August 12, 2022

Unhitching the wagon

In February 2021, Novaya Gazeta released a manifesto entitled The Rape of Europe 2.0. It expressed a similar mindset, albeit using far more colourful language. The manifestos author, the high-profile theatre director Konstantin Bogomolov, identified modern Europes ideologues as an aggressive mix of queer activists, eco-psychopaths and fem-fanatics. Due to their tradition of aping European ways, Russians have ended up at the tail end of a mad train, steaming to a Hieronymus Bosch-style hell where we will be fulfilled by multicultural gender-neutral devils. Bogomolovs guidance is uncomplicated: We simply need to unhitch the wagon, cross ourselves and begin building a new world.

Unhitching The Wagon

Alexei Khomiakov (1835 )

Unhitching The Wagon

Throughout the next 2 centuries, there was a good deal of zig-zagging on the issue of Russian Europeanness. But by the time the Soviet Union had neared its end, the Kremlin appeared to have accepted Catherines formula. Among Mikhail Gorbachevs pet subjects was a common European house; Boris Yeltsin broachedre- signing up with European civilization; and, as late as 2005, Vladimir Putin contended that Russia was a significant European power that for the previous three centuries has actually been progressing and transforming itself hand in hand with other European nations.

Unhitching The Wagon

While Russia has actually been residing in a Eurocentric world for at least 300 years, Russian experts assert, Europe has actually continued to see Russia either as the barbarian at eviction or the everlasting apprentice. Now, Fyodor Lukyanov and Alexei Miller competed in a report provided under the aegis of Russias Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, Europe will have to recognise that its dialogue with Russia will need to be revised. Not because the apprentice has mastered all skills (or not mastered them at all). This is not the crucial problem any longer. The easy factor exists is no apprentice, as he no longer desires to belong to the guild and accomplish the guilds recognition.

Unhitching The Wagon

Locomotive monument in Zlatoust, Russia. Author: Роман Дергунов; source: Wikimedia Commons

Unhitching The Wagon

No official document better records the sea-change in the Kremlins mindset than the documents prepared in the process of drafting Russias new principle of cultural policy in 2014. Russia should be viewed as a special and unique civilization that can not be decreased to either the West (Europe) or the East, the authors of the memorandum wrote.

Unhitching The Wagon

These days, nevertheless, the Kremlin proclaims that Russia constitutes a self-sustained civilization unique from the European one. Moscows leading political thinkers argue that the country needs to liberate itself from Eurocentric outlooks. According to the political researcher Sergei Karaganov, the “decrease” of Europe has actually been spoken about for a century. Now the situation appears to have actually reached a critical phase. Composing in Rossiia v globalnoi politike, Russias leading foreign policy journal, Karaganov recommended that Europe within the European Union turns down numerous essential European values that have actually entered into Russias identity. The EUs brand-new ideologies and values– assertive democracy promotion, minorities rights, feminism, LGBT, Black Lives Matter, Me Too– are toxic. As an outcome, Karaganov concludes, it is time to start questioning [Russias] basic cultural and spiritual orientation towards Europe, our European roots.

Unhitching The Wagon

There is no rejecting that the EU– Russia relationship is at its nadir. Early last year, Moscow threatened to sever all ties with the European bloc, while its foreign minister considered it appropriate to highlight his countrys willpower by pricing estimate the Latin saying Si vis pacem, para bellum– if you desire peace, get ready for war. With the present escalation at the Ukrainian border, that risk now appears to have been more serious than lots of in Europe would have liked to think.

A thick cloud lies/ Oer the remote West, land of holy miracles.

Over the last three to four centuries, Russian perceptions of Europe and the relationship in between the 2 have been in a state of flux. Throughout the Petrine period, Russias court geographers and historians contributed in remapping Europes frontiers. In making the Urals the eastern limit of Europe, they positioned the bulk of the Russian Empires western territories securely within the Old Continent. This exercise in mental mapping acted as a symbolic foundation for the Europeanizing policies of both Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, with Catherine declaring in her renowned Nakaz of 1767 that Russia is a European state.

Naturally, all eyes are on the political and financial ramifications of the deepening rift in between Moscow and Brussels. Less noticed, however, are the ideational aspects of the Kremlins worldwide conduct. Ever since Russias Crimea gambit and the eastern Ukraine fiasco, a dramatic shift has actually been happening in the political creativity of the Moscow elites. At the heart of this shift is a mental distancing from Europe.

The dilemma of the intelligentsia

It is from this reservoir of metaphors, significances, images and tropes that Kremlin-connected ideologues presently draw. Nevertheless, contemporary Russian critics of Europe completely ignore the reality that, while providing massive proof of the imminent Untergang des Abendlandes, their nineteenth-century Russian precursors were involved in an energetic intra-European debate. Undoubtedly, their intellectual constructs were to a big extent items of the European mind. In his 1966 work The Icon and the Axe, James Billington pointed to an essential phenomenon that played a developmental function in Russian intellectual history: the Western prophet who looks to Russia for the realization of ideas not given a correct hearing in the West.

Throughout the 19th century, European mystics, Romantic thinkers, utopians, reactionaries, and conservative Christians such as François-René de Chateaubriand in France, Joseph-Marie de Maistre in Piedmont-Sardinia, Juan Donoso Cortés in Spain and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel in Germany had been these western prophets. In the procedure of carrying out extreme intellectual dialog with their Russian spiritual brethren, they had fed them apocalyptic images of Europes decline.

Incredibly, this time-honoured intellectual exchange between Europes West and East continues. Contemporary Russian conservatives are wont to pontificate on tyranny of the minorities in Europe, western ideocracy or, most recently, the EUs brand-new ethical Reich. However, their disquisitions are frequently only pale imitations of the works of modern western paleoconservatives and Nouvelle Droite intellectuals such as Paul Gottfried, Alain de Benoist and Guillaume Faye.

Awareness of the derivative nature of the modern Russian intellectual custom and of the nations cultural dependence on Europe likewise clashed with the concept of Russian success. In the creativity of Russian judgment elites, Russia had throughout the majority of its history constituted an alternative centre of power, essentially pursuing a global, universal project– be it the Orthodox empire of the Romanovs or the Communist empire of the Soviets. The concept of Russia as a student made Russia appear to be a junior partner in the Concert of Europe.

The dynamic was observed and commented on as early as the 1850s. Where did we get … the concept, or, better, not the idea but the melodramatic phrase that the West is a decrepit old guy who has currently drawn from life all he can take, who is lacking life, and so forth? asked Russian literary critic Nikolai Chernyshevskii– and immediately addressed his own question: From those thick-witted and vapid western books and articles, thats where.

From the pan-Slavist vision of Russia as an unique cultural-historical type to classical Eurasianisms reinvention of Russia as a self-contained world unto itself– it was the struggle with this double problem that animated the Russian intelligentsias discourses of nation and worldwide identity throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Underlying these workouts in symbolic geography was an intent shared by generations of national-minded thinkers to challenge the prevalent Eurocentric outlook and assert Russias status as a self-governing civilization, completely sovereign and on par with (or perhaps remarkable to) any other significant European power.

Instead of attempting a comprehensive analysis of how Russias historical experience associates with that of Europe, I would like to provide two theories that are beneficial in browsing this highly controversial problem. The very first is that of the West– East cultural gradient, introduced and established by the late Martin Malia. This rejects the existence of a sharp dividing line separating East from West and instead posits a softer gradation as one relocations across the united Eurasian continent. The 2nd theory is that of relative synchronicity within a longue durée advancement, advanced by Maria Todorova. By evaluating different European nationalisms within a unitary structure of modernity, Todorova prevents the discourse of backwardness and rather specifies the East– Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Russia– as part of a typical European area.

While affirming Russias standard Europeanness, neither theory denies its peripheral position. Since it never ever created its own vision of modernity but rather adopted a European one, Russias relative subalternity vis-à-vis Europe appears unavoidable merely. This scenario produced a painful dilemma that has tortured Russian intellectuals– a stratum that became understood as the intelligentsia– throughout the last 200 years. As the American historian Alan Pollard mentioned, the aspects which created [Russian intellectuals] consciousness tended to be products of the West, so that the very qualities which enhanced the intelligentsia with understanding, and therefore with its very essence, also alienated it from national life, to represent which was its vital function.

Grim guys in the Kremlin


There is a stark contrast in between psychological impulses that drove the writings of nineteenth-century Russian intellectuals and those behind the philippics of their twenty-first century epigones. Many of the previous genuinely liked Europe and suffered as they observed its expected fall. The latter appear to be mainly encouraged by their ressentiment and animus towards the West– emotions born of the unhealthy combination of arrogance and inability complex.

The concept of Russia as a student made Russia appear to be a junior partner in the Concert of Europe.

Thats the essence of the matter. What troubles the grim males in the Kremlin is not Gayropa– a bogeyman produced for domestic usage– but the EUs essential political perfects and worths: human dignity and liberty, guideline of tolerance, democracy, and law. It is these aspects of European heritage that the Kremlin rulers, administering over the significantly repressive authoritarian program, can not master.

The important things is, though, that these European worths are universal. More youthful generations who require to the streets throughout Russias large stretch to challenge the countrys governing elites comprehend this. The Kremlin rulers appear to understand this too. Ever prepared to resort to obfuscation, they now cast all European heritage as hazardous. From their perspective, the finest way for Russia to proceed is undoubtedly to unhitch its wagon from the European mad train. This naturally is absolutely nothing more than reactionary utopia

Timofei Bordachev, a high-profile Moscow political analyst, has argued that moving forward is difficult without repudiation of a substantial part of [our] own heritage, consisting of, possibly, its central core: the European character of Russian statehood. Europe as a source of development has been composed off as a spent force. We have actually already received from Europe whatever we needed, Karaganov and other similar political experts note in a business-like manner. Everything else, they argue, we either currently have or its simply out of reach since we can not master it: historically, Russia is an authoritarian state … Its time to stop repenting of the fact that we are traditionally dedicated to an authoritarian system of government, not to liberal democracy.

This type of psychological accessory is totally absent in the works of Kremlin-friendly intellectuals. For Dmitry Trenin, director of Carnegie Moscow Center, Europe has ceased to be a sacred, native and even friendly land. For modern Russia, it is now simply another neighbour, part of a Greater Eurasia stretching from Ireland to Japan. The tactical goal of close cooperation and political alliance with Europe– a concept that agitated the minds of Russian liberal intellectuals and policymakers in the 1990s– is now deemed not practical, if not hazardous. Russias progress is no longer associated with its European ties.

Composing in Rossiia v globalnoi politike, Russias leading foreign policy journal, Karaganov suggested that Europe within the European Union declines many essential European values that have become part of Russias identity. While Russia has actually been living in a Eurocentric world for at least 300 years, Russian experts assert, Europe has actually continued to view Russia either as the barbarian at the gate or the eternal apprentice. Now, Fyodor Lukyanov and Alexei Miller contended in a report issued under the aegis of Russias Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, Europe will have to recognise that its dialogue with Russia will have to be revised. By evaluating numerous European nationalisms within a unitary structure of modernity, Todorova avoids the discourse of backwardness and instead defines the East– Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Russia– as part of a common European space.

Alexei Khomiakov, the intellectual leader of the Slavophiles, and later Fyodor Dostoevsky were both deeply distressed by what they saw across Russias western border. Following the late eighteenth and nineteenth-century advanced turmoils, Europe had gone awry, they observed with a sigh of sorrow, and Russia was destined to recover its injuries by the power of her spirit. We Russians have 2 homelands: our own Russia and Europe, even if we call ourselves Slavophiles, Dostoevsky noted in his Writers Diary for 1876. Europe– however its a sacred and awful thing, Europe! he wrote in his journal next year. Oh, gentlemen, do you understand how dear Europe is to us … Europe, this land of holy wonders! Do you understand how dear these wonders are to us and how we revere and enjoy, with more than brotherly love and reverence, those excellent tribes that occupy it, together with all the beautiful and grand things they have accomplished? Do you understand how many tears we shed and the pangs of heart we suffer at the fate of this dear and native nation, and how frightened we are by the storm clouds that are ever gathering on her horizon?