The Freedom that Russians Deserve

A letter to the editor of the Washington Post:

To the Editor:

The July 7 editorial “Moscow’s Fantasies” commented on “vital U.S. interests” involved in relations with Russia, but what about the vital interests of Russian citizens?

The Russian people deserve a government that fosters an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, public health and international business development. In their report, “Too Sick to Grow and Prosper — Russia’s Ongoing Health Crisis Obstructs Economic Growth,” Nicholas Eberstadt and Hans Groth note that Russia’s population suffers from public health problems such as low fertility rates, high mortality rates, drug-resistant tuberculosis and HIV.

Russia will host the Winter Olympics in 2014 in Sochi, but construction has displaced residents and imperiled the environment. Furthermore, Russia drives foreign investors away with harsh tactics, such as those used against oil company BP in the TNK-BP debacle. These tactics could adversely affect Western sponsorship for the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

In the coming months, I hope President Obama’s messages of democracy to opposition leaders, activists, readers of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and students at Moscow’s New Economic School will encourage a peaceful transformation of Russian governance and business.


29 responses to “The Freedom that Russians Deserve

  1. The tiny handful of opposition leaders, the small number of elite readers of Novaya Gazeta and the handful of students at Moscow’s New Economic School aren’t going to be the face of change in Russia.

    Look at Iran where the opposition is in large numbers and has captured the middle class and younger generation or in Venezuela where the young at the universites consistently take it to the streets. There is no critical mass among Russia’s educated liberal elite. A lot of them sold out long ago.

    If Russia ever changes it’s because Ivan Sixpack at a bluecollar job comes out of his coma and demands a better deal. The old brain dead Sovoks on pensions won’t help him rock the boat either. The revolution is going to look more like Poland’s if it ever happens.

    • > The revolution is going to look more like Poland’s

      The Danzig shipyard where electrician Lech Walesa once worked closed down long ago – together with a lot of other industrial enterprises. The Poles turned into all Europe’s plumbers. Such are the disastrous results of the “Polish revolution”.

      • Sorry Sir, but you are very sadly mistaken in all respects. The shipyards are still open, though they are painfully undergoing adjustments to becoming competitive in a larger global economy. Whether they survive or not, the revolution of 1980-81 (repeated to good effect in 1987-89) was not born of the shipyards themselves but the people working there. Solidarność spread within a matter of weeks to jobs of all types and descriptions all across Poland, encompassing at its height more than 10 million of Poland’s 15 million working adults. The shipyards are a symbol, but they were not the revolution. It’s OK, I understand how a Russian wouldn’t be able to recognize a genuine popular revolution. I’m sure you have your cache of favorite CIA conspiracy theories. I can assure you that the vast majority of Poles were actively supporting the revolution and moved to jubilation when that Brezhnev lap dog Jaruzelski finally caved in.

        We have political freedom. We have a real, functioning economy. Each time I go back to Warsaw, I am amazed at how much more colorful and alive it is. I remember back in the 1980s, it was like a gray, lifeless sepulchre. You know – like a typical Russian city today. We can travel and leave the country if we want. We have real and open debates on important political and social issues in the press. Nobody’s afraid anymore, that was one of my first realizations when I returned for the first time in 1992. (Within just weeks of Mazowiecki achieving power in 1988, shop shelves were full with food. Shopping became just another normal everyday activity again, unlike the previous decade of communism where we had to wait for hours in long lines for basic things.)

        Now, to be sure, we are still a developing economy, and some regions of Poland have been devastated by the collapse of the old economy because the ancien régime artificially supported uncompetitive industries (mostly through foreign debt), and as an emerging markets economy, we have a long ways to go before our economy hits Western levels — but the Polish economy, even today in the midst of this horrific global economic crisis, still provides far more opportunity than the Poland of the 1970s and 80s ever did. What’s the proof of the improvement? How about the dozen or so articles like these links here which appeared over the past couple years describing the phenomenon of old Polish sections of Western cities suddenly emptying out as Polish immigrants, political and economic exiles alike, started heading for home? Home, post-Russian Poland, became a place after 1989 where you could hope again and achieve a decent living:

        Jevgenij, you would have to be utterly blind to not recognize how much better Poland is today than it was before 1980. You may not like us, and I’ll grant you that Kaczyński is an idiot, but the improvement in the average Pole’s life since 1989 has been huge and tangible, like night and day. Even the old commies like Jaruzelski and Urban admit as much. O – and apparently, though anecdotal, so do many of your compatriots; in my more recent trips back home, I’ve been hearing more and more Russian spoken on the street in Warsaw — and this time, they’re not wearing uniforms. ;) It appears Russians who have the chance also prefer Poland to Russia in 2009.

        • Hi Tomek,

          You said it all in three (3) words :

          Nobody’s afraid anymore,

        • Hi Tomek,

          You also stated:

          I understand how a Russian wouldn’t be able to recognize a genuine popular revolution.

          The problem is that they have lost their sense of smell.

          A few years ago, when I was in Warsaw – I smelled freedom in the air; when I was in moscow – I smelled fear in the air! They have lived in fear for so long that they have become accustomed to it.

        • > The shipyards are still open

          Gdansk shipyards have fallen on hard times. Once a place of work for over 20,000 people, the Gdansk shipyards provide only 2,200 jobs today (ńsk_Shipyard)

          > a Russian wouldn’t be able to recognize a genuine popular revolution.

          Russia had a geniune popular revolution in August 1991. On 08.20.1991, I took part in the 100,000 men strong rally in the St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) Palace Square. Now I regret that the country was ruled by nincompoop Gorby and not by a man like Teng Xiao Ping who would have the guts smash us fools (myself included) with tanks in order to save the USSR.

          > still provides far more opportunity than the Poland of the 1970s and 80s ever did.

          Oh yeah… in the People’s Polish Republic, there was no opportunity to go to the UK to clean toilets. ;-)

          > because the ancien régime artificially supported uncompetitive industries (mostly through foreign debt)

          What is the amount of the Polish foreign debt TODAY?

          > I’ve been hearing more and more Russian spoken on the street in Warsaw — and this time, they’re not wearing uniforms.

          Well, maybe that’ll change someday as well (I mean, “not wearing uniforms”, of course). :-D

  2. From a sober and unsentimental overview of history, world history, and Russian history: Regretably, I fear that the only way that there can, eventually, be any major change….for the better……in Russia, will be by the historic-corrector of….war and bloodshed and massive destructio, the fruits of war.. Whether that will entail foreign invasion and foreign occupation, one cannot say, but probably so. But, untill there is some massive military overthrow of the evil empire of the gangster/KGB rulers of Russia, …there will never be any hope for an radical change there. The lesson of history, is that many many will have to perish first, and the entire country be laid low. Is this a repeat of Russian history? Of course. Some might say, that ‘the blood of the innocents murdered by that wicked nation, cries to Heaven, for vengence upon Russia’. Since Russia, as a people, has never yet repented of the gross evils which they, collectively, have committed upon…many millions,….and which they still are committing today! it would seem that what MUST come upon their heads, will be deserved. One day, there will no longer be…a ‘Russia’, upon the map of this planet. I predict this.

    • The lessons of history show us that everyone who invaded Russia from the West – from Stephen Batory to Karl XII, Napoleon and Hitler – ended up in a bad way.

  3. psalomschik, if the demographic trajectory and gov’t lack of policies stay in place Russia will simply fade, dying by a thousand paper cuts. Regaining empire status seldom happens in history. What is Russia today is a very beleaguered artificial construct. It won’t hold together.

    There isn’t the vitality in Russian society to change significantly to a new and better paradigm. Those that do repent their brutal history are unlikely to be a meaningful political presence. They are hidden from view.

    Look no farther than the amoral angry little pro-Putin trolls that leave illiterate provocative posts here.

    • > Regaining empire status seldom happens in history.

      Seldom doesn’t mean never. There are no fortresses the Bolsheviks are unable to take! © J.V. Stalin.

      • ‘Yevgeny’: Didn’t dear Uncle Joe, murder off most of the original Bolsheviks? What Russia needs today, are new, young, fresh anti-bolsheviks, who will retake Russia….for the benefit of the Russian people, and install a democratic anti-soviet, anti-KGB gangster regime. But then, where will you have to flee to? to save your skin, America?

        • I think Russians are better judges than you in the matters of “what Russia needs today”.

          • To Yevgeny: Sure, SOME Russians know what is best for Russia, they are the dissidents. And too, often those outside Russia, can see things much clearer than the internal prisoners in the gulag there. Your words are useless, and they are not original, but come from your KGB propaganda machine. Machines by definition, are soul-less and mindless.
            I refuse to further banter with your nonsence.

  4. Yes, Penny, you are correct: ‘There isn’t the vitality in Russian society to change significantly to a new and better paradigm’.
    And, I essentially agree wth the rest of what you say. However, IF….those aggresive gangsters in control over there, provoke a major war, as they seem bent on doing at some desperate stage of their downhill slide from power, then…….we will have world-war on all our hands. And sure, another lesson of history: what war produces, is not always a good end result, but often..a ..worse scenario.
    But of course, not!….that Russia will ever recover it’s former empire. The Czars are gone and communism’s ‘glory days’ are over too. Now we have in Russia, the tyranny of brutal gangsterism. Unfortunately, that mafia-pattern of governing, is not at all unique to Russia,….though in Russia it is so very blatant, but seems to be a major commonplace pattern in many other third world countries….if not also in first world nations also (but more hidden there.) We live in the time of criminal gangs, calling the shots, and ensconced in seats of governmental authority.
    As to the mindless Putler trolls that polute our eyes, here, or anywhere, yes……to me their only real value is that that keep me updated as to what is the official Kremlin line of bull, for this week. Thanks Penny for your astute insights, I enjoy reading them, and those of a number of other intelligent commenters here, the ones who actually have valuable insights to share.

  5. psalomschik, thanks, and I seek and appreciate your thoughtful comments too. There is a core of us here that are a pleasure to read.

  6. Eugeny ,
    Since , as you so adroitly point out , everyone
    who invaded Moscovy from the west ended up
    ” in a bad way ” , the solution might be to come in
    from the EAST and finnish what should have
    been done long ago .
    In any case you moscovites better start learning
    Mandarin .

    • Oleksander, good one. Russia’s commodity rich far East is being slowly colonized now by China. With Russia’s pathetic demographics and mismanagement China will make territorial gains without a shot fired. Count on it in a few generations.

      • > far East is being slowly colonized now by China.

        For some reason, my acquaintances living in the Far East don’t notice it. :-)

  7. Well said Oleksander,
    The Russians always did very poorly in the east.
    They were unable to use their “Human wave” tactics due to poor logistics.
    The Japanese certainly reamed them in 1904-05.
    In the west, the Germans crushed Russia 1914-1917, when Russia surrendered to the Germans, and the Poles did very well 1919-21 (the Russians lost that one too)

    So at least 2 invasions of Russia from the west have been pretty successful.

  8. …and the bit about Stefan Batory’s “invasion” is less than truthful. Batory — or Báthory as it’s spelled in his native Hungarian — was the king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the end of the 16th century. Batory (Polish spelling) did not invade Moscow/Russia; he allied with Sweden to prevent the Russian conquest of what had been the Confederation of Livonia, a German crusader state in what is today Latvia and Estonia. Grand Duke Ivan IV provoked the Livonian War (1558-1583) while trying to gain access to the Baltic; the Rzeczpospolita and Sweden teamed up and defeated the Russians, dividing the Baltic territories between us. Kurzeme, or Courland — the object of Ivan IV’s ambitions — became a Polish fiefdom for more than a century, thriving under the local Kettler dynasty (during which time Courland’s main ports, Libau and Windau (modern Liepaja and Ventspils) became some of the busiest ports in 17th century Europe. Sorry Jevgennij, but while Batory launched repeated raids deep into Moscow territory, there was no attempt to invade or conquer. It was until Zygmunt/Sigismund III Vasa in 1610 that we would occupy Moscow…

  9. And surrender after having been besieged in the Kremlin where hunger drove “you” to eating rats, crows and finally to cannibalism. :-(

  10. While everyone is pointing out numerous
    setbacks of the ” unbeatable ” moscovovites ,
    let’s not forget the complete annihilation of the
    moscovite army ( one of the worst defeats ever) ,
    in 1659, at Konotop , by the Ukrainian Kozak forces under
    hetman Ivan Vyhovskyj . The anniversary of this battle was just celebrated widely in Ukraine
    to great consternation and denial of the moscovites . They ( the moscovites ) still don’t
    realize that nowadays truth cannot be supressed
    as was possible once under the czarist or soviet
    moscovite regimes .

    • The crucial factor that helped to win the victory at Konotop was won not by Vygovsky’s Kossacks (by the way, Vygovsky went back on the oath of allegiance he had given to the Russian tsar) but by their allies, the Crimean Tatars. They did manage to rout the Russian cavalry manned by the descendants of some grand families – therefore the impact of that event on Moscow was the same as that of the disastrous Light Cavalry attack at Balaclava during the Eastern War on London. The Russian cavalry commander was captured by the Tatars and had his head cut off for spitting the Tatar Khan in the face. However, the main battle force of the Russian army remained intact. They withdrew to Putivl, while the “victorious” Tatars began looting Ukrainian villages. This resulted in a series of uprisings and the “victor” Vygovsky having been deposed and forced to flee to Poland. In October 1659 (just a few months after the “great Konotop victory” the second Pereyaslavl Rada took place, where the Ukrainians swore allegiance to the Tsar again.

  11. Funny how Eugene fails to come up with a good response to Russia’s humiliation in WW1, or its total defeat by Poland in 1921.

    Or its humiliations in Finland.

    Or its abysmal performance in ww2, at kursk (a “great” Russian victory) the Russians had massive numerical superiority, a well prepared defensive network of tank traps, trenches, bunkers and minefields many kilometres in depth, and new the precise plans of the Germans due to British Enigma decrypts.

    The Germans still managed to inflict a 3 to 1 kill loss ratio in tanks, 5 to 1 in men, and the German assault was called off due to the need to transfer armoured units to Italy due to the allied invasion.

  12. Allied forces would most certainly have gotten to Berlin first (this was Stalins big fear at the time), and probably taken it with minimal casualties to both sides.

    However, the US commander Eisenhower refused to waste allied lives taking a city that was already marked as being well inside the pre agreed soviet occupation zone.

    If not for the destruction of German industry, the tying down of half of Germany’s armour in the west, the tying down of millions of men in the air defences of Germany, the heavy losses of German manpower in North Africa and Italy, and the vital supplies dispatched to Russia via Arctic convoys and through Persia, Russia would have collapsed in 1942, as very nearl happened anyway.

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