Staunton, April 17 – Despite the fact that Russians continue to associate Europe with well-being, justice, human rights, freedom and democracy, relations between Russia and the EU are now at a low ebb and a majority of Russians no longer consider their country to be a European one, Levada Center polls how (levada.ru/2016/09/09/14393/).
And a recent roundtable discussion concludes that Russia is “’de-Europeanizing,’” that its people no longer view Europe as a model that Russia will ineluctably follow, but that they are not interested in a complete break but rather in again reaffirming its own distinctiveness, given the absence of a clear sense of Russia’s future.
This discussion included journalist Sergey Medvedev, Levada Center director Lev Gudkov, MGIMO instructor Aleksandr Tevdoy-Burmuli, and Prague political analyst Aleksandr Morozov (svoboda.org/a/31202082.html reposted at levada.ru/2021/04/16/proshhaj-evropa/).
Tevdoy-Burmuli says that Russians have always viewed Europe as the other, although at various points they have seen it as a model and at others as something pursuing a course Russia should avoid. Gudkov adds that the highpoint of Europe as a model for Russia came in the early 1990s but that Kremlin propaganda and life experiences have reduced support for that idea.
At that time, the Levada Center director says, Russians felt they could not only decide on their own future but work effectively to achieve it. Now, both such feelings have receded, and with them the notion that Europe is a model for Russia and Russia is a European country, however much many want European lifestyles and standards of living.
While some point to the problems Europe is now going through as a source of this shift, Gudkov says that the real causes lie within Russia itself, “with the disappearance of an idea about the future. The discrediting of the West and of Europe have eliminated this direction in the consciousness” of Russians.
“As a result of this, the various components making it up have separated,” he says. And “the attempt to maintain through a purely conservative system of centralized and authoritarian power hasn’t worked out only on the basis of anti-European resentment,” although that provides the Putin system with some support.
In contrast to other participants in this conversation, Gudkov says that he is not sure that the current set of Russian attitudes will be overcome anytime soon. Indeed, he suggests, anti-European attitudes have become “chronic” and that Russia and Europe must expect to live with them for at least two generations – “even if the regime is changed.”
At the same time, none of the participants believes that Moscow will break with Europe institutionally as it benefits too much for current arrangements. It will only play up Europe as the other without defining Russia as Asiatic. Instead, the Kremlin will insist that Russia will pursue its own path and that Europe and the world must accept that reality.