The Good Country Index scores nations on their contribution to the rest of the world. Photo: Getty
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Does your nation free-ride on the planet or benefit humanity?

The Good Country Index scores nations on their beneficent contributions to the world. Its creator hopes it will encourage governments to think globally rather than nationally.

Britain ranks seventh in the world for its contribution to humanity, according to a new global index of “good” nations published for the first time this summer.

The UK claimed the top spot in science and technology and scored highly for its contribution to global health, prosperity and culture, but fell in the bottom quartile of nations for “international peace and security”.

After the results of the Good Country Index were published last month, national media around the world reported on their countries’ respective rankings; Ireland celebrated its premier position, while Doha reflected on its lowly ranking at 110th.

Finland, Switzerland and the Netherlands scored the highest marks after the Emerald Isle, while Iraq, Vietnam and Libya were ranked the least “good” nations in the world.

I spoke to the index’s creator Simon Anholt, an independent policy advisor, about the aims behind the project.

Speaking over the phone, he explained that it is “the first to measure exactly how much each country contributes to the planet and to humanity.”

The index comprises the “national balance sheets” of 125 countries. They are measured across seven categories, from their contribution to climate change and the planet, through prosperity and equality, to their promotion of world order.

The ambitious goal of the scorecard, said Anholt, is to compel governments to give greater thought to their ultimate responsibility to humanity worldwide, not just citizens at home.

While it may seem a worthwhile aim to encourage voters and politicians to think beyond their national self-interest and about the greater good of the world, his project is undoubtedly ambitious.

Anholt maintains that his research has shown that citizens around the world do care about nations’ benefaction to humanity.

“People like good countries,” he said. “They admire nations that are powerful, beautiful, large, but the thing that counts most of all is the perception that it contributes something to the rest of the world that we all live in. This finding filled me with joy.”

He believes the Great Recession of 2009 has contributed to a collective desire for deeper and more meaningful contributions on the part of states. As the world economy lay in tatters, the hollowness of materialism and selfishness of national interest became increasingly apparent and prompted people to question the foundations of the concepts, he said.

“The Washington consensus and aggressive Anglo-Saxon capitalism has been the presiding model for a very long time. But even before the recession, it was already beginning to get to the stage where people were asking ‘Is this really it? Is this really the best model?’.”

For his index, Anholt harvested data from 35 global, accurate and up-to-date surveys, including from the World Bank, United Nations and other multinational agencies.

“Although it’s theoretically true that the choice of data is subjective, in reality it isn’t a choice, it’s just all there is,” he claims.

He wants the index to serve as more than a piece of research. “It’s more an act of public diplomacy than statistical analysis.  This is not to say I don’t stand by it, I think it’s a good piece of work. But in the end there isn’t enough data to give a definitive account of what every country on earth contributes to humanity – partially because that isn’t really measurable.”

He added: “The reason I wanted to do it is to find every way possible to bring this topic alive to people and make them ask these kinds of questions.”

Anholt contends that globalisation has made our gravest and most complex problems global.

If nations continue to act only in their own interest, then borderless challenges such as climate change, economic instability, pandemics, terrorism, inequality, overpopulation and migration will become insurmountable.

He said: “The United Nations and other multinationals have very little power to solve problems, so unless countries start collaborating more, we’re going to get nowhere.”

One of the most controversial parts of the index is the international peace and security criterion, which is calculated “to everybody’s astonishment and a certain amount of outrage”, said Anholt, by counting the number of people a nation has killed and debiting that number from the country’s scorecard.

It seems a potentially reductive approach. After all, a nation may engage in a military mission to protect civilian populations or maintain peace and security rather than destroy it.

Anholt was unrepentant about his methodology: “I take a simplistic view of this – I think killing people is wrong.”
This method explains why the US ranked only 21st in the index. Americans were outraged. Anholt claims that more than 10,000 emails, blog posts and Tweets were written by Americans in response to the results, all “furious that America doesn’t come out on top”.

A Brit himself, Anholt is ambivalent about the UK’s contribution to humanity: “proud” of some parts and “ashamed” of others.

“We’re like a lot of western democracies,” he said. “We give an awful lot and we steal an awful lot.” Among the UK’s greatest contributions are “the amount of overseas development and aid we do; we accept a lot of migrants and students; our cultural relations are good and active; we send doctors to Médecins Sans Frontières, we pay our dues to the United Nations.”

While Britain scores highly in the Good Country Index, Anholt hopes that delineating the country's contributions to the world will prompt further beneficent action.

His aims, while noble, are highly ambitious to the point of being unrealistic. But perhaps this idealistic project has come at the right time. In a period when the Middle East seems torn by strife, and internal conflict rages in Ukraine, thoughtful consideration of the external impact that countries have can only be a good thing.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Danila Tkachenko
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Ruin porn: the art world’s awkward obsession with abandoned Soviet architecture

Deserted fairgrounds, disused factories and forgotten military bases may look cool, but are we fetishising the remnants of such a cruel history?

Armenia, where one side of my family is from, was one of the first members of the USSR, annexed by Russia in 1922. A few years ago, when I visited this little country that perches precariously in the south of the Caucasus, I was struck most by its Soviet architecture.

Although its landscape is a hotchpotch of medieval Orthodox churches, a smattering of Persian-era domes, and brutalist concrete, it was the latter that particularly stuck out. From unfelled statues of Stalin to giant tower blocks spelling out the letters “CCCP” from a bird’s-eye view (well, half spelt-out – construction stopped partway through, with the fall of the Soviet Union), I’ve never forgotten it.

Perhaps it was so compelling because such stark physical symbols make recent history all the more tangible. A history still profoundly affecting the country of my ancestors (and all post-Soviet and communist states). But also, it just looked really cool.


Mixed air corps, Mongolia. Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Eric Losito

It’s a bit passé now to mock the hipster obsession with reclaimed industrial detritus, exposed pipes and bare concrete. An aesthetic – that of a post-industrial wasteland, but a chic one – which has gripped western cities for years, and crept worldwide.

But it could be this tendency to find disused stuff visually intriguing, and a morbid fascination with cruel regimes, which has led to the art world’s obsession with abandoned Soviet architecture. A whole wave of artists and photographers have been poking around the eastern bloc’s architectural graveyard in recent years.

Late last year, we saw the hugely popular disused Soviet bus stop series by photographer Christopher Herwig, echoing photographer Sergey Novikov’s equally absorbing collection of abandoned Soviet cinemas from 2013.

Following Russian filmmaker and photographer Maria Morina’s “Atomic Cities” project four years ago, London-based artist Nadav Kander explored the “aesthetics of destruction” in his exhibition, Dust, in 2014, snapping “radioactive ruins” of secret cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia. The same year, Moscow photographers Sasha Mademuaselle and Sergey Kostromin travelled to the disputed region of Abkhazia, capturing fragments of its deserted infrastructure.


Fighter aviation regiment, Mongolia. Photo: Eric Losito
 

And photojournalist Anton Petrus’ now iconic pictures of Chernobyl’s abandoned amusement park have long been an internet favourite, as have numerous haunting images of Pripyet – the city famous for lying deserted following the nuclear disaster.

Jamie Rann, a lecturer in Russian at Oxford University, has written that the quality and technical accomplishment of most of this photography make the style more “ruin erotica” than “ruin porn” (the tag being used by some critics), but argues: “The enormous online popularity of this genre . . . combined with their voyeuristic, almost exploitative feel, certainly has something porny about it.”

The latest exploration of Soviet society’s skeletons can be found at the Power & Architecture season at London’s Calvert 22 Foundation. In an exhibition called Dead Space and Ruins, we see abandoned military bases and formerly mighty monuments, forgotten space ports freezing in the tundra, the ghost of an entire unused, unfinished city in Armenia lying derelict.



The unfinished "ghost city" built in Armenia to house earthquake survivors (water added by artist). Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Vahram Aghasyan

The works are beautiful, but do they feed in to this zeitgeisty lust for Soviet ruins?

One of its curators, Will Strong, laments this trend. “I was keen that this didn’t become like a kind of ‘ruin lust’, ‘ruin porn’ thing; this slightly buzzwordy term that there is at the moment, this kind of fetishisation of dead space,” he tells me.

“This history is incredibly loaded, and it did not end in 1991. To sort of fetishise it in the very bourgeois western way of, ‘oh yeah, look at all this wonderful Soviet architecture, isn’t it fantastic?’ Obviously a lot of people who lived in that time hated it . . . a lot of people were very miserable under these regimes, so it’s important not to forget that.”


Gym at the Independent Radar Centre of Early Detection, Latvia. Photo: Eric Losito

He adds: “It’s more a point of reflection on how buildings were designed, what their legacy is, what their narrative is, and who the people are who live with that story. This show looks at the aftermaths of when utopia hasn’t been delivered.”

This view is echoed by the Moscow artist, Danila Tkachenko, whose work is featured in the exhibition. “It is rather a metaphor for the future, not the past,” he says. “It represents an image of a possible future. When there is a visualisation of this issue [utopia], it evokes a response in people; they see this utopia in their lives . . . There is disappointment in all utopias.”


The world's largest diesel submarine, in Russia's Samara region. Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Danila Tkachenko

His Restricted Areas series explores great behemoths of European communism left to lie forgotten in the tundra of remote regions in and around Russia and Kazakhstan: the world’s largest diesel submarine, like a beached whale in the snow; a giant satellite, thatched with antennae, built to communicate with Soviet bases on other planets some day; the deserted flying saucer-like communist headquarters in a region of Bulgaria. The structures hover in blank, white space, making the photos appear black-and-white.


Deserted observatory, Kazakhstan's Almaty region. Photo: Danila Tkachenko
 

Anton Ginzburg is an artist who grew up in St Petersburg in the Eighties as the Soviet Union was disintegrating. He believes studies like his film, Turo, of disused modernist constructions in the post-Soviet bloc, appeal to people’s connection to history. After all, picking through the architectural carcasses of former societies isn’t exactly a new thing:

“Russian culture is still haunted by its Communist past, and constructivist architecture is a decaying shell for its ghosts. It is an active reminder of the recent history,” he reflects. “Perhaps [its appeal] is a mixture of memento mori, with its thrill of beauty and destruction, along with a Romantic tradition of contemplation of Greek and Roman ruins.”

(Anton Ginzburg Turo teaser from Visionaireworld on Vimeo.)

The Power & Architecture season is on at the Calvert 22 Foundation, London, from 10 June-9 October 2016. Entry is free.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.