Yavlinsky was born and grew up in Lvov, Ukrainian SSR. His father Alexei was an officer, and his mother Vera taught chemistry at an institute. Both his parents are buried in Lviv, and his brother Mikhail lives there.
In 1967 and 1968, he was the champion of the Ukrainian SSR in junior boxing. He decided to become an economist during his school years. From 1967 to 1976, he studied at the Plekhanov Institute of the National Economy in Moscow as a labor economist and took a post-graduate course there. As a kandidat (Ph.D. student) of economics, he worked in the coal sector. After finishing his postgraduate studies he was employed by the All-Soviet Union Coal Mines Department Research Institute. His job was to compose new unified work instructions for the coal industry, and he was the first in the USSR to accomplish this assignment. To perform his duties, he had to go down into the mines. One of his shifts nearly ended tragically for him when the mine collapsed. Together with four workers, he spent ten hours waist-deep in ice-cold water, waiting for help. Three of his fellow sufferers died in a hospital after having been rescued. Yavlinsky spent four years at this job. For him, it was an opportunity to see the world hidden behind the propaganda posters. He reported about the horrible conditions in which the coal miners lived and worked, but his reports changed nothing.
In 1980, Yavlinsky was assigned to the USSR State Committee for Labor and Social Affairs as the head of the heavy industry sector. At this position, he began to develop a project aimed at improving the USSR labor system. In his work he pointed out two possible ways of making the system more efficient: establishing total control over every move of every worker in the country or, as an alternative, giving more independence to the enterprises. Yavlinksy’s work caused discomfort with the head of the State Committee for Labor, Yury Batalin. The KGB confiscated 600 draft copies of Yavlinsky’s project and interrogated the author several times. When Brezhnev died in 1982, the KGB got off Yavlinsky's back, but he still had to stop working: he was diagnosed with an active form of tuberculosis and sent to a closed medical facility for nine months. The drafts of his project were burned together with his other personal belongings as contagious. It is still not exactly clear if he was ill or if his diagnosis was faked by the secret services.
From 1984, he held a management position at the Labor Ministry and then the Council of Ministers of the USSR. In this capacity, he had to join Communist Party of the Soviet Union, of which he was a member in 1985–1991. He was head of the Joint Economic Department of the Government of the USSR. In 1989, he was made department head of Academician Leonid Abalkin's State Commission for Economic Reforms.
Yavlinsky's commitment to a market economy was established when in 1990 he wrote "500 Days" – a program for the Soviet Union promising rapid transition from centrally planned economy to a free market in less than 2 years. To implement the program, Yavlinsky was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the RSFSR and Deputy Chairman of the State Commission for Economic Reform. President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev decided to combine Yavlinsky’s program with another one which had been developed simultaneously. This other program, “The Main Directives for Development", was created by the chairman of the Council of Ministers Nikolai Ryzhkov, who threatened to retire if his project would be rejected. In October 1990, when it became clear that his program was not going to be implemented, he resigned from the government. He then established his own think tank, EPICenter, which brought together many members of his 500 Days team who were to become his future associates in Yabloko (Sergei Ivanenko, Aleksei Melnikov, Aleksei Mikhailov et al.)
In the summer of 1991, during his stay in Harvard, he co-authored a new reform program, jointly with Graham Allison, that offered a platform for Gorbachev's negotiations with the "G-7" over financial aid in support of transition to the market After the defeat of the hardline August 1991 coup against Gorbachev and Yeltsin, he was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Management of National Economy that acted in place of Soviet government. The new president of the RSFSR Boris Yeltsin made Yavlinsky return to the government to work and even thought about making him Prime MinisterIn this role he successfully negotiated an economic union among Soviet republics. The agreement was signed by representatives of twelve republics in Alma-Ata on 18 October 1991. But when Yeltsin signed the Belavezha Accords, ending the Soviet Union and tearing up all the political and economic connections between the former Soviet republics, Yavlinsky left again as a sign of protest against Yeltsin’s actions. A year later, Yavlinsky started his own political career.
With the launching of the 'shock therapy' reforms by Yeltsin and Gaidar in January 1992, Yavlinsky became an outspoken critic of these policies, emphasizing differences between his and Gaidar's reforms program (such as the sequencing of privatization vs. liberalization of prices and the applicability of his program to the entire Soviet Union).
In 1992, Yavlinsky served as advisor to Boris Nemtsov who at the time was Governor of the Nizhny Novgorod Region. Yavlinsky developed a regional economic reform program for him. Later, however, their paths diverged, as Nemtsov sided with Yeltsin's government on most issues, eventually becoming deputy prime minister and one of the founders and leaders of the Union of Rightist Forces, while Yavlinsky became the leader of liberal opposition to Yeltsin.
In 1993, as conflict between Yeltsin and the parliament over shock therapy exacerbated, Yavlinsky had high ratings in the polls as a potential candidate for Russia's presidency, who had the image of an independent, centrist politician, untainted by corruption. He built close relations with many disaffected democrats and NGOs, as well as with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and rising financial and media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky. In September–October 1993, he joined a group of senior politicians who tried to mediate between Yeltsin and the parliament and was on a short list of compromise candidates for the post of the Prime Minister. However, with the outbreak of hostilities on the streets of Moscow on 3 October he unequivocally called upon Yeltsin to use force against violent supporters of the parliament. (He was later blamed for having abandoned neutrality in this situation.)
When Yeltsin set the date for the elections to the new parliament and a constitutional referendum for 12 December 1993, Yavlinsky had to cobble together an electoral bloc in haste, as he had no party of his own, and had to recruit existing parties as co-founders. His bloc was co-founded by three of them, Republican Party of the Russian Federation, Social Democratic Party of Russia and Christian Democratic Party of Russia, all three tilting on most issues toward the Yeltsin camp. However, they were soon marginalized within his bloc and RPRF was ousted from it 1994.
The top three names on the slate – Yavlinsky, Yury Boldyrev (former State Comptroller and a disaffected democrat) and Vladimir Lukin (at the time Russia's ambassador to the US) – gave the bloc its initial name, "Yavlinsky-Boldyrev-Lukin", abbreviated as YaBLoko. The bloc's leadership was divided over Yeltsin's constitutional project, but Yavlinsky himself was openly critical of it. With no prior electoral experience, YaBLoko succeeded in winning 7.9% of the vote and forming the fifth largest faction in the Duma. After Boldyrev clashed with Yavlinsky over the bill on production-sharing agreements and left the bloc in 1995, the name was retained but now reinterpreted as "Yavlinsky Bloc". In 1995, the Yabloko caucus in the Duma set up its own political association that in 2001 was reincorporated as a political party.
Among the features of the new party that would distinguish it from other liberal parties was its critique of Yeltsin's policies, from economic "shock therapy" and the handling of the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis to First Chechen War and Russia's relations with the West. Yavlinsky established himself as a permanent leader of "democratic opposition". In this capacity, he was a principled opponent of Gaidar's Russia's Choice and its successors in the parliament, such as the Union of Rightist Forces. In their turn, they charged him with being too inflexible and blamed his personality for a failure to merge with other democrats in order to mount a concentrated electoral challenge to the hardline forces. Others, however, admitted to philosophical differences between Yavlinsky's unspoken social democratic bent and the neoliberal orientation of his democratic opponents.
In September 1998, after Russia's 1998 financial crash brought down Sergei Kirienko government, Yavlinsky proposed the candidacy of Yevgeny Primakov who was elected Prime Minister in spite of resistance from Yeltsin, his family and entourage. This helped resolve the political stalemate and many credit Primakov with rescuing the economy from chaos and with the start of the recovery of the industrial production that continued under Vladimir Putin. However, Yavlinsky declined Primakov's offer to join his Communist-dominated government as deputy premier for social policies and soon joined the ranks of his critics on the liberal side. Later in 1999 Yavlinsky criticized Primakov as a throwback to the stagnation days of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. "This Brezhnev style of the government absolutely does not suit us," he was quoted as saying by Interfax. Yavlinsky said Primakov relied too much on communists and other leftists who do not understand modern economics. Yet even Yavlinsky warned Yeltsin against sacking the entire government. That, he believed, would have set up a showdown with the Duma of the kind that brought Primakov to the prime minister's chair in the first place.
In May 1999 Yavlinsky joined forces with the Communist Party in an attempt to impeach Yeltsin. The news media had been full of speculation that if the Duma goes ahead with impeachment, Yeltsin may retaliate by firing the communist-backed Cabinet of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. That would precipitate a political crisis and possible dissolution of the Duma, threaten the political stability that Primakov has brought Russia since previous summer. Of the four items of impeachment, the article that got the most support from both parties was the one charging Yeltsin with abuse of power in connection with war in Chechnya. This was a warning, Yavlinsky said, to all politicians that they will be judged for their actions. Just as the Communists began to nod their assent, Yavlinsky attacked them, dismissing the other charges as politically inspired. He said Yeltsin made very serious mistakes, sometimes fateful, in the course of reform, that led to the bankruptcy of the country, not out of a desire to destroy Russia but because he could not overcome his past and that he did not have the intent to destroy or liquidate anyone, he did not have such a conscious goal. In his final speech, Yavlinsky declared:
"Such indifference and negligence is a longtime tradition of the Communist-Bolshevik leaders from whose midst he (Yeltsin) rose and with whom his entire biography is linked. The Communist regime headed by Stalin deliberately murdered tens of millions of citizens of various nationalities. The party which proclaims as its historical leaders and heroes Lenin and Stalin, the ideologists and organizers of massive crimes against humanity, assumes the responsibilities for these atrocities with cynical pride."
Although Yavlinsky's repeated statements that his party's all forty-six Duma deputies would vote unanimously in favor of the Chechen war accusation, eight defected and sided with Yeltsin. The outcome was still 17 votes short of the two-thirds majority(300 votes) needed to start impeachment proceedings. The impeachment drive is largely a sideshow. Even if it clears the Duma, the effort is considered doomed because Russia's constitution strongly favors the presidency. Russia's vague 1993 constitution makes impeaching a president and removing him from office very difficult. If one of the charges musters the necessary support, the Duma has five days to submit the charges to the Supreme Court for examination and to the Constitutional Court to confirm that the procedure has not been violated. If both courts give a positive ruling, the accusations then go to the upper house, the Federation Council. A two-thirds council majority is then required to remove Yeltsin from office.
In 1996 and 2000, Yavlinsky ran for President with endorsement from his party and other organizations. In 1996, he came in fourth and received 7.3% of the vote. In the 2000 presidential elections, he finished third and received 5.8% of the vote. In both cases, he did not subsequently offer his support to either Yeltsin or Putin or their Communist opponent in both elections, Gennady Zyuganov.
Yavlinsky does not conceal his lukewarm view of the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 that occurred while he was negotiating an economic treaty among the republics. However, he never advocated a restoration of Soviet Union or a revision of post-Soviet borders.
Yavlinsky was at times critical of the US policies toward Russia, particularly under the Clinton administration. Some of the most trenchant of these criticisms are contained in his lecture at the Nobel Institute, delivered in May 2000.
Under the Putin presidency, Yavlinsky remained an active opponent of military solution to the problems in Chechnya. In 2002, he took part in the unsuccessful negotiations during the Moscow theater hostage crisis and was praised by President Vladimir Putin for his role in the standoff. His party also campaigned against the imports of radioactive waste into Russia, thus building a crucial alliance with environmental NGOs, as well as with human rights organizations, labor unions, women associations, and ethnic minority groups. He was also an uncompromising critic of the Putin government's reforms of the housing and utilities sector and of the energy sector. A number of times, the Yabloko faction in the Duma initiated petitioning campaigns for the resignation of the government. At that time, he developed close relations with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oligarch who positioned himself as an autonomous economic and political player vis-a-vis the Kremlin. A number of Khodorkovsky's associates became Duma members on the Yabloko slate (as well as through the Communist Party).
Yavlinsky had difficult relations with the authorities both under Yeltsin and under Putin (even though he was at times criticized by more radical groups for being a "house oppositionist"). While supporting many of the government's tax and budgetary reforms and aligning himself on many issues with Putin's reform czar Alexei Kudrin, as well as supporting Putin's early foreign policies of developing closer ties to the United States, he remained critical of domestic policies, particularly of the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the fall of 2003. He became even more outspoken about what many saw as an assault on democratic freedoms in Russia. In distinction from the new oppositionists, such as Boris Nemtsov, Garry Kasparov et al., he insisted that Putin's policies were to be seen as a direct continuation of Yeltsin's. Nonetheless, he was repeatedly mentioned in media rumors as a possible candidate for Prime Minister, both under Yeltsin and Putin.
In the 2003 elections to the Duma, Yabloko failed to cross the 5% threshold of Duma representation. Both vote-rigging and Yabloko's declining support may have been the primary factor. Yavlinsky later recalled that Putin telephoned him early on election night to congratulate him, apparently believing – or pretending to believe – that Yabloko had succeeded in gaining representation.
Yavlinsky refused to run for president in 2004, claiming that Putin had rigged elections to the point of making them meaningless.
Yavlinsky remains a prominent critic of Putin and of Russia's leading United Russia Party. In a 12 January 2004 interview, he is quoted as saying:
We don't have an independent parliament any more. For the first time since the dissolution of the Soviet Union we again have a one-party parliament. There are no independent mass media of any significance any more. There is no public control over secret services and the law enforcement agencies, there is no independent legislature. The authorities considerably influence the elections. All elements of society are concentrated in the same hands which resemble the 1930s. This is a semi-Soviet system.
After Yabloko again failed to secure representation in the Russian legislative election, 2007, there was some possibility of Yavlinsky running again for presidency in 2008. However, most Yabloko members and Yavlinsky himself supported the long-shot and largely symbolic candidacy of émigré dissident Vladimir Bukovsky who in the end failed to clear legal obstacles to his registration.
Yavlinsky's leadership of Yabloko occasionally came under attacks from internal opponents, who eventually were defeated and not infrequently had to leave the party. The most prominent of them included Yury Boldyrev, Yabloko's vice-leader and member of the upper house, in 1995; Vyacheslav Igrunov, a left-wing intellectual and a campaign manager, who quit over the restructuring of the organization in 2003; and some of the younger members, such as Ilya Yashin and Maksim Reznik, who advocated for a closer alliance with other opposition groups (Yashin is no longer a Yabloko member, while Reznik stayed as a leader of its St. Petersburg branch, but later excluded from the party for supporting electoral fraud of St. Petersburg legislative election). Yavlinsky became deputy of Legislative Assembly of Saint Petersburg and a head of Yabloko's fraction in it.
On 22 June 2008, Yavlinsky stepped down as party leader at Yabloko's 15th congress, proposing in his place the candidacy of Moscow City Duma deputy Sergey Mitrokhin who was elected the new party chairman. Yavlinsky remains a member of Yabloko's Political Committee (elected there with the largest number of votes) and a regular spokesman for the party, particularly in local election campaigns. Outside politics he is a professor of Moscow's Higher School of Economics. He is also a member of the Trilateral Commission.
In an interview at HSE's conference Yavlinsky stated that common disease for all states in the late 20th early 21st century is states' merger with the business. Largely that's what resulted in economic crisis in the US. A fusion of Wall Street and White House paralyzed all possibilities of Barack Obama other than to inject fresh money in the old economy. Which doesn't have any prospect because of the level of public debt and poor quality of the state in decision making.
According to Yavlinsky the global financial crisis of 2008-09 happened because of the appearance of insurance issued loans, that dramatically increased their number and volume. Since once you prove to be insolvent, your creditors will be paid the insurance. So it created an impression that the loans were safe. But the reliability of borrowers declined. When too many extremely unreliable loans were issued in the United States, at some point a lot of borrowers proved to be insolvent at the same time, so it was impossible to pay the insurance, and money no longer could return to its lenders. Thus the biggest banks and investment companies became bankrupt. To explain it in simple terms, all that is a gigantic "financial pyramid" (Ponzi scheme). It's when you take money from someone, and for some reason it doesn't work for you, but you need to pay for it, to pay interest. You borrow from someone else paying interest, then, to pay it, you borrow more, and so on and so on until it ends in failure. The enormous scale of the "financial pyramid" became possible because of too soft financial regulation on the part of the government.
In his opinion, the way to resolve the crisis was to bankrupt all the financiers and bankers who led to it. But since there was too many of them, and in many respects the economy is dependent on them, it might lead to greater social problems. In addition, they are very much integrated into the US power elites. Therefore, and because of fears of social unrest, the US government saved them by giving them tax payers' money, helping those who were actually responsible for creating the crisis. Doing it, officials hoped that the economy would work and would start to grow after receiving a huge infusion. But despite Bush's administration 750 billion and Obama's 800 billion dollars investments nothing changed, economic activity wasn't growing because of markets' distrust.
In his recent book Realeconomik: The Hidden Cause of the Great Recession (and How to Avert the Next One), the internationally respected economist makes a powerful case that without a commitment to established social principles in business and politics, a stable global economy will be impossible to achieve:
The title and subtitle reflect the central idea of my book: the cause of the crisis is that at the core, modern capitalism is concerned with money and power, not ideals, morals, or principles. I use the word Realeconomik as an analogue to Realpolitik, a pejorative term for politics that masquerades as practicality while in fact comprising the cynicism, coercion, and amorality of Machiavellian principles. An entire generation of Western politicians, businessmen, and economists has come of age without ever thinking seriously about the relationship between morality and economics or ethics and politics. I do not seek to make any moral judgments: I aim instead to be descriptive and analytical. My goal is to indicate those areas that are usually not discussed in public. I feel the urgency to state clearly the things that I believe to be crucial to understanding the events unfolding before our eyes.
The nature of the Great Recession is not only economic, or perhaps not even attributable mainly to economic factors. Neither is it the product of mere complacency and negligence of duty on the part of authorities and top-level managers in the private sector, as some experts insist. Rather, the underlying fundamentals and causes go deeper—to such things as general rules of society and the logic to which they are subject, encompassing the issues of individual and social values, moral guidance, and public control, as well as their evolution over the past several decades. These issues are much more serious and have a greater impact on economic performance than is customarily believed.
Yavlinksy argues against viewing the world of money as separate from culture and society: he believes the financial crisis was merely a symptom of a wider moral collapse, and that it is time to examine the way we live.
Even comparatively sophisticated ways of responding to this crisis, as proposed by many, such as writing new, stringent rules, exercising more public control over their enforcement, imposing taxes on some kinds of financial operations, and the like will not resolve fundamental problems, which are not simply economic. Far less will be achieved by simply “pouring money on the crisis,” even if it is accompanied by exposing the banking secrets of thousands of officials and businessmen. There are no ready-made solutions to these problems. However, I hope Realeconomik will provide a fresh perspective for anyone concerned about another bursting bubble, persistently high unemployment, the “new normal” (economic stagnation in a low-growth, low-inflation environment), financial volatility, sharply rising poverty rates (even in industrialized nations such as the United States), and social unrest, or the possibility of something more catastrophic.
It is difficult to talk about the economy from the perspective of morality, as the very concept of morality seems to be devoid of established content, is subject to broad interpretation, and is often rather elusive. But those difficulties seem insufficient reason to exclude morality from economic analysis and research. It is essential to treat the issue of morality seriously and extensively to provide a meaningful perspective for economic processes and their consequences, especially in the framework of long term analysis.
Days after Yavlinsky's candidature was endorsed by Gorbachev, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) declared 20% of the signatures collected in support of the leader of Yabloko invalid. Commenting on the incident at a news Conference Yavlinsky said: 'I consider the decision of the NEC as politically motivated. They aren't letting me join the race, because they don't want to allow an alternative - political, economic and moral.' He also cautioned that such refusal to allow him to join the race would undermine the vote's legitimacy and could lead to unrest and instability in the country. Yavlinsky needed to collect and submit at least 2,000,000 votes in order to register since he was nominated by a non-parliamentary party. ALDE-PACE (Liberal International Cooperating Organisation) issued a statement condemning the situation as 'another sign of the limitation of political competition and expression in the country.' The group also expressed concern that the latest developments in Russia severely compromise the possibility for free and fair presidential elections on 4 March 2012.
Yavlinsky met his wife, Yelena, while studying at the Plekhanov Institute, and the couple have two children. Their son Mikhail was born in 1971 and currently works for the BBC Russian Service in London. Their other son, Alexei, was born in 1981 and works as a computer programmer in Moscow.
A recent interview revealed that during the turbulent times of Russia's politics in the 90s Yavlinsky's opponents had his 23-year-old piano-playing son kidnapped, and his fingers cut off and mailed to him. He declined to reveal who he thinks is behind the attack saying he "was receiving corresponding letters" prior to the incident.Transition to a Market Economy (500 Days Program) St.Martin’s Press, New York, 1991)
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