A EUROPE OF SPACES AND DIMENSIONS

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A EUROPE OF SPACES AND DIMENSIONS



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2. A EUROPE OF SPACES AND DIMENSIONS


The second conceptualization of Russia’s perception of Europe started with the appearance of a phenomenon known as dimensionalism. However, the notion of dimensions, semantically, is neither a self-sufficient nor a self-explanatory one, and requires inclusion into a wider set of discursive dispositions. Dimension as a concept seems to be a natural part of a discourse molded in spatial terms. Speaking about dimensions, we inevitably enter an area of spatial representations, which, from their part, need a “dimensionalist” vocabulary to fix the nodal points that structure the spatial discourse.

Chronologically speaking, the idea of dimensionalism, especially in its “Nordic” version, preceded the ideas of the EU – Russia “common spaces”. The very fact that Russia is a country which is directly plugged into both the Northern and – still hypothetical - Eastern Dimensions (ND and ED, correspondingly) of the EU, opened new discursive tracks for repositioning herself in a changing system of “geometries of regionalism”.

The Russian attitudes towards the EU-inspired “policy of dimensions” seem to be in flux. On the one hand, the Finnish and the Polish initiatives were met in Moscow with an interest and reasonable understanding. Yet on the other hand, many in Russia remain skeptical about the practical implications of both “dimensions”. Russia seems to follow a rather critical logic of those commentators who are of the opinion that there is a certain degree of exclusion in both the ND and the ED. Thus, it is noted that “in the aftermath of the 2004 EU enlargement, the ND is more and more confined to blocking the non-military security threats of which Russia is believed to be the main source, and to strengthening the EU external borders”156. Yet Russia feels even unhappier to see that Poland’s foreign policy departs from the assumption that the main stimuli for all ex-socialist countries bordering on Russia is to “ultimately separate them from the post-Soviet space”157.

Therefore, “the East” – as compared with “the North” – seems to be simultaneously a more traditional and a more conflictual signifier, potentially capable of restoring the East – West divide, though in a different format. It seems, hence, difficult for Russia to recognize the role of Poland as an “intermediary” in communications between Moscow and Brussels (Finland with its ND had no such explicitly articulated ambitions).

The employment of the terminology of “spaces” opens a number of other interesting insights. There is no single tradition of using the “spatial” glossary in the academic discourse. It is definitely tempting to equate “space” with something open, de-bordered, indefinite, uncontested and indivisible. In this context, spatiality could be contrasted with territoriality and a variety of its derivatives (like “zones”, “areas” and “spheres”) that are basically interest-driven and territorially-based conceptions (for example, “spheres of influence”). Therefore, spatiality and territoriality, as two concepts, may be seen as opposing and contrasting each other: space appears to be a symbol of universality, while territory is a collection of regional singularities.

Yet in the meantime, these two notions may at certain point converge and overlap, forming – paradoxically – a single mode of conceptualization. For example, Gilles Deleuze used to speak about “spaces of isolation” and “closed spaces”, those split by sectors158, while some of the geopolitical thinkers interpreted space as a “framework of expansion”. Spatiality, being a part of post-structuralist discourse, presupposes a kind of “topological” thinking which hinges on such categories as ruptures, lines, surfaces, dimensions, etc. It is at this point that the space-centric discourse generates the necessity of “road maps” as symbols of this “topological” approach.



Given the variety of semantic fillings, one may admit that space has to be viewed as another “empty signifier”, permanently open for (re)interpretations and infusions of new meanings. Semantically, spaces are just a mere vague substitute for something common and shared, a catchword borrowed from academic milieu and implanted in a highly politicized soil. In this sense, the way spaces are understood in the sphere of the EU – Russia relations, appears – though paradoxically – to be rather close to a Foucauldian reading of space as a communicative, mental and semantic construct, a field where discourses are being formed and meanings are being produced. Spaces could be understood as laboratories that accumulate and spread ideas expressed as discursive constellations, identify points of incompatibility and equivalence of their elements.

The specificity of the deploying of the “spatial” terminology within the EU – Russia context stems from the fact that each of the four common spaces is, in a way, an inter-subjective construct. To put it differently, all of them are bi-centric (if not bicephalous) spaces, instituted by both Russia and the EU. Therefore, the whole problematique of spaces has to be dealt with as a pattern of inter-subjective relations based upon a formulae nicely described by Slavoj Zizek as “include me out159. In terms of Giorgio Agamben, the exceptional nature of the Four Spaces could be described as “inclusive exclusion” which serves “to include what is excluded”. In other words, “what cannot be included in any way is included in the form of the exception”160. This is exactly what the whole conception of the Four Freedoms is about. It certainly has much to do with the “ordering of space that is, according to Schmitt, constitutive of the sovereign nomos” in the form of “taking of the outside”, namely Russia.

At any rate, the Four Spaces, being a compromise achieved in the aftermath of Russia’s refusal to join the European Neighborhood Policy, may be tackled through the prism of the category of exception. Bilateralism in this sense is a form of exceptionalism pointing to a privileged status of Russia and individual, specific, if not unique, arrangements standing apart from the others161.

However, it seems unlikely that Russia feels absolutely happy about reaching this kind of compromise based on her exceptionality. Intuitively, Russia anticipates that the “New Neighborhood” idiom might in the nearest future efface the semantics of “Near Abroad”. Yet more important sources of Russian criticism are grounded in disagreements with the basic ideas of the Four Freedoms. Perhaps, the most intransigent position was taken by the Moscow-based Council for Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP) which lambasted the Four Freedoms for unilateral concessions from the Russian side, lack of legal precision, arbitrary interpretation of key terms used in the road maps, and procedural opaqueness. In SVOP’s opinion, Four Freedoms are merely an intermediary stage in the EU – Russia relationship and reflect the lack of long-term vision in both Moscow and Brussels162. It appears that the philosophy of the four spaces, understood as a “package deal”, may be countered in the future by a philosophy of “concrete, specific projects” advocated, in particular, by a task force led by Sergey Karaganov.

To a certain degree, the exceptionalism embedded in the Four Freedom scheme is due to the fact that the whole idea of the Four Spaces was initiated by France and Germany and, therefore, may be viewed as an “Old Europe” project163. The “new European’ nations (including the Visegrad4 and the Baltic states) are expected to “strengthen the political demands of the Union within the four common spaces”164, by now almost absent in the communications between Moscow, on the one hand, and Berlin and Paris, on the other. This opposition between the two patterns of Europe (the “old” and the “new” ones) brings us closer to the third conceptualization to be analyzed further.


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