Saturday, April 9, 2022

Russia’s Real Curse is Not Its Resources but Its Size, Epshteyn Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 1 – Many in Russia and the West now talk about “the resource curse of Russia,” the ability of its rulers to extract wealth without promoting the improvement of living conditions for the people, “but there is an even more terrible curse,” Mikhail Epshteyn says. It is the curse of having an enormous territory that cannot be mastered or apparently given up.

            The Russian specialist on culture at Emory University in the United States, argues that “the cause of the unhappiness of Russia is the great size of its space and the corresponding feeling of its own greatness” without the genuine possibility of taking responsibility for developing the country or some part of it (

            “The very idea of ‘a great space’ is devouring and devastating the country from within,” Epshteyn says. Few can feel responsible for what happens because “whatever anyone does, this country will nullify it. Someone may plant a garden but others will come from somewhere and take everything away.”

            Russia is “a country of all and no one” because it has no barriers for personal freedom and responsibility, for a close-knit community of people. As such, it belongs to no one, including those who rule it,” the culturologist says. Again and again, most recently in 1991, it has missed the chance to form smaller communities that could feel ownership and take responsibility.

        According to Epshteyn, “the vastness of space is the most deceptive and, in all senses, empty basis for pride. How can one be proud of nothing, that is, of the emptiness of territory?” Instead, the people are crushed under “this yoke of ‘an immense homeland,’ where no one can feel like a master.”


               This “yoke is more terrible than that of the Horde,” he says; and “that is why this land is not too happy: it is torn apart by its expanse and posses by the spirit of emptiness which cannot tolerate any kind of ordered life. As Hegel observed, ‘the abstract idea of infinity destroys all vital specifics.’”


               “Drunkenness, theft, corruption, laziness, lies and violence are just various manifestations of the desolation and distraction from the concrete and highlight the lack of a firm concept of property, reality, truth, freedom, individuality, civic duty and human dignity,” the specialist on Russian culture says.


               Everything in Russia “blurs into the abstraction of a great space which no one can feel is their own because it, like a ghostly horizon, recedes from every real place, betrays it, and sweeps it into nothingness. The great and indefinable ‘there’ – there in the capital, there in the Kremlin, there in heaven – triumphs over ‘the here’ and demands ever more sacrifices.”


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