Vladimir Shlapentokh

Апрель 10, 2012

Dutch and American diseases haunt Russia and even Russian liberals

Filed under: Uncategorized — shlapentokh @ 9:48 пп

Contemporary Russian society suffers from two diseases: one of the “body”—the Dutch disease—and one of the “mind”—the “American” disease, anti-Americanism.
Nobody in Russia will cast doubt on the correctness of the diagnosis of the “body” illness. Vladimir Putin and all of the oppositional leaders complain about the Dutch disease, which supposes the dominance of the extractive sector in the economy; in this case they have a lagging manufacturing sector and technological progress. The fact that half of the Russian budget is derived from the sale of oil and gas forces Russians to watch the oscillations of international prices on fossil fuel with trepidation. Any international development that could have horrendous implications for the world is greeted in Russia with weakly veiled joy if it promises to boost this price (or at least to prevent its decline). Indeed, one could only imagine what would happen—to the pensions of 40 million Russian retirees; the salaries of 20 million state employees, which make up one-third of the labor force; science, which has only recently begun to receive decent money for its revival ; the terrible Russian health services, which have also begun to make some progress; or the hundreds of theatres and orchestras financed by state—if the price of oil were to brusquely fall on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
While nobody in Russia disputes the presence of the Dutch disease, the current regime, with its belief that high oil prices are as eternal as the rotation of the Earth, is, in fact, doing very little to find a cure. It seems to prefer mostly empty talks about the importance of technological progress or the creation of the scientific center in Skolkovo, essentially using the technique invented by count Potemkin for the pleasure of his master and lover. Since the beginning of Putin’s rule in 2000, raw materials—primarily oil and gas—have made up 80 percent of Russian exports. Today, Russians enjoy a high diversity of goods in their supermarkets; more than half of them are of foreign origin. At the same time, they are losing one of their best commodities—young Russian scholars and the best graduate students continue to leave the country
On the other side of the coin, most Russians deny the existence of the “American” disease—anti-Americanism—in much the same way many people who are ready to seek medical help for some “body” or somatic illness tend to ignore mental problems. According to the survey of the Fund of Public Opinion, conducted in January 2012, two-thirds of Russians consider the USA to be playing a negative role in the world, and to be hostile toward Russia. Most Russians are convinced—and I have found this to be true in my conversations with many of them—that their harsh critique of the USA, American society, its leaders, and its foreign policy, are all fair and objective. Such a high level of anti-Americanism at a time when Washington is paying so much attention to resetting American-Russian relations should hardly be ascribed to what that champion of American hatred Mikhail Leontiev, Putin’s hack journalist, called the “visceral feelings” of ordinary people. In fact, the ruling elite is responsible for the rampant anti-Americanism; the masses are very sensitive to the way the Kremlin treats America. The Russian documentary, “The Anatomy of Protest,” was shown in March 2012 by the official TV company, NTV. Supposedly, it “convincingly” proved to the spectators that every one of the many thousands of protesters who came out in Moscow on the eve of the presidential election was paid by the USA, which is constantly plotting ways to destroy Russia. How can ordinary people respect a country whose Secretary of State is personally lambasted by the leader of the country, as Putin did Hillary Clinton in February 2012? Or what conclusions can Russians draw, watching the authorities use their obedient media to harass the new ambassador of what is supposed to be the mightiest country in the world, Michael McFaul? In 1947, at the peak of the cold war, Stalin was able to order a servile newspaper to publish a heinous article—“Harry Truman”—with personal attacks against the American President, yet the Kremlin accorded the American ambassador at this time, Bedell Smith, full respect. It is evident to us now that if Smith were to have been treated handled in the same way as the current American ambassador, he would have immediately packed his belongings.
The sharp anti-Americanism of the Russian masses is in no way amazing. In many other countries, ordinary people show how receptive they are to the anti-American policies and statements of the people who rule them. The most astounding thing in today’s Russia is the willingness of many Russian liberals to publicly demonstrate how very contemptuous they are of the USA; as if they are trying to be no less anti-American than the Russian leaders and their myrmidons. In some cases, liberals repeat the official aspersions against America word-for-word; in other cases, they hit America in their own way. Andrey Piontkovsky is one of the most arduous of Putin’s critics. In 2011, he wrote a very aggressive book against Putin’s regime, with the provocative title The Third Road to Serfdom, clearly alluding to Friedrich Hayek’s famous anti-totalitarian book, The Road to Serfdom. It is remarkable that Piontkovsky talked about the “pathological anti-Americanism of our elite” in 2000. Now, twelve years later, he has equated the USA with corrupted Russian officials as enemies of Russia. He fervently attacked “the government of the USA and other Western countries” as no less than “co participants—with Russian officials—in the plundering of Russia.” He assailed American ambassador Michael McFaul as vigorously as Leontief and all of the official channels of Russian TV had. What is more, Piontkovsky almost denied that the USA has any good intentions toward Russia, and is confident that the “resetting” Washington has touted so highly is not for improving Russian-American relations as much as it is to get the exclusive rights to transfer the materials for the army through Russia to Afghanistan. He used incredibly twisted logic to find the existence of “the unbelievable level of anti-Americanism” (as expressed by McFaul) natural because the USA has helped the regime to survive and, in this way, sponsors anti-American propaganda. It is amazing that Piontkovsky, a supposedly shrewd political scientist, demands that the American government only undertake those actions deemed necessary by the Russian liberals, ignoring the fact that the goals of the US government and the Russian opposition only partially overlap. He pretends to not understand that supplying American troops in Afghanistan is a problem of the gravest importance for Washington, and, not very wisely, dismisses it as only a nuisance in the struggle against corruption in Russia.
It would be wrong to think that Piontkovsky is unique among Russian oppositional figures. In fact, judging from the data of the Fund of Public Opinion (March 2012), his attitudes toward America reflect the majority of Russians who consider themselves part of the opposition. On several occasions, prominent Russian writers such as Victor Pelevin, Tatiana Tolstaya, and Liudmila Ulitskaia have used their work and interviews to show their contempt for America, either directly or indirectly. By all accounts, they must believe that proclaiming their anti-Americanism will enhance the patriotic credentials of Russian liberals, and will undermine the Kremlin’s insinuations that they are paid agents of the State Department or the CIA. What illusions they have! Their own anti-Americanism neither saves them from the rage and contempt of “ self-proclaimed patriots” nor opens the hearts of ordinary Russians , who are not waiting to hear about their hatred of America but about charismatic and ascetic leaders, and a real program for improving life in their country. While America is imperfect, Russian liberals will not find another ally as powerful in this world. Meanwhile, joining the chorus of the haters of America, Russian liberals only succeed in making anti-Americanism a mental disease that is even more detrimental to Russia’s future.
At the highest level of the hierarchy, anti-Americanism serves as an instrument for supporting the shaky legitimization of the regime. The belief in the numerous flaws of American society—and they do indeed exist!!—helps high Russian officials and business people, as well media and art figures, to mitigate the frustrations that come from living with their wealth and power in a second-rate country. As any serious disease would, the Russian’s anti-Americanism harms its present and its future in many respects. It is highly counterproductive for Russian foreign policy, for the progress of the Russian economy, and, ultimately, for the long-term interests of the country, which badly needs a powerful ally in this dangerous world. Anti-Americanism diverts the energy of the society’s creative class away from building democracy and an efficient economy, ultimately justifying their indifference to Russia’s national interests on the pretext that America is not an ideal country, so they should not aspire to be like the Americans. And anti-Americanism is certainly a serious obstacle for enrolling the masses in a real democratic process.
Before making judgments about American foreign policy, the opposition in Russia, as well as in other countries, should take the multiple national interests of the United States into account; they do not always fully overlap with the interests of opponents to the regime in power.
Russia is not the only country in the world to suffer from both the Dutch and American diseases. We can certainly cite Venezuela and Iran, among others. If it is an extremely difficult and time consuming task to surmount the first disease, then eliminating, or at least mitigating, the second illness in a short period of time will be dependent only on the will of the ruling elite. Russian liberals should also be making contributions to this important task for their nation.
When Ian Hus, a famous Czech heretic who was condemned by the catholic court in 1415, was to be burned, the executioners had problems scaling up the fire. An old woman came close to the bonfire, and threw a relatively small amount of brushwood on it. Hus, upon seeing it, said, «Sancta Simplicitas!» (“Holy Simplicity!”) Russian liberals who joined with American detractors look like this illiterate woman, who wanted to make her own contribution to fighting heresy but did not do much to further the cause. Hus forgave her but we can hardly condone the highly educated Russian liberals who are evidently confounding both their enemies and their allies.

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