Elite Perceptions of the US

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As a citizen of two countries, the defects of one do not mitigate the defects of the other

RUSSIA MEDIA 02

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My attitudes towards America are to a great degree informed by the fact that I lived in America for 15 years and received all my schooling there. Though I was born in Russia and returned to live there permanently as an adult, most of my later childhood and adolescence was spent in the United States.

The reasons I decided to leave America were largely personal, as my husband is Russian and since I was pursuing a career in journalism there were simply better opportunities in Moscow upon graduation from college. But even those personal circumstances were defined to a large degree by my dissatisfaction with life in America. Had our family been more affluent, I suspect my attitudes would have been different, but my first hand-experience of America clashed with my immigrant parents' expectations of America as a ‘land of opportunity’. A sense of disillusionment and disappointment were thus part of my earliest impressions of America.

Back in Russia in the early 2000s, my views of America were largely positive, thus reflecting the views of the Russian liberal elite, even though it tended to idealize American society and seek to emulate it. Finding myself transitioning to the realities of Russia as an adult, I was forced to compare them to American realities. While I preferred life in Russia to life in America for myself, I tended to view American society as more socio-politically advanced and, regrettably, I probably exhibited some degree of snobbism and chauvinism.

I still firmly believe that America, unlike Russia, has functioning institutions deeply embedded within society to protect the individual from the government. Despite abuses and shortcomings, the American government is a continuation of - and works in tandem with - civil society, as opposed to Russia where the government stands in place of civil society and is alienated from society itself.

But I find myself deeply irritated to have held the sentiment of American social and moral superiority, and am angered when confronted with this sentiment in others.

While my own experiences of being poor in America - emotional, rather than rational – have informed this, a lot has come from a better understanding of how Russia works and the discovery that Russia and America have certain dark similarities. For example, examining stories of police brutality, I realized America is capable of exactly the same abuses that Russia commits on a regular basis, even if these abuses are not so ubiquitous in America.

I am disgusted with Russia's attempts to use America's shortcomings to deflect attention from Russia's own disastrous shortcomings at home. Yet for me, as a citizen of two countries, the defects of one do not mitigate the defects of the other

My research on the reasons why Russian citizens are so vulnerable before the Russian state opened up parallels with similar vulnerability among America's more disenfranchised groups, who do not have the resources to make use of the laws that could protect them. While Russian laws simply don't work, many in America are unable to take advantage of the laws that do work to protect them.

Studying Russian society from within and being familiar with its authoritarian nature, it was evident that an authoritarian society cannot be changed into a democratic one by replacing the regime in power. American intervention in Iraq and Libya - with the use of force and the human casualties this inevitably entails – in the name of “transitioning to democracy” in a region Americans do not understand is foolish at best.

But the Kremlin's stance that America is behind all attempts at regime change in Russia and Ukraine is preposterous. America's attempt to support various political groups in the post-Soviet space is foolish and extremely dangerous, and while I ultimately blame Russia for fuelling the civil war in Ukraine's east, I do not see America as blameless either.

I am disgusted with Russia's attempts to use America's shortcomings to deflect attention from Russia's own disastrous shortcomings at home. Yet for me, as a citizen of two countries, the defects of one do not mitigate the defects of the other.

After spending much of my adult life in Russia, my main reason for becoming increasingly disillusioned with America is a spectacular and widespread naivety about society and the human condition. This naivety is often echoed by Western Europeans. As a Russian journalist, I am frequently met with outraged – if well-meaning – questions about what has to be done to make Russian society better.

The premise of these questions is that human society is naturally just and fair and democratic by default, and that authoritarian regimes are mere aberrations that can easily be overthrown to restore the natural just state of society.

Two Western generations grew up in liberal, unprecedentedly affluent settings without a first-hand memory of war – giving rise to a whole generation that takes democracy and Western liberalism for granted as the default state of humanity rather than the miracle which I believe it to be.