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July 6th, 2010
Russia's leaders talk obsessively of the country's industrial modernization, of their support for innovations, such as nanotechnology, that can help the country catch up to the developed world. In line with Soviet traditions, a nanotechnology project was given a chunk of land, financing and assigned a grandiose name: Innovation City. The best brains in Russia will gather in one place and move the country forward. The hope is that Russians at home, and especially abroad, will be overcome with patriotic feelings. Drawn by high salaries, emigres will return to make themselves famous and their motherland proud.
A wonderful plan, but I fear that it won't work. For example, imagine a genius who left Russia many years ago. He has achieved prominence in a foreign country for inventing something outstanding. Now he is asked to come home: Your motherland is waiting for you, it values your contribution, it forgives your betrayal, and it will pay you more than what you are getting elsewhere.
To give the plan the benefit of the doubt, the brilliant scientist is nostalgic for the birch trees, his old friends, his ex-wife and children from the first marriage. He wants to come back, to revisit all that he has left behind, while also helping his nation become economically strong, technically advanced, and prosperous. Yet before making the final decision, he turns on the radio, watches a bit of television, browses the Internet and finds out what Russia is like. Journalists are killed, scientists are accused of espionage, and former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky remains unjustly imprisoned. He reads the confused and confusing speeches of our leaders: freedom is good, but …
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