I've just ended two weeks visiting cities in four regions of Russia. The one question that was asked over and over was, "Why does America hate us? Why do you demonize us?" Most would add a caveat -- "I like American people and I think YOU like us individually but why does the American government hate our government?"
This article is a composite of the comments and questions that were asked to our 20-person delegation and to me as an individual. I do not attempt to defend the views but offer them as an insight into the thinking of many of the persons we came into contact with in meetings and on the streets.
None of the questions, comments or views tell the full story, but I hope they give a feel for the desire of the ordinary Russian that her country and its citizens are respected as a sovereign nation with a long history and that it is not demonized as an outlaw state or an "evil" nation. Russia has its flaws and room for improvement in many areas, just as every nation does, including for sure, the United States.
New Russia Looks Like You -- Private Business, Elections, Mobile Phones, Cars, Traffic Jams
One middle-aged journalist in the city of Krasnodar commented, "The United States worked hard to make the Soviet Union collapse, and it did. You wanted to remake Russia like the United States -- a democratic, capitalist country in which your companies could make money -- and you have done that.
"After 25 years, we are a new nation much different from the Soviet Union. The Russian Federation has created laws that have allowed a large private business class to emerge. Our cities now look like your cities. We have Burger King, McDonalds, Subway, Starbucks and malls filled with a huge number of totally Russian business ventures for the middle class. We have chain stores with merchandise and food, similar to Wal-Mart and Target. We have exclusive stores with top-of-the-line clothing and cosmetics for the richer. We drive new (and older) cars now just like you do. We have massive rush hour traffic jams in our cities, just like you do. We have extensive, safe, inexpensive metros in all of our major cities, just like you have. When you fly across our country, it looks just like yours, with forests, farm fields, rivers and lakes -- only bigger, many time zones bigger.
"Most people on buses and in the metro are looking at our mobile phones with internet, just like you do. We have a smart youth population that is computer literate and most of whom speak several languages.
"You sent your experts on privatization, international banking, stock exchanges. You urged us to sell off our huge state industries to the private sector at ridiculously low prices, creating the multi-billionaire oligarchs that in many ways mirror the oligarchs of the United States. And you made money in Russia from this privatization. Some of the oligarchs are in prison for violating our laws, just as are some of yours.