With the end of the Cold War, there were extraordinary expectations – for peace and prosperity; for new arrangements among nations, and new opportunities for individuals. Like all periods of great change, it was a time of ambitious plans and endless possibilities. But, of course, things don’t always work out exactly as planned. Back in 1993, shortly after this school opened, one NES student summed up the difficulty of change when he told a reporter, and I quote: “The real world is not so rational as on paper.”
Over two tumultuous decades, that truth has been borne out around the world. Great wealth has been created, but it has not eliminated vast pockets of crushing poverty. More people have gone to the ballot box, but too many governments still fail to protect the rights of their people. Ideological struggles have diminished, but they have given way to conflicts over tribe, ethnicity and religion. A human being with a computer can hold the same amount of information stored in the Russian State Library, but that technology can be used to do great harm.
In a new Russia, the disappearance of old political and economic restrictions after the end of the Soviet Union brought both opportunity and hardship. A few prospered, but many more did not. There were tough times. But the Russian people showed strength and made sacrifices, and you achieved hard-earned progress through a growing economy and greater confidence. And despite painful times, many in Eastern Europe and Russia are better off today than twenty years ago.
We see that progress here at NES – a school founded with Western support that is now distinctly Russian; a place of learning and inquiry where the test of an idea is not whether it is American or Russian, but whether it will work. Above all, we see that progress in you – young people with a young century to shape as you see fit.
Your lifetime coincides with this era of transition. But think about the fundamental questions asked when this school was founded. What kind of future is Russia going to have? What kind of future are Russia and America going to have together? What world order will replace the Cold War? Those questions still do not have clear answers, and so now they must be answered by you – by your generation in Russia, America, and around the world. You get to decide. And while I cannot answer these questions for you, I can speak plainly about the future that America seeks.
To begin with, let me be clear: America wants a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia.