Staunton, November 23 – Sometimes countries compare themselves with others less developed than themselves and become complacent or at least self-satisfied; on other occasions, they insist on comparing themselves only with countries more advanced and developed than they are and become anxious or critical or their own.
Examples of countries which insist on comparing themselves with others at a different level than their own are legion, and cases when countries recognize that mistake and correct it are few and far between, although those that make the change from the wrong set of comparisons to a more adequate one regularly show how important that can be.
At the end of Soviet times, people in the Baltic countries routinely took pride in the fact that they were way ahead of the Soviet republics; but after 1991, they recognized that they needed to compare themselves and their economic and political achievements not with Ukraine or Turkmenistan but with Poland or Portugal.
That shift in perspective both reflected and intensified their drive to escape from the consequences of the Soviet occupation by eliminating any sense that they could rest on their laurels and by setting standards for them that were appropriate to their level of development and aspirations.
Russians have always insisted on comparing themselves with the countries of Western Europe and the United States, even though such comparisons show them in less than a positive light and lead to expectations that seldom can be met. Now, Mikhail Zadornov is urging that they change the comparisons they make.
The former Russian economics minister says that current Russian discussions about the adequacy or inadequacy of government support for business during the pandemic are about how well Moscow is doing relative to Germany, France or the United States (znak.com/2020-11-23/eks_ministr_finansov_rf_o_vliyanii_pandemii_na_ekonomiku_padenii_rublya_i_stavkah_po_kreditam_interv ).
Russians should not forget, Zadornov says, that “we are not a country whose currency is a reserve currency. We are a country of the developing world and not of the developed world. Therefore, it is not clear why we are always comparing our measures of support with Germany or France.”
“It would be more correct to compare ourselves with Brazil, Turkey and the Latin American countries where there were not such generous budgetary support of sectors and the population who have suffered as was the case in developed countries. This is a completely different currency situation and a different level of budgetary support.”
Often, discussions about the imaginary world in which the Russians position themselves are cast in military terms, ones that allow its nuclear arsenal to justify its being a major power like others in the West. But Zadornov’s words are a reminder that those who do so in Moscow are allowing that judgment to color others where it is less justified and even harmful.
That is not to say, as the former economics minister makes clear, that Russia should not aspire to more in terms of support for business or the population during the pandemic; but it does mean that those debating how much should be offered need to remember where the country really is economically rather than where they imagine it to be.