Here are two excerpts from a book I recently read, "Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom," by Condoleeza Rice:
These experiences have taught me that there is no more thrilling moment than when people finally seize their rights and their liberty. That moment is necessary, right, and inevitable. It is also terrifying and disruptive and chaotic. And what follows it is hard—really, really hard.
For a brief moment in the interregnum when Putin stepped down as president and Dmitry Medvedev succeeded him, it looked as if Russia might try to take a different course. Medvedev came to power saying bluntly that Russia should not be a nineteenth-century extractive industries economy. He visited the great technology centers of the world in search of ideas to build a Russian Silicon Valley.
In June 2010, he visited the actual Silicon Valley. I received a call from President Obama informing me that Medvedev wanted to come to Stanford. The president asked me to make certain it was a good visit. Medvedev turned up in blue jeans and an Armani jacket and read his speech from an iPad. He completely looked the part of a young, hip entrepreneur.
After several hours in Silicon Valley visiting companies like Google and Facebook, Medvedev and I sat down with a few others to talk. Listening to venture capitalists, engineers, and business leaders clearly had an effect on him. “I get it,” he said. “It is an ecosystem.” One sensed some sadness in the realization that what he had seen in Palo Alto could not easily be transported to Russia. But he tried, supporting the building of Skolkovo, touted as Russia’s high-tech hub.
I visited Skolkovo the next year. Palo Alto it was not. The huge, several-stories-high modern-style campus outside Moscow was a kind of metaphor for Russia’s notions of innovation. It was big, centralized, and already incredibly bureaucratic. The Kremlin told the scientists and engineers that they should innovate but almost immediately started dictating what that would mean. Not surprisingly, Skolkovo has produced little and is now under constant criticism from conservatives who never liked the effort. The question is whether the prosecutors will soon follow.