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The Stubborn Facts on Eurocentrism and the Russian National Identity Discourse

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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“Who would want to associate oneself with the zone of today’s Europe, where traditional values are destroyed, homosexualism is on the rampage, there is a migration crisis etc. Europe today is, in essence, a dying zone, where the population is unable to defend its cultural and religious identity. It is a post-Christian and post-European world, a graveyard of European civilization.”–Andrei Fursov, Nationalist Russian Historian

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]here is an intriguing phenomenon going on in academic and diplomatic-political circles as we speak, especially those circles who deal with the Russia-EU relationship, détente, the Cold War, the present impasse among the two blocks.

On one hand there are those experts who seem almost nostalgic for the Cold War when things were much simpler and complicated matters could be sorted out ideologically: democracy vs. tyranny, as one side saw it, or social justice vs. exploitative capitalism, as the other saw it. Those experts see Russian aggression everywhere, especially in the EU, spearheaded by the events in the Ukraine and Crimea, who was snatched away from the Ukraine. They say NATO has been derelict in responding appropriately.

One of those is Kasparov who has been highly critical of Putin for several years. He led the pro-democracy resistance to Putin’s regime in Moscow but fled to New York because he feared for his safety. He has been calling on Western democracies, such as the UK, the US, Germany and France, to stop negotiating with Putin because doing so only appears to validate his claim to power back home. In his book Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, Kasparov argues that leaders of the free world have appeased rather than confronted Putin since he ascended to the presidency in 1999 — allowing the Russian strongman to become a serious threat to liberty throughout the world.

On the other hand, there are those experts who claim that the West after the fall of the USSR and Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War missed an opportunity by not inviting Russia to join the table of the European NATO nations, in order to contribute to the prosperity and peace the EU had already enjoyed for half a century or so.

Those experts go around lecturing the non-experts, those who don’t understand the intricacies of such a relationship, that they have gotten it wrong on Russia and point to the present situation. The position is enigmatic since more often than not those critics will not reveal if their position is based on a neutral analysis or a hidden ideology hiding in plain sight. They prefer to make people wonder, all in the name of a more effective diplomacy. They say: “trust us; we are the experts and know best how to solve the riddle.” They call this posture “having an alias” but perhaps it might be better characterized as having the cake and eating it too.

Be that as it may, I will refrain here from returning to the probe into the Trump-Russia campaign-Russia, something being dealt to a large extent via a daily column in Modern Diplomacy titled The Caligula Presidency. Rather we shall take a hard look at Eurocentrism in the Ukraine and how it has impacted the strained relationship. To do so, as objectively and impartially as is humanly possible we shall first look at the stubborn historical facts based on documented events and scientific data, not on opinion, not propaganda, not disinformation or hidden alias (often parading as privileged expert information to which only experts and diplomats have access), not alternate facts; just the stubborn incontrovertible, ineluctable facts.

Let’s enumerate those facts: Russia has broken every arms control treaty pertaining to Europe. Russia’s recent snap exercises violate the Vienna Document. Russia has also broken the INF treaty and the EU has known about it since 2008 and has done nothing. It has “suspended” its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, an action that has no legal standing, and has allowed it to break the limits on forces in Europe. It also broke numerous treaties by invading Ukraine. Moscow also seems prepared to use its nuclear weapons, probably its tactical nuclear missiles, in a first-strike mode either against military targets or against European capitals.

By 2018, Russia will have reached the numerical limits of the new START treaty and will have to draw down to 1,500 strategic weapons as stipulated by the treaty. Based on current figures, this means Russia has to dismantle over 200 weapons within a year. To judge from previous Russian policy, this is not likely to happen. Russia’s priority defense project is modernizing its nuclear forces. A look at Russian nuclear and hypersonic weapons programs indicates that Moscow is also building weapons with which to threaten the United States and Europe.

The EU has so far failed to confront those hard facts. It has failed to recognize the hard reality that Europe may no longer be a theater of peace and that even nuclear war is now possible. It rests on the chimera of the “the end of history and ideology” within a global market. The EU may have to consider augmenting its conventional capabilities to prevent Moscow from thinking that it could with impunity pull off another fait accompli like Crimea, and confront NATO with nuclear threats. Real penalties for breaking arms control treaties must be considered. The present ones imposed after the annexation of Crimea are either ineffective or toothless.

Last, but not least, this fact needs to be acknowledged and confronted on both sides: every European government is presently under information attack by Russia which believes that, at least in that field, it is at war with the West. On January 18, 2005, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told the Academy of Military Sciences, the official institutional locus of systematic thinking about contemporary war that “there is a war against Russia under way, and it has been going on for quite a few years. No one declared war on us. There is not one country that would be in a state of war with Russia. But there are people and organizations in various countries who take part in hostilities against the Russian Federation. Indeed, Russia has long believed that it is at war with the West. That essential fact should not be ignored.

After all, the ongoing revelations of the extent of Russian information warfare, subversion, coups and interference in the US and European elections are acts of war and are regarded by Russian writers on contemporary and information warfare as such. But they are also backed up by potent military threats that are used to intimidate Western audiences before a shot is fired.

It ought not be ignored that the EU has allowed this situation to develop by ignoring countless arms control violations, and these agreements constituted the foundation of European security after 1991. Any discussion and debate on this issue ought not neglect those stubborn facts.

In any case, what the two above described analysis fail to point out is that Putin and his oligarchs are putting forward an alternate form of Russian identity and ultra-nationalism which hasn’t been seen since the advent of the ideological Russian revolution a century ago but it has now a new twist: it is accompanied by a Eurocentric comparison which insists that Russia is not only different but better than Europe. In fact, within the wider context of the Russian political debate, the above described analysis would make no sense unless the Western mirror is utilized. All the reader needs to do to be convinced is take an attentive look at the above quote by Andrei Fursov.

It was the broad anti-Western consensus that made the annexation of Crimea and the support for the Donbas separatists possible and in some sense inevitable. Russian leadership has never stopped worrying about subversive Western influences. Against the backdrop of the urban protest movement of 2011–2012, the Euromaidan came to be interpreted as anything but Ukraine’s domestic matter: it was seen as instigated by the West and as a repetition of a future ‘colour revolution’ in Moscow.

This view, shared by the elites and by the pro-Putin masses alike, provided both the motivation and the legitimation for the dramatic foreign policy steps that followed. The Russian society sees itself as a victim of the West, which is aggressively promoting its own norms, institutions and values throughout post-Soviet space. The EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative, NATO enlargement, US plans to create anti-ballistic missile defence, the supranational jurisdiction of the European Court for Human Rights, efforts at democracy promotion, support for LGBT rights movement and human rights in general are all seen as manifestations of Western expansionism.

To defend its sovereignty, culture and independent moral standing, Russia needs to protect its sovereignty in all possible ways, but in particular by emphasizing its unique values, strengthening ‘spiritual bonds’ within society and beefing up information security – a broad concept that includes control over media, social networks and private communications. If necessary, it also has to fight back to stave off the prospect of Ukraine’s NATO membership and to make sure there are no NATO military bases in Crimea. It made sure of that in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea.

As a result, positive identification with Europe, which was dominant in Russia in the 1990s, was replaced by a sudden reversal and distancing. While in late 1990s around two thirds of Russians believed their country must strive to become an EU member, this share dropped below 25 per cent after Putin’s re-election in 2012. Fifty-nine percent of Russians do not consider Russia a European country while only 17 per cent believe that Russia must develop in the same way as Europe. These are stubborn facts and sobering statistics.

From those statistics it can be safely be deduced that the Russian public shares the slogan ‘Russia is not Europe’, proclaimed by the Ministry of Culture in April 2014.

Nevertheless, it must also be acknowledged that Russian society would still prefer to see relations with both the West and Ukraine improve. Some aspects of the European way of life, such as economic prosperity and rule of law, still remain hugely attractive to the majority of Russians.

Moreover, even as the modality of the identification with Europe changes, Russian national identity discourse remains Eurocentric. While the overall success of the officially declared ‘pivot to Asia’ remains subject to a heated debate, identity-wise it has definitely not made Russia an Asian country.

Speaking in more general terms, the only way to insist on the uniqueness of Russian traditional values and spirituality is by contrast with what is perceived as Western or European values. That was the way Dostoevsky proceeded. Europe remains the primary Other, which is seen as a geographical space where history unfolds and as a model of social development and well-being. The Ukrainian conflict is viewed against this broad background, as resulting from the irresponsible expansionism of the West. Under this perspective even the annexation of Crimea is interpreted as an act of defense of one’s interests. The aggressors are the US, the EU and NATO. And if that is not rampant political paranoia, it’s hard to think of what else might be.

But there are problems with this consensus of blaming any conflict on the West’s aggression arrived at via a massive state propaganda. There is an economic crisis, corruption in the top leadership or oligarchy, significant inflation, blatant inequality.

The Kremlin astutely mitigates these negatives with xenophobic attitudes deliberately promoted as needed, but the vast majority of Russians would rather have good relations with their neighbors, the Ukraine, the EU and the US. What the Kremlin has indoctrinated into Russians is the belief that they should be unhappy as to how Russia is treated by those neighbors and rivals on the world stage. That is to say, Russia should be thought of and portrayed as the innocent victim or scapegoat.

In conclusion, those crucial questions arise: are we dealing with ethnic nationalism, Soviet imperialist nostalgia, religious cultural revival, civic patriotic fervor? And are all of these compatible with the current broad range of policies observable in Russia but never fully explained by the experts? Is that inability to explain the policies due to sheer confusion and the confusion deliberate? Or, are those policies buttressed by the fear of Western expansionism and the concern about the subversive effects of Westernization for the spiritual integrity of Russia as a nation?

Whatever the answer is to those questions, it may be wise for the experts to consider that the discourse on and alternative Russian national identity is and remains Eurocentric, that is to say, the task remains that of explaining how Russia may be different from Europe. Perhaps Dostoevsky may be considered a better guide in that respect than the likes of Putin and Fursov.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Merkel’s projection regarding nationalist movements in Europe

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In recent years, we have repeatedly spoken about the blows that hit the United Europe hard, and resulted in constant and overwhelming crises in this block. The European authorities now refer to “returning to nationalism” as a potential danger (and in some cases, the actual danger!) In this block, and warn against it without mentioning the origin of this danger.

The German Chancellor has once again warned about the rise of nationalism in Europe. The warning comes at a time when other European officials, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have directly or indirectly, acknowledged the weakening of Europe’s common values. This indicates that the EU authorities don’t see the danger of extensive nationalism far from reality.

“Nationalism and a winner-take-all attitude are undermining the cohesion of Europe”, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. “Perhaps the most threatening development for me is that multilateralism has come under such pressure,” Merkel said. “Europe is facing attacks from the outside and from the inside.”

A simple contemplation on the issue of “return of the United Europe to nationalism” suggests that the current European authorities have played an active role in the desire of their citizens to return to the time before the formation of the European Union. In the 2014 general election, we saw more than 100 right-wing extremist candidates finding way to the European Parliament.

This could be the starting point for making fundamental changes in macroeconomic policies and creating a different relationship between the European leaders and the citizens of this block. But this did not happen in practice.

Although the failure of European leaders to manage the immigration crisis and, most importantly, the continuation of the economic crisis in some of the Eurozone countries has contributed to the formation of the current situation, but it should not be forgotten that the growth of radical and nationalist parties in Europe has largely been due to the block’s officials incapability in convincing European citizens about the major policies in Europe. In this regard, those like Angela Merkel and Macron don’t actually feel any responsibility.

Undoubtedly, if this process doesn’t stop, the tendency to nationalism will spread across the Europe, and especially in the Eurozone. European officials are now deeply concerned about next year’s parliamentary elections in Europe. If this time the extreme right parties can raise their total votes and thus gain more seats in the European Parliament, there will be a critical situation in the Green Continent.

The fact is that far-right extremists in countries such as France, Sweden, Austria and Germany have been able to increase their votes, and while strengthening their position in their country’s political equations, they have many supporters in the social atmosphere.
Finally, the German Chancellor remarks, shouldn’t be regarded as a kind of self-criticism, but rather are a new projection of the European leaders. Merkel, Macron and other European officials who are now warning about the emergence of nationalism in Europe should accept their role in this equation.

This is the main prerequisite for reforming the foundations in Europe. If they refuse to feel responsible, the collapse of the European Union will be inevitable, an issue that Merkel and Macron are well aware of.

First published in our partner MNA

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Dayton Peace Accord 23 Years On: Ensured Peace and Stability in Former Yugoslavia

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For the past twenty-three years life has been comparatively peaceful in the breakaway republics of the former Yugoslavia. The complicated civil war that began in Yugoslavia in 1991 had numerous causes and began to break up along the ethnic lines. The touching stories and the aftermath effects of the breakaway republics of Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia and in Kosovo are still unfolding. Though the numbers of deaths in the Bosnia- Herzegovina conflict in former Yugoslavia are not known precisely, most sources agree that the estimates of deaths vary between 150,000 to 200,000 and displaced more than two million people. During the conflict a Srebrenica a North-eastern enclave of Bosnia once declared as a United  Nations  (UN ) safe area” saw one of the worst atrocity since second world war.

It has been estimated that more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks were massacred in Srebrenica and it was one of the most brutal ethnic cleansing operations of its kind in modern warfare. The US brokered peace talks revived the a peace process between the three warring factions in Bosnia- Herzegovina. For Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina a United States (US ) -brokered peace deal reached in Dayton on 21st November 1995. In a historic reconciliation bid on 14 December 1995 , the Dayton Peace Accord was signed in Paris, France, between Franjo Tudjman president of the Republic of Croatia and Slobodan Milosevic president of the Federal Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), Alija Izetbegovic, president of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

When conflict in Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia ended, the reconciliation began between ethnically divided region. The US played a crucial role in defining the direction of the Peace process. In 1996, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) -led 60,000 multinational peace enforcement force known as the Implementation Force (IFOR)) was deployed to help preserve the cease-fire and enforce the treaty provisions. Thereafter, the Court was established by Resolution 808 and later, Resolution 827 of the United Nations Security Council, which endorsed to proceed with setting up of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to try crimes against humanity . International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was the first United Nations (UN) war crimes tribunal of its kind since the post-second world war Nuremberg tribunal.

In the late 1990’s, as the political crisis deepened a spiral of violence fuelled the Kosovo crisis between the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the Yugoslav forces. Unlike the Bosnia- Herzegovina, Kosovo was a province of Serbia, of former Yugoslavia that dates back to 1946, when Kosovo gained autonomy as a province within Serbia. It is estimated that more than 800,000. Kosovos were forced out of Kosovo in search of refuge and as many as 500,000 more were displaced within Kosovo.

Subsequent t hostilities in Kosovo the eleven week air campaign led by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) against Yugoslavia in 1999 the Yugoslavian forces pulled troops out of Kosovo NATO. After the war was over, the United Nations Security Council, under the resolution 1244 (1999) approved to establish an international civil presence in Kosovo, known as the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Nevertheless UNMIK regulation No 1999/24 provided that the Law in Force in Kosovo prior to March 22, 1989 would serve as the applicable law for the duration of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

In this  context reconciliation is a key to national healing of wounds after ending a violent conflict. Healing the wounds of the past and redressing past wrongs is a process through which a society moves from a divided past to a shared future. Over the years in Serbia, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia and in Kosovo the successful peace building processes had happened. The success of the peace building process was possible because of participation of those concerned, and since appropriate strategies to effectively approach was applied with all relevant actors. The strengthening of institutions for the benefit of all citizens has many important benefits for the peace and stability of former Yugoslavia. Hence, the future looks bright for the Balkan states of Serbia, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo.

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Hungarian Interest, Ukraine and European Values

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Diplomatic conflicts that have recently arisen between Hungary and its neighboring countries and the European Union as a whole most clearly show the new trend in European politics. This trend is committing to national and  state values of a specific  European country, doubting  the priority of supranational  interests within the European Union. Political analyst Timofey Bordachev believes that “the era of stale politics and the same stale politicians, who make backstage decisions based on the“ lowest common denominator,” are finally coming to an end. Politicians with a new vision of the world order come to power, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Austrian Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz, or the new head of the Italian Interior Ministry, leader of the right-wing League of the North Party, Matteo Salvini ”.

It is not the first year that Hungary is trying to protect the interests of its citizens and the state from external influence, to protect the Hungarians in the territory of neighbouring states  by establishing for this  a special position (Commissioner  for the development of the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine), to determine relations with other countries on the basis of their attitude to the rights of Hungarians. This is how conflicts with the European Union arose, after Hungary refused to let migrants into the country, in the same manner, a conflict  arose with Ukraine, which is trying to build a state ideology, based on nationalism, which a priori does not provide for the proper level of realization and protection of the rights of non-titular nations.

In relation to Hungary, Ukraine follows the same policy as in relation to Russia – to initiate various accusations, to call for punishment, to talk about the inconsistency with European values of the Hungarian policy under the leadership of  Orban. Doing so Kiev has its multifaceted interest: cooperation with NATO and the EU, support  for any decisions of Brussels, the anti-Russian course, domestic policy based on the nationalist  ideology. And in all these areas  Hungary poses  a problem for Ukraine. In the description of relations with Hungary  Kiev even  uses the word “annexation“.

Hungary is hardly planning to seize any Ukrainian territory, but on what  grounds Ukraine falsely accuses Hungary of its annexation intentions in relation to Transcarpathia?  The Ukrainian side highlights several positions:

Issuing Hungarian passports  to Ukrainian citizens (ethnic Hungerians)

This  is an old story, it has come to light again recently due to the growth of Ukrainian nationalism. Moreover,  there are concerns about the implementation by Hungary of the “Crimean scenario” in relation to Transcarpathia.

The Hungarian government has created the position of  “Commissioner  for the development of Ukraine’s Transcarpathian region and the program for the development of kindergartens in the Carpathian region”.

Ukraine demanded an explanation. A note of protest was delivered to the Hungarian Charge d’Affaires in Ukraine, and the Foreign ministers of Ukraine and Hungary had a telephone conversation on the problem. Hungary continues to ignore the requirements of Kiev.

Ukraine fears further disintegration processes

At the same time, in Kiev there is no understanding  of the fact that combining the ideology of nationalism with the country’s national diversity and European integration is hardly possible.

Ukrainian experts note the growth of separatism in the Transcarpathian region, as well as the “strange behavior” of the governor, who plays on the side of Hungary. They also complain that “pro-Ukrainian ideology”(?) is not being сonsolidated in Transcarpathia, and this region is not controlled and monitored by  the Ministry of information. In a word, the state is losing control over the territory, which it neither develops nor controls. Such behavior of the governor and the region’s residents may indicate that the state is not sufficiently present in the lives of residents of Transcarpathia, and this a financial and humanitarian drawback they compensate with the help of Hungary, – experts believe.

Apparently, Ukraine is unable to reach an agreement with Hungary as relations are tense. In response to the Ukrainian law on education, adopted in the fall of 2017, which infringes the rights of national minorities, Budapest blocked another, the third, Ukraine-NATO meeting. Ukraine witnessed this embarrassing  situation  in April 2018.  At the same time elections were held in Hungary, in  which Viktor Orban’s party won a majority in the parliament. Such a tough stance of Budapest in relation to the Ukrainian educational policy Kiev considered to be just a sign of electoral populism. However, this was a mistake.

Viktor Orban’s victory in spring 2018 was convincing, and a convincing victory means obvious support of his migration policies as well as his support  for compatriots abroad. The party of Orban – Fides – not only won a majority but a constitutional majority – 133 of the 199 seats  in the National Assembly of Hungary.

There is no doubt  that Hungary has become Ukraine’s another serious opponent in the process of its European integration. And it is unlikely that either  country  will take a step back: there will be presidential elections in Ukraine soon, and in Hungary, the victory won by Orban, apparently, confirms the  approval of his independent  foreign  policy  by  the citizens.  So the conflict is likely to develop.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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