Russia and Europe

Autor: Kamča Nová | 14.9.2010 21:05 | 2 komentářů | Přečteno: 4121 krát

You would have to be heartless, not to regret the disintegration of the USSR, but you would have to be brainless trying to restore it. 
Vladimir Putin 
Thinking about the chosen topic, many associations come to one's head. I would even dare to call it provoking, as it raises plenty of questions. With no doubts, the theme can be a source of uncountable academic disputes. Why is that? In my opinion, the problem is far more general. It does not lie between Russia and the European Union, but in the relation between Russia and Europe itself. There exactly I would like to shift my attention, when posing following questions, which I find central to the problem: "Does Russia belong to Europe? Has it ever been part of Europe? Will the Russian Federation find its place in the new Europe of the 21st century?" It will not be easy to get the desired answers and I am not sure that even after completing my essay I will be able to present them clearly. But the French word "essai" stands for a try, and that is exactly what I wish to do - to try my best in analyzing the situation concerning Russia-Europe relations, disregarding the fact that it is neither topical at the moment nor that I lack sufficient knowledge about the subject. The reason why I chose this theme is that I thought I could not bring anything new to the debate around the current enlargement of the Union, as it is widely discussed everywhere in the media. Instead, I decided to look further into the future to see the potential integration of Russia and touch something less known by doing so. 
The interaction of Russia and Europe consists of various components - such as geographic realities, historic experiences or cultural characteristics, to name only few of them. It is important to look closer at each of these links, so that we could trace the possible answers to the questions mentioned above. Also, in the course of collecting materials for my essay, I realized that one has to be well aware of the fact that there are considerable differences in the view over this matter between people in the West and the native Russians. Fortunately, the author of these lines does not belong to any of the groups and thus such dualism can be avoided. Nevertheless, it is useful to specify my sources of information upon which the essay is based. I not only used history books and articles from magazines on international relations, but books of fiction and poetry, too. To be honest, I should also make clear that some of the presented ideas might seem quite subjective, since they derive their origin from my own personal experience with Russian culture. As for myself, I do not reserve the right to offer the universal truth, however I will try to be objective whenever possible. Let me start with something more scientific and focus on the geographical and geopolitical factor first. 
The question, whether Russia lies in Europe or not, is a problem of Europe being taken as a continent. While the western frontiers are clearly defined by the Atlantic coast, Europe's eastern limit, running southwards from the Urals, is more symbolic than natural. This can be illustrated on an example from the Russian reality: Not far from the industrial town Pervouralsk, which is proud to be the farthest European city to the east, amounts a several meters tall border-stone, on one side of it you can read the sign "Europe", while "Asia" on the other. Russian geographers set up the frontier between the two continents in the 18th century, but this cannot satisfy anybody more than just a metaphor. Europe is not a continent, it is rather a large peninsula, at least from geographical point of view. If we take this as an unchangeable fact, then we must agree, that Russia is part of Europe. Actually, the two are overlapping entities. Half of Europe is Russia; half of Russia is in Europe. It is difficult to draw a dividing line between Europe and non-Europe - geographically. Trying to do the same, while using a civilization criterion, the question 'where does Europe end?' would be even harder. It may end thousands miles away from Europe, (for example in Australia) and at the same time within Europe itself (e.g. in some remote villages in the middle of Transylvania). In this regard, trying to reach a consensus in the question of Russia's "Europeanness" is impossible. For this reason, I will try to draw my attention somewhere else. 
Nothing, in my view, can tell us more about the current state of things, than the past. That's why I want to devote the next several paragraphs to history, in order to "be able to understand the present better". Let's find out what Europe and Russia have had in common from the very beginning. The early Russian history is not too different from the one of the rest of Europe. The first organized societies appeared on the territory approximately in the 8th century. It was the time of the Kievan Russia, which in one period became the biggest European empire, although it stood rather on the edge or even outside the main affairs of Europe of that day. Still, there were some sticking points. For instance in 988, its Prince Vladimir, acquired Christianity as if copying what many other European rulers did and the new religion began to spread all across the country. We can see that future Russia was keeping pace with Europe and it wasn't but before later in its history that Russia began to fall behind. Actually, we can find one example, when its peoples were even in the lead, as to civilization. It was the case of Novgorod the Great. 
Its existence dates back to the eighth century, as the region around the city of Great Novgorod began to flourish. Unlike the Kievan Russia, it had more connections with the North and the West. It was divided into five parts, each of it having its own self-government. When decisions were to be made, public assembly was gathered on the call of a bell, which became the symbol of town's rights and freedoms. It very much reminded of democracy, of course with some limitations characteristic for that time. Another trait worth admiring could be its surprising judicial system. To illustrate some inventions we must mention at least the following: the court had 10 members deciding in a jury and one of the principles was judging people equally, the rich as well as the poor. Great Novgorod was a historic try for a different political system, an alternative to Russia's development, but also an opportunity, which didn't succeed. Why? It was destroyed in two consecutive battles, which took place in 1471 and 1477. The sad part about it is that the Novgorodians were not defeated by external enemy, but by their own 'brothers', the Moscow Princes. Some historians argue that this made Russia more distant from Europe than anything else in its early history. 
Unfortunately, it was this Moscow's Russia, which prevailed. The question is, why it was so different from the democratic Novgorod and relatively peaceful Kievan Russia. In the beginning, it was not. It was due to the Mongols who began to move westward, expanding from Asia all the way to Europe, that something had changed. Turkic tribes conquered the East-Slavonic nations and formed the so-called Golden Horde. As a consequence, Russia could not continue to build its civilization and instead of anything else, it fought the 'barbarians', who enjoyed much lower level of cultural development. Through this process, the Russian peoples became tougher in order to survive and the acquired barbarian imprint was later never erased. In this regard, it should not be forgotten that it was the Russians who formed a barrier defending Europe from the Turkic attacks. Interestingly, Europe owes much to their eastern neighbors for their protection, otherwise, if it had not been for them, the Europeans would face the same possibility of being subdued by the uncivilized Mongols. What would be the result of such proceeding of history stays in the realm of speculations. 
From the time, when the Golden Horde was defeated and the old contacts with Europe were reestablished, the growing Russian Empire did not share the same civilizational backround with it anymore. And so while Europe was expanding culturally, welcoming all kinds of discoveries such as those of Copernicus, the only interest of Russia was to expand further. There was no Renaissance or the Age of Enlightment. The gap in values between the two was steadily growing and the installation of tsarism with absolute power of the ruler (and absolute faith in him, should be added) made it even worse. Simple recalling of the name of one of the first tsars - Ivan the Terrible, leaves no doubts about the substance of the system under his reign. Actually, the 'samoderzhavie' would not be anything so disastrous, if it followed the same pattern as in the regions west of Russia. European nations experienced similar cruel emperors, but all these departed, when their time arrived. In Russia, on the other hand, the tsars more or less occupied the position of absolute rulers until the October Revolution of 1917. Who is to be blamed for it? 
Some say it is the Russians themselves, who "actually want an iron hand at the helm - or even a naked dictatorship". These commentators claim that Russians are culturally predisposed, by Orthodox Christianity, by the paternalistic mores of village life, by centuries of tsarist rule, and most recently, by cradle-to-grave socialism - to favor authoritarianism. But it somehow had to get into people's habits first. In my opinion, it is the leaders who should be held responsible for this awkward development. The leaders with their yearning to rule the world. Nothing could hinder them from expanding and, when they were stopped in the West by the Swedes or the Poles, they turned eastward. Russia was fighting all the time and the state reminded more of a military camp. In such situation, nobody was willing to invest into the future. This was also connected with the common ownership of land. Land was being redistributed from time to time. As a consequence, no one was sure of working his own field after it is distributed again. All these factors became the part of the cause for Russian backwardness, the most important one being the anachronical system of government that kept reproducing itself from the 16th century. Perhaps it was not a direct tsarist strategy to keep their pheasants down in such way, but it surely worked well without endangering their absolute power. 
The aforementioned Orthodox religion should not be neglected, as it has always played a substantial role in Russia's history. Russia became successor of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 and Moscow was inaugurated "Third Rome". This is the beginning of Russia's mesianism as we know it from later times. The Byzantine legacy also comprised the two-headed eagle, which became the Russian State Symbol. The eagle is looking with one head to the West and to the East with the other. Maybe this could help with the solution of Russia's 'Europeanness', but let's not make early conclusions yet. Definitely, religion can be one of the criteria when making a dividing line between the West, the East and Russia, but not in case of Europe. Quick look at the member states of the EU is quite convincing: The current Union consists of Catholic France and Italy, Protestant North, mixed (Catholic and Protestant) Germany and Orthodox Greece. No, as far as religion is concerned, Russia cannot be excluded from the rest of Europe, though it contains many specifications. 
Except for Russia's backwardness, I still was not able to deliver an argument that would help us decide where to put Russia: to Europe or outside of it? Let me use another approach, that is, Russia's own stance towards the subject. A simple division into three categories of attitudes is possible: The Westerners, the Slavophils and a synthesis of the two, the so-called Eurasians. The first group came into being with Peter the Great and his attempt to open the Window to Europe. His first aim was to gain access to the Baltic Sea, which did not freeze. The other was nothing less difficult than to reform his empire. He looked for inspiration abroad, and he partly succeeded in adopting some innovations, but 'samoderzhavie' persisted. Since Peter I., Russians had regarded themselves as Europeans. As some of their critics point out, the majority of educated Russians in post-Petrine Russia have not wanted to be themselves, they have dreamt of becoming real Europeans instead. The Westerners were eager to import civilization from Europe. This happened with capitalism, though there were not conditions for its development since private ownership was not widespread. The goal of establishing a larger middle-class was not achieved, on the contrary, the rich were getting even richer. The same with communism. Their ideas were brought from the West, but unlike in Russia, Europe had a strong workers' class. According to Marx & Engels, it was necessary to come to power through parliament. For this purpose, the socialists were trying to create mass parties and to teach their future representatives. While Europe believed in progressive development, Lenin proposed his own way through violent revolution. The main reason was that the Bolsheviks were missing this mass support. Also, Russia had its first Duma in 1905 and thus Marx's teachings could not be applied. In addition to it all, Russia was, as a cradle of anarchism, was more vulnerable to political extremism. The result is well known. 
The members of the second group call themselves Slavophils. In their view, Russia should take its own road. They tend to believe that, as a distinct civilization, they can and should exert an influence on the outside world. Russia should not be tardily repeating Europe's moves. They say that in the past, especially before the First World War and the Russian Revolution, Russia was wearing a mask of Europeanness, but after these two major cataclysm, this mask fell and one could see a two faced Russia. With one face she was turned to Europe, but with the other face, she has turned away from Europe. Almost none of them believe that Russia's true lot is with the West. Instead, Russia should be the one who shows the way. This is closely knit with the Orthodox religion, 'pravoslavie' as the only true faith. The best way to define Russian identity, they proclaim, is to become a Russian and to 
respect its history and values of the nation. This is already not far from the third category, Eurasianism, which identifies itself, first of all, with a geographical phenomenon of Eurasia. Their supporters claim that Russians and those who belong to the peoples of "the Russian world" are neither Europeans nor Asians. They declare themselves Eurasians, taking into account their merging with the native element of culture and life, which surrounds them. In opposition to the Slavophils, they argue that Russians should be regarded as having a unique 
culture, even among other Slavic peoples. 
From whichever point of view, there is no straight answer to the question of Russia's 'Europeanness'. There are always some pros, which have their adequate cons. Europe is not homogeneous, just like Russia is not. There are elements in each of these entities that can justify both, completely converse attitudes. Russia is Europe, that it is genetically descended from the Christian civilization. For some, Russia is imperfect Europe (that is underdeveloped and lagging behind). For others, Russia is the best Europe (with some European values being more adequately incarnated by intelligentsia and literature in Russia than anywhere else on the continent). For me, Russia is another Europe, evolved in its eastern variant (via the Byzantine Empire) and strongly influenced by external factors. No one can deny that Russia and Europe belong to the same family, although the historical destinies of both turned out 
differently. Its sometimes stressed closeness to Asia is an important factor, but not decisive, I would say. 
And what about today's Russia of Vladimir Putin? It is obvious, that the current President leans toward Europe. Putin deeply desires to draw Russia toward the West, but unlike during early years of Boris Yeltsin's presidency, on Russia's terms. He is fostering, 
intentionally or not, a quasi cult of personality, being the reformer, the hero of a long-overdue anti-corruption campaign, savior of the economy and apostle of more promising future. He tries to offer some elements of the old regime that can give most Russians the promise of what they yearn for = strong motherland able once more to stand its ground in a hostile world. For them, it should be Russia, which coordinates and unites the world. Their country, in which the East joins with the West and the South meets the North, should be the only country capable to harmonize various voices into some kind of historical symphony. How to comment on it? Only with one old sentence: "Russia cannot jump out of its skin!" 

Bulletin of the European Union, May 2001 
Business Week: Moscow Loves Europe, October 8th, 2001 
Business Week: Vladimir Putin's Russia, November 12, 2001 
Foreign Affairs: Russia's Unformed Foreign Policy, September 2001 
Foreign Affairs: Blaming Russia First, November 2000 
Foreign Affairs: The Many Faces of Modern Russia, March 2000 
International Affairs: Russia: A Part of Europe or Apart From Europe?, July 2000 
Internationale Politik: Russland und der Westen, October 2001 
Mezinárodní politika: Rusko je také v Asii, 5/2000 
Mezinárodní vztahy: Mezinárodní vztahy v postkomunistickém Rusku, 2/2000 
Newsweek: Tough-Love Diplomacy, February 12, 2001 
Newsweek: America's New Friend, November 19, 2001 
Perspectives: Eurasianism: In Search of Russia's Political Identity 
Pottering, Hans: Kontinent Evropa. Jádro, přechody, hranice 
Vahl, Marius: Just Good Friends? The EU-Russian "Strategic Partnership" 
Veber, Václav a kolektiv: Dějiny Ruska

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