Russia is Iraq
Published: December 29, 2012
Josh Haner/The New York Times
Yesterday's news from Russia is earth-flattening, and it raises questions about whether there might just be light at the end of the tunnel. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means on the street. The current administration seems too caught up in worrying about their own skins to pay attention to how their people are doing. Just call it missing the desert for the sand.
When thinking about the ongoing troubles, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like computer programs, so attempts to treat them as such inevitably look foolish. Computer programs never suddenly set up a black market for Western DVDs. Two, Russia has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If ethnic conflict is Russia's glass ceiling, then capitalism is certainly its alarm clock.
When I was in Russia last August, I was amazed by the level of Westernization for such a closed society, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Russia have no shortage of human capital, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Russia are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.
So what should we do about the chaos in Russia? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not let seemingly endless frustrations cause the people of Russia to doubt their chance at progress. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture these first inklings of a moderate, modern society. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to peace is so strewn with obstacles that Russia will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Moscow needs to come to terms with its own history.
Speaking with a local farmer from the small Suni community here, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, ahim bin tal, which is a local saying that means roughly, "If a son is uneducated, his dad is to blame."
I don't know what Russia will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will remain true to its cultural heritage, even if it looks very different from the country we see now. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.