Latynina on Obama vs. Medvedev

Hero journalist Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times:

Late in the evening on Nov. 4 in Chicago, Barack Obama addressed the American people after he won the U.S. presidential election. In his speech, Obama said one of the strengths of U.S. democracy is its ability to change.

Several hours later on Nov. 5 in Moscow, President Dmitry Medvedev gave his first state-of-the-nation address. He spoke not to the Russian people, but to a group of loyal politicians in the Kremlin’s St. George Hall. Medvedev assured his colleagues that he was committed to the rule of law, and one minute later he proposed changing the Constitution.

What is the difference between the truth and a lie? If you say, “I follow the law” and do, in fact, obey the law, this is truth. But if you say, “I follow the law” but then jail former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky to usurp his company, that is a lie.

What is the difference between a closed society and an open one? Closed societies do not tolerate the opposition and freedom of the press, and they don’t care much for government transparency or an open, competitive economy.

The first protest against the West’s open society was in the late 19th century. That is when the indigenous people from the remote areas of Melanesia developed what came to be known as a “cargo cult.” The cult’s priests looked for an explanation as to why they were so poor and why the cursed people in the West lived so well. This is the best they could come up with: All of the West’s technological wonders (or “cargo,” as the priests termed it) had actually been invented by spiritual means long ago by the Melanesians, and the Westerners had simply stolen the cargo during delivery.

The second and far more serious response to open society was communism. Stalin wanted to conquer the whole world. Under Stalin, Soviet factories manufactured one of two things — tanks or steel for tanks. As late as the 1970s, Soviet factories made macaroni noodles with a diameter — or “caliber” — of 7.62 millimeters so that if war broke out, the machinery in the noodle factory could quickly be adapted to manufacture ammunition.

The Soviet Union spent as much as 80 percent of its gross national product on the military and defense-related industries. But it turned out that the Soviet economy could not compete with the open societies in the West in terms of innovation, growth, productivity and standard of living.

And now we have the third wave of opposition to open society. It is coming from quasi-totalitarian countries such as Venezuela, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya and Russia. They are so wealthy from oil and gas exports that their leaders don’t have to worry too much about making good or wise decisions. Like the Melanesian priests, these quasi-totalitarian leaders claim that they — and not the cursed white people of the West — have real freedom and a true understanding of peace. And since these regimes are swimming in petrodollars, their leaders make speeches about “true freedoms” while wearing expensive suits that are designed, manufactured and tailored in the West. You won’t see them addressing the nation standing barefoot in the sand under a banana tree.

In contrast to outright totalitarian regimes, the quasi-totalitarian regimes do not pose a real danger to the free world. That is why nobody worries much if one of their presidents gives an inflammatory speech about deploying Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad. After all, who believes that the leaders of these regimes would ever launch a missile attack against a Western nation in which their luxurious villas and bank accounts are located?

Nonetheless, I hope that quasi-totalitarian regimes won’t last forever. And I also hope one day to hear a speech by a Russian version of Obama — a president chosen by the people who will speak the real truth about freedom in our country.

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