The following speech text was prepared by Mikhail Khodorkovsky for delivery at the Ukraine-Russia Dialogue Forum.
Dear friends, colleagues,
Over the last month the most frequent question I’ve been asked was: Why hold this conference? How will it help Ukraine that seems to be facing its toughest challenge since becoming an independent nation? What will our fellow Russian citizens think?
My response is the same that consistently helped me throughout what was a very long decade for me: Do what you have to do, and come what may.
We have gathered here for different reasons but, above all, because we are in disagreement with President Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine policy.
We are also here to express our solidarity with the Ukrainian people, a people that the Kremlin regime is trying to prevent from building its own life.
Ukraine is going through some really hard times. However I do not believe that a nation that has lived through two revolutions over the last decade; has stood, without flinching, at the Maidan square under gunfire is willing to accept the loss of its statehood. Hence, we have reasons for being optimistic, not just for being worried.
We are here because we are enraged by the Russian State-sponsored propaganda’s lies to its own citizens and we want to tell the public what we can see and hear for ourselves.
We are here to look one another in the eye and to say one more time: no dictator, no matter how powerful, will turn us, independently-thinking individuals, into enemies.
We are able and willing to jointly tackle the most complex challenges that life is putting in front of our nations.
Dear colleagues! At the panel discussions, we will be able to discuss a plan for Ukraine that is similar to the Marshall plan; to discuss setting up a full-fledged European-style university based on a leading Ukrainian higher education establishment; talk about a cultural dialog and about honestly informing society, and, of course, about a real effort at curtailing corruption.
Let me now say a few words in my personal capacity, as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, not as a co-sponsor of this forum.
The saddest thing for us, citizens of Russia, is that President Putin is not attacking global and strategic challenges. Once again, this time in Ukraine, he is using his office to avenge a personal grudge. He is offended because of the revolution, because the thieving former President Yanukovich and his corrupt entourage have been forced into exile. The parallels hit too close to home for him.
As a result of those ambitions, Moscow would not be able, for a long period of time, if not forever, to become the center of gravity for the Slavic universe; the idea of unifying the Orthodox Church around Moscow has been in fact put to rest and buried, and millions of our fellow countrymen abroad are facing hostility.
It’s as if, instead of building the North Atlantic Alliance, the US were to invade, say, Canada, tell it how to structure its domestic relations and pinch a couple of vegetable gardens.
By the way, one result is that, a thousand years later, the Slavic center can once again return to Kyiv. I would be happy for Kyiv but, frankly speaking, as a Russian and a citizen of Russia, I root for Moscow.
Now that we are in the 21st century, one can live by the rules of centuries past; one can, as before, continue to think in terms of territorial expansion by force, rather than along the lines of improving the quality of people’s lives.
However, in the modern, increasingly global world, it does not only appear weird and uncivilized, it is, simply, the kind of behavior that will make one a loser. Building Europe’s biggest mosque in the moderately-sized Chechnya or a sea bridge to connect the mainland to a peninsula and doing it instead of building highways, schools, housing, things that are badly needed by Russians living outside the luxury zip codes in Moscow – such is the result of the incumbent regime’s “glorious victories”.
One final thought.
As a conference cosponsor, I know only too well just how difficult it was for many to come to Kyiv. Not merely on account of pressure from the authorities. It was hard because the majority of the society has temporarily gone mad.
Friends! My personal experience over the last decade has taught me to deal in long periods of time and to never forget that dark times are always followed by days of light, and that today’s most impossible dreams become tomorrow’s reality.
I take pride in my fellow countrymen who are capable of remaining sane, of thinking about my nation’s future and being willing, for the sake of that future, to go against the opinion of the “aggressively obedient majority”.
I wish you all success in your work here.