What a surprise for me to see American high school sophomores studying Russian history and asking questions such as “How do you see the historical Russian Soul affecting the new generations?” That is what I experienced when giving a talk to a class and visitors of about 40 at the La Jolla Country Day School near San Diego, California. This is not an ordinary high school, but among the top college preparatory schools in the country. But, still, the interest was sincere and has it impact, and about five had even visited Russia. They were digging into Russian history to be better prepared to meet their generational counterparts in the top American universities where these graduates go, such as to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and other top schools.
We talked about the generations in the vast changes affecting Russia today. They wanted to know if Russian culture was changing in the techno-world and were glad to know those better cultural roots were still there, while knowing that they all are children of the digital changes uniting the globe today. I have preached that the greatest asset of Russia is its “minds and not its mines.” My experience with the “third generation,” those men and women born in the 1970s and who I hired in the 1990s for our start-up telecom company in Moscow was and still are a highlight of my international business experience. Now the children of this new leadership are the parents of today’s high school students and will be the friends and maybe business partners of these American youth in their new future.
Answering their questions about the present day mindset, I illustrated the line of delineation between that growing generation who were now the promise of a new Russia and the older leaders who are year by year shrinking in number, power, and control, albeit reluctantly. That line, in my opinion is today at age 46 with Mr. Medvedev just below the line at 44 and Mr. Putin above it at 58. With the average male life expectance of about 59 years, it was obvious to all the future of Russia is with the post-Soviet young. Alexis de Tocqueville made it clear in 1831. Predicting about America and Russia, he wrote, “Their starting-point is different, and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems to be marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.” So prophetic. But today their courses are pretty much the same. So it is in our national interest, the world’s interest, to promote this interaction. These young are taking the right steps. Granted, schools like the La Jolla Country Day School are the exception, but there are others like it and it has its impact on international relations and progress.
When asked the major obstruction to advancement of Russia today, I had to list the congenital lack of personal responsibility and the nagging sense of fatalism. But, again, the growing enlightenment as the young experience personally the freedom of Western economies, that hesitation to succeed begins to fade. They find that, as one of my engineers said as he quietly assessed his impression of his first trip to America, “it works.” I am so pleased to see this trans-national interest, especially on the part of young Americans toward their Russian counterparts. It is progress toward a natural and desirable end.
The column is about the ideas and stories generated from the 20 years the author spent living and doing business in Russia. Often about conflict and resolution, these tales at times reveal the “third side of the Russian coin.” Based on direct involvement and from observations at a safe distance, the author relates his experiences with respect, satire and humor.
Frederick Andresen is an international businessman and writer with a lifetime of intercultural experience in Asia and for the last twenty years in Russia. He now lives in California and is President of the Los Angeles/St. Petersburg Sister City. While still involved in Russian business, he also devotes time to the arts and his writing, being author of “Walking on Ice, An American Businessman in Russia” and historical novellas.