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Just How Civilized Is Western Civilization?


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Edward Lozansky is President of the American University in Moscow

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Took a wrong turn somewhere

Those who witnessed - and especially those who helped bring about - the momentous changes in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and Russia in the early 1990s, remember only too well the overwhelming euphoria of those times. The dark years of totalitarian communism were receding into the past, and the peoples of Russia were ready and eager to join the great family of the Western civilization led by the United States.

Twenty five years ago in April 1989, a delegation from America arrived in Moscow to investigate Gorbachev’s radical social and economic reforms, perestroika and glasnost. Was it genuine reform or just a sinister KGB ruse to fool the naive West? The group included Members of Congress, exiled Soviet dissidents, foreign policy experts and scholars with strong anti-Soviet and anti-communist credentials. The group had come, as they told Gorbachev’s right hand man Alexander Yakovlev, in order to help the Russians understand the “values of the Western civilization.”

Human rights, the rule of law, democracy, freedom, market economy -- these were and still are the buzz words associated with Western values. Fresh from the yoke of communism, Russians were eager to embrace all of these ideals, and confidently expected them to materialize with help from the United States.

A detailed report about how all this could be done was personally delivered to President George Bush, Sr. in the fall of 1990 by Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation. Weyrich later claimed that the report was dismissed by Condoleezza Rice, who was present at the meeting.

What actually came about was somewhat different. Russia’s economy crashed worse than in World War II. Millions lost their jobs and the means of earning a livelihood. The freedom of pursuing economic prosperity morphed into the freedom of banditry. Bandit capitalism became the prevailing economic order. 

The West has actually abetted this state of affairs with its numerous advisors and IMF officials. All this was clearly described in the 2000 Congressional report, “Russia’s Road to Corruption,” commissioned by House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Anyone who has studied Russia’s thousand-year history, its habit of rising, Phoenix-like, out of the ashes of countless invasions, subjugations, wars and revolutions, could have predicted what followed. Time and again the Russians – not just the elite, but the citizenry, too – watched with amazement and shock at the methods used by the West to promote its "values".

In the last fifteen years alone they witnessed the bombing of Belgrade and breakdown of Serbia; the ousting of legally elected governments through “color” revolutions; assaults on Iraq, Libya, Syria; the “Arab Spring" - all leaving a bloody trail of hundreds of thousands dead, chaos, ruin, hatred and strife, not to mention the rise of a new generation of terrorists which make Al-Qaida blush. 

What is happening in Ukraine - a country that for centuries has been tied to Russia through family, religion, culture and commerce - has dispelled the last illusions among Russians about the West.

In an ironic twist,  the European Union has finally agreed to bring Russia into the negotiation process about European–Ukrainian economic association and to delay until 2016 a trade agreement with Ukraine. However, these negotiations were first proposed by Moscow long before the coup-d’etat in Kiev was blessed by the EU and US. As a result, thousands of civilians have been killed and wounded, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled he region; Eastern Ukraine is now completely devestated.

Some sober minds in the EU leadership admit that all this could have been avoided had they agreed to involve Russia in the process from the outset. They finally did so, but what a horrible price the Ukrainians had to pay for the West’s incompetence. It's not hard to see why many consider the crisis in Ukraine a conscious effort by the West to weaken Russia geopolitically.

The US Congress dishonored itself when it invited Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to address its joint session – one of the highest honors which can be bestowed upon a foreign leader. Poroshenko, who has presided over so much suffering and destruction in Ukraine, has also been accused of being a “corrupt oligarch” - by US embassy officials in Kiev, no less.

Still, the real values of the Western civilization are not obsolete, of course; westerners do not necessarily support the actions of their leaders. For example, according to the latest polls, a solid majority of Americans disapprove Obama’s foreign policy and only 13 % have a favorable view of Congress. This is an excellent sign which shows that perhaps Western civilization still has a chance to restore the respect and admiration that it once enjoyed in Russia and the rest of the world. 

But first, the American political landscape must change dramatically; America must find the strength to recover from the devastating policy failures of the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.


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