11/10/2009, 00.00
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Muted celebrations in Russia for the Fall of the Wall. And rightly so

58% of the population does not even know by whom and why it was built. In 20 years the country has failed to achieve democracy, survives on the export of raw materials and in a year is down 12 points, according to the report on global competitiveness. 20% of the population lives below the poverty line.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Pluralism, democracy, free market. More human rights (maybe). That the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 was a historic event leading to positive change is not so obvious in many countries beyond the former Iron Curtain. According to a poll of the Pew Research Centre - conducted in nine countries of Central and Eastern Europe on individuals over the age of 50 years - the happiest with the changes in their lives since the collapse of communism are the Czechs, Poles and citizens of the former East Germany, while those who expressed greater dissatisfaction are the Ukrainians, Bulgarians and more than others, the Russians.

Yesterday, the twentieth anniversary of the end of the Cold War, in Russia, major newspapers reported the news of the celebrations in Berlin, but not with the space that would be expected in the country that was among the protagonists of this event . The problem is that the 9 November 1989 is engraved in the history of the West, but not in that of Russia. That date is not seen as decisive for the fate of the Soviet regime (which definitively ended only two years later) and still today the intellectual debate in the former USSR does not address the issue of the Wall.  

According to a survey of the Russian Institute Vtsiom, 58% of Russians - despite a good general understanding that this nation has of its history - do not know who decided the construction of the Wall. And its meaning - strengthening the position of the USSR, the protection of the communist regime from foreign influence and the attempt to prevent mass emigration - is properly understood by only in 24% of Russians. While half of respondents, 52% simply do not know why it was built.

Analysts maintain, while the reunited Germany and Europe have rapidly integrated, while the East - with China and India at the forefront - has launched an astonishing economic boom and globalization, it can be said that Russia is the only one not to have successfully ridden the wind of change blowing throughout the world during those crucial years.  

According to Vladimir Ryzhkov, a professor at the High School of Economics and independent politician in Moscow, the Russian Federation has not yet overcome its instability. After two decades of experiments, from Yeltsin’s reform to capitalism from the Far West of the oligarchs, the Putin regime until the economic crisis with Medvedev, Russia is still trying to figure out which direction to take. Paying the price for this, first and foremost, are the people. In an editorial published Monday in the newspaper The Moscow Times, Ryzhkov recalls a "triple failure" of the Kremlin. "First, Russia has failed to modernize its economy or social sphere. Second, it has not been able to build an effective political system, creating instead a one-man authoritarian regime. Finally Russia has lost its international reputation and its former superpower status, leaving it almost entirely without allies or the support of global public opinion” wrote the professor.

86% of Russian exports, amounting to one third of national GDP, consist of raw materials, while 80% of imports consist of finished goods. In Soviet times the exports of raw materials were only 48% of GDP. Today, Russia is dependent entirely from exports of energy resources: over 70% of the shares on the Russian market are the companies working in the field of raw materials.  

Any attempt to create a modern economy based on high technology has floundered. The average income for a Russian citizen is the same as 20 years ago, while today 20% of the country lives below the poverty line. Over 50% of national wealth is concentrated in the hands of 10% of the population: in 2008, the 53 richest Russians had a lump sum equal to 30% of national GDP. In the Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum, Russia has fallen by 12 places in one year to 63rd, out of about 132 countries. For the first time it is lagging behind countries like Turkey, Mexico, Brazil and even Azerbaijan.

The same regression has been recorded in the field of human rights. In the 2008 rankings compiled by The Economist on democracy in the world, Russia was the 108th place out of 167 countries.  

Perhaps Russia, yesterday, had little cause to celebrate. (MAL)

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