Facing the truth and publicly debating the nation's most acute and vexing difficulties is supposed to be the strength of democracy. Isn't it extraordinary that this has been happening . . . in the land of Stalin and Ivan the Terrible?
Hedrick Srnith, The New Russians, 1991
"We no longer fear Russian military might," a Finnish taxi driver told us. "Rather, we worry about armies of immigrants from a poor neighboring country descending upon our struggling economy. Even now, along our border with Russia, our shopkeepers set a limit of two on the number of visitors from the nearby Russian towns who may enter a shop at any time. The Russians simply have no money, and for many the temptation for theft is too great."
The driver, who was an underemployed intellectual trying to weather the recession in his own country, offered these cynical comments to me and my wife, Carole, as we headed toward the Helsinki airport in early 1993. We were on our way back to our apartment in Moscow after savoring a long weekend of shopping and entertainment in the Finnish capital. Even during an economic slump, the relative prosperity of Helsinki contrasted sharply with the drabness and despair in Russia.
We had already become accustomed to the fearful commentaries of American colleagues and friends, who frequently visited us in Moscow, as to the new realities of Russia -- commentaries that underscored what we experienced and witnessed every day. Typical comments were as follows:
"We must save Russian science. It's on the brink of disaster, and the whole world will soon lose this irreplaceable intellectual resource," clamored the physicists and mathematicians who came laden with computers and scientific journals for their colleagues.