There is a Russian saying, “If a face is ugly, don’t blame the mirror.” I have been thinking about it lately as the topic of Russia has come up in different mirrors, and it is not looking all that good.
- World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2012: Russia ranks 67 out of 144.
- The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index: Russia ranks 112 out of 185.
- Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index: Russia is 133 out of 174.
- Reporters without Borders’ latest Press Freedom Index: Russia ranks148 out of 179.
In addition to all these, Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2013, addresses a long list of concerns, concluding that 2012 was “the worst year for human rights in Russia in recent memory,” according to Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.
The official Russian response to all of that? It is complex, nuanced, and as contextual as everything in Russia. And most often it is about blaming the mirror or whoever is putting this mirror in front of Russia’s face. Just in the last few months Russia enacted laws that
- Require NGOs with any foreign funding to register as “foreign agents”,
- Reinterpret treason so broadly that almost anybody cooperating with foreigners can be — if necessary — accused of selling out the Motherland,
- Prohibit Russian orphans to be adopted by US Americans.
Two other very common Russian sayings come to mind:
- “I am a fool? You are a fool yourself!” and
- “Don’t teach me how to live my life!”
Considering that Russia is the largest country in the world, with the seventh largest domestic market and the second largest nuclear arsenal, it might be useful to know what they say in Russia. And it will be priceless to understand what they mean when they say it.