Obama and Medvedev: Does Russia have the courage to change?
To become a truly prosperous and democratic nation, Russia must be willing to abandon cultural obstacles to progress. Based on a meeting I had with Russia's president last month, Moscow may not be ready to do that.
Vineyard Haven, Mass.
President Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today. In their press conference, they talked about Afghanistan, an upcoming G-20 summit, and the World Trade Organization. What they should have discussed also is whether Moscow has the courage to lead Russia into a truly prosperous and democratic future.Skip to next paragraph
Based on a recent meeting I had with Mr. Medvedev, I’m not sure it is.
In Moscow last month, I participated in a symposium on cultural values, cultural change, and economic development dedicated to the memory of Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington. I left with a strong sense that Russia is at a crossroads. Will it accept the mediocrity of continuing as a Second-World nation, or will it adopt the conditions to become a First-World power?
I essentially put that question directly to Medvedev at his residence. I distributed a chart about Russia (click on the graphic titled "Where Russia lags" at left) and expressed my belief that the indicators were rooted in cultural factors.
The table consists of five indicators of progress that cover political, social, and economic development. I had chosen the four countries to contrast with Russia for the following reasons:
•Finland, because it is among the Nordic countries, which, by these five indicators as well as many more that I have reviewed, are the champions of progress toward the goals established by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: democratic governance, social justice, and an end to poverty.
•The USA, because it is generally regarded as the world’s leader and was Russia’s cold war superpower rival.
•Israel, because many Russians have migrated there in recent years.
•Estonia, because it was a Soviet Socialist Republic. Like Israel and Balkans development superstar Slovenia, Estonia has just been invited to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, largely a First World club. Estonia’s progress as an independent country evokes the Nordic countries, with which it has cultural connections, including the Lutheran religion.