Accessibility links

Former Gorbachev Adviser Says Russians Have 'Acute' Case Of The Blues

Among other problems Russia faces, Aleksandr Likhotal points out that much of the infrastructure in its vast northern territories is built on permafrost, which climate change could leave in ruins.

Among other problems Russia faces, Aleksandr Likhotal points out that much of the infrastructure in its vast northern territories is built on permafrost, which climate change could leave in ruins.

UNITED NATIONS -- Aleksandr Likhotal was an adviser to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev before he became the president and CEO of Green Cross International, a nonprofit group whose mission is "to respond to the combined challenges of security, poverty, and environmental degradation to ensure a sustainable and secure future."

Gorbachev founded Green Cross in 1993 and today Likhotal is carrying on the work he began.

RFE/RL correspondent Courtney Brooks caught up with Likhotal during his appearance at this week's UN summit on global happiness -- a conference with the ambitious goal of writing a road map to a happier world.

RFE/RL: You spoke at the summit about the opportunity that existed to improve people's happiness, or well-being at least, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We are now seeing mass protests in Russia as a result of discontent with the political climate. Do you think people are much happier now in Russia than they were before the end of communism?

Aleksandr Likhotal:
I think that we should clearly understand in talking about the current situation and relevance to happiness, [that] we are talking about satisfaction of people with [their] current life and with the current social surrounding.

From that point of view, I think the majority of the world cannot be happy today, and Russia is a very acute case, because in addition to the general trends of the global development, in Russia today people are dissatisfied with how the ruling class ignores the people. And even, you know, they feel offended by the lying of the ruling elite, by the total corruption that is so characteristic in the country. So obviously, the potential for dissatisfaction -- you might call it unhappiness -- [has grown] in the country.

RFE/RL: The UN "happiness summit" focused largely on how environmental issues are affecting happiness and well-being. How do you think the environment will affect quality of life in Russia in the near future?

Russia should be very concerned. Because of the climate change and the rise of the oceans, there will be a lot of immigrants. Environmental immigration will start on the scale of millions and millions of people, and Russia has 20,000 kilometers of land-lined borders with not very quiet regimes, and countries [that are not doing very well]. So I think that if people start emigrating from these countries, Russia will be very much exposed.

And another problem is the permafrost. You know, a good portion of the country lies very much to the north, and all the construction, including the railways, buildings, etc., etc., were built in the permafrost. If [the] permafrost starts melting down, all this construction will be ruined. So it's a huge economical issue, as well.

And the problem of the environment today is not [just] environmental because it has an impact on health, on social aspects, on [the] economy of the country, and on [the] security of the country. So it's a synergistic challenge that we face today.

RFE/RL: The UN summit has as its goal producing a "road map to happiness" that countries can follow. What do you think the other effects of summit will be?

I would say that the summit was an interesting experience, and potentially it could become a real seminal turning point, because obviously the current economic system has ceased to work. It was created almost 200 years ago, it was updated 70 years ago, [and] now we have [a] totally new world.

By the year 2050, the population of the so-called north will [be] only 10 percent of the global population, with the poles of power [and] influence moving to Asia. So everything must be updated today. And [yet] we are sticking to the very old system, [which is] old-fashioned, obsolete, [and] which doesn't work.