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Chauvinism or Chaos?
Chauvinism or Chaos?
The latest events in Ukraine and in Crimea and certain related political tendencies inside Russia create a new reality to deal with. The entire system of international relations and domestic life in Russia may no longer be what they were before. We can see changes in the very paradigm of our life which developed after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and within which Russia and its major partners were acting during both Yeltsin’s and Putin’s rule.
This system can be described as
THE COLLAPSE OF THE
There are different explanations for this behavior. The Russian authorities
believe that the real Western foreign policy is determined solely
by geopolitical goals such as subordinating more countries and
territories and becoming the only dominating force in the world
In reality, however, the Western community is much more ideologized than Russian society. The West is virtually the only existing ideological empire in the world (in fact, communist China or Vietnam can hardly be seriously considered ideologized as ideology there is no more than just a ritual and even their leaders cannot state its communist essence). In the West, practically everyone believes in its ideology, it is imbibed from childhood in kindergarten, school, university, and then at work. This ideology of «democratism» (described quite well by Ilya Smirnov, who coined the term ‘liberastia’, in his book of the same name) is quite simple: Western society, albeit not ideal, is nevertheless more perfect than all the others, it is at the forefront of public progress, and the rest of the world should try to use the Western model as we know it. In principle, this is primitive cultural chauvinism which is characteristic of many nations and countries from small tribes to large civilizations which considered themselves the center of the Universe, and all the others were barbarians. What makes the modern West different from them is its size.
The West’s foreign policy is based on this belief. The main
vector of its foreign policy is determined, paradoxical
as it may seem, by
This explains also why radical nationalists in Ukraine remain
unnoticed: they are the ones who are acting toward progress and from the
historical point of view they can be justified and some of their
crimes can even be overlooked (as was the case with Kosovar
nationalists and the Croatian army in Serbian Krajina, etc.).
It’s worth mentioning how Catherine Ashton, the High Representative
of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, reacted
by condemning the attempt to storm the Ukrainian parliament building
by Right Sector militants after the
There are also idealists among ideologists in the West who say that it’s bad to befriend even «progressive» dictators and who try to criticize «their own guys» and the authorities for sidetracking from the ideals of «democratism». But they make no political decisions, they are considered impractical office dreamers who get in the way of real business. As a result, the drive for global geopolitical control gets mixed with ideological goals, and it’s hard to say whichever comes first.
Interestingly, a similar dispute was conducted in another ideological empire, in Soviet Russia, when communist values were still worshipped. We know about discussions on the Brest peace deal whereby communist idealists suggested dying rather than starting negotiations with the «class enemy». They almost gained the upper hand, but more pragmatic Lenin managed to convince his colleagues that there was no need to die and that the power of ideologists was more important than the purity of ideas: as long as they were in power, the gradual worldwide triumph of ideology was guaranteed, but death would destroy the chance.
Also interesting is the dispute among Russian Bolsheviks on the need to keep the promises made in the Karakhan Declaration under which Moscow gave up all of tsarist Russia’s rights and privileges in China. Russian envoy to China Adolf Ioffe described Moscow’s reluctance to honor its obligations in full as a fatal tendency toward the revival of imperialism. In reply, Leon Trotsky pointed out to his colleague that Russia was poor and the strengthening of its material situation as the basis for global communism was not imperialism.
Stalin, who is often accused of having revived the traditional Russian imperialism, kept a significant ideological element in his foreign policy too. In 1927, he said in one of his speeches: «An internationalist is the one who unconditionally and unhesitatingly is prepared to defend the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union is the base of the global revolutionary movement, and it is impossible to defend and advance this revolutionary movement without defending the Soviet Union." From this point of view, the Soviet Union’s enlargement was not traditional imperialism but the strengthening and expansion of global progress.
The West is acting likewise today. As long as its influence
spread over minor Eastern European countries, it was fine. But
it didn’t work with Russia which refused to get fully
incorporated into the Western system and insisted on its own views,
at least on key issues, but not because its leaders were congenital
What were those circumstances like? According to numerous public
opinion polls, the majority of Russians do not consider Western
society ideal. This is what makes Russia different from Eastern Europe.
But even there the West has some problems: conservative Catholics, who
do not accept the moral norms of contemporary Europe, are quite
strong in Poland and Hungary; Bulgaria and Romania are plagued with
corruption and have weak democratic institutions. But these countries are
relatively small and can be gradually absorbed. Besides, an alliance
with the West gives them hope for prosperity and security. Russia is too
big and cannot be westernized without the support of the majority
of people. But people do not want to be westernized and
they are not concerned about Western society’s problems such as human
rights, the rights of women,
There is a Westernized minority in major Russian cities but
it’s not big. As a result,
The West cannot understand this for ideological reasons. As surveys indicate, any ideology tends to reject facts that do not fit in. This is vividly demonstrated by Michael McFaul’s position. Most of his forecasts about Russia and the world proved wrong, but he is still considered a leading American expert on Russia for ideological reasons as he sacredly believes in the infallibility of „democratism“.
In 1999, in a special edition of American Journal of Democracy, McFaul insisted that the democratic system in Russia, albeit imperfect (he called it „electoral democracy“), was strong enough institutionally to be scrapped by Yeltsin’s successors. He wrote in particular: „…the current electoral democracy in place possesses the same staying power as the illiberal features… Russian democracy will not be able to survive if the economy continues to deteriorate for a sustained period of time. Russia needs a quick economic turnaround that will create more propitious conditions for the consolidation of liberal democracy in the future. Ironically, however, the most surprising outcome of Russia’s recent financial meltdown has been the demonstration of democracy’s resilience, not its weakness. Declarations of the demise of Russian democracy are premature.“
In fact, everything happened the other way round: a quick economic upturn strengthened illiberal features of the regime. I pointed to this possibility in the same edition and noted that a high level of pluralism was guaranteed not so much by institutions as by Yeltsin’s personal qualities and that the next leader could do whatever he liked and even put serious restrictions on pluralism:
„Electoral clanism“ is unlikely to evolve into liberal democracy.
It may move closer to the situation in Chechnya today
or in China after 1911, with the central government present
in name only and local
Later, when McFaul as ambassador to Russia spoke at the
Moscow Carnegie Center and defended the American support for the Arab
revolutions, I asked him if democratization and demolition
of secular authoritarian regimes in those countries would not have
the same consequences as we had seen earlier in Algeria, that
is, the victory of Islamic fundamentalists and chaos. In fact, Arab
Muslim political culture does not accept Western values, and people would vote
for the leaders who were clearer to them. McFaul cited American experts
as saying that the situation might develop not by the Algerian but
by the Indonesian scenario where the collapse of authoritarianism had
led to democratization. This conclusion may stem from the simple lack
of knowledge about the substantial differences between Arab Islam and its
mild version in Southeast Asia, where it was influenced by other
more tolerant religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. But this
is not the most important point. The most important point is the
Countries close to Russia are being torn apart by the
West’s ideologized expansion which has already led to the territorial
division of Moldova and Georgia, and now Ukraine is falling apart
in front of our eyes. What makes these countries distinct
is that the cultural border was drawn across their territories and they
could stay undivided only if their leaders would have taken into account
the interests of people living in both the regions that gravitate
toward Europe and those that would like to preserve historical ties with
Moscow’s strong reaction obviously caught the West off guard. In late March 2014, Supreme Allied Commander Europe Philip Breedlove said, with surprise: «now it is very clear that Russia is acting much more like an adversary than a partner." But since NATO itself acted likewise since its foundation and never altered its stance toward Russia after the end of the Cold War, one can hardly be surprised. Changing Russia’s tack was a matter of time.
What can this change mean? Everyone would want common sense to prevail
in the West and Russia’s proposals on how to ensure the
This will force Russia to reorient its policy to the South and East. On one hand, this may help to solve its strategic task of boosting the development of its own Asian regions. On the other hand, this can make it dependent on strong Asian partners, primarily China. But there is no choice: the West’s animosity and misunderstanding leave no options.
A VICIOUS COICE
As we say that Russia, as any other country, has the right
to defend its own interests and will actually defend them the way they are
understood by the elite and the majority of people, we cannot
but note the following tendency. Why do most of those who advocate
liberalization in modern Russia completely fail to understand the
national tasks of the country and show disregard for the feelings and
values shared by the majority of people, considering them retrograde
and ignorant about the benefits of Europeanization and progress? Many
liberals think that Russia exerts negative influence in the world,
therefore this influence must be reduced to benefit internal
liberalization and its decline should by all means accompany it.
At the same time, those who insist that Russia should play its own role
in the world and strengthen its influence support for the most part
Such a strong link between foreign policy and internal political programs appears obvious to many people. But it wasn’t always like this in Russia. Conservatives in tsarist Russia usually did not advocate an active foreign policy. Suffice it recall Slavophiles who insisted that Russia should develop in its own way or the cautious policy of Alexander III who said that «all of the Balkans are not worth the life of one Russian soldier» and during whose reign Russia did not fight any wars.
By contrast, liberals pursued an active foreign policy. It was Alexander II who carried out liberal reforms and liberated the Balkans, while Constitutional Democrats leader Pavel Milyukov was nicknamed «Milukoff of Dardanelles» for urging war until victory and division of Turkey.
At that time, conservatives in Russia understood patriotism as the need to preserve the resources of the country and the lives of its people and refused to use them for alien and unclear external goals. At the same time, the majority of liberals thought that modernized and even westernized Russia should become not a subordinated part of the Western world but its legitimate and strong component with its own interests. Many also believed that Russia’s mission was to Europeanize and westernize Oriental countries which it understood better due to its geographical location and the fact that Russia itself had large Muslim and Buddhist communities.
It is hard to imagine that Alexander Pushkin with his
«To the Slanderers of Russia» or even more
There are two aspects to these proposals. First, a complete lack of understanding that any division of the country cannot be peaceful, that it will inevitably lead to bloody conflicts resulting not in several Switzerlands but most likely in several Bosnias or Lebanons. This was vividly proved by the disintegration of the Soviet Union. This is a pragmatic aspect indicating that one does not know or does not want to know political realities.
But there is an important spiritual aspect, too. Calls for dividing one’s own country reveal failure to recognize its historical and cultural value and essentially ideological hatred toward it. If we assume that any, even small, country is of great interest to humankind because of its unique history, national conventions and culture, such a large country as Russia should be all the more valuable as it played a significant role in world history, and its division into many small parts should be regrettable, to say the least.
It must be said for the sake of justice that ideological
hatred toward Russia, or Russophobia to use the
However, these views were not characteristic of the liberal majority in the 19th century and were considered odd.
In the late Soviet Union and independent Russia
Second, Russian liberals were brought up by Soviet ideology and understood its rejection as the creation of a new but opposite ideology. While the authorities thought of the Soviet Union as a great progressive state and a social alternative to the backward West, their enemies considered it a vicious state that had to be subordinated to the progressive and «civilized» West. This attitude was carried over to independent Russia which, from the opposition point of view, more and more resembles the Soviet Union.
The third factor was lack of education and poor knowledge of the
history and culture of the country, especially its religious background
(which is also a result of Soviet
As a matter of fact, the supporters of global
democratization, liberals and human rights activists in the West
do not oppose foreign policy or even military campaigns of their
governments. They only demand that these campaigns be carried out
in the interests of «democracy». So, traditional Western expansionism
in the ideology of democratism has simply changed its form: while
crusades were started in the name of true religion and colonial
invasions were justified by the civilizing mission of progressive
societies, today’s bombing raids against «dictators» and «human rights
violators» are ordered for the sake of these same rights. Hypocrisy and
senselessness of this approach were vividly illustrated by the
Internet meme where Barak Obama was portrayed as saying: «Syrians killed
Syrians. This is why we have to kill the Syrians so that
Syrians stop killing Syrians."
So, the domination of
While the fight for liberalization in
The current situation puts Russians before a vicious choice: either
they support democratization but oppose Russia’s growing role in the
international arena to become a junior and subordinated partner
of the West, or they support Russia’s strengthening
to be inevitably accompanied by dictatorship, nationalism and
threats to everyone around; either Dugin and Prokhanov or Nemtsov and
Kasparov. On one hand, there are new idols of society represented
by thievish oligarchs, glossy TV presenters and party girls engaging
in sexual intercourse with chickens in supermarkets and doing pranks
in churches; on the other hand, there are aggressive and possessed
nationalists who wear one and the same uniform and match in columns along
the streets of Moscow; and there is nothing
The former position suspiciously serves the interests of the corrupt bunch of compradors led by oligarchs and senior government officials who fear for their bank deposits and property in London. The chaos of the 1990s was the balm for them as they could pull strings in the government, rob their own people while remaining unpunished, and then take the loot out of the country. A certain amount of pluralism is even useful since dictatorship can crack down on theft. In fact, it was Mussolini who was most successful in eliminating the Italian Mafia.
The second tendency is based on the increasingly spreading ideology of security services with its notorious theory of the authoritarian «hook» which allegedly was the only way to save Russia from disintegration, with the siege mentality, the search for enemies among neighbors and traitors among dissidents. Unlike in Soviet and Yeltsin times, their advocates are no longer held back by political power because they themselves hold this power.
So, who is to choose? On one hand, «thieves are dearer
to me than bloodsuckers» who can easily turn the country into the
GULAG again; on the other hand, I support the «gathering
of Russian land» and greater rationale for the present state because
authoritarianism will collapse one day but the country will stay on. However
it is doubtful that it can be preserved
The situation is extremely complex. To me, this complexity has
been symbolized by a
Why is this vicious choice necessary at all? Why can’t one
support a free but strong and independent Russia? This has always been the
goal of Russian liberalism, while the West was an ideal only
in terms of certain internal system elements but never in terms
of its pragmatic and often
A close link between democracy and the West’s foreign policy goals
are no more than a myth created by the Russian liberal
opposition. While strictly abiding by their domestic legislation, Western
leaders are much more pragmatic in applying international law. It was
not Russia but the West that scrapped the idea of a new system
of global politics based on international law, which could have been
created after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It was not
Russia but the West that, having believed in the «end of history»,
took advantage of its temporary omnipotence to create a world
where one can grab everything that comes his way, crush any border and violate
any agreement for the sake of «a good goal». It was not Russia
but the West that purposefully destroyed the
As a result, the West’s position on Crimea, whereby its
leaders refer to the territorial integrity and inviolability
of borders, is perceived by Russia as no more than
utmost hypocrisy. In a new situation where force is the ultimate
argument and ideology is used as a
Since the principle of inviolability of borders no longer
works, it is the aspirations of the people that must
be taken into account. If people in Crimea want to live
in Russia, why can’t they do so in much the same way
Catalonians want to break up with Spain or Scotland with
Britain? In fact, this was done in South Sudan and East Timor.
Russian opponents of the reunification with Crimea strike me with
At the same time, I am not happy about the prospects of living in a besieged fortress under the rule of those who see enemies everywhere and consider anyone who thinks differently a traitor and the fifth column. I want to listen to and watch opposition mass media even if I disagree with them, and I am not prepared to accept the fact that my colleagues get sacked and put in jail simply because they disagree with me or the authorities.
I am convinced that the majority of Russian people would not want to make this vicious choice. Numerous public opinion polls indicate that most people like their country, want it to be strong and prosperous, but they also value the ability to move freely inside the country and travel abroad, they are worried by corruption and irresponsibility of the authorities, and do not want Stalinism or nationalist dictatorship to be restored.
Faced with a vicious choice, many talented people have to leave the country. I know this from students, many of whom see no employment prospects for themselves here except in the government where salaries are quite high. In fact, all other professions — in science, education, healthcare, industry, private business — are paid better abroad where life is much calmer and more comfortable. And not only the West but also Asian countries such as China, Thailand and India are considered among possible destinations.
There is only one way out of this situation. People need
to be offered a third alternative that would meet the
aspirations of the majority. And that is a combination
of normal, moderate patriotism, which is natural for people living
in a large and proud country, and moderate liberalism manifesting
itself in the commitment to freer life by law, without theft and
corruption, but with mature
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