Numerous experts reason that Russia is a normal country with a mid-range level of socioeconomic development. In other words, if one likens countries to students, Russia is a C-grade student: neither among the best in class like Finland or Singapore, nor among the worst like Zimbabwe. It is of an average mediocrity akin to Argentina.
Even though such evaluations of Russia over the last decade are hardly unique, they have been met by a quite shocking reception among educated Russians. Across many generations, the government’s propaganda—correctly or not—claimed the global superiority of the Soviet Union in numerous categories. Later on, during Soviet collapse, the country was placed in a dramatically lower “school” class and the assessment of Russia’s global role reverted to the opposite pole, leading some intellectuals in the early 1990s to deny any achievements of Russia throughout its entire history.
Today, the recognition of Russia’s rank-and-file international position has become a painful burden for some of its citizens—especially for those who have aspired to be among the best and brightest domestically. For instance, Boris Akunin, the eminent liberal-minded Russian novelist and vocal spokesman for the opposition during the 2011-2012 wave of political protests, vividly complained in his popular blog that Russia has “turned into a global periphery.”
For many of the country’s elite and ordinary citizens, such a realization has led to frustration and a conspicuous assertiveness. They have become hostage to a kind of “mediocrity syndrome,” which has contributed to escapism and the open rejection of the ideas and values of A students. They search for a miraculous upswing, to turn Russia into a class leader without major effort. The consequences of this mediocrity syndrome are not helpful for solving Russia’s real problems.
PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 258
by Vladimir Gelman