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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Russia: One of the dystopian regimes

Writing in the Moscow Times, hero journalist Yulia Latynina calls Russia and Iran the "dystopian regimes."

The anti-utopian literary genre of the 20th century was led by Yevgeny Zamyatin's "We," Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and George Orwell's "1984."

And now, at the start of the 21st century, it turns out that dystopias really exist. They are not global, but exist on tiny, isolated islands of time and space. They are run by leaders whose golden statues slowly rotate on pedestals in their countries' central squares. They appear on television like lords descending from the heavens, presented as saviors of the motherland and all-powerful defenders against the foreign enemies.

Dystopian regimes are called rogue nations of the 21st century, and they all have similar qualities.

First, none of these countries' leaders considers himself a despot. They call their governments "true" or "sovereign" democracies -- in contrast to "false" or "Western" democracies. The United Nations has reported that even the Myanmar junta claims to be building a "genuine democracy" in Burma. But be careful here: Whenever a ruler adds an adjective before the word democracy, you probably have a dystopian society.

Second, the economies in these dystopias are in an appalling condition. In North Korea, for example, people are dying of hunger, and the gasoline shortages in Iran remind me of the old, Soviet anecdote:

Question: "What would happen if they built communism in the Sahara Desert?"

Answer: "There would immediately be sand shortages."

Even countries with only a mild form of dystopia will lag behind the economic development of democratic countries because the main economic resources on which they rely are oil and gas, whereas the primary economic resource in the democratic world is freedom.

The only option for the rulers of economically isolated, backward and destitute countries is to dump the blame for all of their internal problems on the machinations of their supposed enemies.

There is one category of nations that does everything it can to strike fear among countries of the free world. Iran is a good example. It is rushing to achieve this level of fear by trying to create a nuclear weapons program. There is a second category of countries that also brings xenophobic and anti-Western rhetoric to a boiling point, but for domestic consumption only. This is how Russia operates.

The first approach espoused by Iran is usually taken by dystopian regimes whose bank accounts are already frozen in Western banks and whose leaders believe that having absolute authority in their own countries is more important than owning a villa in Nice. The second approach, represented by Russia, is chosen by dystopian leaders with significant assets in the West. These leaders view their high government posts as an opportunity to amass great personal wealth. They understand that if push comes to shove, the West could deliver the most powerful blow to the dystopian leaders' most vulnerable spot by revealing and possibly freezing their foreign bank accounts.

Dystopias do not represent mankind's future but its past. Modern dystopian leaders are very similar to Nero in the 1st century or Persian King Shapura in the 3rd century. They hand out provinces, high-ranking posts and oil companies with one stroke of a pen. In their capacity as benevolent "national leaders," they are always struggling against exaggerated -- and often invisible -- enemies. And they attempt, in vain, to cover up their countries' 1,000-year economic and technological backwardness in an era of personal computers and satellite telephones.

In the end, all of these Neros and other capricious despots who have ruled the world for so many centuries have never been able to make new discoveries or inventions, such as satellite telephones or computers. This is probably because their enemies got in the way.

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