Courage in the Face of Corruption
- By Bernie Sucher
- May. 17 2005 00:00
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The answer, for the grandchildren of the veterans of the Red Army, is to make money. To make money is to produce something of value, in rivalry with other producers, that people prize and for which they are willing to pay. Individuals who make a lot of money in this way contribute great new wealth to society, which distributes this benefit as it sees fit through its political process. A nation made up of enough of wealth-makers is a nation that successfully competes on this planet of nations. That nation will be a state whose borders will be secure. Whose interests will be reckoned by other states. Whose voice will be heard.
Understood this way, the greatness of a nation is a function of the greatness of its individual citizens. After 20 years of upheaval, and facing the cold calculus of international power, today Russia is calling for heroes. Millions of them.
The challenge of 60 years ago demanded from ordinary people the sacrifice of everything that humanity holds dear. The values of courage, loyalty and patriotism inspired individuals and were the bedrocks of the moral strength that helped them endure and fight back, for the sake of their children and their country. The challenge of the 21st century is nothing so dreadful. But to build a prosperous, competitive and just country, Russians will have to embrace values that are different, yet in their own way, noble and certainly vital.
Among the individual qualities that Russia demands in quantity are excellence, adaptability, innovation, efficiency, accountability and transparency. These qualities are the hallmarks of entrepreneurship. After centuries of statism, these qualities are not woven into the traditions of Russian life. Russia does not have institutions or institutional dynamics that promote these qualities. And while Russia has individuals who are shining examples of these entrepreneurial qualities and who give life to them in business, in the professions and in public service, it hardly has a surplus of such people.
In Russia, the feeling is widespread that money is at best a necessary evil and that those who have a lot of it are themselves evil. Too rarely is the crucial distinction made between those who have been granted or who have stolen wealth, and those who have been rewarded with money in fair exchange for their value added through normal economic processes. President Vladimir Putin recently made the distinction, declaring citizens who make a success of new businesses heroes deserving of medals.
The president's metaphor, suggestive of war, is apt because, like many policymakers, he places entrepreneurs on the front lines of battle against an enemy more dangerous to Russia than any external foe: corruption. As individuals -- and increasingly, collectively in grassroots organizations -- entrepreneurs in Russia are fighting back against the mediocrity and parasitism that is endemic in the country's public and commercial life. They are ideal fighters because entrepreneurs are the first to feel the true cost of the grasping hand of a predatory bureaucracy, because their experience tells them that even daunting obstacles can be overcome and because the values that they hold dear offer no choice but to fight. Otherwise, they will lose entirely their self-respect. As a group, people of enterprise are motivated to defeat the corruption that others accept as an inalterable fact of life.
What is at stake can be gleaned from the wisdom of Gandhi, who said, "Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny."
In Russia, corruption has become a habit for people who are comfortable taking cash in one hand while stabbing their nation in the back with the other. Russians who truly love their country will recognize this evil for what it is. Like their grandparents once did, they will draw strength from noble values, including courage, patriotism and self-sacrifice. They will act to defend themselves and the future for their children. Those less capable or less brave will at least acknowledge with pride those who have stepped forward, like Russia's entrepreneurs. The people who do these things will be Russia's next generation of heroes.
Bernie Sucher is a Moscow-based entrepreneur. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.