Staunton, October 18 – Between 2003 and 2013, millions of Russian speakrs spent at least part of their time in Europe and quickly discovered that “it was impossible to uncover ‘European values’ without a special optical device,” Aleksandr Morozov says. They did not see in Europe “anything special, any ‘Other’ with a capital letter.”
That development, the political scientist says, has had an important if as yet largely unrecognized impact on the cursed question of Russia’s relationship to Europe, on whether Russians must copy Europe or whether they must oppose it as a separate and alien civilization (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/10/15/78202-ischeznovenie-evropy).
Russian speakers who moved to Europe to work or to study or simply to live simply did not and do not see “any critically significant difference between themselves and Europeans at the level of everyday life.” For most of them, Morozov argues, “Europe is simply our territory to the west of the Bug River.”
Russian historian Andrey Teslya once told him, the political analyst says, that “Europe has disappeared. In the course of two hundred years of Russian history, Europe has never meant as little as it does today. One can even say that the concept of ‘Europe’ has in general disappeared.”
For most Russian speakers, “Europe has ‘fallen off the radar screen.’ It has been converted from ‘another world’ into an extension of one’s own activities.” (There are exceptions, of course, Morozov concedes. But those who talk about Europe’s distinctiveness mark themselves out as the liberal minority.)
For the overwhelming majority of Russian speakers who have been to Europe for any period of time, “a completely different idea has triumphed: Europe has simply been ‘colonized,’ in the original and not in the imperial meaning of the word.”
“It turns out,” Morozov says, that while Russians may not get all the depth of the local situation, they don’t need to: they can “fully participate in all necessary communications” without having or needing that background. They simply fit in at least for all everyday purposes and aren’t some outsider representing a clearly defined religious or ethnic community.
At the level of everyday life, he continues, “each Russian saw that under the word ‘Europe’ was understood not ‘the supremacy of law, representative democracy and human dignity,’ but ‘the Brussels bureaucracy’ which only complicates life” for the natives and for Russian speakers who lived among them.
Before the Crimean Anschluss, the Russians in Europe did not have any problem. “But after 2014, a colossal problem has arisen” because Russians there suddenly discovered that the principle on which they had been acting – “’if a problem can be solved with money, then this isn’t a problem but an expense’” – no longer held true in every case.
Russian speakers had been going to Europe in much the same way that their ancestors had gone east of the Urals, not to integrate, not to form a diaspora, but to act as they did at home on territories new to them. And most continue to behave in that way, even if the situation over the last four years has changed and created mental conflicts.
“If we want to understand the real situation of the gigantic Russian-speaking milieu in Europe, then we must consider how language there works, how the real mechanisms of ‘colonization’ are taking place, and how hundreds of thousands of people now function with ‘life in two homes.’”
Talking about Russia and Europe in the traditional ways no longer has meaning for most of them.
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