Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Lesson for Russians: Foreigner Dislike Putin More than They Dislike Russia, Yakovenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 9 – The Russian culture ministry wants scholars to investigate why there is so much “Russia-phobia” in the world, not “Russophobia” or the hatred of Russians, the traditional concern, but of “historic Russia, its way of life, values and cultural achievements,” Igor Yakovenko says.

            The Russian commentator suggests that the ministry could save its 1.9 million rubles (30,000 US dollars) because existing surveys show that the main reason behind the rise of anti-Russian attitudes is dislike for Vladimir Putin and his policies rather than any disdain for Russians or Russia as such (

            But what makes the proposal of Vladimir Medinsky’s ministry even more “amusing,” Yakovenko says, is that the conclusions his agency wants to get are already presented in the detailed proposal about what investigators should be looking at in order to understand what it calls “’the phenomenon of Russia-phobia.’”

            Specifically, the tender offer says that “’the strengthening of Russia-phobic discourse is a reaction to the objectively emerging stage of Russian national rebirth.’” That is, the commentator explains, foreigners don’t like us because “they slander us; they slander us, because they envy us, and they envy us because we are standing or have stood up from our knees.”

            Moreover, he continues, the ministry clearly wants the investigators of this phenomenon to note and to conclude in advance that foreigners “also fear us because we are very good, cultured and just.” 

            But by asking this question, the ministry may have very well landed itself in difficulties, not only for obvious reasons but for more obscure ones which “require calm and genuinely scientific analysis,” Yakovenko says, even though that is clearly not what Medinsky et al. have in mind.

            The obvious part of this pattern of the attitudes of others toward Russia is displayed in the findings of surveys like the one conducted by the Pew Research Center among 45,000 people in 39 countries. In found that for all of them taken together, “only 24 percent had a positive attitude toward Russia,” while 58 percent had a negative one.

            Moreover, most of those countries with the most negative attitudes toward Russia – Poland, Jordan, Ukraine, Israel, Japan, France and Germany -- have good reasons rooted in history and Moscow’s current actions. But even countries traditionally well-disposed to Russia have become antagonistic after the Crimean Aschluss.

            Even in the BRICS states, the survey found, attitudes toward Russia have become negative.  The only places where “Russia-philia” continues to be high are Vietnam, Ghana, and China, but even in China, positive attitudes toward Russia have fallen over the last year from 66 percent to 51 percent.

            That decline happened even as Moscow was trying to warm up its ties with China, Yakovenko observes. Indeed, it can be said, Russia wanted to be met with kisses but China “only offered its cheek.”

            But there is a bigger problem for those who trying to get the grant and it is this: in every country, people are “more negative” in their assessment of Vladimir Putin “than they are to Russia as a whole.” And thus, “the tale disseminated by Russian propaganda that ‘simple people’ everywhere love Russia and deify Putin has extremely little relationship to reality.”

            “The insane policy of Putin’s Russia,” Yakovenko says, is driving people away from the Russian language and “to a significant degree” from Russian culture.  The number of Russian speakers in the world has dropped, and most former Soviet republics treat Russian as a foreign language.

            “The only way for Russia to end this ‘Russia-phobia,’” Yakovenko concludes, “is to conduct a thoroughgoing de-Putinization and to free itself from imperial complexes. In Germany an analogous process became possible as the result of military defeat and foreign influence. Russia will have to do this on its own.”

            “That is much more difficult but nevertheless it is possible,” if Russians understand what the real attitudes of others to them are and why those attitudes have arisen.

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