Saturday, August 15, 2009

This is indicative of how many Russians think about the West--though few are this well-spoken.

Disheartened With the West
Moscow Times -- 11 August 2009
By Alexei Pankin

Back in January 2003, I read the following opinion on the web site, an analytical forum that had just been created: “We will never be accepted in [the West’s] world or recognized as equal partners in their innumerable communities. Russia may have many allies in the West, but from our Western partners’ standpoint we will always be viewed as different, strange, somehow improper and eternally guilty of something.”

When I published that quote in my Moscow Times column on Jan. 28, 2003, I used a bit of irony in referring to that Russian mindset as an “anti-Western inferiority complex.”

A few days ago, I read an interview on with Vladimir Sungorkin, editor-in-chief of Komsomolskaya Pravda, one of the country’s most popular and influential newspapers. “If you do not support this country,” he said, “this regime and this president, then you automatically support outside forces that have an interest in weakening and destroying the state.” Rather than offering a rebuttal, I now accept those words as a simple fact.

The West’s attitude toward Georgia’s war against Russia a year ago became a moment of truth for me and for many of my colleagues. The immediate response to the war by Western media and officials, as well as by the overwhelming majority of post-Communist European nations, could by summed up as follows, “Out of the blue, an aggressive Russia attacked Georgia without cause to suffocate the budding democracy.”

This bias underscores the West’s presumption of Russia’s guilt, regardless of circumstances. That is probably why U.S. President Barack Obama received a rather cool reception during his recent visit to Moscow, while in other capitals he has been met with rousing applause.

It was, of course, disheartening for me to have to give up my pro-Western illusions. Yet it was even more disappointing that many of my friends and colleagues — who, like me, had joined the bandwagon of perestroika reforms in the late 1980s in the hopes of rebuilding Russia along Western lines — were smart enough to lose faith in the West much earlier than I had.

On the other hand, it made me closer to the Russian people. After the Russia-Georgia war, the stance taken by the intelligentsia coincided with mainstream public opinion — a rare event in Russian history.

Some might say such an evolution in thinking is similar to the changes U.S. neoconservative writers such as Norman Podhoretz or Irving Kristol underwent in the 1970s and 1980s. After initially defining themselves as firm leftists in their writings, they later became apologists for U.S. dogma and provided powerful ideological support for the administration of former President Ronald Reagan. For a Western intellectual and former Trotskyist such as Kristol, this radical switch is tantamount to a psychiatric disorder.

Maybe, having cast off their illusions, they displayed the same fanaticism in joining the global ideological struggle against their former idols. As Adolf Hitler once said, “Social democrats don’t make good fascists, but Communists do.” It is natural for Russian intellectuals who had been enamored of Western values to experience a similar reaction and for our disaffection not to have been especially heart wrenching. We respect the West’s values, but in our country we will live according to our own traditions, values and world outlook.

P.S. I’m off now to reread Vladimir Putin’s 2007 Munich speech.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of WAN-IFRA-GIPP Magazine for publishing business professionals.