Staunton, January 6 – Despite all the ups and downs in the relationship between the West and the Slavic world, changes that alternatively spark new hopes or new fears, the underlying reality, according to a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, is that “the anti-Slavic character of the policy of the West has remained unchanged for more than a 1000 years.”
Many Russian nationalists have expressed such views for a long time, but what makes these comments interesting is that they are being advanced by Vladimir Olenchenko, a scholar at the influential Institute of World Economics and International Relations (IMEMO), an indication that such views may be increasingly common in Russian elites.
And such views help to explain the intensity of Russian opposition to any Ukrainian rapprochement with Europe because they define the situation as a longstanding zero-sum game in which any advance by Europe necessarily represents yet another defeat and retreat by Moscow.
The IMEMO scholar begins his interview with a discussion of what he sees as the tensions within the European Union and the West more generally about Ukraine and points to a division between those who want to deepen the existing EU – mostly Southern Europeans – and those who want to expand it against Moscow – the Northern Europeans and the United States.
Olenchenko says such tensions have not been caused by the Ukrainian case but rather reflect what he calls the longstanding “historical conflict of the Euro-Atlanticist and pro-European lobbies in the European Union.”
“The most significant events in the Euro-Atlanticist anti-Slavic policy,” he says, “have been the bombing of Yugoslavia, the initiation of its disintegration, the expulsion of Slavs from Kosovo and the destruction there of Slavic values, discrimination against the Russian language population in the Baltic countries, and dealing with Ukraine as with a second-class country.”
According to Olenchenko, “the most far-sighted intellectuals in the Vishegrad countries are beginning to recognize that their countries may be included in this chain of events which are connected with the denigration of the Slavs.” But up to now, most of their governments are still pressing for an eastward expansion of the EU.
The IMEMO scholar says that the growth of such attitudes reflects the fact that “the conception of universalism which is predominant in the Euro-Atlanticist space excludes national variations and seeks a reduction in them because it views [such differences] as an obstacle for the spread of its ideology and the administration of the masses.”
“The Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Russians and Southern Slavs,” he argues, have always opposed the denigration of their national distinctiveness and united in their “struggle for independence in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe,” Olenchenko suggests, thus implying that Moscow is the only guarantor of their national uniqueness.
The Euro-Atlanticist campaign on behalf of the principles of universalism “is directed above all,” the IMEMO scholar says, “at the suppression of the independent Slavic spirit.” Moreover, he argues, this policy has extremely deep roots in the past.
To understand that, Olenchenko continues, one should extend the insights of Sigmund Freud from individuals to all of Europe. “The Holy Roman Empire, the legal successor of the Western Roman Empire, was the most significant and largest state entity with which our era in Europe began.”
It is there, he suggests, that one can “uncover the outlines of the current European Union and which in the ninth century proclaimed as one of its chief foreign policy priorities the colonization of Slavic lands.” Before that, “the Slavs were outside the protectorate of the Roman Empire and lived by their own principles which today are call the principles of federalism.”
In the millennium since, the IMEMO writer says, “the configuration of countries in Europe has frequently changed, political slogans have been renewed, and a natural change of political leaders has occurred, but the content of Western policy in the eastern direction has remained unchanged” from what it was in the Holy Roman Empire.
But while this “historical anachronism which focuses on Russia” continues to shape Western policies, Olenchenko continues, “healthy-minded” people in the West are recognizing that given globalization, this approach hurts more the West and ignores the fact that the Slavic peoples do not advance “any territorial or political demands on the heirs of the Roman Empire.”