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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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Will there be another referendum over Brexit?

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Brexit continues to be an implicit term in the Britain’s political equations. Complicating the process of the British withdrawal from the European Union is a joint measure taken by the British government and European authorities.

At the same time, the British government, with its widespread negative propaganda against the Brexit, is seeking to re-arrange a referendum. In other words, the European authorities are trying to direct the public opinion about the Brexit.

Recently, some western news sources are speaking of an issue called “repeating the Brexit referendum”, and name it as a possible option! An option that had been previously denied by British authorities, including Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the country. According to the France news agency, regarding the increasing doubt about the British Prime Minister’s efforts to conclude an agreement with the United Europe, the possibility of holding a second referendum on Brexit has multiplied.

This source has also announced that there are major obstacles on the way of confirming this agreement between Theresa May and European leaders, which has, in turn, intensified this trend. The existence of legal complexities in this agreement made its implementation difficult for both sides.  Meanwhile, it is possible that the members of the parliament will vote in favor of Theresa May’s decision.

Although it seems that Theresa May is trying to convince legislators to give a positive vote to this agreement, not only members of the Labor Party, but also some members of the Conservative Party are opposing it. The MPs argue that the Brexit is basically contrary to the interests of the UK.

Meanwhile, supporters of the “People’s Vote” campaign, who are now very active in England, believe that the parliament’s negative vote will pave the way for a new referendum on the Brexit. This issue is no way contrary to the demands of Theresa May and the Conservative Party, but it’s secretly supported by them. The negative propaganda of the Theresa May’s government against the Brexit since 2016 is known to everyone. After the British citizens voted to leave the European Union in 2016, the two Labor and Conservative parties (as UK’s two traditional parties) tried their best to change the general vote on this issue. The active role played by people like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair can well indicate the dissatisfaction among British authorities over the Brexit.

Supporters of the People’s Vote campaign are currently trying to convince the public for holding a new referendum on Brexit. “The People’s Vote campaign seeks to ensure that the government’s Brexit deal is put before the country in a public vote so that we can decide if a decision that will affect our lives for generations makes the country better or worse off. Good deal or bad deal, it’s definitely a big deal – and that’s why it should be put to a People’s Vote”, that’s how the campaign’s supporters define their goal.

Proponents of this campaign believe that the parliament’s negative vote to May’s plan is the best opportunity to hold another referendum. On the other hand, Theresa May doesn’t intend to violate the people’s vote in the 2016 referendum explicitly, so she tries to appear to be opposed to a new referendum, but she set the game in a way that it will eventually lead to the UK’s remain as part of the European Union.

Labor Party officials led by Jeremy Corbin have also agreed to vote again on the Brexit, and have officially backed this issue. The fact that Britain’s two rival parties have come to an agreement on holding a new referendum has provided the ground for its ultimate realization.

First published in our partner MNA

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West return to 2007: Europe’s anger over incompetent politicians

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The anger and discontent of European citizens over European politicians is increasing day by day. While more than ten years have passed since the economic crisis in Europe, we are still witnessing austerity plans in this block.

France’s recent round of demonstrations isn’t limited to this country anymore, and we’re now witnessing demonstrations in countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.

Many European citizens spent the years between 2007 and 2012 with the hope that the austerity policies would affect the devastated economy of United Europe and the Eurozone. That’s why they tried to cooperate with their own governments (which were mainly the far-right and social-democratic administrations). However, after 2012, we witnessed the end of European citizens’ patience towards politicians like Merkel.

Part of this dissatisfaction revealed itself in cases such as the European Parliamentary Elections in 2014, where more than 100 right extremists managed to enter the European Parliament. Now, in 2018, we are witnessing the continuation of the economic crisis in Europe in the security, social and political spheres.

It’s not without a reason that the number of nationalist groups’ supporters has increased in the mentioned areas. The security crisis is strongly felt in today’s Europe. Common policies which were adopted by European authorities couldn’t improve the security crisis within the Schengen borders and other European borders.

During 2015 and 2016 (and somehow in 2017), the Immigration and security crises in Europe caused other issues such as the economic crisis to become marginalized. But now it’s shadowed over the whole of Europe. Under such circumstances, the main question of European citizens is that what was the impact of austerity policies adopted for ten years inside the EU borders?

They can clearly see that the adoption of such policies has had no effects on improving their economic conditions. The existing economic crisis continues to be felt in everyday life of European citizens. The rise of the signs of the financial crisis in Europe, and the decline in credit ratings, and the growth of unemployment in countries that continue to be affected by the financial crisis have created many social crises in Europe.

The protests that are taking place today in France and other European countries are not merely an objection to rising fuel prices or tax increases for low-income groups. It is a protest against the unstable economic structure of the European Union and the Eurozone.

Emmanuel Macron, the young French president, as an economist, promised to redefine the existing economic structure in the Eurozone, with regard to the current economic crisis. However, Macron himself has now become the symbol of crisis in Europe!

The economic crisis in European countries doesn’t limit to austerity policies! The external debt crisis in the European countries should also be added to the economic and credit crises in the West. The crisis is heavily extended in countries like Italy, causing a lot of trouble for other member states of the Eurozone. The economic cohesion of the Eurozone member states has fueled this trend.

In any case, it seems that the patience of European citizens has come to an end. As noted, according to the predictions, these crises were to be resolved before 2012, and economic growth symbols was to be replaced by austerity symbols. But at the moment, there is little indication of economic growth in European countries, and austerity policies remain strong.

Finally, it should be concluded that the European countries, especially the EU member states, have no choice but to “self-destruct” their economic foundations and replace them with new patterns. If European officials continue to insist on existing methods and economic models, they will be doomed to failure in the near future. In this case, nationalist groups and far-right extremists will dominate Europe’s political, economic, social and security equations, and this would definitely be a terrible nightmare for those like Merkel and Macron.

First published in our partner MNA

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EU steps up action against disinformation

MD Staff

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To protect its democratic systems and public debates and in view of the 2019 European elections as well as a number of national and local elections that will be held in Member States by 2020, the EU is presenting today an Action Plan to step up efforts to counter disinformation in Europe and beyond.

Taking stock of the progress made so far and following up on the call made by European leaders in June 2018 to protect the Union’s democratic systems, the European Commission and the High Representative are setting out concrete measures to tackle disinformation, including the creation of a Rapid Alert System and close monitoring of the implementation of the Code of Practice signed by the online platforms. The Action Plan also foresees an increase of resources devoted to the issue.

High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini said: “Healthy democracy relies on open, free and fair public debate. It’s our duty to protect this space and not allow anybody to spread disinformation that fuels hatred, division, and mistrust in democracy. As the European Union, we’ve decided to act together and reinforce our response, to promote our principles, to support the resilience of our societies, within our borders and in the neighbourhood. It’s the European way to respond to one of the main challenges of our times.” 

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President responsible for the Digital Single Market, said: “We need to be united and join our forces to protect our democracies against disinformation. We have seen attempts to interfere in elections and referenda, with evidence pointing to Russia as a primary source of these campaigns. To address these threats, we propose to improve coordination with Member States through a Rapid Alert System, reinforce our teams exposing disinformation, increase support for media and researchers, and ask online platforms to deliver on their commitments. Fighting disinformation requires a collective effort.”

Stepping up detection, response and awareness

The Action Plan – prepared in close cooperation also with Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová; Commissioner for Security Union Julian King and Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel – focuses on four areas key to effectively build up the EU’s capabilities and strengthen cooperation between Member States and the EU:

Improved detection: Strategic Communication Task Forces and the EU Hybrid Fusion Cell in the European External Action Service (EEAS), as well as the EU delegations in the neighbourhood countries will be reinforced with significant additional specialised staff and data analysis tools. The EEAS’ strategic communication budget to address disinformation and raise awareness about its adverse impact is expected to more than double, from €1.9 million in 2018 to €5 million in 2019. EU Member States should complement these measures by reinforcing their own means to deal with disinformation.  

Coordinated response: A dedicated Rapid Alert System will be set up among the EU institutions and Member States to facilitate the sharing of data and assessments of disinformation campaigns and to provide alerts on disinformation threats in real time. The EU institutions and Member States will also focus on proactive and objective communication on Union values and policies.

Online platforms and industry:The signatories of the Code of Practice should swiftly and effectively implement the commitments made under the Code of Practice, focusing on actions that are urgent for the European elections in 2019. This includes in particular ensuring transparency of political advertising, stepping up efforts to close active fake accounts, labelling non-human interactions (messages spread automatically by ‘bots’) and cooperating with fact-checkers and academic researchers to detect disinformation campaigns and make fact-checked content more visible and widespread. The Commission, with the help of the European group of regulators in charge of audio-visual media services, will ensure a close and continuous monitoring of the implementation of the commitments.

Raising awareness and empowering citizens: In addition to targeted awareness campaigns, the EU institutions and Member States will promote media literacy through dedicated programmes. Support will be provided to national multidisciplinary teams of independent fact-checkers and researchers to detect and expose disinformation campaigns across social networks.

Finally, the Commission is today also reporting on the progress made in tackling online disinformation since the presentation of its Communication in April 2018.

Next steps

The European Commission and the High Representative will develop and implement the measures set out in the Action Plan, in close cooperation with Member States and the European Parliament.

With a view to the European elections, the Rapid Alert System will be set up by March 2019. This will be complemented by further strengthening relevant resources.

The signatories of the Code of Practice will have to provide the first implementation update to the Commission by the end of 2018, which the Commission will then publish in January 2019. Between January and May, the online platforms will have to report to the Commission on a monthly basis. The Commission will also carry out a comprehensive assessment of the implementation of the Code of Practice in its first 12 months. Should the implementation and the impact of the Code of Practice prove unsatisfactory, the Commission may propose further measures, including of a regulatory nature.

Background

The European Union has been actively tackling disinformation since 2015. Followinga decision of the European Council in March 2015, in order to “challenge Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns“, the East StratCom Task Forcein the European External Action Service (EEAS) was set up. The Task Force, together with the relevant Commission services, focuses on effectively communicating the EU’s policies towards its eastern neighbourhood; strengthening the overall media environment in the eastern neighbourhood, including providing support for media freedom and strengthening independent media; and improving the EU’s capacity to forecast, address and raise awareness of pro-Kremlin disinformation activities.

In 2016, the Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats was adopted, followed by the Joint Communication on increasing resilience and bolstering capabilities to address hybrid threats in 2018.

In April 2018, the Commission outlined a European approach and self-regulatory tools to tackle disinformation online, including an EU-wide Code of Practice against Disinformation, support for an independent network of fact-checkers, and tools to stimulate quality journal­ism. On 16 October, the Code of Practice was signed by Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla as well as the trade association representing online platforms and trade associations representing the advertising industry and advertisers.

In his 2018 State of the Union Address, President Juncker also put forward a set of concrete measures to make sure that next year’s European Parliament elections are organised in a free, fair and secure manner. The measures include greater transparency in online political advertisements and the possibility to impose sanctions for the illegal use of personal data in order to deliberately influence the outcome of the European elections.

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