I have often pondered why Russia developed as it has compared to the United States. This is a much bigger subject than I can tackle at any point let alone here. But a reflection or two might be in order:
· I believe the history of Russia, with all its external threats and invasions and its size, has made strong central control the default path to achieve stability and peace, which is what I submit most people want, especially after a period of war. This desire is much greater in Russia than in the U.S., which has not had this history of constant, life-taking violence.
· The U.S., already free of this kind of past, was born in a period of the enlightenment and was led by men steeped in the values of that period (freedom; rationalism). Russia did not have this experience. While there were many liberal thinkers and there was Western influence, particularly under Peter and Catherine the Great, the nation as a whole grew up in a period of autocracy. In many ways, it missed the enlightenment.
· Competing parties developed in America, generally seeking the majority of votes needed to win, while in Russia, parties tended to be suppressed and what developed were groups, some committed to violence -- believing that was the only way to force change within a deeply embedded tsarist system. That, not surprisingly, caused counter-action by the aristocracy. There were liberal groups, committed to constitutional government and good values but, over time, they lacked the strength and willingness to use violence sufficient to offset the radical and reactionary forces which they were all too ready to use violence.
Our Civil War was the one point, it seems to me, when the differences in political and sectional interests reached the point that it took an act of violence to resolve these differences; though as history was to show those differences, specifically as they involved the treatment of the Negro, were far from resolved. There continued to be violence, too--witness the Klu Klux Klan--related to race, but there continued to be in the main the overriding mind-set that differences could and should be resolved by party government, a well functioning judiciary and the recognition of a balance of states and federal-oriented rights.
I believe the overwhelming percentage of Americans believe (correctly) that the stability and growth of the nation will best be guaranteed through the governmental processes described above, as messy and slow as they can be and are now, as I write this in 2013.
I return to a question I have asked myself many times, and others have asked me as well: "What accounts for my deep interest in Russia; why do I seem to love it so?" On that point, I seriously considered titling my book on P&G's entry into Russia: "To Russia, with Love."
As I contemplate this at this moment, I am coming to think "love" is not the right verb. Rather, I think it is fairer to say I am intrigued by Russia; I am attracted to Russia and to things Russian in many ways; I admire much about Russia, including the character of its people. I might even say I have been infatuated by Russia and Russian people.
I don't want to make more of this than it warrants or overly dissect or complicate it, but I must warn you: I am probably about to do that. So, what does account for this confluence of feelings?
There is the fact that, for me, it represents the singular chapter of P&G's history in which I have been personally involved which has represented the greatest challenge in terms of the political and economic revolution in which our entry took place; a tremendous challenge as we built our business but, in the end, we emerged with great success.
It is terribly significant that this took place in the nation which, as I grew up, was our nation's greatest threat. How could I forget ducking under desks as a school child simulating what we would do under Soviet attack; or that I had pursued Russian submarines while in the Navy; and held my breath during the Cuban missile crisis.
With perhaps an utter lack of realism, I was moved by the opportunity I saw for us at P&G to make some difference to our countries' and peoples' understanding of each other as we created our business there--and I wanted us to make a difference to the people through our brands and by providing a great place to work.
Significant, too, against this background of threat there was the admiration I had for Russian stamina in overcoming so much adversity and tragedy in its history, including the heroism of its people in WWII. I also admired the athletic, technical and artistic achievements of its people. In many dimensions, I did not believe it could be matched. Getting to know and experience a nation and its people which had produced such achievement was an opportunity I treasured.
My attachment and admiration for things Russian grew and grew during the 20 years I visited the country. I fell in love (and I choose the word carefully here) with Tolstoy's characters and insight on life because it affected my own views on life very meaningfully. I became deeply moved by the music of composers, particularly Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky.
My attachment to this experience was also influenced by the fact that, in the early years, my son, David, was engaged in it with me. He had just graduated from Yale and was serving as a member of the St. Petersburg Action Commission. He lived in St. Petersburg and worked directly with then-Vice Mayor Putin, among others.
There was my continuing study of Russian history begun while still at Yale – a history at once bold, grand, unpredictable, mysterious, perverse (a society committed to the people liquidates millions of them), heroic (overcoming so many enemies), rich with culture, victory and defeat, dominating personalities; a history bearing out the chance and consequence of leadership at a given moment in time (contrast the misfortune of Lenin and the good fortune in Gorbachev), and all the "might have beens." (What if Stolypin had not been assassinated in 1912 or Witte had just been able to do more?) Contingencies make for interest in any nation's history. Russia, it seems to me, has more contingencies than any other country I can think of. This has been a source of personal fascination to me, interested in history as I am.
During these two decades, there were unforgettable moments that I can only describe as inspiring and "magic.” I have had such moments in other countries, but none so many and so dramatic as those in Russia. I will never forget attending a concert in Moscow Concert Hall in February 1990, featuring the return of Mstislav Rostropovich after 16 years in exile, playing Shostakovich's magnificent 5th Symphony and then "Stars and Stripes Forever.” The crowd went wild and so did we.
There was the journey across the country on the Trans-Siberian Express. For me there is even magic in the name of the train as it describes the vast expanse of the Russian land and there was even more "magic" in the passing villages and trees and rivers. I was determined to get out on the train station platform at every city we stopped, no matter the time of day or night. And I did.
There was my first view of the river Neva and Peter and Paul Fortress and, recently, my navigating the majestic river Volga on a boat with Victor and Valery Kramarenko and viewing the Volga from the beautiful embankment at Yaroslavl and then Ublich.
There was my first jog around Red Square in the dead of winter in 1990, viewing the tomb of Lenin and recalling the May Day parades showcasing the Soviet Union's military might, and there were the many churches and icons within them that have made me aware of the religious attachment of this nation and so many of its people and brought to me, as almost all churches do, a feeling that I am in some way in touch with God.
These experiences, momentous and memorable in their own right, undoubtedly took on greater significance because of the historical and business associations I brought to them.
Above all, there were the people I met and others I knew of; people I admired for their courage and stamina at a time of great challenge. Sakharov and Gorbachev and Yeltsin and Minister Yasin and Mayor Sobchak of St. Petersburg, and Rector Mercuriev and then Valery Katkalo and Ludmilla Verbitskaya at the University. There was my work on behalf of the Graduate School of Business, Chairing the Advisory Committee, seeing the school flower under challenging
circumstances. That meant a great deal to me and still does today.
There were our distributors who introduced our brands – and company – across the land.
There were the P&G employees--Lada Kudrova, Zina Blinnikova, Victor Paulus,
Natasha Vinogradova, Elena Kudrashova and Natalia Lissina and Yuri Rassokhin, and many more. I admired their courage, their flare, their spirit, their directness and genuineness and what I would describe simply as their Russianness. I was struck and appreciated the fact that, although we saw each other only occasionally, many of us came to be friends. They knew I cared about their country and about them, too.
There was my very special friendship with Victor Kramarenko and his wife, Galina, and daughter, Valerie. Victor was my guide professionally in Russia. But he was much more than this. He and Galina and Valerie provided me with perspectives on history, and on life past and present in every dimension; and, through trips we took together, I experienced the country in a way I never otherwise would have had. I am immensely grateful to them. And always will be.
There has been one other factor cementing my attachment to Russia, and that is the deep conviction that the United States and Russia must and can work together on certain key issues if we are to have the world we all seek. I refer particularly to working together on terrorism and nuclear proliferation. If we don't lead on these issues, we will not achieve the progress and the safety the world's future depends on. It is that simple.
Still, as I said earlier, with all of these attractions, admirations and perhaps infatuations, it goes a step too far to say I "love" Russia. There are two reasons I conclude this.
Most of all, I do not feel I know Russia and its people well enough to be entitled to say I love them.
And truth be told, there are aspects of its history, especially in peoples' treatment of each other, that lead me to stop short of making that declaration. I feel that more having made my latest trip, with the exposure it gave me to the gulags and liquidation of people.
I would not want this statement to be too judgmental in a relative sense. I am well aware of the violation of others' rights carried out by people of all nationalities and at all times, including our own nation with our treatment of blacks, Native Americans and other minorities. It is sadly an element of human nature to look down on "otherness" sometimes to the point of dismissing the right to freedom for others to the point of annihilation. We must continue to draw on our better natures to treat others with the dignity everyone deserves.
Re-reading all of this, I probably make too much of the issue. I indulge in conducting a debate with myself. So be it. I wanted to reflect on a subject I have thought about deeply. And that is important to me. The words and thoughts flowed and we are now an hour closer to landing in New York. And I enjoyed doing it.
I will conclude these reflections with the final words of my book, “Russian Tide.”
“As I consider the adventures and challenges, not only in Russia but throughout my entire career at P&G, one constant shines through: the people I’ve worked with and how they live by their values. This is what I was least able to imagine when I joined P&G – the quality of P&G people and the inspiration they have provided me by what they have done and how they have done it. Never did I feel that more strongly than during my time in Russia. Above all, the people at P&G Russia are why my experience in that country has meant so much to me, and I think to all of us who were privileged to be part of building the P&G Russia business. The people of P&G Russia have made their business the best it can be. Knowing them and their work, I am certain that, for P&G Russia, the best is yet to come.”