By Michael Willard
It was a typical American holiday. You know, hamburgers on the Green egg on my brother’s deck, the background noise of sporadic fireworks and a dip in the pool on a warm Florida day.
Before last month, I had not seen an American Independence Day on US soil in two decades. A chunk of my life has been in Ukraine and Russia where the latter country is appropriating the worst of the old Soviet Union.
Russia is far from free, though there is a certain escapism in the glitter of a few large cities where life goes on as GDP plummets and inflation soars. Make no mistake, the country is heading into the abyss, but strangely with a placid smile on its collective face and blinders over its eyes.
Question: Where else would someone who has been such a complete screw up as a leader have popularity ratings the envy of any Western politician? Answer: Only in an anesthetized, zonked out country.
Russia’s evil empire as voiced by Ronald Reagan has morphed into a criminal syndicate run out of the Kremlin. It’s a country that — other than having excellent and annoying hackers — is technologically backward.
The country revels in a rearview mirror view of its glorious past, while ignoring the future calamities that are sure to come.
To say Russia doesn’t really make anything is probably an exaggeration. It is simply not the leader in anything. It doesn’t realize it has fallen back to the 20th Century.
Russia was once the world’s most prolific energy station, but this is changing with less expensive fuels, and Russia proving itself a less than reliable partner in so many ways.
Some 35 years ago, Marshall Schulman, the late Soviet expert from Columbia University, told me prior to my going to Moscow that a visitor to Russia goes a century into the past if he drives 20 miles outside Moscow.
That really hasn’t changed much over the ensuing decades.
The world watched with dismay as Russia invaded Crimea, initiated a bloody war in Ukraine’s east, and — in what is becoming an undeniable truth — shot down a Malaysian airliner with 300 souls aboard.
In many respects, I blame the Russian people, the wonderful, sometimes friendly, highly educated people, many of whom are my good friends. How could you let this happen in so short of time?
Where is your Maidan? Where is your revolution?
I have been back in the US for three months. There are things that disturb me: The killing by a racist of nine people in Charleston, SC, a gun culture that seems out of control, and a lack of public interest in certain world events that could eventually impact American lives.
By this last point, I speak of an absence of knowledge, a wall of disinterest in the struggle by Ukrainians to shake the yoke of Russia and to become part of a free, democratic Western world.
But then June was a transformational month in the US. The Supreme Court paved the way for gay marriages, upheld making health care available for all, and struck a blow for representational democracy.
All this made me even more proud to be an American, not in any nationalistic sense, but more out of a feeling of optimism about the country’s future.
When a heavily flavored Republican Supreme Court can overcome the predictable inclinations of some and give the nod to what is Constitutionally sound, something has to be going right in this great land.
However, I cannot forget Ukraine and will never forget Ukraine. I look forward to returning in September for a visit, to see old friends, and to talk about how we all fought two revolutions in a decade to be free.
Is this America’s business?
You bet it is. If not, it is suffering the same delusions as the Russian people. The greatest threat to America’s prosperity and peace today is a Mafia-like leadership in Russia.
The astute American-born Finance Minister Natalia Jaresko said it best: “Ukraine has got a democracy. If this fails, there is no reason to try and do democracy any place else,”
Michael Willard is a long-time entrepreneur in Eastern Europe. He’s the author of five novels, the latest being “The Legacy of Moon Pie Jefferson”. He has writtein six non-fiction works on public relations, branding and surviving professionally in risky markets. He is currently living in Orlando, Fl.