With Thomas Bach's plea, in his speech closing the 22nd Olympiad in Sochi yesterday, asking the world to follow the example of the athletes especially where there is conflict, in the direction of peace, dignity and respect, it struck me that both the United States and Russia are part of an old world order. Yes, Russia's presentation of the winter Olympics was clearly an attempt to present a "new Russia" complete with all the techno-wizardry of contemporary 'de mille' productions linked intimately and creatively to a history of centuries of artistic accomplishment in dance, theatre, music and stagecraft. And, to be sure, even the many venues were created in a spirit of freedom combined with cutting edge design, architecture with a dash of wizardry. Where else, for example, would one find a hockey arena whose roof blazed with lights, that signalled both the competitors playing and the immediate score, for all hockey games in the tournament?
However, now that the magic is complete, and the athletes are returning home, the world is watching a tug-of-war, in the Ukraine, between the Russia of Putin's ambitions for glory and the EU's example of a different and more collaborative, if somewhat awkward and bumpy ambitions for democracy and for limits to nationalism in favour of a more negotiable and less combative, and perhaps even more complex political relationships. The Kremlin can write cheques for immediate "bribes" to induce Ukrainians to move closer to their circle of influence, just as the United States has for too long attempted to use cash to buy influence around the world (clearly not without pouring billions back if and when needed, for example through the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II).
Is it just possible, certainly not guaranteed, that both Russia and the United States are reaching, or perhaps have reached the limit of the power of money as a means to secure friends, allies and influence among the world community?
Pouring military support into Syria continues to "buy" Putin a measure of influence over Assad. And the U.S., by refusing to pour their resources into the conflict, is being pounded by both Republicans and some world leaders, for their not being able to be trusted to come to the aid of the rebels in that country. And while there is a cunning and opportunistic aspect to the Putin "beneficience" to Assad, in the short run, the world can and does see it for its blatant and sullied "self-interest" purchase.
Gatsby attempted to purchase his friends in East Egg, as an very un-nuanced attempt to woo Daisy. The world's fixation with the cost of the Olympics demonstrates that money continues to have a degree of power to make some things happen. And let's not demonize money, in the manner that the prohibition movement demonized rum, as a moral imperative to cleanse the "filthy lucre" from the planet. However, complex issues require more than money and missiles for their resolution.
And the world community needs leaders who are prepared to dig deep into their imaginative arsenal for more subtle and sophisticated and less brutal and less immediate methods of nurturing and growing and sustaining relationships.
Even in Africa, where "foreign aid" is now being questioned as a form of patronizing insult to the African people, money is not the simple answer to helping that continent and the many countries within to achieve self-reliance and increased independence and autonomy. China seems to be in the lead on that continent in providing infrastructure in exchange for natural resources, without leaving a footprint of insulting patronizing.
As fledgling countries enhance the education of their people, and come to see their own opportunities for leadership, they will increasingly want and need guidance, support and mutually beneficial relationships that are not based exclusively on money, or on a kind of "parenting" that merely throws a crumb of cash at a complex and perhaps long-standing issue or problem. They will also not so easily as in the past, see themselves as "in the ditch" of the human community, needing nothing more than a heroic and self-interested cheque in order to grow and nurture and sustain what will be also complex and nuanced relationships with countries whose histories stretch back centuries.
So while the US continues to occupy an significant chair at the table of world leaders, and must "talk turkey" to Putin over several outstanding issues, like the Ukraine, Iran, and Syria, it is not only their fat cheque books that gives them power, nor it is any longer their large arsenal of military materiel. Nor is it the previously desperate and dependent need for fossil fuel that undergirds American hegemony, or the façade of influence. In fact, the notion of the commodification of all relationships, as if foreign policy were merely an extension of the kind of corporate profit-driven sine qua non of General Motors, that is being seriously questioned here.
And regardless of how much money was poured into the pursuit of medals in Sochi by the various countries, including Canada, and while money does indeed buy coaching and training facilities and transportation and food for that training, as well as supplemental income for aspiring Olympians, it is their commitment to the Olympic ideals that were celebrated for those seventeen days in Sochi, not the money that "bought" those medals.
And while people like Kevin O'Leary like to believe that the market is omnipotent, and that dollars drive the world, his view is so myopic as to be its own poison. And as soon as American, Russian and the diplomats from other countries like India and China and Brazil come to the realization that their value cannot be completely reckoned by the size of their GDP or the balance of trade, or their unemployment rates, nor the number of start-ups or patents in any given year, the world will reach a different level of consciousness that excellence and healthy relationships are not "bought" but rather negotiated through complex and often conflicted pathways.
And searching for power and influence through the acquisition and spreading of money is both hollow and dissatisfying for both the acquirer and the potential recipient. Even those in extreme poverty would gladly accept an opportunity both to learn and to contribute, rather than a hand-out, even if that hand-out comes voluntarily and freely. Their dignity and their capacity to contribute are essential not only to their growing autonomy but also to the body politic's need to know how to receive.
Power, buttressed by money, is not acquired nor merited, exclusively through the acquisition of more money and the ability to write cheques. There is more to relationships, even at the diplomatic level, than cheques and guns. And, just as the United States is witnessing a change in the approach of many colleges and universities to open their doors to those whose lives are scarred by the ravages of poverty and scarcity, so to we can only hope that both Russia and the United States will see the application of that principle to their engagements around the world, as they seek to untangle centuries of division, hatred, contempt and deception among and between tribes, nations and regions.
Let's not turn the story of the Ukraine into a competition between two big bank accounts, as appears to be happening with the next round of US elections, with billionaires supporting both parties throwing their cheques at their agendas.