Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Window on Eurasia: President Obama – Symbolic of Change Russians Can’t or Won't Emulate, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 20 – The inauguration of Barak Obama today 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 (www.vestnikcivitas.ru/ht/ ).
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.

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