DICHOTOMIES OF A NORMATIVE EUROPE

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DICHOTOMIES OF A NORMATIVE EUROPE



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3. DICHOTOMIES OF A NORMATIVE EUROPE


The third frame of reference to characterize Russia’s attitudes to Europe is grounded in a set of normative discursive distinctions. The most important among them is, presumably, the “false” vs. “true” Europe binary opposition that contains a number of other related “pictures of Europe”. The “False – True Europe” dichotomy plays a special role in a normative type of the Russian discourse because it consists, to a certain extent, of the nodal points (i.e. “the privileged discursive points … of reference, signifiers that fix the meaning of a signifying chain”165) in relation to other adjacent conceptualizations (“traditional Europe vs. post-Europe” and “Old vs. New Europe”). Due to that, this dichotomy turns into a discursive frame allowing Russia to give her own marks and assessments to other European nations thus stressing the Russian subjectivity in the European affairs. By discursively molding a “true Europe”, Russia, in the meantime, strives to overcome and displace her own fears of being isolated from the European culture and values166.

«False Europe», as understood by some of Russian intellectuals, includes countries with strong anti-Russian sentiments and those having lost the «genuine European values», while the «true Europe» is arguably populated by friendly to Russia nations adhered to what Russia considers as “the original spirit of Europe”. In the process of reinventing “the true Europe”, the “real relics of antiquity” (exemplified in the heritage of prominent European intellectuals) are respectfully valorized and cherished167.

Two brief points have to be made at this juncture. Firstly, what is telling is a logical nexus between the two different parameters identifiable in the Russian vision of the “true – false” dichotomy: presumably, this is the evaporation of the national spirit that leads some of the European countries to Russia’s “black list”. In other words, some of the nations could be placed in a “false” category exactly because they have deviated from what Russia treats as the European cultural mainstream.

Secondly, the gist of this binary conception might be traced back to the notion of alleged “Russian Europe”, historically exemplified by Novgorod’s and Pskov’s inclusion into the Hansa trade network and these cities’ commitment to a set of democratic procedures168. Put it differently, through articulating the idea of “true Europe”, Russia tries not only to exhibit her own European identity but also to identify her own “circle of friends”.

One possible type of reaction to the “false – true” distinction within Europe is an accentuation of the European weakness, a denial of Europe's attraction to Russia and presenting the EU as an exhausted entity lacking political will and an identity of its own169. Some of the Russian analysts jump to overgeneralizations, asserting that “Europe is dying… It is a purely virtual notion, a gigantic dead museum… The degeneration of the European idea is shocking”170. “Europe is an image of the past century, it is a remembrance… Europe is reminiscent of an aged hypocrite and a coquette which conceals the smell of putrefaction”171.



As a gesture of symbolic retaliation, the theme of possible dismantling of the EU is not rarely debated among Russian experts:
“Ultimately it is in Russia’s interest to let the ambitious though rather elementary in its intrinsic foundations (in comparison to Japan and the USA) European monster get trapped in unsolvable conflicts across Russia’s periphery. As a compensation for temporary victims in Georgia and Moldova, Russia has to reward herself in Lithuania and Poland”172.
The discourse focusing on an alleged degeneration of Europe leads to a rather interesting twist in the reasoning of some of the Russian thinkers who conclude that the genuine “European project” could be implemented by Russia herself173. The rhetoric of this sort has reached its peak in Dmitry Rogozin’s proclamation of Russia as being a “real Europe”, free of homosexuals, punk culture and other detested by Russian conservatives elements of today’s European lifestyle. This is at this point that the othering of Europe frames and conditions the discursive construction of Russia herself. “Russia’s relations with the current Europe are not geographic but temporal” in the sense that Russia is imagined as a “real” Europe, a heritor of the century-long European culture. This type of discourse, almost unknown beyond Russia, not only makes Europe a poorly self-articulated entity with weak or even non-existent political will, but concomitantly questions the strategy of Russia’s integration with Europe174.

The “false - true Europe” concept, as I have noted earlier, could be viewed as a discursive container of some other binary oppositions. One of them seems to be a contradistinction between “traditional Europe” and “post-Europe”. In the interpretation of some of the Russian scholars, what is considered to be a “post-Europe” embodies the growing self-denial of the national interests and identities, a tendency dating back to the end of the Second World War and the American military preponderance all across Western Europe which, in the interpretation of some of the Russian thinkers, is a “late”, or “former” Europe175. As an authoritative political analyst Sergey Karaganov puts it, “Russia hardly needs to give up her longing for traditional European values for the post-European ones”176. Russia, then, seems to denote what Europe itself is proud of – both the refusal of national egos and valorization of supranational integration.



Russia’s lack of chances to get accepted into the EU, on the one hand, and fears of finding herself at the European outskirts, on the other, almost inevitably push Russian discourse into the realm of contrasting the EU as a supra-/post-national entity with Russia as a nation state. Being a nation state spells, in Russian understanding, a greater ability to autonomously act in the international arena.

Another pathway of conceptualizing Russia’s European discourse is through the “Old - New” debate. Of course, there is a group of Russian opinion- and policymakers who are distrustful to France and Germany due to their alleged ambitions to monopolize the European identity. Yet an opposite viewpoint seems to dominate, that one eager to shoulder responsibility for degenerating relations with the EU to Russia’s neighbours (“junior Europeans”) that try to impose their policies/visions upon “senior Europeans” in order to worsen the EU – Russia relationship177.

In the Russian media, Poland is presented as a country striving to demise the current elites in Ukraine and Belarus, to hinder the EU – Russia rapprochement, and to play the role of a peace-keeper in the CIS178. Some of the Russian experts relegate to Poland the responsibility for the emergence of new dividing lines between the West and the East179. In Filip Kazin's reasoning, «the Poles … are prone to strictly fix the 'weight categories' and put one of players (Russia. – A.M.) beyond the competition, while the EU bureaucracy wants to place everybody in the same stadium, have a training exercise and see what comes out of it»180. There exists a wide spread feeling that Poland is reluctant to accept the common «rules of the game» offered by the EU to all its adjacent countries and is eager to distinguish Ukraine (and potentially Moldova and Belarus) from all eastern neighbors181.

Polish commentators partly confirm these Russian fears by suggesting that relations with Moscow should not dominate the EU foreign policy agenda and ought to develop in direct dependence upon Russia’s approximation of its political and legal norms with that ones of the EU. Polish experts seem to be selective in offering partnership arrangements to the eastern countries. Some of authors in Warsaw even try to make the procedure of “granting the EU neighbor state” status dependent upon a list of normative criteria182. In the meantime, Russia seems to be willing to explore the vulnerability of Poland presuming that “almost nobody would take seriously a country that, on the one hand, has pretensions for a leading role in designing and coordinating the eastern policy of the EU, and on the other hand, proves incapable to maintain normal relations with the main country”183 of the region to the east of the EU.

Within this discursive stream, Russian commentators make efforts to deploy the complexities of Russia’s relations with the “New European” countries in, at least, two wider contexts. The first one is related to the EU which is expected, in Russian reasoning, to bear responsibility for the behaviour of its newcomers. In its statement of October 22, 2004 the State Duma has declared that in the aftermath of Latvia’s and Estonia’s accession to the EU, these two countries have reinforced their anti-Russian attitudes through promulgating a number of initiatives aimed at laying material and political claims to Russia, as well as reconsidering the outcomes of the Second World War (meaning by that an alleged tendency of rehabilitation of the Nazi combatants)184. Even more eloquent was Sergey Yastrzhembskii, President Putin’s aide on European affairs, who accused the EU newcomers in exposing political radicalism and “fairly primitive Russophobia”. These countries, in his assessment, are trying to actively “complicate the dialogue between Russia and the EU”, which appears to contradict the interests of the EU “old residents”185.

The second context has to deal with the United States, since the new EU members are gloatingly depicted by some of the Russian commentators as “America’s fifth column in Europe”186. “Congratulate Adamkus and then America”187, - this is how some of the Russian policy commentators assessed the results of 2004 presidential election in Lithuania. This argument seems to be meant for both German and French consideration.

All in all, a significant part of Russia’s elites tends to suspect «New Europe»’s countries of undermining the Russian positions188, which resonates quite well with the opinions of some of the European policy analysis that “three Baltic republics and Poland will definitely turn into a complicating factor in the EU-Russia relations. Nevertheless, the political elites of France and Germany willing to keep working with Russia won’t allow the small countries to significantly spoil the work done before”189. In Putin’s vision, it is Chirac and Schroeder who could bring Russia closer to Europe, “particularly if they would agree to avoid unpleasant topics” like Chechnya, or the democratic deficit in Belarus190.

This way of reasoning is well complemented by voices assuming that the Russian-German alliance is a key factor of all-European stability. In particular, Alexander Dugin treats the French-German Europe as a historical chance for Russia to provide its security: “we have no right to miss this opportunity and plug into this process at any conditions”. In his reasoning, Russia is to offer herself as a logical extension of Paris – Berlin alliance to the east. “It is in this sense that the Russian patriots can proclaim: To Europe!”191. In this context, “the Old Europe” could be articulated as – and paralleled with - “the main Europe” (Mark Urnov’s enunciation192), or “an old good Europe”193, preserving its cultural roots and resisting to the America-led globalization.

Finally, the “True – False Europe” couple can be viewed through a different but conceptually rather promising frame grounded in a Lacanian vocabulary. There is some potential for (re)interpreting the discursive tug-of-war between the “True Europe” and “False Europe” as a particular case of the wider opposition between the Real, on the one hand, and the Symbolic, on the other. To uncover the hidden meaning of this peculiar opposition, let me refer to Slavoj Zizek whose interpretation of the Real seems to be rather compatible with the conception of the “True Europe”. The Real is “the starting point, the basis, the foundation of the process of symbolization”, claims Zizek and then goes on: the Real “precedes the symbolic order and is subsequently structured by it”194. Having extrapolated this broad methodological observation to the field of our interest in this paper, one can (re)interpret it in a sense that the process of symbolization has to start with what is considered as true, genuine, real in a given system of thought. More specifically, this is the “True Europe” which can and has to be symbolized, and for this symbolization it needs a contrast, an opposite vision of Europe.

Coming back to Zizek, the symbolic relation is “differential: the identity of each of the moments consists in its difference to the opposite moment. A given element does not fill in the lack in the other, it is not complementary to the other but, on the contrary, takes the place of the lack in the other, embodies what is lacking in the other: its positive presence is nothing but an objectification of a lack in its opposite elements. The opposites, the poles of the symbolic relation, each in a way returns its own lack”195. On a different occasion he claims that “the Symbolic emerges from the very imaginary mirroring: from its doubling, by means of which … the real image is substituted by a virtual one… Within the Imaginary itself, there is always a point of double reflection at which the Imaginary is, so to speak, hooked on the Symbolic”196. This is exactly through this theoretical background that one may tackle the collision between the “True Europe” (as an incarnation of the Real in the mentality of the Russian foreign policy elites) and the “False Europe” (as a product of its negative symbolization).

An interesting move here is that this inevitable and constitutive symbolization of the Real turns it in “a hole, a gap, an opening in the middle of the symbolic order – it is a lack around which the symbolic order is structured… The Real is … a product, a leftover of symbolization… the void, the emptiness created, encircled by the symbolic structure”197. In a radical version, the Real is “an entity which does not exist but has nevertheless a series of properties… If we get too near it, it loses its sublime features and becomes an ordinary vulgar object – it can persist only in an interspace, in an intermediate state, viewed from a certain perspective, half-seen. If we want to see it is the light of day, it changes into an everyday object, it dissipates itself, precisely because in itself it is nothing at all”198.

Isn’t this provocative though stimulating description a good frame for understanding the nature of discursive construction based upon the notions of “True” and “False” Europe? On a closer scrutiny, the “True Europe” turns into a product of mental imagination. This observation is partly confirmed by a German author Herfried Munkler who assumed that “it is impossible to single out a kind of ‘genuine’ notion of Europe and then to separate it from falsifications… Moreover, each attempt to redefine a “true’” and “false” Europe through contradistinction between the two turns into an element of a political struggle”199.

Two points have to be made at this stage of my analysis. Firstly, this observation brings us to Zizek’s assumption that this is “only in dreams that we encounter the real of our desire… The social reality then becomes nothing more than a fragile symbolic tissue which can be torn at any moment by the intrusion of the real”200. To rephrase this statement, Russia needs a “bad dream” about “False Europe” in order to reinstall her European credentials and feel at home with what she considers as a “True Europe”.



Secondly, Munkler makes a good point in discovering a political dimension in the gesture of opposition between the two patterns of Europe. This discovery of a considerable Schmittian background in the Russian debate on “false” and “true” Europe makes it possible to interpret it as an act of power manifested through discursive means.

The approach inspired by Lacan and picked up by Zizek gives us an almost Derridean example of the deconstruction of the binary opposition grounded in “False – True Europe” debate. The mentally constructed “True Europe” could – paradoxically – be described in terms pertinent to the opposite pole of the pair, namely as composed of “the post-Germans”, “the post-French”, etc. “The True Europe” turns out to be even more “un-European”, with strong influx of alien cultural flows and steady penetration of terrorist networks inside Europe. Another paradox could be found in the fact that the countries belonging – in Russian eyes, at least – to “False Europe” are in possession of some characteristics supposedly attributed to their imaginary opponents, like the (hyper-)valorization of national identity as manifested in highly restrictive citizenship legislation.





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