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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Of Rivers, Bogs and Souvenirs

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There is an interesting souvenir on my desk that serves as a fitting symbol for the global economy. It is a model of an Istanbul mosque I bought for 100 rubles in a little village shop in Dagestan. I understood when I bought it that it was probably not made locally and likely came from somewhere like Turkey. When I turned it over, however, it was stamped, "Made in China."

Russian state television informs us that the country's biggest problems are with Estonia, for moving a World War II monument to fallen Soviet soldiers from the center of Tallinn, with Poland, for blocking negotiations on a new EU cooperation agreement with Russia over a Moscow ban on the import of Polish meat, and with the United States, which is apparently turning into some sort of "Fourth Reich" and trying to impose its views on the rest of the planet.

In reality, the country's main problem consists in this: My souvenir would have cost much more than 100 rubles had it been made in this country. Fire inspectors would have visited the factory director -- and left a little richer than when they came. The deputy mayor would be the next caller, and would also leave a little better off. The FSB would agree to overlook the danger that the souvenir mosque might be connected to radical Wahhabism in exchange for some of the proceeds. By the time the souvenir was finally produced, it would cost 1,000 rubles and still be of inferior quality to the Chinese version. You can't blame Estonia, Poland or U.S. President George W. Bush for this.

What we might call the great river of the global economy flows relentlessly into the future. In addition to this river, there are, if you will, a number of individual economic ponds. Some are connected to some degree to the great river, while others are completely isolated. Some of the isolated examples have turned into bogs, with their own peculiar brand of swamp creatures -- North Korean President Kim Jong Il, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and some of the officials cum oligarchs we now see in the Kremlin.

These bogs also have their own special fauna: bottom-dwelling sanitation inspectors, flesh-eating Federal Security Service agents, Kim Il Jong-loving ideologues, volunteer guards of the Islamic Revolution, and so on. These creatures could not survive in the great river. Despite their enormous jaws, flesh-tearing teeth and tough hides, they would perish in the great river's free-flowing waters.

These creatures cannot survive in neighboring bogs either. The inhabitants of the various ponds have nothing to offer each other but friendship. The Investment Bank of Belarus does not open a branch bank in Venezuela. North Korea does not borrow ideology from the Islamic Revolution, even if it is on friendly terms with Iran. Neither country's ideology is competitive outside its own pond. The Chinese souvenir I purchased in Dagestan could find a market anywhere.

The greatest fear for the inhabitants of these ponds is the belief that the inhabitants of the great river want to take over their bog. This fear is groundless. Those of the great river are too interested in their own affairs -- and profits -- to worry much about the bogs. Whales don't often swim up river.

Of course, sooner or later the great river, by simple virtue of its size and force, will wash away any intervening dams and obstacles. There is nothing personal or even malicious in this. It is simply a question of hydrodynamics. The only considerations are the time lost by the ponds in remaining isolated, and the harmless fish and crayfish that might have thrived in clean water rather than living out their lives in the ooze and pond scum that their local television tells them is actually the purest water in the world.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.