Staunton, January 18 – Russia’s latest turn to authoritarianism and isolationism was possible because of the provincialism of its leaders and people, a sense of being on the margins of the real world and one that prevents them from achieving greatness because they are less interested in that than in “seeking to present the great as small,” Vladislav Inozemtsev says.
Today there can be no doubt, the Moscow commentator says, that “Russia has chosen for a long time to come the course of authoritarianism in domestic policy and isolationism in foreign affairs, that its economy will be sacrificed to ideological schemas, and that propaganda will replace a serious analysis of what is going on” (snob.ru/selected/entry/86495).
That “truly epochal turn,” he suggests, would have been impossible if it were not for the sense of provincialism which has long dominated Russian thinking, a particular and dangerous response of Russia to its emergence as “a contemporary nation” on the European frontier” rather than as a core part of it.
In contrast to the United States which never doubted that it was fully part of Europe and then went beyond it by “positioning itself as a center of the world, as ‘a city on the hill’ capable of setting the agenda for the world and not seriously inclined to deal with its opponents,” Russia “moved in the opposite direction.”
Russia’s “imagined ‘Eurasianism’ converted it into a province, cut it off from Europe but did not bring it close to Asia,” Inozemtsev says. The fact that Russians continue to talk about this suggests “a very serious medical” condition: “We do not know who we are and therefore we do not believe in ourselves.”
Russian “political discourse practically always is conducted from the position of a country against which the entire rest of the world is arrayed,” he says, adding that “paradoxically, such a mentality of the national elite in the overwhelming majority of cases pushes any country onto the periphery and deprives any nation of the chance for development.”
Like other countries whose elites seek legitimacy in “the struggle with a hostile environment,” Russia is led by politicians who “subconsciously are trying via ‘the hostility’ of the rest of the world to raise their own significance” not by achieving something on their own but by denigrating others.
Indeed, Inozemtsev says, a clear sign of Russia’s peripheral position and its provincialism is that “he who cannot do anything great seeks to present the great as small,” something that blocks a serious consideration of real problems by focusing attention on marginal ones and thus prevents Russia from moving forward.
“We have become provincials,” he argues, “by having sharply turned away even from Soviet globalism to a mono-national, particularist ‘Russian world,’ by voluntarily excluding ourselves from the world’s humanitarian discourse” and thus condemning Russia to backwardness.
“Great countries are not afraid of opposition,” but weak ones are. And “despite all the talk about the greatness of our power, [Russians] daily and hourly demonstrate our lack of certainty about what greatness is possible and achievable,” and we show that we would rather be a large fish in a small pond than a larger fish in a bigger one.
Thus, Russia seeks to create a Eurasian Union that recalls not the EU but Chavez’ plans for a Bolivar Community in Latin America, and its Novorossiya project has the result of transforming the country into a Republic Serbska, “which in essence cost Serbia its status as a normal country.”
As long as it remains mired in this provincialism, Inozemtsev continues, “Russia will never become a great and successful country whatever the prices of oil are and however favorable is the world financial situation.” Instead, it will remain backward because it will see around it not opportunities but enemies.
How Russia should behave is shown by Germany, he suggests. Having lost two wars, Germans decided that they needed to leave war behind and as a result they have “become the political center of Europe and one of the most successful economies of the world” and do not spend their time worrying about the loss of Koenigsberg.
But Russia has not followed that course. Instead, because of its provincialism, it has gone in the opposite direction, acting as if war was the answer to its problems and the annexation of Crimean a demonstration of its power, only to find that its invasion of that Ukrainian territory has left Russia “an international outcast.”
Because of its provincialism, Inozemtsev concludes, Russia’s consciousness is infected with irrationality and the goals it has set itself are “phenomenally not thought out.” If the country does not move beyond this, he says, this “illness [will be] the greatest threat to the future of a potentially great country.”