Russophobia Still Rampant
Published: April 26, 2002 (Issue # 765)
EVERY country has two histories: one written by the country itself, the other by its neighbors. The amount that has been written about Russia by Western authors is quite astounding. Such literary luminaries as Diderot, Stendhal, Balzac, Merimee, Casanova, Alexandre Dumas pere, H.G. Wells, James Joyce and Leon Feuchtwangler have helped to shape the Western image of Russia.
However, both in the recent past and today, it seems that the Western elite has too often been indoctrinated by the literary legacy of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon" - works which most graphically portray the totalitarian chapter in Russia's history. And all this despite the enormous changes in the lives and mentality of Russian people over the past 10 to 15 years.
There exists a dangerous tendency to attribute to Russians such allegedly hereditary characteristics as cruelty, laziness, anti-democratism, irresponsibility etc. Pronounced negative stereotypes - such as official corruption, mafia dominance, pervasive poverty and alcoholism - continue to prevail in many Western mass media that cover Russia. Until recently, one got the impression that reports on Russia of a disrespectful and derogatory tone were more frequent than even during the Cold War. Although, in all fairness, we should recognize that many stereotypes about the West are still very much alive in Russia.
It is important to understand what is behind all the stories about vodka, the mafia and uncivilized Russians. Professor Johan Janssen of Basel University provides an instructive answer, arguing that a feeling of indignation at Russia's "ingratitude" as well as at the fact that "the defeated enemy has begun to stir again," underlies this information policy toward Russia.
Unfortunately, Janssen does not specify what Russians and the new Russia should be grateful to the West for. Could it be for the write-off of at least part of the huge Soviet debt to the West, as Poland got, for example? Or maybe for admission to the WTO, as was the case with China recently? Perhaps for easing the visa regime, as has been done with the Baltic countries? Or possibly even for the major direct investment in the Russian economy, comparable to investment in China or Brazil?
Russia itself broke the vice-like grip of the totalitarian system; opted for democratic and market institutions of its own volition; overcame colossal difficulties to achieve stability and, over the past three years, sustainable economic growth largely by itself; and was the first to support the United States after Sept. 11.Pages: