The Dividing Bell

Pink Floyd is in the news again, but for all the worst possible reasons. As part of a celebration of the 50th (now 51st!) anniversary of the release of Dark Side of the Moon, a short film animation contest was held by Pink Floyd – go ye forth and make a short film for each song on the album. Out of 900 submissions, 10 finalised were chosen.

The winners for each song would receive £10,000 for each video that won, according to Pink Floyd’s website, with further terms stating that additional prizes would include £100,000, £25,000, and £10,000 – prizes which were eventually won (respectively) by Rati Dabrundashvili (£100,000), David Horne (£50,000), and Monica Fibbi (£25,000), as reported by Mary Varvaris at

However, this is where the story blew up.

As reported by Bleeding Cool: “Ten winners were announced by Nick Mason. However there may be an issue with one of them. The winning video by Damián Gaume for Any Colour You Like was created, according to Gaume, using Stable Diffusion AI software. There was an immediate backlash and reaction against this video online, which overshadowed the other nine winners and the planned overall winners intended to be announced tomorrow. Some condemned one of the judges Gerald Scarfe, especially as the cartoonist and animator most associated with Pink Floyd’s album and movie Another Brick in the Wall, which included intricate hand drawn animation, based on his cartoons, and considered a true classic.”

In the midst of this absolute shit sandwich, one contestant, the German artist The Insaneum, who submitted a short film for the song Eclipse, revealed he’s spent a year working on his contribution with his girlfriend. And what he submitted was nothing short of remarkable – a hand-rendered science-fiction retro artdeco video that beautifully interpreted the thematic and visual themes from Pink Floyd’s Eclipse.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter. Once again, I think it’s important to remind everyone that AI “art” can be put into the same category as NFTs and cryptocurrencies: short-term grifts designed to bezzle the unsuspecting and display a grotesque act of social [status] flexing.

Sure, you might think you can make something cool and unique – but it’s not you doing it – instead, you’ve simply outsourced the actual creation of art to a program that will trawl the internet and amalgamate assorted images to match specified keyword parameters with no understanding of how any of them relate.

Or said less nicely: it’s theft. It’s stealing images and videos from all over the net and amalgamating them into something that gives the appearance of creativity but which ultimately doesn’t understand what it’s even rendering, because there’s no underlying ontological system in place to understand how any of the objects and people relate to one another. It’s simply mashing things together like an ugly stew, with no regards to or understanding of style, design, or aesthetics.

How many “AI-tweaked” book covers have featured grotesque hands, nightmare roses, illegible and unreadable text, jagged and asymmetrical doors and gates, nonsensical proportions, physical objects layered onto a scene with no understanding of perspective or proportions?

It’s all nothing more than a short-cut to paying actual humans actual wages to put actual skills that they’ve honed and trained for years to culturally meaningful and productive use. So it’s disheartening that an iconic rock group like Pink Floyd, who’ve placed so much emphasis throughout their career on original creative output, would instead nominate a video that didn’t even require any real human skill.

Now: benefit of the doubt. Maybe Nick Mason and co don’t understand how AI platforms sample from other artists without permission. Maybe they don’t even understand that there’s almost a total lack of skill involved and just went on pure, superficial looks. And hey, Nick Mason is 80 years old. It’s entirely possible he had no idea he was looking at anything rendered by AI software and lacks any understanding of the charged discourse around the topic.

If that’s the case, hopefully someone in his social circles will be able to sit him down and walk him through how bad a decision it was and do right by some of the other artists who actually put their own blood, sweat, and tears into making actual human-made art, and nominate a new winner to replace Gaume’s submission.

There’s still time to do the right thing.

Mastering SAP Highlights, Sydney 2019 (Part 3 of 3)

Back in 2019, a friend recommended me for a weekend gig that involved attending and covering an SAP conference in Sydney. Being completely curious and interested in what this would entail, I said “yes”. So here now is the third of three articles produced for Inside SAP.

This piece was published on 28 March 2019.

The original piece can still be read on the company’s website.

Ilya Popov shares his thoughts on attending Sydney’s Mastering SAP 2019 conference.

As with every conference of this scope, there were more presentations and people to meet than it’s humanly possible to do within a specifically allotted amount of time. Luckily, we were able to ultimately meet, shake the hands of, learn from, listen to, and even interview several people.

It’s easy to forget that these yearly gatherings would not be possible without the tremendous background effort of the organisations involved in helping these events come together. The Eventful Group spent nine months preparing alongside organisations, speakers and venues to make it happen, and the entire event went down without a hitch and ran like clockwork. That’s no small feat. On behalf of everyone at Inside SAP: THANK YOU!

The Eventful Group did not operate in isolation – they had the help of their sponsors and partners, including Diamond Partner, EY. Standardising procedures, improving workflows, submissions methods, programming bugs, information at this conference is of benefit to every single Australian SAP user.

But what did Inside SAP think?

Well. Change certainly came up a lot. A considerable amount of time was spent discussing the human factor. How do we get people on board? How do we help others understand change? How do we train up people who’re in the latter half of their careers and need to learn new protocols and procedures? How do we explain the importance of cybersecurity to them?

Casualisation is another matter of concern. Australia’s economy has shown an increased number of employees working casual hours due to a variety of needs. SAP’s staff, particularly at Fieldglass, stressed that the permanent workforce is going nowhere, to the relief of many. But do expect to see more contract positions come into existence, for short- to medium-term projects – particularly for those initiatives that require skills from overseas.

And finally, there was the concern around communication. Particularly around employee layers within organisations. Whenever change occurs, it will be important for any organisation to have those who readily embrace change, those who are hesitant, and those who question its need. Each of these three social divisions can be of benefit to each other, to ensure that fools don’t rush in where angels fear to tread.

It’s important for co-workers to have a mutually beneficial back-and-forth dialogue, and to teach and train one another. Particularly when dramatic new changes occur – in such instances, the importance of having enthusiastic employees willing to convince their co-workers of the merits of change is vital.

In the words of Richard Hunt, Managing Director of Turnkey Consulting:

 “In my experience these events can often be overrun with consultants and vendors but at this one I saw a real commitment from client teams who were there to learn and network. So hats off to the organisers!”

Change, education, communication, all of this leads to well-oiled organisations ready to face the future and ready to engage with changing security protocols and measures, and thus expect the same level of compliance from any and all partners and supply chain partners.


Mastering SAP Highlights, Sydney 2019 (Part 2 of 3)

Back in 2019, a friend recommended me for a weekend gig that involved attending and covering an SAP conference in Sydney. Being completely curious and interested in what this would entail, I said “yes”. So here now is the second of three articles produced for Inside SAP.

This piece was published on 27 March 2019.

The original piece can still be read on the company’s website.

Last week, many delegates attended Mastering SAP in Sydney to ask about Agility and the future of the workforce.

In this space, Toni Jackson (APAC Director, SAP Fieldglass) highlighted 3 key elements affecting the future of work, which she identified as: 

  1. Talent and technology transformation
  2. The new Agile workforce
  3. Regulation and innovation

With 70% of business leaders believing they need a new mix of talent and skills in the future, Toni provided further information for companies and employees coming to understand and integrate agile methodologies into their workplace practices:

  • Traditional employees will be joined by contractors, freelancers, and crowd-sourced talent
  • Routine work will be further automated by robots and AI
  • Companies will focus on truly human skills
  • Careers will be built around learning rather than jobs

A few more key takeaways we highlighted from the show included the importance of bringing people along for the transformation and change journey and including the human factor in change and its cousin, security.

Alongside the changes that are happening in the workspace, technology shifts are a concern from an operational and legislative standpoint, as discussed by Grant Smith (General Manager, Energy Queensland).  When we deal with issues like identity theft or cyber attacks, he explained, we don’t actually know anything about the human that’s engaged in the theft. We only experience the repercussions of their actions. He said:

“It’s one thing to identify the Human. It’s one thing to identify the Machine. It’s another thing to identify the Human behind the machine”

David Roberts (VP, Executive Advisory Council, SAP & Advisor, UnderArmour USA) discussed a paradigm shift in his presentation “The Case for a Finance-Centric Organisation.”

“We were able to have a discussion around SAP HANA for finance and what it means to shift the paradigm from the traditional way to run the business to having a finance centred business and how other companies have gone through that journey.”

During his talk “Making Digital Change Happen,” Andrew Bettenay (CIO, Endeavour Energy,) pointed out very clearly that

“Coming up with a strategy that makes sense can and must be done quickly. But do not assume that all impacted stakeholders are able to come on the journey as quickly.”

This same sentiment was shared by Mark Weatherford (USA Department of Homeland Security’s first Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity.). When asked about what was of paramount concern to him, Mark explained:

“My greatest concern honestly is the third-tier suppliers that you touch too because you really don’t know what they’re doing, what their posture looks like, and what their security practices are, and if they’re touching your environment you basically get their diseases.”

In a heavily Security and Risk oriented conference, many speakers made it clear that their are more questions than answers. What’s needed is more communication and education around security. We need to develop imaginative minds, capable of envisaging potential problems or issues before they arise, so as to catch them in advance. We need to first remember that we’re dealing with technology and the people behind it. 

Read part 3 here.

Want to know more about the speakers and their companies? 

SAP Fieldglass:

Under Armour:

Endeavour Energy:

Energy Queensland:

Mastering SAP Highlights, Sydney 2019 (Part 1 of 3)

Back in 2019, a friend recommended me for a weekend gig that involved attending and covering an SAP conference in Sydney. Being completely curious and interested in what this would entail, I said “yes”. So here now is the first of three articles produced for Inside SAP.

This piece was published on 26 March 2019.

The original piece can still be read on the company’s website.

Mastering SAP Sydney too place last week on the 18th and 19th of March. The opening presentations had a strong emphasis on security and risk in addition to recurring industry staples.

As with most trade shows and conventions, there’s never enough time to meet, speak with, and catch up with everyone we’d like. However, we did have the pleasure of meeting several brilliant people and attending some highly informative presentations. Notably, we listened in on Mark Weatherford (former USA Department of Homeland Security’s first Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity) providing unique insights into the world of supply chains and the risks they can be exposed to through a lack of due diligence and poor security. 

Organisations both large and small can make the exact same mistakes and suffer equally similar financial, social, and physical repercussions. Consider the assorted manufacturing and distribution pipelines at risk for the car manufacturing industry in a world where we can buy German cars with Dutch engines that have Taiwanese computer sensors, American-made wheels, powered by petrol imported from the UAE. The fallout that would ensue if even a single link in that chain were to rupture or break for any period of time can have vast and negative knock-on effects upon other connected suppliers, distributers, wholesalers, and retailers.

As such, it’s important to map one’s supply chains, identify where problems might emerge, and critically: engage with staff. Want to avoid having staff that feel like a nameless cog? Engage with your employees. Brief them regularly. Create a culture that values security and awareness – to know how and when to spot potential issues or problems. 

The changes being undertaken by the ATO are a particularly relevant subject to many delegates at Mastering SAP. Matt Voce (Local Product Manager, SAP Australia) addressed Single Touch Payroll in his session: “Deep Dive: Understanding Single Touch Payroll for a Successful Go-Live.” The ATO is currently undergoing the biggest change in tax-related legislation since World War 2.  We live in a world of constant change, uncertain as to how anything will work in the future. Yet Australian tax law has, despite obvious developments, not undergone a drastic upgrade in over 70 years. 

Matt shared advice and guidance on navigating the change as the STP deadline approaches on the 1st July 2019. His session included a live demo and real feedback from SAP Payroll customers.

As many surely noticed, the topic of security was also a focal theme at the conference. And who better to speak to on the matter than Melissa Price, the CEO of Aust Cyber, who spoke of the importance of a holistic and inclusive strategy to ensure good security practices, standards and enforcement. 

“Everyone is responsible for security now”, because if organisations are going to manage risks, it has to involve people from different business unites, and every single person in an organisation needs to be provided a unique set of incentives to entice them to learn about and care about security and change in policies, software, hardware, and procedures. But to avoid a simple band-aid solution, we need to employ change management to ensure the right long-term decisions are made and applied properly.

On Identity Management, we spoke with Simon Ell at Sailpoint, a company that specialises in identity governance, risk management, and access certification. Consider: staff members come and go at organisations, and sometimes a new hire will inherit the computer and access privileges of the previous owner of that particular position. Often times, inheriting a person’s role involves having access to all the same files, directories, and systems of the previous job holder. 

But is that necessary? Should someone be able to access folders and files they don’t understand or don’t need access to? Failing to track folder privileges can lead to security risks. 

There’s an obvious overlap between the need for wise managerial policies that can ensure employees remain engaged and understand the value of sound and change-prone security policies. Such goals cannot be attained if we do not first stop to pause and reflect upon a long-term strategy. 

Opening speaker Dr Jason Fox, summarised the concept when he said: “I guess my hope for folks is that we can pause and reflect a little bit more.”

Read part 2 here.

Interested in learning more about the people we met?

Dr. Jason Fox:

SAP Australia:


Sea Dragons, Some Wild Things, and Louisa Johnson’s Latest

A friend from the US who works in recruitment contacted me in 2017, asking how I’d feel about writing some copy for a fashion company. I’d never written about fashion before. Which, of course, meant that I said yes. I spent several weeks immersed exclusively in the world of fashion writing. This is the end result.

You may have heard of Louisa Johnson. If you haven’t, it’s probably only a matter of time until you do. Appearing on the UK edition of The X-Factor during the first week of auditions, Louisa’s cover of The Jackson 5’s ‘Who’s Loving You?’, her astonishing range, dedication to the craft, and theatricality astonished the judges, thus propelling her towards her singular goal of becoming a professional singer.

In just two years’ time, she’s managed to wow audiences with subsequent performances, the release of numerous singles, and a planned debut album due out in 2017. But until that time, she’s found herself content to release a slew of diverse single and music videos, including the recently released ‘Best Behaviour’.

Shot in the desert outside Los Angeles, the video featured a wide and colourful array of dancers, ravers, and festival goers decked out in haute couture clothing could best be described as futuristic party aesthetic, meshing the best of famed French artist Jean Giraud, aka Moebius (of Fifth Element fame) with fashion that would fit right into background shots in Blade Runner. And planes. Lots of planes.

The fashion on display in the video itself comes to us by way of Sea Dragon and Wild Things. The latter is a decidedly unique and independent distributor and retailer of boutique designers and labels. For fashionistas looking to get a good taste of just how inventive the fashion world can be, Wild Things offers an excellent glimpse of just what’s possible with clothing. If you’re after Rock Chic, Neon Raver Gear, dance or festival clothing, or something else entirely, Wild Thing aims to provide the look people are after.

Working in unison with Wild Thing is famed fashion house Sea Dragon Studios, who, in their own words, are an “independent maker of fun, comfortable, and fabulous festival wear, designed to make you look as good as you feel”.

To thus accentuate Johnson’s burner-flavoured video, Sea Dragon Studios, in collaboration with Wild Things, provided Johnson and her team of producers with the right material for such a shoot – the Sea Dragon Holographic Playsuit!

Featuring the playa white edition, the costume features hidden pockets, a built-in bust lining, and a wide-band halter neck among several other specific design features aimed at ensuring that wears can feel comfortable in clothing that stretches, is breathable, and adaptable to both the time of day and with accessories.

Intrigued? Want to have a better, closer look at Sea Dragon’s line of products? Well, click on the following link! And if you’re interested to learn more about Wild Thing and their services, you can visit them at their website.

Scoop Your Moop

A friend from the US who works in recruitment contacted me in 2017, asking how I’d feel about writing some copy for a fashion company. I’d never written about fashion before. Which, of course, meant that I said yes. I spent several weeks immersed exclusively in the world of fashion writing. This is the end result.

You’ve probably heard of it before. Chances are, the person uttering this word? Not very happy with someone else.

There’s a reason for it.

MOOP is something that gives ‘burners’ – and even festival goers in general – a bad reputation. Funny word, right? It doesn’t really sound like what it is. That’s because MOOP is actually an acronym. It means ‘Matter Out Of Place’. But what is Matter Out Of Place? Simple: anything that didn’t originate from the Earth.


A tree: Not MOOP.

A cigarette butt: Definitely MOOP.

Now, those of us who work here at Sea Dragon Studios – we love burns, we love festivals, and we love us our raves. We also love costumes. And shiny things. We definitely like shiny things. And we want to continue being able to make awesome shiny things for people to wear to festivals, to raves, and burns, because that’s what we’re passionate about, dammit.

In recent years, the reputation of attendees to such events has been tarnished due to the presence of excess amounts of MOOP. Cigarette butts, metal pegs, feathers, and glitter – just a few of the things identified as MOOP by those left to clean up after the matter.

But here’s the thing: we love glitter. Glitter is so, so shiny.

So we tried to find a way to demoopify glitter. Yes. Demoopify. We’ve actually said this word out loud, and we were even sober when it happened. Don’t like demoopify? How about MOOP-free? There’re fewer syllables there, so that should make everyone happy.

We’ve already ensured our clothing is moop-free by developing clothing that integrates glitter into the material, rather than cheaply covering the surface material with glitter that could, over time, come off. Likewise, we’ve tried to put our money where our mouth is and develop moop-free sequins and feather collars that won’t break, ensuring their status as moop-free clothing.

In our attempt to develop more moop-free products, we came across a solution that we thought was more than a little awesome: bioglitter. So we spent a bit of time researching the topic. Which led to us being able to happily announce that we’ve developed and will soon be stocking a biodegradable glitter.

The glitter options currently on the market are, well, not the best. And that’s not good enough. The biodegradable glitter we’re preparing to stock won’t fertilise – it’ll simply break apart. A would-be compost heap our products are not.

Sea Dragon Studios began with a simple ethos: the clothing we make should be comfortable, easy, simple, and hassle-free, so that you can put it on and go and enjoy yourself. We feel that festivals and burns should be the same way. And one of the best ways of doing that? By ensuring that everything we produce is moop-free.

The Holidays: Not Forgetting that Rock and Roll is about Having Fun

Gosh. 2007. How time flies (usually like a banana).

I’d only recently moved to Australia, and was in the process of coming into contact with a whole new world of music that hadn’t yet made its way over to Canada or the US yet. At the time, the now (sadly) defunct Vibewire Magazine was willing to accept freelance pieces. And somehow, through some chance opportunity, I’d managed to get my hands on an excellent EP by a recently-formed Sydney based rock outfit. 

And what music fan doesn’t secretly dream of one day being a music journalist? How could I pass by the opportunity to experience that? 

Meet The Holidays.

The Holidays want you to know: if you come to their show, don’t mind the cask wine lying about within vicinity of the stage. It’s a motif. Roger Waters had a tortured psyche and inflatable pigs, Green Day had Super Soakers™.

The Holidays?

They have cask wine. Lead singer Simon Jones and bassist Alex Kortt are – surprise! – wine aficionados and have a rather peculiar way of showing off their love for white wines, especially Verdelhos. But don’t be afraid – the members of The Holidays are not wine snobs. In fact, Simon Jones is not afraid to mix his wines with other beverages, much to the horror of wine snobs the world around.

Easier access to booze isn’t the only thing that’s left The Holidays with reasons to cheer. It’s been a good year for them. Airplay in both Australia and the U.S., attention from A&R Worldwide, and a steady set of gigs has left the band feeling fairly satisfied. And then there was that small matter of the launch of their debut self-titled EP. “It’s nice to have something out, of course,” said Simon. Even over the phone, he sounds positively ecstatic. And with reason.

Their first EP is a non-stop assault of music that makes the feet tap. “It’s our thing,” said Simon, talking about The Holidays’ poppy arrangements and accessible – but not frivolous – lyrics.

There’s nothing dour about the songs on their EP at all. From the upbeat melody of the title track, Holiday, which just begs to be listened to while strutting about a city, to the suddenness of The Werewolf You Become, a more serious yet surprisingly spontaneous in-studio track that wasrecorded within one hour (“there’s nothing immediate about it,” Simon suggested, sounding almost bemused), the EP is a rich panoply of tunes that suggest exactly what the band set out to do: create a united form, but still maintain a distinct enough amount of musical diversity among all the songs.

The highlight of the album might in fact be Planes, a song about a difficult relationship between two people. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the song itself is has a fast temp, is eminently danceable, and rocks along at a steady pace towards a thundering resolution.

The goal, Simon suggests, was to have the kind of music people can listen to one-hundred times. The Holidays have no desire to be thought of as disposable pop. And certainly, Simon grants, “We ended up writing music that we want to listen to.”

Taking notes from Elvis Costello (whom Simon considers to be “a lyrically interesting songwriter”) and Brian Wilson, to name a few relevant influences, the musical philosophy of The Holidays is really quite simple: write enjoyable, upbeat music that utilises rhythm guitars whenever possible.

“We’re a guitar band, really,” says Simon, matter-of-factly. And they’ve put their skills to good use. Around the time of formation, the members of the band took note of the “kind of angsty, new wave sound, 70’s style” that was undergoing a musical renaissance, and made a decision as to what they were going to do.

“We were kind of conscious in going away from that,” said Simon. Instead, The Holidays chose to focus on creating songs that utilised rhythm guitars, inventing melodies that would stick to the walls of a skull like gum to the sole of a shoe, and singing music that made the listener’s day a little better.

As many fans are wondering: does this mean their next album will feature similar types of songs? Simon revealed somewhat cryptically that the band is “still deciding, trying to write as much as possible.”

At this stage, he suggests that at the end of the year there’s the possibility of another EP, to form a bridge “between the albums”, and that sometime in early ’09 fans of the band will be graced with a third release. Until then, look for the band surrounded by casks of wine.

Don’t ask. It’s just their thing. That’s how The Holidays roll.

Russian Capitalism in Transition

Back in 2007, an acquaintance from the Sydney University economics faculty was interested in writing about the Soviet Union. Having studied the country’s history exhaustively – particularly for my undergraduate thesis, we felt we had the ability to produce a meaningful article on the economic changes taking place in Russia, and the historical path that led to those changes. Having Ignatius present to check my numbers and figures along the way helped. It’s still, I think, a good piece, for something that was published back in 2008.

So here now, is the piece that was published back in 2008 by the Sydney Globalist.

Russian Capitalism in Transition

Ilya Popov and Ignatius Forbes consider the difficulties facing Russia as it journeys towards a fully functioning market-based society.

“They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.”

– Communist-era adage

It was a moment in history that former Russian President Vladimir Putin called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century”: the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. There it was, a socialist, military superpower that in its last years had a non-existent GDP, chronic ethnic tensions, and an ideology that had failed to fulfil the prophecies spun by its creators. All of the problems that the Communist Party had tried so hard to ignore rose to the surface, one by one, under the rule of the Communist Party’s last General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev. Budget deficits that had previously been hidden came to light, and threw an already unstable economy into further disarray. Tax revenues from breakaway republics suddenly vanished. Increasing political turbulence and ad hoc economic and social reforms ultimately undermined the entire legitimacy of the ideology upon which the Soviet system was built.

“There it was, a socialist, military superpower that in its last years had a non-existent GDP, chronic ethnic tensions, and an ideology that had failed to fulfil the prophecies spun by its creators.”

17 years have passed since the ideals and dreams of the Bolshevik party came to a sudden and tumultuous end. But what followed? Under Boris Yeltsin, the first President of the Russian Federation, reforms were initiated that would have functioned perfectly well in a Western economy. In Russia, however, they failed miserably, resulting in hyperinflation, a declining GDP, poor agricultural productivity, and the banking crisis of 1998, during which the Russian rouble devalued and further impoverished an already economically downtrodden society

Despite loans from the IMF and guidance from Western advisers, the Yeltsin presidency managed to push a strained economy to the brink. Banks closed overnight, investor confidence was lost, prices skyrocketed, and stores suddenly looked as sparse and empty as they had during the final years of Soviet rule. Trust in banks and Western credit systems dropped, and bartering continued to remain a normal way of purchasing and exchanging goods. By 1998, the GDP of the Russian Federation was 55 times smaller than that of the USSR in 1989.

How could the IMF and Western powers not have anticipated all of these problems? What dramatic rift existed between Russia and the West that made it unclear to Western economic powers that Russia’s transition from a planned economy to a market economy would be anything but stable? If Poland and Czechoslovakia could make the transition to a market economy with only a minimal amount of instability, then why not Russia?

Communication Failure

The problems and tragedies suffered by the Russian peoples over the last 17 years are partly the result of poor decisions made by intellectuals who failed to understand the problems they faced. Economists, governments and advisers, both foreign and local, found themselves attempting to assist Russia whilst failing to understand either the nature of the beast with which they were dealing, or the effects of the ideas that they were importing from abroad. Advisers who felt that “shock therapy” capitalism was the only viable means by which to depart from a command economy, failed to consider the outcome of such notions. Such aggressive policies may sound intelligent on paper, but they are by no means a universal repair-kit for floundering economies.

Yet some continued to favour such actions, believing them to be beneficial despite all evidence to the contrary. Anders Åslund, the former director of Russian and Eurasian Programs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, favoured swift and radical reforms such as a mass privatisation of property. He completely ignored how alien the notion of private property was to the standard Soviet Russian, and instead argued that “although the Polish private sector was hardly ever smaller than the Russian private sector … Russia’s problems were largely the result of corruption, not privatization”.

“How could people accustomed to communal housing and living off the state suddenly afford – or even comprehend – private property?”

Declarations such as these miss the point, by failing to ask why. How could people accustomed to communal housing and living off the state suddenly afford – or even comprehend – private property? Corruption did not simply appear spontaneously. Its emergence was directly linked to economic policies that failed to better the life of the average Russian. No amount of platitudes about wanting and desiring freedom and private property could change such a fundamental fact. Intellectuals such as Åslund failed to understand just how difficult it would be to reconcile 74 years of life under a planned economy with the demands and problems of a market economy.

To compound the problem, the Russian populace did not fully understand what was happening around it. No educational reforms had been put into place to ease the transition back into the capitalist world after 74 years in the communist prison. In their groundbreaking text, The Commanding Heights, Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw recalled how the average Russian thought that “the market could not be trusted. It did not accord with Russia’s unique situation. Fundamentally, what seemed to be unfolding before their eyes was immoral; it ran against their deepest instincts. Money made in the market was automatically suspect. Speculation was the all-purpose term of opprobrium and insult”. How could anyone, for example, dare to do something as bold as appraise a factory that was changing hands between companies?

What the West had failed to do was to understand how deeply ingrained the Soviet mentality was, and make any steps towards changing it during Gorbachev’s rule as the last President of the Soviet Union. It was assumed by many political advisers abroad that what Russians wanted was freedom, and once they had it, they would know what to do with it. They made assumptions about Russia that were based on how they, as Westerners, viewed their universe. They failed to understand just how entrenched the Soviet way of life had become in the people.

Economic Fallout

Grigory Yavlinsky, a Russian economist and former leader of the Yabloko political party, rightly stated: “In the last ten years, Russia has learned that an open society has one more enemy: capitalism that is not limited by laws, civil institutions, tradition, belief, trade unions – by anything at all. It is capitalism that drives itself by the wild will for profit at any price”. The West failed to understand the ideological matrices that informed the Soviet mentality. By neglecting to take into account Russia’s distinct lack of cultural, social, and intellectual infrastructures necessary to transition to a market-based economy, they took steps that would ultimately worsen East-West relations.

The contemporary by-product of this deteriorating relationship is revealed in the statistics for foreign direct investment (FDI) in Russia. The Russian Federal Service of State Statistics presented figures suggesting that FDI inflows remained sluggish in Russia when compared to former Soviet bloc states and other Communist states alike. FDI inflows in 2002 were US$818 billion to the Czech Republic, as opposed to only US$28 billion to Russia. The Czech Republic’s foreign investments are nearly 30 times that of Russia, yet its natural resources are nowhere near the size of Russia’s.

Compared to Russia, the Czech Republic has been making strident efforts to maintain its political and economic transparency, which has resulted in an increased number of investments from international firms in both the technological and agricultural sectors of the Czech economy. Like Poland, the Czech Republic is a former Soviet bloc country; yet it is not having nearly as much difficulty integrating into the world economy as Russia. The best possible explanation to account for this oddity is that, unlike Russia, the Czech Republic was ready and willing to shed its Soviet-era inefficiency, both culturally and economically. But Russia, unlike Poland and Czechoslovakia, had nothing to which to return once the Communist government was overthrown. For too many, the Soviet way of life was the accepted way of life.

“The question now remains of how to move forward and build a new system that integrates the best of the West and abandons the worst of the East.”

Towards a Third Way

The question now remains of how to move forward and build a new system that integrates the best of the West and abandons the worst of the East. Andrey Nikolayevich Illarionov, a former economic policy advisor to Vladimir Putin, stated several years ago that Russia needs to create “a civil service, a social security system, a rule of law, a level playing field, banking reform, and much more”. To do so would require Russian society to finally shed its Soviet clothing, import the best ideas from the West, such as civic duty, and develop a love of civil service to foster national and cultural unity, rather than resurrect outdated and misguided social organisations such as the Komsomol youth movement.

In 2005, Andrey Nikolayevich Illarionov resigned from his position, declaring: “This year Russia has become a different country. It is no longer a democratic country. It is no longer a free country”. He declared what far too many critics had feared: that Russia was returning to its pre-Soviet, autocratic roots. If this is to be curbed and democracy is to be fostered, then the West has an obligation to advise Russia as best as possible, to help the country move forward, rather than backward, towards the third way, in which the ideals of democracy – not autocracy – rule. A return to a non-democratic state that advocates cultural and economic isolation is no longer possible in a globalised world. Russia needs all of the help it can get to understand this.

Ilya Popov recently completed his Master of Publishing.

Ignatius Forbes is in his year of an Economics degree. He is currently undertaking honours in Economics.