Russian State Duma elections will take place in September 2016. Supposedly the list of parties that will be participating in the elections has already been confirmed. But, as it turns out, new parties are still appearing in Russia. One such party, the Russian Revival Party, was created by State Duma ex-chairman Gennady Seleznyev, who passed away a year ago. His friend and supporter, former head of the famous defense conglomerate “Almaz-Antey” Igor Ashurbeyli has been called upon to breathe new life into the party. Mr. Ashurbeyli met with the editor-in-chief of Argumenty Nedeli newspaper to discuss politics, space, and his plans for the future.
– Mr. Ashurbeyli, the next Duma elections are almost upon us. All the parties are becoming more and more active in promoting their candidates. I've recently found out that you're directly involved with the party created by Gennady Seleznev. He passed away a year ago, and suddenly the party is supposedly being revived without him. Is this just gossip, or is it actually happening?
– No, it's not gossip. Gennady Seleznev was twice the chairman of our State Duma, and was a deputy for another four terms. The Russian Revival Party is his brainchild.
– How are you connected to the party?
– Through my personal, non-party relationship with Seleznev. If it was any other person or party, I would most likely never have imagined myself as a party member, let alone in a top party position. I wasn't planning on it. But I met Seleznev in 1996, and that chance meeting turned into a long and dear friendship. When he became chairman of the State Duma, he often visited me at “Almaz”, met my staff a number of times. He was the inspiration behind the “Military Production Courier” newspaper. In turn, I helped the parliamentary newspaper “Russia”, which I acquired when times were hard for the newspaper - and had recently handed over to the Russian Revival Party. Gennady and I had also worked on the “Together” film festival in Yalta, which he had organized, as well as the “Viva, Russia!” horse competition. Some time ago, I was his deputy in the “Russia” movement – it's not a party, but rather a public organization, about 15 years old. During the last year of his life, he invited me to work with his Revival Party, although I still wasn't a party member. I was just helping Gennady organize last year's campaign. But it so happened that his party was left without a leader, and my memory of him would not allow me to let his last project go to waste. And so, at the last party convention, which took place on June 17th, 53 Russian regions voted by secret ballot and unanimously chose a new Central party council and me as its chairman. On June 21st, the presidium that was elected at the convention chose me as its president. That doesn't mean that I now hold Gennady's place – party leader, as per the party's charter. I'm the chairman of the central council and the party's presidium, somewhat similar to what the party secretary used to be.
– Will you be participating in the State Duma elections in September?
– The presidium met only on June 21st, and I don't think there's any reason to rush into anything in the next two months. So, in September we'll only participate in the regional elections at the city level. Based on those results, when the new political landscape becomes clearer, we'll have a central council and presidium meeting at the end of September. And only after that we'll have some serious re-organization and start preparing for next State Duma elections. My intuition tells me that they're likely to be held before the end of 2018 – it could be that the new Duma elected this fall will not last a full term. So, we'll plan to be prepared for the end of 2018, when the new presidential elections will take place and members of the new government become known. In the long-term, we'll be ready for the next State Duma elections, if the early election doesn't happen. I'll say it again – I'm not the party leader by any means. We will either raise a new party leader within the party, or find someone from outside the party. Personally I have no desire or plans to be in the State Duma. I'm interested in the very idea of structuring a civil society, the idea of building a fair society in the country. Let's not forget that I'm a systems engineer, and ideologically speaking I'm not interested in playing the politics game. My actions lack greed, they're not political in nature. I'm not faced with a choice – red or black, for Putin or against Putin. I'm not playing with ideology here, nor am I playing for the opposition. I am interested in this project insofar as it is a new system of building a fair civil society in my country, in Russia.
– Today, everyone keeps talking about patriotism. Communists, “Fair Russia”, “United Russia” parties. It's hard to tell which way's up. You're a man “bred” in the military production field, which a priori assumes a certain degree of patriotism. How are you different from the communists?
– My personal opinion is that ideology has to come from the bottom, not from the top. From restructuring civil society, from understanding what sections, ideas, etc its made up of. It's necessary to listen to the people. And to start with municipal organizations, with local government, with allowing them to have more rights. A pyramid must be built from the ground up, and not from the top down. So any slogans coming from the government are of secondary importance. Ideology has to be built from the ground up. It has to be born naturally. Not from television screens, but from our roots, from the people.
– Let's talk about industrial policy, the agricultural sector. The issues Russian economy has in providing credit to industry, in helping agricultural production and small businesses. It's evident even in the continuing anti-sanctions policies aimed at those who believe in phasing out imports and taking out credit - and helping those people not end up bankrupt in the end. The communists are even saying that we should nationalize oil production.
– Right. Those are all just slogans. Let's do this, let's do that. Slogans that are coming not even from the top, but from somewhere on the side. I think that our party will have two wings, two social components. It's the “Russia” movement, which was headed by Gennady – we'll be holding talks with its current leaders. And the “Citizens for themselves” movement, which I've been heading for the last 14 years. People would be able to join the party through either of these two open doors. One door for those who are for communism, nationalization and statehood. The other is for those who support capitalism, democracy and private property. These are the two sides that divide our society. The common, central ground, I think, would be in uniting statehood and private property. And I see one of the party's goals as having all discussions about “For capitalism or for communism” held within these two camps. The party would voice only the already developed solutions and make them public in parliament and in society. I'm generally against parties. They break up society. And now it needs to consolidated, centralized, so that we can improve the country together. But despite the fact that I'm against parties, there is no other legal mechanism for change available right now. Until such a mechanism appears, we must use the resources that are available to us. So I'd like to underline again, that there will be two “wings”, two components – a left wing and a right wing within one party. I've never seen that in Russia's political system, everyone affiliates themselves with one camp or the other. We'd like to have a unique position that accepts both the leftwing and the rightwing views. As a result, we'll have a battle of ideas, not a battle of people. And based on those ideas, the party will make internal decisions. And with that thought-out position then go to parliament, and then to the people.
We have a real problem with an increased number of ignorant people in the country and a decreased number of professionals, in all spheres. It was the main reason I left the defense industry. Five years ago I left “Almaz”, and kept curating my private defense facilities – I have six, in Moscow, Zelenograd, Ryazan, Kaluga region and Arzamas, with a staff of about 7000 people. We recently held a conference for the managing members of the Socium group – it's my holding company that's as old as Russian entrepreneurship – it was created on June 10, 1988, the same day that the law on cooperatives was passed in the USSR. As soon as private property was allowed, I founded my own company – I was in grad school back then. So, that company is 28 years old.
But over the last five years I decided that I no longer want to work in an aggressive environment, when the government's only goal is to create a state-run, defense-production based forms of capitalism. Although a lot was said about partnerships between the state and private companies, in reality the entire state policy is based on state-run corporations, on increasing their monopolies, etc. I don't want to discuss whether that's good or bad. But there's nothing of interest for private business in an aggressive environment, whose goal is to either buy you out, or steal your clients, or hinder your progress in other ways. I'm used to working with finished technological chains that have a final global-scale product, such as the C-300, C-400, C-5, etc. A private businessman cannot work such a chain down to the final product in an aggressive environment. And I see no professional fulfillment in producing something that isn't a separate final product, that can be useful to Russia in potential war theater. Creating some, possibly even important, but small parts of bigger projects, even for a lot of money – that doesn't interest me. So, I gave my managing company an order to sell all assets and exit the military production field completely. Now, I'm continuing to be involved with research projects in the aerospace field, but on an international scale.
For example, this year I became head of a UNESCO commission on space. The first encyclopedia published by this commission will be presented at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in the fall of this year. A UNESCO medal will also be founded – it will be awarded by us annually for scientific accomplishments in the space technology field. I created an international space research center, AIRC, in Vienna, where the UN committee on space is located. I have founded, am publishing and am the editor-in-chief of ROOM:The Space Journal, an international space magazine. Our editorial board includes members from all over the world who have been instrumental in the space industry. So, I continue to work in my professional capacity, but at the expert level – both in Russia, as chairman of the Non-departmental Expert Council on Aerospace, accredited by the UN Economic and Social Council, and outside of it.
– So then, will you soon be saying goodbye to Russia
– Of course not. First of all, I am a citizen of Russia and that's not going to change, although I am convinced that multiple citizenships are the future of civilization. Secondly, my multi-profile holding, Socium, continues to work in Russia, developing a number of social, venture, business and other projects in various regions of the country. So, I am very much not going anywhere any time soon.
Materials originally published online in "Argumenty Nedeli", №26 (517), July 7, 2016.: http://argumenti.ru/society/n546/455305