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Russia's Culture of Contempt

Once again, everyone wants to know, where is Russia heading? The trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the possible bankruptcy of his company Yukos, Russia's biggest company, have incited cries that President Putin is returning the country to the bad old days of dictatorship. But in assessing where Russia is heading, political and economic analysis are of little help. It is Russia's social culture that is determining the country's fate.

Russia's political system, indeed, is not what prevents the country from moving forward, and it never has been. Whether Russians live under monarchy, communism, Yeltsin's cowboy market economy or Putin's supposed dictatorship of law, the result is always the same - the system despises its citizens, eliciting an equal and opposite reaction of derision and distrust.

Russian capitalism hates the consumer as much as Russian communism did. Russia's people, whether they are waiters or waiting for service, are convinced that they will be ripped off and treated rudely, and so steel themselves with indifference.

Neither the system nor the people are to blame for this state of affairs. It arises partly from the fact that Russia is an "imitation" culture. Russia's first rulers were Nordic princes in the 860's, men invited to bring order to the country - even then, or so it seems, Russians didn't trust themselves to rule themselves effectively.