Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Thoughts on Moscow

Last week I was in Moscow, Russia for three purposes. The first was to give a paper at Moscow State University, the second was to give a talk at the American Corner, the third to see friends, the sites of the city, and to see how the city has changed over the last three years.

The paper that I gave was entitled “The Crisis of Public Administration in a Post-Global World.” The basic thesis was that the global financial collapse and the attendant state bailout of banks had effectively killed off the legitimacy of market fundamentalism and theories of the minimal state that had commenced with the arrival of Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the USA. This paper was part of the a larger conference on public administration held annually at Moscow State University. I have now been to the conference twice, both times having a great time.

The second part of the trip was to give a lecture at the American Corner, Moscow. The US State Department has American Corners around the world, providing cultural information to audiences in different countries. In the past I have given talks at the American Corners in Hungary and Slovakia. My talk in Moscow was on Obama and the 2010 elections. The audience had about 45 in attendance, mostly including students as well as a mixed crowd. They asked good questions about America, expressing skepticism about our financial regulatory reform and the seriousness of the USA in pursuing environmental policy and changes. In effect, they asked where was the US in providing leadership in addressing global warming, for example.

The third and most fun part of the trip was seeing friends, sites, ands how the city had changed. Moscow felt safer to me now than the first time, and even more western than before. Capitalism has changed Moscow, with it being more European in its feel, and less isolated. US business seems generally lacking here, with Germany and the UK more dominant. Perhaps the reason is that the USA is unwilling to change how it does business to access Moscow. I say an article in Russia that indicated that the US chicken or poultry business refused to change the way it operated. Specifically, it used chemicals to clean poultry that were banned in Russia. US business seems unwilling to change to gain accommodate and gain access. It seems as if we think everyone should accept our standards and follow our lead. Such arrogance does little help foster trade.

The one funny thing while in Moscow. I was with two students and we were thirsty and needed a snack. They wanted to go to the new Starbucks that had opened. It was in a new business complex featuring Price Waterhouse. The building was new and built were an old traditional Russian building had stood. This Starbucks was the trendy place for the youth and trendy. As I sat there the background music was Gershwin, Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald. The music was the American songbook.

As we toured the city I saw some old and new sites. Of course Red Square was a stopping point, as was Pushkin Square. I also visited the Tretyakov State Gallery–the best collection of Russian Art in the country. I especially liked the Russian Impressionism.

Beyond the tours I visited old friends–Ana and Ana–and met new ones such as Kate, Dunya, and Daria. All were my interpreters or translators. All were or are students at Moscow State University. I had a terrific time with them all.

Overall, Moscow was fun. The larger meaning to this blog entry, if any, is simply that Moscow and Russia are politically and economically important players. The real revolution here will occur when the young students take over and the old generation dies off. The new generation, born after the breakup of the USSR, is full of hope, new attitudes, and a spirit of change and freedom that will really change this country. I had this same feeling in Armenia and Hungary too. Revolution is generational.

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