Staunton, April 18 – Some Russian talk show hosts and commentators said that the Notre Dame fire symbolized the the death of liberal civilization “under the pressure of immigrants and because of the short-sightedness of liberal elites. Some more thoughtful Russians talked about the failure of people to react equally strongly to the decay and destruction of churches in Russia.
Both those reactions – and especially the first – have garnered much coverage in Moscow and the West, but according to the editors of Nezavismaya gazeta, the reaction of ordinary Russians pointed in a different direction, one that is much more important for the future of the country (ng.ru/editorial/2019-04-17/2_7559_red.html).
“Hundreds of Russian users of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posed in social networks photographs of Notre Dame de Paris made during their visits to France,” the editors say. “Some have been there several years ago, some last summer and some not long ago. Many have been to Paris many times.”
“For them, the cathedral is not simply a symbol but a place to which they are personally attached. This is a natural reaction, indicative and important” because it shows that Russians are quite ready to “consider someone else’s cathedral and someone else’s symbol their own,” a very different approach than the one Russian political leaders suggest.
“If one believes what politicians say, Russia is counterposing itself to Europe and the West and defending its special path.” But the reaction of Russians to the fire in the center of Paris says just the opposite “Russian citizens consider themselves and their country as part of the European cultural and civilizational space.”
To be sure, Nezavismaya gazeta continues, “in the Russian social-political realities, there are Asiatic aspects” such as the subservient attitude of Russians toward their rulers regardless of whether they are tsars, general secretaries or presidents. For the people, “the state is more important than the individual, and the individual must be grateful to the state for all good things.”
But despite that, “Russia with its cities, architecture, dress and cuisine is a European country,” the editors say. “Russians learn European languages and even emigrate to the West but not to the East.” Even those who want to oppose the West do so from within it, speaking of it “not as something alien but as their own.”
At the present time, “a very great deal is being done so that a wall between Russia and Europe (and more widely the West) will become real, institutionalized and not limited to words alone,” Nezavisimaya gazeta continues.
Moscow officials routinely argue that “it is much easier for us to deal with and reach agreement with China, India and other growing Asian countries” than with European ones. But “in practice,” Russians don’t believe this or act on it. Instead, “the majority of them do not know the languages of Asian countries, their culture, literature, art of history.”
“Mentally, a Chinese or an Indian is for them far more mysterious than any European,” and “no Asian architectural ensemble, even the most popular equals Notre Dame de Paris,” the Moscow paper says.
The Petrine breakthrough to Europe, with all its twists and turns, “has turned out to be a success. Russia is accustomed to think of itself as part of European and Western civilization even though sometimes its elites begin to deny this.” Isolationist impulses may appear to be carrying the day, but reactions to the fire in Paris show that they won’t for long.