Paul Goble reports:
The inauguration of Barak Obama as the first African-American president of the United States calls attention to one of the most important if not often commented upon differences between the American and the Russian peoples, according to a leading Moscow analyst.
The Americans, Maksim Strelok argues, welcome change and thus regularly transform themselves so that their country “is not what it was yesterday and that tomorrow it will be better than today,” while Russians find it more difficult to escape from the past and thus face a future that may prove even worse than the present. Most Russian commentators predicted that Obama would be defeated either in the primaries or in the general election, and they have tended to view his coming to power either as the result of some kind of backroom conspiracy or as the accidental coming together of a set of circumstances that will never be repeated, Strelok says.
What they have not been prepared to acknowledge, largely because to admit it would be to be forced to recognize Russia’s own predicament, is that America has changed dramatically over the past decades and that its ability and willingness to change is one of the most important sources of its strength.
Unlike America which when faced with changes all around became a different country, the Moscow commentator says, most Russians have reacted by seeking to deny the clear evidence that the US has changed because they do not want to give up their old images of America and because they do not want to change their country and themselves. As America changes and Russia fails to do so, not only will Russians find themselves ever further behind, but they will not only have ever more negative views about the United States but remained trapped in a time warp of expectations that “the dollar will be transformed into worthless paper” and then Russians will be able to triumph.
The United States already has the ability to counter Russian actions in the far and near abroad, Strelok continues, but now in addition to all these “petty” things, the Americans have presented Russia and the Russians with an even more serious challenge, the election of a black president, something many Americans and even more Russians had assumed was impossible. The change that President Obama represents in his own person and not just in his policies is not only something Americans “can believe in.” It is a change, Strelok says, which Russians cannot even approximate. For Russians, today “as was the case yesterday, a year ago and even a century ago,” there has been the same kind of power, the same thievery, and the same roads. And still worse, Strelok argues, unlike the Americans who have now elected to the highest office in the land someone few of them might have voted for a generation ago, Russians have not “demanded [similar changes] from the powers that be,” and those in power have not sought to promote that idea.
“The world has changed enormously in the past and it continues to change,” Strelok points out, and Americans have responded by being willing to change themselves and hence their country. Many of the changes sweeping the world ultimately will force Russians to change, but such changed will be forced, they will assume a “terrible” form in their country. That is what happened “at the beginning and at the end of the [20th] century,” the Moscow commentator says. “The country couldn’t live in its existing form, and through blood and tragedy, it was twice forced to change. Circumstances compelled it to. But each such reordering left terrible scars on the lives of millions.”
“Are [Russians] going to wait again until circumstances force us? Will we again play as if we can pursue ‘a special path’? Will we give the impression that what is taking place in the world does not concern us?” If so, Russians will experience new tragedies at least a terrible as those they have experienced in the past. Perhaps, Strelok says, those in power “do not understand that we must change sooner than circumstances force us to.” Or alternatively, it may be that “they understand but don’t see the value of promoting that.” That is what makes Obama’s coming to power in the United States so instructive. He is, the Moscow analyst suggests, “a sign to all countries [including Russia] that it is necessary to change. If you want to flourish and grow rich, it is necessary to change. If you want development, it is necessary to change. [Even] if you want to survive it is necessary to change” and critically to do so before being forced to.
For those who understand this, Strelok concludes, Obama’s rise to power is “a good sign, which shows the path leading ahead. But for those who do not understand” and especially for those who do not want to understand, his “truly historical” inauguration is a clear indication that they face even greater problems ahead.
Right on the money. Providing he is firm and principled in his dealings with Russia, Obama represents the best thing that has happened to US power – and hence the power of the ideas of freedom and democratic governance – in a long time. When you have people in Latin America, all of Africa, Europe, Indonesia, Japan, and so on waving American flags and celebrating this man’s election as if it were their own country’s triumph at the soccer world cup or something, then you see how unmatched the power and pull of America remains. I’m still not sure that many Americans fully grasp what this powerful illustration of democracy in action has done for their image abroad. It’s simply transformational.
The United States PEOPLE have once again embraced change. This puts them light years ahead of Russia.
It should be no surprise that Russia is falling behind in every statistic that counts, what after all can we expect from a people who seem to think that a african american president was elected as pat of a republican plot??
Obama’s election has had a massive and positive effect on the standing of the US worldwide. Now all we can do is pray that he is up to the task.
Adrain, all will be made whole in the world because a mixed race American makes it to the White House? If only life was that simple.
I doubt that very many Obama voters could cite what the specifics of his foreign policy positions were and largely because they changed so much. And, worse, because it didn’t matter to them.
I hope Obama is up to the task too. And, I’m glad that the old canard of American racism is put to rest. Too bad conservate blacks in America can’t break the liberal MSM barrier. They’ve always been there but their voices have been ignored.
And, Andrew, the American public isn’t going to embrace a socialist welfare state where the Democrat’s economic policy is going for long. I agree that Obama, the symbol, is a rebuke to Russia’s refusal to change.
Well Obama plans to visit Moscow in April (as i know from CNN) and Putin was already moved by “positive signs” from Obama. I hope they will not take these positive signs too far….
Dear Penny, as someone who has grown up under a socialist government, the Labour Party, in New Zealand, I would not wish socialism on my worst enemy, let alone the American people.
I think the US publics fear of a socialist “trojan horse” in the democrats is understandable, but as you have rightly pointed out, it is simply not in the American character. Any attempt to force socialism on the people of the US would fall at the first hurdle, the people.
What I was pointing out is that the USA has finally broken the old bugbear of racism. Now the people of the USA have elected (for better or worse) an african-american President, it is a shot in the arm for the social cohesion of the US, and a slap in the face for the enemies of the US.
No longer can they portray the USA as the continuation of the “old south” cliche so beloved by Soviet & Russian propagandists.
No longer can opressive regimes talk about (relatively minor) US double standards and opression of the black population.
I am not saying that all will be made well because of Obama, far from it, he absolutely MUST stand up against despotic neo-fascist regimes in Russia, Africa, and the far east if he is to be a great leader.
However his election sends a very powerful message about the freedom of choice in the USA, its ability to change and adapt, and the basic resilience and decency of the American people.
America has voted for change and the change is getting closer to Soviet style socialism.
Obama is a Socialist loser who is turning America from a Superpower to a whimpy power. Obama is banning Star Wars, weapons in space. He will rescind the missile shield. I am sure he will give up Georgia and Ukraine to Imperialistic Russia.
An even more interesting aspect of the election of Obama in the U.S. is the fact that Americans *chose* him; that is to say, there was a time before 11.30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 4, when no one really knew who the next president of the United States would be.
You can count on one hand the number of elections in Russia’s history where similarly the outcome was not pre-determined, where the ballots actually meant something.
And just to emphasize that reality, regardless of whether one agrees with Obama or not, it is clear that his administration has already made some significant policy changes from its predecessor. For Americans, with their 2-term limits on their presidents, a decade ago in U.S. politics might as well be a thousand years ago because so much changes. For Russia, it would be difficult in real terms to identify what, beyond superficial elements, is really different in Russian politics from ten, 50 or even 100 years ago. Names and fashions change, but whether you call them the Okhrana, GPU, NKVD, KGB or FSB, they’re still here today and still a major pillar of Russian state power and authority. Tsar Putin, General Secretary, Prime Minister, whatever: the nature of his power is the same as it was for Russia’s rulers in 1909: still based on absolute authority, the corruption of a bureaucratic elite, and the suppression of basic economic, social and political rights for average Russians (which are taken for granted elsewhere). Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!
Russia only recently ended the USSR and Disbanded the Warsaw Pact; then Russia completely redid its entire political, social and economic systems from top to bottom. Arguably Russia has reformed its society more than any other country in the last 100 years.
US has not reformed itself in other than a superficial way (electing a Catholic or a black for example). The same ruling class that has always controlled America is controlling it now. Who are you kidding?
The U.S. is still stuck in its post World War II (Cold War) mentality, some 7 decades after the war ended. Most Americans continue to cling to the “master of the universe” view of their country, even as the very earth has shifted right from under their feet.
Now we have the sudden onset of the US-induced world financial crisis that is now punishing the whole world and undermining the legitimacy of the Ango-American capitalist model.
Yeah, electing the black guy really shows how thoroughly the the US is able to “change” itself. Too bad for the American people that Barack
Obama’s promise for “change” was all BS and Obama is little more than a black George Bush.
“Russians find it more difficult to escape from the past and thus face a future that may prove even worse than the present.”
Worse than the present? You mean like the capitalist “shock therapy” of the 1990’s, which saw Russia’s GDP decline to less than half of what it had been in the last years of the Soviet Union? You mean the collapse of health care, nutrition, and almost every other social indicator in Russia during the bad old Yeltsin days?
Misha, you’re missing a critical point. There is little need for huge, revolutionary reforms in Western societies because they allow for continuous reform and change — peaceful change. Political activism is a part of everyday life in the West; just visit Washington or London on some normal weekday and you’ll see several political demonstrations by some group or other. The West has learned to incorporate the ability to change into its political fabric, whereas Russia has not — which is why Russia had a revolution in 1917, and another in 1991. Russia suppresses change. There’ll probably be another Russian revolution at some point in the not-so-distant future, maybe in 2026 when Prime Minister Putin finally dies in office without a successor. The kinds of things Russia suddenly reformed for in 1991, the Americans had been reforming for back in 1909, and ever since.
As for the Yeltsyn days, you should study economics. The Soviet Union had so severely mis-managed its own economic assets for decades by 1991 that a collapse was inevitable. No matter who was in office after the Soviet Union’s demise, the economic horrors of the 1990s for Russians were inevitable. A more competent government might have been able to mitigate some minor aspects of the whole issue — as one friend put it, Russia went from being a gangster-run dictatorship to a gangster-run democracy — but on the whole, if you want to blame anyone for how bad things were in the 1990s, you need to blame Stalin, who built a massive economic system based on political (rather than economic) needs, then Khrushchov who simply had little understanding of economics, then Brezhnev who also understood economics little but who did understand that bribing the apparatchiks and the military kept him in power. Both Andropov and Gorbachov wanted to reform the Soviet economy in the 1980s but it was already essentially dead. There is a long list of genuinely enthusiastic pro-Soviet Marxists from Eastern Europe who studied economics — Kolakowski, Kornai, Pozsgay, etc. — and came to the inescapable conclusion that the Soviet economic system was doomed. It was based on lies — “The truth is protected by battalions of lies,” Stalin once told Molotov — and simply could not compete in the real world. It’s like the old Hungarian joke, “In capitalism, man exploits man, but in Socialism, it’s the other way around.”
Misha, Russia has changed NOTHING in its political, economic, and social systems.
Everything is still as it was in 1909, not to mention 1917, 1991. Ochrana, GPU, NKVD, KGB, FSB. Still the same “power vertical”, still the same serfs worshipping the “strong leader”, still the same corruption and centralised (and hopelessly ineffiecient) industries, still the same ramshackle health system, still the same poverty(both in economy and ideas). The falsification of industrial & socio-economic reports that resulted in the USSR (CCCP) collapsing under the weight of its corruption, lies, inefficiency, and brutality, none of which has changed one iota.
Russia is still run by the same KGB thugs who destroyed the healthcare, nutrition, education, not to mention the lives of more than 60,000,000 soviet citizens (in PEACETIME) in the period from 1917 to 1991.
You complain that the US is “still stuck in its post World War II (Cold War) mentality, some 7 decades after the war ended. Most Americans continue to cling to the “master of the universe” view of their country, even as the very earth has shifted right from under their feet” Well dimwit, what do you call the Russian world view? Its rabid attempt to restore its empire in eastern europe & the caucasus? Its genocide against the Chechens, its acts of genocide against the ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia & South Ossetia, its genocidal acts against the Ingush, and against just about every other ethnic minority in the Russian Federation through its policy of “Russification”, its threatening of Poland with nuclear strikes, its supply of weapons and diplomatic support to the most repugnant regimes on the planet.
By the way, the Warsaw pact was disbanded by its NON RUSSIAN members such as Poland, Chzecheslovakia, Hungary, Romania etc, as they desperately scrambled to get away from the malign influence of Russia.
If Russia is dependant on the American economic rebound(don’t get me wrong, it will happen) but Russia is screwed.
When America adopts Russian policy and declares that a success, I guess we’re screwed too.
I won’t last for long.