Maybe I’m over reacting but a recent AP Story by Maria Danilova brought to mind the feeling many of us had during the Bush/Cheney years that America’s image as that “shining city on a hill” Reagan spoke of back in 1974 has been forever tainted. A vision of America by Martin Luther King, Jr. that held the “hope and possibility for a future anchored in dignity, sensitivity, and mutual respect; a message that challenges each of us to recognize that America’s true strength lies in its diversity of talents.”
In her article, “As Putin Plans to Stay, Many Russians Want Out”, we find that many young hopeful and intelligent Russians are emigrating out of Russia because future prospects for them are not looking good.
As Vladimir Putin’s party prepares to dominate weekend parliamentary elections in a prelude to his planned return to the presidency in spring, an increasing number of Russians are contemplating leaving their homeland in search of a brighter future abroad.
The democratic reforms ushered in by the 1991 Soviet collapse generated hope that Russia could finally become a free and progressive nation. But Putin’s 11 years in power, first as president and now as prime minister, have left many people disillusioned and gloomy about the future.
While an expanding economy has boosted living standards for many, corruption has become systemic and political competition has virtually disappeared. On a more day-to-day level, many Russians complain that education and health care continue to lag far behind. The draft-based army is plagued by vicious hazing, leaving many parents fearful for their sons. Few have faith that they can count on either the police or the courts to protect them or their property.
We find however that what used to be taken as a given, America is not necessarily their first choice on where to settle.
Natalia Lepleiskaya is just the sort of person today’s Russia needs — a successful young IT manager who does charity work in her free time.
But frustrated by what she describes as the corruption and stagnation around her, she and her husband are packing their bags to start a new life in Canada.
Canada! Not the U.S., but Canada. Not that Canada has little to offer these emigrants – it does in so many ways – but one would think that America would be at the top of anyone’s list who was escaping a system of one Party rule and corruption throughout their political and economics structures. Even most Americans (90%) view our neighbor to the north more favorably than any of the other 20 countries they were polled on. But America over the last decade has lost much of its luster as our political leaders have engaged in pre-emptive warfare with its “my way or the hi-way” approach to foreign policy and its partisan two Party system that is none-the-less identical in too many ways, resembling the ultimate control that many Russians have seen in their one-Party system all of their lives.
Now, this is not to say that many of these Russian emigrants won’t seek out visas to the U.S. But polls show that the U.S. has many Russians apprehensive about what their futures would be under our way of life. A review of 2009 Gallup data shows that 53% of Americans have an unfavorable view of Russia which could partially explain why only 20% of Russians view the U.S. favorably.
A large percentage of Russians (47%) had no opinion about America, that Gallup officials felt at the time was due to the uncertainty of the then incoming Obama administration.
Apparently, an increased percentage of the Russian people are withholding judgment on President Obama’s new administration. No doubt this stands in contrast to the well-established (and quite negative) image of the George W. Bush administration as it entered its sixth, seventh, and eighth years. The positive news for Obama as he meets with Russian leadership in Moscow this week is that initial impressions among those who do have an opinion appear to have shifted more in the positive direction than was the case for the last three years of the Bush administration.
At the same time, the less positive news for Russian leadership is the finding that Americans have become more negative about Russia in recent years, to the point where a majority now say their image of Russia is unfavorable. These negative images are as strong as they have been in almost a decade.
Obama has been in place now for nearly three years however and though the favorable ratings by Russians toward the U.S. have improved slightly, they are not at a level one would think those seeking relief from political repression and economic corruption would flock to. Could the damage done under Bush/Cheney still be quite significant? Of course it could but the fact that the Occupy Wall Street movement has exposed the underside of an economic system that once held out great promises to every enthusiastic entrepreneur and a social democratic government that enabled the greatest middle class expansion the world has ever seen, now seems more like the one Russians are fleeing, thus explaining a preference for the likes of Canada over America.
The anti-immigration, super-patriotic contingent in this country that sees most if not all foreigners as someone to reject may be celebrating this possible shift in views by outsiders. But it is our loss as a nation when the best and the brightest from other countries take their services and potential elsewhere, especially at a time when the U.S. ranks near the bottom in educational achievements, leaving us in desperate need to fill the voids in science and commercial innovations to keep our economy competitive in the new global market.
It seems that if this trend continues we will fall behind the expanding economies of China and India and, despite its recent conflicts, the European Union. To regain the appeal that this nation once held out to every other country around the globe we must make sure that income disparity and crony capitalism do not transform this nation from what it once was to what appears to be the type Russians are now fleeing from.