Russia’s biggest problem is its brain drain. The usual Russian first response to a national emergency is denial. But this time, thanks to President Medvedev and others, the nation is beginning to admit this problem and is heralding a solution. But, it is still an inadequate solution.
A senior Russian official once assured me, “In Russia, everything is difficult, and everything is possible.” That was encouraging to a new American in the new Russia. As a Russophile, now with many years of relationships with good, hard working, intelligent, and promising Russian men and women, I know all about the difficulties, and I hope dearly the solutions are indeed and possible soon. I have always said Russia’s asset is its “minds” not its “mines.” But, it is the minds, the highly competent younger Russians who are leaving their motherland for greater freedom and opportunity abroad. Many studies show this.
Responsible Russian leadership knows this and is taking steps to solve this problem. That is what Skolkovo – Russia’s attempt to create its own Silicon Valley near Moscow - is all about. But, as usual in Russia, the effort is from the top down. Maybe that is the only power at hand as there is no “bottom” from which to rise from. That will take time. But only within a free society with democratic laws does this real growth happen. A genuine change must establish a societal environment that cultivates the individual initiative that drives the educated young with ideas. You can’t order a field to produce fruit.
Russian technology has taken some blows recently with crashed airplanes, trains, and rockets. Maybe a rejuvenated technology sector will help return Russia to its historic leadership in these fields.
Change happens everywhere and continuously. One big problem is the Russian deep resistance to change. In spite of presidential acclamations, there is resistance to leave autocracy for real democracy. The powers don’t trust it. Machiavelli had it right. About change being so resisted he wrote,”For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institutions and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones.” (The Prince, 1513) The armed raid on the Moscow BP offices this past week underlines the congenital resort of a weak man – force. Freedom to rise in a civil society, one without the immorality of corruption and bribery has to be nurtured. It will take brave leadership, and transparent example, to do that.
One survey I read reported that less than 4% of the top technical graduates intended to stay in Russia. The young are frustrated about living and working in Russia. The authoritarian system and corruption create a fearful lack of confidence of proper reward for a job well done. In these conditions the entrepreneur is afraid of success. They have extreme difficulties of setting up a small business in Russia. So many times I have heard of a young man or woman starting a business, but as soon as success is obvious, guys muscle in and take over. In spite of Putin promises, nothing has changed. Especially if some foreign element is part of the business, even official takeover happens – take the recent example of AviaNova Airlines and the Moscow office invasion of BP. It is so discouraging. When will this stop?
Growing up in America, I learned that the reward of hard work was security and the grace of accomplishment. This democracy created an atmosphere of stability and promise, where we have laws, our laws to guide and protect. I don’t believe the young Russian really wants to leave Russia, his family, friends, and fun. Of course travel is needed for all of us. But moving there is another issue. The potential and growth they create will benefit Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Berlin--and Russia will miss out on that. Russia is losing that potential. Russia is losing a generation. Skolkovo will not solve this, as it comes from the top. But it will create intercultural and international relationships which may keep more of the young brains in Russia – but only if the freedom of a real democracy evolves as the older generations vanish. So what – another 15 years? That is a small time out of Russia’s thousand years of autocracy.
Russia has faked democracy in the past ten years and also faked reforms. If we want to see what is “possible” and not constantly deny or proudly wrestle with what is “difficult,” much of what Dmitry Medvedev says needs to become real, not just slogans while the old ways are rebranded as new. I believe progress in Russia is indeed inevitable. The usual excuse for Russia’s isolation is its proclaimed desire to stay close to the country’s roots, but in reality it is stagnation. Today’s young won’t stand for that. They know what is “possible.”
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
The column is about the ideas and stories generated from the 20 years the author spent living and doing business in Russia. Often about conflict and resolution, these tales at times reveal the “third side of the Russian coin.” Based on direct involvement and from observations at a safe distance, the author relates his experiences with respect, satire and humor.
Frederick Andresen is an international businessman and writer with a lifetime of intercultural experience in Asia and for the last twenty years in Russia. He now lives in California and is President of the Los Angeles/St. Petersburg Sister City Committee. While still involved in Russian business, he also devotes time to the arts and his writing, being author of “Walking on Ice, An American Businessman in Russia” and historical novellas.