into the budget.
Izvestia: If you become mayor, what steps will you take regarding the capital government?
Mitrokhin: The accountability of the Moscow City Duma must increase radically. I believe that key positions in the government of Moscow must be confirmed by the deputies of the Moscow City Duma—for example, all the deputies of the mayor.
Izvestia: So you will not even bring in your own team?
Mitrokhin: I will have another approach to personnel policy. I will select a new team. A certain clannishness arises in the Moscow government, and in fact it’s not even related to Moscow. I could understand if this were the Strogin or the Chertanovo clans [of Moscow districts]. But they’re some other clans – the Kazan clans. Yes, a person from another city could work in the city government. I’m not even against hiring a high-class foreigner for such a post.
Izvestia: Do you want foreigners to hold posts in the government, thus subverting statehood from within?
Mitrokhin: That is the psychology of the caveman’s xenophobia. Did Peter the Great destroy our state? He reinforced it greatly. I will have an exclusively professional approach. I will invite independent professionals, authoritative in their fields, to a certification commission that will select officials. They will select the candidate. Such a complex and enormous megapolis such as Moscow must be governed exclusively by professionals.
Izvestia: What is your opinion regarding the construction of mosques in Moscow?
Mitrokhin: The question of city planning is political. Calculations must be made regarding religions – how many Muscovites are Russian Orthodox, how many are Muslims. It’s obvious that there are much less of the latter. In accordance with this, an inter-confessional dialogue should be held on this topic. We cannot allow the building of mosques everywhere. That concerns Russian Orthodox cathedrals as well. I think it’s blasphemy to build them just anywhere— for example, in a back yard.
If you want to build, buy land, because any confession is a civic organization. Church and religion are separate from the state in our country. If elected, I will not provide free land either to Russian Orthodox or Muslims or Buddhists. When the land for civic religious organizations is acquired at a realistic price, the number of those desiring to build sharply decreases. There are a lot of them when land is given for free. That happens all over the world.
Izvestia: If you don’t win the elections, but Sobyanin offers you a place in the government, will you accept?
Mitrokhin: I will show him all of this [his program—Izvestia] and say, “Serge Semyonovich, will you do this and this? Will you assign me to work on this? And you won’t get in my way? Then I will accept, without any ‘ifs.’ Assign me to fight corruption. Make me vice mayor of the budget, of anti-corruption, of illegal migration. Then I will accept, only don’t interfere with my work.”
Izvestia: Would you offer a post to Alexey Navalny on your team?
Mitrokhin: Since Navalny fights corruption and does a pretty good job of it, then I would offer him the post of head of the Control and Accounting Chamber of Moscow.
Izvestia: How do you propose to solve the housing issue in Moscow?
Mitrokhin: We have to stop commercial construction in the capital. It is not needed. Muscovites cannot afford to buy themselves apartments in these super-expensive buildings. We have to move to other principles. Land under construction of housing for Muscovites should be free. Now the land is stuck in the cost of apartments sold. This value is acquired by the so-called investor. We have to assign zones for the construction of housing, this could be the territory of an industrial zone, and create housing and construction cooperatives which would have the right to make contracts with builders directly without middle men.
Izvestia: Will you permit gay pride parades?
Mitrokhin: I’m not an advocate of gay parades. The people who organize them are provocateurs. They are provoking a counter-wave in society, and these minorities which they are supposedly defending only have it worse. My position is this: each person has the right to do what is not forbidden by the law. But now a law has been passed about propagandizing homosexuality, and I will not violate the law, although I consider it incorrect.
Izvestia: Is the problem of the flood of illegal immigrants solvable?
Mitrokhin: It’s very simple. Two measures are required: absolute transparency of services related to housing and construction. You must publish a list of all your workers. On paper, everything is normal with them. But if you go into the backyard you see that the worker is obviously not named Ivanov. There will be inspections. The second measure: Criminal code, Art. 322, “Organization of unlawful migration.” Do you know of a single precedent when anyone went to jail under this article? There aren’t any. But I will create those precedents by the dozens. You have to jail not the migrants, but the employers.
Izvestia: Who will work if the migrants go away?
Mitrokhin: Muscovites will do the work. Because the cost of labor will rise sharply. There will be people who really work in the agencies, and not various officials who receive wages but half-slaves are toiling for them.
Izvestia: Are you going to re-name the streets?
Mitrokhin: In Moscow, there are a lot of streets that continue to bear the name of henchmen. Now they want to name a new metro station “Dybenko,” because in Khovrino there is a Dybenko Street. But Dybenko was a bloody villain. Moscow should not be shamed by such names. We have already sent a letter to Sergei Sobyanin that they should name the station “Khovrinskaya.” There should be a Vysotsky Street in Moscow, an Akhmatova Street [named after famous Russian folk singer Vladimir Vysotsky and Russian poet Anna Akhmatova—Ed.].
Izvestia: How are you going to solve the transportation problems?
Mitrokhin: The path to eliminating traffic jams lies through a radical strengthening of the role of public transport. If we rely on automobiles, then people will buy more of them. Everything that is expanded or eased then comes to nothing because there are more and more cars. Everything is headed toward a transportation catastrophe. We need more metro stations and more modern transportation on light rails – street cars. Most of the street car lines must be isolated, so that people can travel on street cars as on the metro. We shouldn’t dump money on widening highways because the bottlenecks will remain. I will freeze such construction projects.
Izvestia: If you become mayor, what will you do about the flashing lights [used by government officials to speed ahead in traffic]?
Mitrokhin: I will not travel with flashing lights. I will build a network of bicycle paths so that the bicycle becomes a real form of transportation, and not a PR campaign. Then it is possible that I myself will go to work on a bicycle.