Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 22

Prism Interview: The Agrarian Party Chairman Speaks Out

An interview with Mikhail Lapshin, State Duma deputy and RussianAgrarian Party Chairman. The interview was conducted for Prismby Yevgeny Krasnolobov, a correspondent for Moscow’s "OpenRadio."

Prism: Are there any laws or international agreementsin the area of economics which would be repealed immediately afteryour party comes to power?

Lapshin: I would not link our party’s coming topower with the immediate repeal of any law in particular. OurAgrarian Party, by making astute alliances with left-centristforces, is trying to win at all levels of government. Electionto the Duma alone won’t solve anything. Our goal is to come topower at the village council, rayon council, kraicouncil level, and thus reach the highest levels of governmentwith other constructive and progressive forces. Only such a comprehensiveapproach will allow us to get started with our constructive work.

But we will not tolerate a decline in domestic production Justlook at the figures: in 1990 we harvested 125 million tons ofgrain; in 1991 — 110 million tons; in 1992 — 100 million tons;in 1993 — 97 million tons; in 1994 — 87 million tons and in1995 — 63 million tons. Someone has to think hard about thiscatastrophic situation. Revising laws is not our main goal.

It is difficult for me to name any existing laws or decrees whichwe could abolish. Let’s take, for example, the 1993 presidentialdecree on reforming land ownership. As a matter of fact, thisdecree has never been implemented, because in many respects itcontradicts the Constitution, (which was adopted a month and ahalf after it was issued) which clearly states that everythingin the Russian Federation is to be regulated by laws, not by Presidentialdecrees. The only thing that we’ll probably do is override thePresidential veto of the Law "On Agricultural Cooperation."

Prism: If I understand you correctly, then we cangive foreign investors a signal that even if the present governmentloses power, the rules of the game will remain the same?

Lapshin: We’ll do what they do in China. There,nobody promises foreign investors that they can own land. Andyet, foreign investors line up to invest in the Chinese economy.So we’ll tell foreign investors: Here’s a long-term lease, for50-100 years, and these are the economic conditions for your capital.The fact is that in 90 percent of cases foreign investors areinterested, most of all, in economic conditions for their capital,not in the form of ownership.

Prism: Do you think that the ban on foreigners’buying land ought to be permanent, or can it be abolished sometime in the future?

Lapshin: We have certain historical traditions.Will private property, with the right to buy and sell land, takehold in Russia or not? My opinion is that forcing us to hold areferendum on this question would be a major blunder. The peopleat this moment are not ready to say "yes" to privateproperty in land for foreigners. The people would say "no,"once and for all. After two or three generations, I think therewon’t be any objections. At this moment, our farmers have justbegun to sink roots in the land and don’t want anybody deceivingthem behind their backs.

I think that the question of transferring private property inland to foreigners is nothing but a made-up issue. It is profitablefor them now to produce on our land. Let me give you an examplefrom my electoral district in Stupino. A foreign company whichproduces Mars and Snickers bars signed a land-use agreement. Injust a handful of days, they built up a factory, began producingchocolate bars, and provided jobs to many people who were unemployed.

Prism: You mentioned a bloc of constructive, progressiveforces. Whom did you have in mind besides your own party?

Lapshin: I mean the Agrarian Party, Communist Party,parties of socialist orientation, all the trade unions, goodsproducers, industrialists, businessmen, patriots-statists, allthose who value the idea of creation in our country. Later, afterthe State Duma elections, it will be necessary to form a bloc(for the Presidential elections) of those who come to the newDuma, i.e., those whose programs are supported by the people.

Prism: Are Volsky and Skokov on your list?

Lapshin: Yes. Also the groups which are being formedaround Rutskoi and Sterligov. However, I am not prone to acceptpeople with extreme views.

Prism: Many analysts name you as a potential presidentialcandidate from this bloc. Have you considered such a possibilityfor yourself?

Lapshin: Well, speaking to the All-Russian Peasants’Assembly, in the heat of the moment, I made an impulsive remarkto the effect that Russia, being a great peasant country, hassuffered long enough to have the right to elect a representativefrom the peasantry to be her next President. But party ambitionsplay no role here. Whatever the leftist bloc decides will happen.If our party gets enough votes, its chairman will be consideredas the bloc’s presidential candidate. Here I must say that ifI am offered a high post it will not bribe me into betraying theideas which I hold dear. If the party orders, I am ready to assumethe responsibility.

Prism: How many votes, in your opinion, does yourparty have to get in the elections to be able to have the decisivevoice in who becomes the leftists’ presidential candidate?

Lapshin: We hope to double our number of deputies,so that there will be 100 in the new Duma. And we hope that thesame thing will be possible for other leftists as well. Only whenwe have a majority will we be able to have a real influence onthe situation in the country.

Prism: Do you have a candidate for Foreign Ministerfrom your party?

Lapshin: Yes, we have. It is Aleksandr AleksandrovichBessmertnykh. He is one of our most professional diplomats. Godwilling, he will make it into the Duma. Our friend Andrei (Kozyrev)has made a lot of mistakes. When you’ve flinched too many times,you’re finished; then it’s hard to pull yourself back together.

Prism: If your candidate becomes Foreign Minister,what changes would you propose with respect to the question ofNATO expansion and Russia’s entry into the European Union?

Lapshin: There are two approaches to these questions.The first was tried by the President: banging your fist againstthe table and threatening NATO. "Don’t come any closer, orelse…" But there’s another way: to increase Russia’s politicaland economic weight dramatically. If our country is strong enough,it will be easier for her to defend her interests. .

Prism: And how about the entry into the "commonEuropean home"?

Lapshin: I’ve been to Council of Europe meetingsmore than once, and I’ve never been so humiliated in my wholelife. Even before Chechnya, there was always some reason why theydidn’t accept us; once they told us: "You have to eliminateyour military courts." We explained to them that we’ve onlykept military courts in isolated areas where there is nothingthere but a military base. There has to be some kind of justicesystem there.

Regarding the European Union, we have a long way to go. Our technologicalbackwardness has to be taken into account. We need more openness.But we have to think over each move carefully. We should takemeasures to strengthen private farming. Agricultural productionmust become cheaper through greater mechanization. However, themost important thing is to learn to pick the right people to runthe country. I remember how, in Bill Clinton’s meeting with theleaders of Russian parties and movements in Spaso House in Moscow,he asked us which basic ideas our parties stood for. Many gottongue-tied, but I said clearly that our basic idea is to continuethe traditions of a great peasant country. At this, Bill Clintonremarked that he also worried day and night about American farmers."If only we had such a President!," somebody in thehall exclaimed. So we must learn how to make the right choice.