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- RUSSIA’S DISCURSIVE CONSTRUCTION OF EUROPE AND HERSELF: TOWARDS NEW SPATIAL IMAGERY Dr. Andrey S.Makarychev
- The question looming large at this point is how one can venture to identify her/his count
- What stems from this preliminary observation is that discourses are, on the one hand
- This intricacy is, according to the concept framing this paper, grounded in the politically accentuated idea of Russia’s alleged exceptionality
- The hypothesis which is constitutive for the concept of this paper could be formulated as follows: Russian version of exceptionality is a double-faced phenomenon and comes in two versions.
- , exceptionality could signal a need for special, individually tailored solutions based upon non-standard decisions, those stretching beyond the routine logic of governance.
- A EUROPE OF COLORS
WORKING PAPER SERIES
This brochure opens a series of Working Papers to be published by the Nizhny Novgorod Group within the framework of the two-year INTAS-sponsored project on the Four Freedoms and Four Spaces shaping the dynamics of the EU – Russian relations in the beginning of the 21st century. Not incidentally, this initial part of the project is largely formulated in a conceptual language reflecting some general ideas meant for laying background for subsequent – and far more empirical – research. It was our intention to try to commence this project with a number of wider – and ostensibly theoretical - approaches to the state of the EU – Russia relationship which could later be used for better placing the variety of more concrete and issue-specific objects of our attention, including economic institutions, legal innovations, non-state actorship, and so forth.
The two sides of the story of the EU – Russia / Russia – EU interactions do complement each other yet are by no means symmetrical. Both are self-referential, but in a different sense. What we’ll see is that the Russian conceptual mapping of Europe is grounded in a rather elementary matrix of several key images, each one using its own signifiers. What is important in terms of our subsequent analysis is that in this menu no specific room is reserved for either Four Freedoms or Four Spaces. In other words, these concepts could have been neither automatically nor easily inscribed into the Russian imagery of Europe. The installation of these concepts in the Russian international vocabulary will require much time and efforts from the part of both Russian and European policy- and opinion-makers.
As far as the “Russian discourse” in the EU is concerned, it is structured quite differently: this is not Russia that serves as a reference point for (re)constructing and (re)inventing the competing discursive strategies, but the EU itself, with its diverse – both optimistic and pessimistic - anticipations and comprehensions of Russia’s status and function in the Union’s neighbourhood policy. This asymmetry could be partly explained by the fact that the EU role in the moulding of the Russian international conduct is much stronger than Russia’s influence upon the European Union. The latter appears to be embedded in “the Eurocentric procedure of imposing its own hegemony by means of the exclusionary discursive strategy of devaluing the Other...”878. The uncovering of this hegemony and its discursive tools could have been an interesting issue to explore further.
The Nizhny Novgorod team leader
RUSSIA’S DISCURSIVE CONSTRUCTION OF EUROPE AND HERSELF: TOWARDS NEW SPATIAL IMAGERY
Dr. Andrey S.Makarychev
This presentation conceptually proceeds from the idea of the self-reflexive nature of outward-oriented discourses. Through valuing others, we usually tend to implicitly evaluate ourselves. The way one assesses his/her neighbours and interlocutors is indicative of his/her own worldviews and political standpoints.
In this epistemic context, one may start with the stipulation that Russia tends to conceptually define her identity through relating herself – in one way or another - with Europe. Yet paradoxically, in the Russian discourse, Europe is, by and large, a vague and ambiguous entity with uncertain and unspecified features, a kind of collection of spaces with neither a clearly identifiable core/center nor stable borders – a perfect example of an “empty signifier” constituting a playground for meaning-making. A perfect example of this implicit featuring of Europe as a semantically “empty” notion is given by Mikhail Remizov, a conservative political thinker, who hypothesized that “we yet can only watch the place where she (Europe. – A.M.) is supposed to be”879.
Indeed, Europe may be called a territory “lacking its own subjectivity”880 and strongly associated with a multiplicity of perspectives and trajectories881, with a peculiar mix of different vectors and moves inherently open for rethinking and susceptible to multiple redefinitions. This situation may find its verbal representations in phrases like “magnetism without a magnet”, or “a process without a subject”. In Pami Aalto’s thoughtful comments, the EU may be perceived “as a faceless entity, where policy outcomes simply ‘happen’ without anyone or any institutional bodies really being responsible”882. In a rather indicative way, such statements are usually positively accepted in Russia where many political analysts deem that the EU, being a “bureaucratic body almost without political leadership” is incapable of generating new impulses in the EU – Russia relations. Concomitantly, the future of the EU, the institutionalized manifestation of the European integration, is questioned by some of the authoritative Russian foreign policy experts883.
The question looming large at this point is how one can venture to identify her/his country – either by contrast or by association - vis-à-vis such an elusive entity in a permanent state of flux, if not decay? The answer to this question constitutes the core hypothesis of this paper, which could be formulated in hermeneutic categories. More specifically, the issue under consideration might be approached from the perspective of the “hermeneutic circle”, a concept presuming that “the interpretation of a given ‘web of meaning’/social practice can never be tested against an objective standard. Rather, the testing and refinement of particular interpretations is always done on terms of other interpretations”884. To extrapolate this approach to the sphere of the European discourse in Russia, one may come up with the following supposition: since Europe lacks an undisputable set of characteristics shared by the bulk of the opinion makers, Russia needs, first, to explain what Europe is, and then – secondly - to define and reposition herself vis-à-vis this reinvented image. Put it differently, Russia uses the alleged emptiness of Europe as a signifier for filling it with a variety of discourses and playing with them afterwards.
What stems from this preliminary observation is that discourses are, on the one hand, “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak”885. Iver Neumann, for example, builds his concept of identity formation on a premise that the “others”
“about whom the self tells stories and who tells stories about the self are … a constitutive part of story telling… Confirmation of stories of self cannot be given by just anybody, but only by those others whom the self recognizes and respects as being of a kind with itself. The others in this set are referred to as circles of recognition”886.
On the other hand, one can argue, discourses form the “speaking subjects” themselves. This approach, being in line with some arguments developed by Foucault, Bakhtin and Lacan, has been already applied to the study of European identity by a number of authors. For instance, Pertti Joenniemi ascertains that the U.S. discursive division of Europe into an “old” and a “new” segment is basically an effort “of measuring itself” and “a re-definition of the American self”887.
The subject of this paper – the discursive construction of Europe in Russia - is a multi-faced process that develops in different dimensions. Paradoxically, the least turbid is the articulation of Europe in what could be called “public narratives”, i.e. stories attached to cultural milieu and grounded in mass conscience. Thus, for ordinary Russians, the prefix “Euro” undeniably means something of a better quality, like proverbial “Evroremont” (Euro-repairs). There is an endless row of neologisms synonymous of top quality, like “Euro-windows”, “Euro-engines”, “Euro-plugs”, “Euro-wallpapers”, “Euro-style” and “Euro-standard” (to be found literally everywhere, from hairdressers saloons to – ironically - toilet paper).
Not less accentuated – and equally intuitive - is a pro-European drive visible (and laudable) in the Russian variety culture. In the pop music, different artistic representations of Europe top all other geographic images. Among the most recent Russian hit leaders were songs like “London – Paris” and some others with clearly – and positively - pronounced European connotations. “The London rain”, “train Zurich – Geneva”, “the Tower bridge”, “dreams about Majorca”, “walking through Paris”, “on the way to Amsterdam”, “the plane won’t take me to Paris” – these are just a few of the most popular and widely known musical examples of representations of Europe in the Russian scene, along with those featuring Baden-Baden, Nice – Cannes, Riga - Moscow and other cities and their couples. What is interesting is that the United States, another country symbolizing – though in a different way - the West for Russians, is featured, first, much more rarely and, secondly, in predominantly negative modalities (songs with titles like “Good-bye, America” or “America that took you away from me” are evidently self-explaining).
The discursive construction of Europe in the political and academic narratives appears to be more problematic. Even the most liberal authors treat the EU policies towards Russia as a “systemic challenge” aimed at “dislodging Russia via arbitrary inclusion of its regions into trans-national regions, as well as transportation and information flows that are to be subordinated to foreign countries”888. Not surprisingly, it is widely believed that
“the state entity with its centers located in Strasbourg and Brussels is not a hotbed for those living in Kiev or Moscow, even if they think of themselves as Europeans… In the Euro-East, Russia is performing as an initiator of new forms of the European unity, and definitely is not a hindrance to it. Ultimately, Russia is in possession of a concept of Europe of her own, a wider one in comparison to what Brussels can offer. This gives us the right to pedantically object to the restrictions advocated by Brussels”889.
This intricacy is, according to the concept framing this paper, grounded in the politically accentuated idea of Russia’s alleged exceptionality, which the above mentioned cultural representations seem to ignore if not disavow. Exceptionality elevated to the level of political doctrine exerts powerful influence on the Russian political discourse. References to Russia’s specificity have become a sort of political ritual in the Moscow foreign policy circles, which nevertheless keeps open at least two of the most important questions: what kind of exceptionality Russia is referring to, and what stems from it in practical terms?
The hypothesis which is constitutive for the concept of this paper could be formulated as follows: Russian version of exceptionality is a double-faced phenomenon and comes in two versions. On the one hand, it could be easily (re)interpreted as a form of either voluntary distancing or exclusion. Indeed, if Russia herself repeatedly claims that she doesn’t fit in some of the most important mechanisms of cooperation with the EU, she has then to be kept away from the integration. On the other hand, exceptionality could signal a need for special, individually tailored solutions based upon non-standard decisions, those stretching beyond the routine logic of governance.
Generally speaking, Russia is simultaneously longing for an exceptional status in her relations with the EU and, at the same time, does not know how exactly she has to turn it into her advantage. Therefore, exceptionality is both a promise and a challenge, a possible asset and a probable disadvantage. This situation of inherent uncertainty and ambiguity, in fact, constitutes a framework for discursive hegemony which could be understood as a process of carrying “out a filling function”890, i.e. a process of saturation of “empty signifiers” with contextual meanings.
In this paper, I am intended to give an overview of Russian discourses focused on Europe which, on a closer scrutiny, turn out to disclose some of the most important means of telling a story of Russia’s self-assertion in the world. I structure my analysis along the three lines that correspond to three different pathways of looking at Europe from the Russian perspective. In the final part of this study, I will try to compare these three perspectives with each other and draw some conclusions pertinent to Russia’s articulations of herself in a wider European context.
A EUROPE OF COLORS
The first – and the least obvious - discursive frame that might be useful for understanding Russia’s perceptions of both Europe and Russia’s place in Europe is based on a vocabulary of colored metaphors. They usually are embedded in border-making associations. This is the case of “red lines”, an expression that either delineates the spheres beyond which the compromises between the two parties (Russia and the EU) are impossible891, or delimits the geographic zones of influence (it was said, for instance, that by accepting the three Baltic states into NATO, the Alliance would “cross the red line” established by Russia in her attempts to draw a sphere of its imagined preponderance in Europe).
Some border-drawing connotations are discernible in a metaphor of “gray zone”, which is believed to be located somewhere between the “white” (which, in a figurative sense, equates with the Western democracy) and the “black” (an area of despotism and all kind of illegal activities892). This vision might be interpreted as being imposed by Europe, yet presumably, Russian cultural traditions not only pinpoint but also legitimize similar articulations. For example, as Mikhail Ilyin, a Russian political philosopher, claims, white color was originally meant to connote with the closeness to Europe, as exemplified by “White Russia” (Belarus)893. An opposite signifier is embedded in the “black hole” metaphor to be interpreted as reflecting something irrational, wasteful and incompatible with the Western mentality894. Usually, the “black” and “gray” colors are verbally utilized for underlying and singling out some negative features of social reality, most likely related to, correspondingly, stigmatization and uncertainty.
To some extent, this wording could be presented as a spring-off of the “cosmos - chaos” dichotomy that may be used to differentiate between “insiders” and “outsiders” of the European integration895. “Cosmos” may symbolize ordering and institutionalization developed through concentric expansion896, while “chaos” may be paralleled with “an amorphous Eurasian landmass”897.
This it at this point that the idea of “grayness” might be interpreted in terms used, in particular, by an Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben (and, to a significant extent, inspired by Schmittian traditions). Presumably, two readings of this alleged “empty space” are possible. The first one is of distinctively negative semantic connotations. In this interpretation, this is uncertainty that is taken as the key signifier of the “gray zone” vocabulary. This approach looks quite consonant with that one tried by some European authors who treat “gray zone” as one consisted of buffer states, or as an “interim space saturated with crisis and doubts”898.
At this juncture some parallels with the “gray” (“shadow”) economy metaphor could be traced (a good example could be the case of the Kaliningrad oblast). The same goes for black-colored metaphors which seem to admit a number of negative connotations they are inscribed in. For example, it may be assumed that “by singling out the Baltic states as the black sheep of the European family, Russia could establish herself as a ‘normal’ European nation”899.
“Gray zone”, thus, has to be located “in-between” the core powers in the worst sense of this word, being neither accepted nor denied by the EU900. This is because of this indeterminacy and a weak articulation of interests that “gray zones” are perceived as potential sources of conflict. For instance, a Russian diplomat has attributed the “gray zone” metaphor to the Baltic countries due to their non-participation in the Treaty on Conventional Arms in Europe901.
Yet Russia may have at her disposal a different set of interpretative tools allowing for taking some advantage of colors-as-metaphors. The gray zone could be understood in a much more positive sense, as being synonymous with experimentation, piloting, and innovations. There is some ground to believe that Russia is used to feel at home with the “gray zone” status and use it as a space open to experimentations and a variety of innovative moves. Thus, for Dmitry Zamiatin, a Russian cultural geographer,