I reached Douglass North, and gave him a rundown on what I was witnessing in Russia. Then I asked him how long it would take before Russia might become a normal, free and, democratic society — in which both the utilities and the political institutions really worked. I was hoping against hope for an answer with a time horizon within the decade or so.
North replied: “Oh, about 50 years.”
Let us hope it won't take that long here after Obama.
Twenty years ago this Christmas day, Mikhail Gorbachev gave a speech announcing “I hereby discontinue my activities at the post of President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” And with that, the totalitarian and murderous construct of the USSR, already uncoupled earlier that month by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the presidents of Ukraine and Belarus, was no more.
These were monumental events. Yet so tumultuous is the world right now that the 20th anniversary of the Soviet collapse is figuring as little more than a footnote in the news. In Russia itself, the events of the hour are the protests against the reign of Vladimir Putin, with tens of thousands of people bravely demonstrating in the freezing streets, alleging foul play in the recent parliamentary elections and, as the AFP reports , carrying banners with slogans such as “We woke up and this is only the beginning.”
If so, it has been a long beginning. Twenty years have passed since Russia officially embarked on its awakening. An entire new generation has come of age, and the years since Christmas of 1991 have been filled with trouble, disappointments, crude grabs for Russia’s colossal natural resources, the fading of freedoms once promised, and the rise of a new autocracy. There would be room for a more joyous celebration of the Soviet collapse, were there less call to deplore a great deal of what has followed.
But I would not give up on Russia, or at least on the Russians.