|Author: Victor Kogan-Yasnyj|
SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE NEW EUROPE
The official expansion of the European Union on May 1, 2004, is a rare political fact that calls for today’s Russian liberals’ (in the broad sense) positive acclaim from the political, economic, and historical points of view. (Notwithstanding the deplorable misunderstanding over Northern Cyprus, which is hopefully a technical question of time.)
Eight Eastern European countries, of which four were directly controlled by the Soviet Union and three were incorporated in it (de facto if pettifoggers and pedants so prefer) and “old” united Europe whose contours shaped at the end of the 1940s and early 50s, have surmounted the political and historical injustices of Yalta 1945. They won a chance cardinally to modernise their standard of civilization in entirely new conditions.
The decision is, of course, political: it is all too clear that aside from Malta and (stretching the point) Cyprus and Slovenia, none of the new members of the EU members live up to all the established West European standards, and hardly will in the foreseeable future. Still, it is a timely act: to drag out the solution of the status of the East European countries was hardly possible.
The period of preparation and the related change of the windowdressing in the countries in question, their rush to fulfil the “Brussels terms”, their petty politicobureaucratic bargaining over various very petty issues has ended. We no longer see the funny picture of East European leaders standing in the Soviet queue to the European microphone to beg the new elder brothers to admit them into their “valourous company”. The period of squabbles with Russia is over. No longer will EU bureaucrats and their Russian counterparts edge away in equal measure from resolving their citizens crucial problems, some spouting declarations and others plain propaganda. The EU’s legally inevitable decisions mingled with plain foolishness, nurturing a sense of “expanding Europe’s” hostility towards Russia and its citizens, while, on the other hand, Russian official mass media complained of the anti-Russian attitude of Brussels and its several would-be members over visas, tariffs, transit, export and import, or aspects of the Russian language. No longer will it be easy to manipulate public opinion concerning the expansion of the European Union. Russia will not find it easy to organise political propaganda on this score (e.g., deliberately confuse the concepts European Union, Council of Europe, and OSCE).
The Russian liberal who sees no positive alternative to all-European unity that would embrace Russia and the CIS countries, has acquired supplementary advantages. For the Russian public outlook a united Europe is no longer a distant abstract notion, no longer a myth, attractive and slightly inimical; now it is a neighbour, it is next door, it is a place where we have relatives. This compels us to perceive reality differently, and behave somewhat differently too. Those who want to assert the political outlook of “fortress Russia” will now find this harder to do than during the period of suspense.
Though I am happy to express my liberal view from present-day Russia, I do take into account that inhabitants of the refurbished European Union will not only have new opportunities, but will also encounter a number of vital collisions in their everyday life.
I am sorry to recall that in the mid-90s the United States and “old” Western Europe modeled cardinal decisions on Europe’s future development on a likeness of the “Yalta” scheme in regard to Russia and other CIS countries with a highly underrated standard of relations, relations entirely different from those towards the Central European and Baltic countries that have now joined the EU.
One serious reservation to all the aforesaid. For the rejoicing of today not to fade prematurely and the historical justification of the event to be felt for still a few more years and longer, and for the benefits of the political and practical work to remain beneficial for years to come, it is essential that the renewed European Union should live up to the major aims facing it today and will face it in the foreseeable future, and that it should find answers to challenges not of yesterday but of today and tomorrow. Either the EU will always be grown to its tasks or it will be torn apart by contradictions and destroy itself.
Today’s European political revolution is very different from the one of the 1950s when the West European countries constructed the Coal and Steel Community and were advancing towards the Treaties of Rome, and from the one, too, which we know as the Maastricht international breakthrough. Initially, and especially in the very first stage, the aim concerned “conservative-liberal” European values, a combination on an individual and collective level of a pragmatic rationale and moral civic responsibility, defense of people’s lives, the family, and property, of the combination of freedom and responsibility wrought in long-suffering history, and integrity as the foundation of politics. Today we are confronted by a process in which a heavyweight bureaucracy has become a crucial element, while the critically important combination of moral responsibility and freedom, both of them in terms of the individual and society as a whole, is dealt with at the primitive level of “political correctness”. The thinking in the spirit of the founders of the European Community and, for that matter, the spirit of the political authors of Maastricht, is becoming an anomaly and a marginal anachronism in today’s Europe, both the “old” and the “new”. The construction, while shedding some fundamental elements of sense and responsibility, survives and is developing rapidly. A state of affairs that augurs no good.
Suppose, for example, a serious stratification occurs within the EU between countries peopled predominantly by producers and countries with a growing stratum of direct or indirect rentiers. The European Union edifice may then prove insufficiently effective in face of the continuous challenge of development and modernisation. The EU was fostered as a sensibly designed society, while at present (what with euthanasia, unisex marriages, and sudden outbreaks of extremist sentiments) a number of historically negative traits may surface hard even to analyze or forecast. The European standard of civilization, that enormous achievement of history after World War II, may not endure the test and evoke demeaning globally destructive consequences.
At this point, I want to approach the subject of relations between the renovated European Union and Russia, bearing in mind that at the present moment the paradigm of the EU’s “civilised leadership” survives and is not placed in doubt by practically anyone in Russia.
Back to recent history: after the disintegration of the Soviet Union (excluding the Baltic countries, which are a thing apart) in 1991, no one of the “other standard” world even tried to outline some integrational or generally positive perspective, or formulate law and economic demands in earnest. Although the Soviet Union under Gorbachev was a changing but still communistic superpower, the West did no more than go through the motions of opening up political prospects. That the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the liberation of the Baltic countries would have been impossible without the Soviet Union (and the Russian Federation) was quickly consigned to oblivion. The brilliant document of the time of communism’s collapse, the Paris Charter of a New Europe (1990) which clearly formulated the philosophical principle “of a single Europe from Vancouver to Vladivostok” as the basis for future united action is now altogether forgotten.
Eastern Europe, however, was “taken in tow”, while Russia and the CIS was in fact left in limbo. The post-Soviet bureaucracy was only too happy to be left alone with their own peoples and the chances to strangle the consequences of the shortlived liberal breakthrough. A most ambiguous situation, to put it mildly, evolved in Russia and the CIS countries. But that is not the main point: after all, the politicobureaucratic situation of, say, Slovakia or Croatia, was hardly better than Russia’s. The main point is the West’s geopolitical solution as a whole, based on the cheap “needed – not needed” principle, still awaiting a detailed historical evaluation.
Asked if in the first decade of the 21st century Russia is a threat to any other country, I would say “yes and no”. “No”, because I have not met any madman in Russia who wants to attack any other country (as I met none in the Soviet Union before). “Yes”, because when you have two different standards of civilization, two standards of living, two different systems, the comparatively unbalanced closed system is always a threat to the more balanced and open neighbor. Soviet communism of the Brezhnev era was perceived by the democratic world as a threat second only to nazism. Not because Brezhnev was hatching a plan to attack anyone. It was simply a crucial attribute of communism, its backbone and buttress, to have a militarized industry and society able to secure the internal task of sustaining power and maintaining control, ever ready on any convenient occasion to fire the gun which, as Chekhov said (for an entirely different cause related to the rules of dramaturgy), is bound to go off sooner or later if it is hung on the stage wall. More logically correct in our case, officers of the Soviet tradition told their men: “Take care of your weapons, even a pole fires once a year.”
Communism is gone. There is no effective Soviet military industry in its former shape. Nothing, however, has replaced militarism as the cement of power and society. That is an element of the Russian standard. It is more than clear that this element should be done away with. The democratic world, however, never took this seriously even though its conscientious part set itself honest, responsible, and constructive peaceful objectives. The outcome is in substance and for lack of an adequate attitude to the problem, a dual danger.
Western leaders were unable to eliminate the threat of the other system by plain friendliness with Brezhnev, as they were unable to do it by a plain arms race. The solution proved far more complicated.
Today’s Russia, despite its many very serious problems, is less distant in standards from the European Union or the United States than the Soviet Union was. And to end this inconsistency, to straighten the tack, if the wish exists, is probably easier than 20 years ago. What is lacking is an honest wish to do it.
The wish I have in mind is the wish of those west of the new European border who, for all the reservations, are bearers of a high standard of civilization and are, therefore, morally responsible for it. In the process of civilisation’s development, a more advanced community is capable of assuming the role of leader in relation to its neighbours, and as history has shown, the process follows its model. A positive result is possible if there is strong but peaceful political will based on humane morality, common sense, and competence, and on no account on abuse and foul political play.
Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union are in special need of introducing norms in their life and in correctly combining their various cultures. The Soviet Union of the Brezhnev type was a highly normative society where a universal norm of not only ideology but also (and perharps more so) of behavior dominated everything in life. Yet despite this extreme norm of existence it was at the same time a multicultural society. Tallinn and Bukhara within the boundaries of one state was beyond question a society of coexistence of extremely diverse cultures despite the same ideological and behavioural norms. Despite the totalitarian leveling. Despite the hypocrisy of mutual tolerance often no more than superficial in character.
Following the demise of the Soviet Union we witnessed the loss of the dominant ideology and simultaneously of the norm of social life and behaviour, and many aspects of cultural diversity. What appeared were two unexpectedly dangerous social effects. One such, senseless on the face of it and lacking any rational explanation, was the acceptance of the leadership of an authoritarian type and not even that but a kind of authoritarian image, at times of “virtual” nature, not of an ideological but purely behavioural character, based less on compulsion but on intrinsic human fear, from which point of view it may be considered wholly “voluntary”. The other was an extreme individualism which reached the point of a mass aggressive self-isolation from attempts at contacts and dialogue from outside, which are considered aggression and invasion into our closed world.
A society that acutely needs norm will accept practically any thing from practically anyone. It is undiscriminating. For Russia to develop positively, the norm it adopts must be based on freedom, human traditions, law, openness, democratic procedure, and genuinely elective administration. In Russia today and tomorrow, in the context of relations between the EU and Russia, speaking not of protocol and not of separate pragmatic fragments, we must concentrate on working out a serious basis for such relations, categorically rejecting norms of authoritarianism, xenophobia, and militarism as governing principles. This applies equally to other European countries. The said objective calls for continuous effort both due to the danger of the roots of history and because the world today in all its multiplicity continuously throws down this challenge, be it in Russia and the post-Soviet countries or be it in the EU, or quite far enough from Europe.
For one thing, it is extremely difficult but necessary to do away with Stalinism. Stalinism as a specific “concealed” ideology and scheme of human intra- and inter-state relations is in no way equivalent to Soviet Communism and Bolshevism, and is historically viable and perilous.
Stalin’s regime was the victor in World War II. Unlike Hitler’s. It was not defeated and wiped out by military means. It evolutionised and continues in a certain sense to evolutionise today. Hitler and Hitlerism is therefore regarded in any reasonable society as an absolute evil, Stalin and his model of government is not. Above all in Russia to some extent almost everywhere else in the world. For all its negative rating, it is still in a way recognised within the framework of the “club of political respectability” and “disputable”. This is true more distinctly the farther the concepts “communism” and “bolshevism” fade into the negative past, inasmuch as Stalin is in effect outside their framework and is elbowed quite far away from them by means of uncomplicated manoeuvres. The communists as a whole, those senseless dreamers and destroyers of principles that evolved over the ages, are one thing, and Stalin and his generals who defeated Hitler and speedily created a new Russian stronghold with its unheard-of undefeatable power which still survives in somewhat altered shape to this day, is another. In terms of history, Hitler is remembered as nothing but a bandit, while Stalin is, albeit a most cruel but also a most profound, politician, a major symbol of state philosophy that is a persisting shadow of the present day. (The Federal Republic of Germany is not the Hitler state’s full-fledged successor, and has good reason to maintain that it has nothing to do with it. The Russian Federation, on the other hand, retains a substantial part, and not only in formal terms, the international-law succession of the Soviet Union even as concerns official symbols and official positions, thus all too often shielding Stalin and his buddies from “much too strong” historical condemnation, identifying all the historically positive done by the Soviet Union with the “strong state”, and writing off to Stalin personally or some other odious personality of lower rank obvious historically disgraceful situations or facts for which there is some risk of taking formal legal responsibility today.)
This aspect is highly damaging for Russia and for Europe as a whole, in terms of the basic European self-identification.
The absence of Russia’s categorical destalinisation, and that of the rest of Europe for that matter, and the survival and sometimes fostering of their succession to the tyrant on the institutional and graphic planes is a most serious curb not only of Russian, but also of all-European development.
Yet there is no concrete solution to this crucial dilemma. The public consciousness had for a lengthy period, for reasons of real facts of history, among others, treated the tyrant with some measure of respect and learned to lean intrinsically on his power. As a result the understanding of the harmfulness of this attitude at the level of society has been achieved by active and painstaking effort on the part of those leaders who cannot stomach tyranny, do not believe in its productivity and, on the contrary, are loyal to freedom as the basis of society’s development.
Tyranny calls for severe and unconditional condemnation. Failing this no progress is possible. For it to be convincing, there must be a clear moral outlook, courage, and tact.
As concerns Russia, this is naturally first of all the question of Stalin and Stalinism. In the framework of the European outlook, of course, it must apply to any tyranny regardless of its historical or geographical sources. If it is ever necessary to construct practical relations with a tyranny, such relations must be based on a genuine understanding of its nature, its unconditional condemnation, on defense of freedom, and, moreover, on a sense of responsibility for any step to avoid any aggravation, not to incite cruelty or seek new victims. Every step must be prompted by the intention sooner or later to liberate the victims of violence and certainly not to foment still greater cruelty. Principles and freedom should be protected not as an initial position, but as an end goal, and also a means of protecting and shielding every concrete person from danger.