There are all kinds of jobs. Some jobs can be tackled only in a state that differs somewhat from a normal one. For example, a proletary1 of the news industry, a garden variety news supplier, as a rule, is a person in a frenzied state, and with a somewhat feverish mind. Which isn’t surprising, since news business requires haste: the first to know, the first to report, the first to interpret.
The excitement of those who inform passes to those who are being informed. The excited ones often mistake their own excitement for a thinking process, and this excitement replaces the latter, which leads to long-term ‘convictions’ and ‘principles’ being replaced with one-shot ‘opinions’. It is also the source for incompetent assessments, which no one seems to mind. That’s the price for news being fresh and hot.
Few can hear the mocking silence of fate through the background media noise. Few are interested to know that there is slow and massive news that doesn’t come from shallow waters, but from the depth of life, where geopolitical structures and historical eras collide. It takes time before we can understand their full meaning, but it is never too late to do so.
The 14th year of our current century is marked with important and very important achievements which everybody knows about because everything has been said about them. But one of the most important events of that time is only now starting to reveal itself to us, and slow, deep news about it only now reaches our ears. This event was the end of Russia’s epic journey towards the West, the cessation of repeated and fruitless attempts to become part of Western civilization, to become a member of ‘a happy family of European nations’.
Starting from the 14th year [of our century, i.e. 2014], we began an indeterminably long new period, the so-called ’14+ epoch’, in which Russia faces 100 (200? 300?) years of geopolitical solitude.
Reunification of Crimea with Russia, March 2014, Year Zero of the New Era
Various methods of Russia’s ‘westernization’ were tried during 400 years since it was first foolheartedly initiated by False Dmitry and implemented with determination by Peter the Great. There were numerous attempts to become a country like Holland, France, USA, Portugal. All possible means were used in attempts to elbow into the West. All new ideas and shake-ups emanating from the West were received with huge enthusiasm (which was probably excessive) by Russia’s elite.
Autocrats willingly married German women, and imperial nobility and bureaucracy increased their numbers thanks to wandering uitlanders. But while Europeans quickly and en masse became ‘russified’, Russians still resisted the counter-process of ‘europeanization’.
The Russian army fought and sacrificed itself in all the major European wars. Based on its rich experience, Europe can be considered the bloodiest and most violent continent. Great victories and great sacrifices led to Russia gaining a lot of territories in the west, but to no new friends.
Saint Petersburg even initiated the creation of the Holy Alliance and become its guarantor for the sake of European religious-monarchic values, and diligently fulfilled its duty when it was necessary to save the House of Habsburg from the Hungarian rebellion. But when Russia found itself in a similarly difficult situation, not only did Austria not help, it turned against Russia.
Then Europe had a change of heart, and Marxist ideas became all the rage in Paris and Berlin. Some citizens of Simbirsk and Yanovka [SOTT.net: Small provincial cities] wanted to resemble Paris. As long as the West was in thrall to socialism, they were anxious not to lag behind Europe, greatly fearing that the world revolution, to be led apparently by European and American workers, would somehow pass by their ‘backwoods’.
They tried nonetheless. By the time the dust of class conflict had settled, it became clear that – despite the great efforts that went into the creation of the USSR – the world revolution wasn’t happening. The Western world, instead of becoming a workers’ and peasants’ system, became exactly the opposite – capitalistic. Additionally, it became necessary to thoroughly conceal the increasingly autistic symptoms of socialism behind the Iron Curtain.
By the end of the previous century Russia got tired of being ‘isolated’. It again set its eyes toward the West. But some thought that ‘size matters’: we don’t fit into Europe because we are too big and scarily wide. That’s why [if Russia were to be accepted] it had to lessen its territory, population, economy, and military, and to lower its ambitions to the size of an average European country. So we lessened. We worshiped Hayek just like we once worshiped Marx. Demographics, industry and military potentials were cut in half. Russia parted with all its constituent republics, and initiated the process of separation from its autonomous republics… But even this version of a belittled and degraded Russia didn’t fit into the West.
Finally it was decided to stop the process of humiliation and degradation. More so, it was decided to assert our rights. What happened in 2014 became inevitable.
Despite seeming similarities between Russian and European culture models, they have different ‘software’ and different ‘connectors’. It’s impossible to combine them into one system. Today, when this old suspicion has become an obvious fact, we hear suggestions from some that it’s time to shuffle in the other direction – towards Asia, the East.
There is no need for it. And this is why: Russia is already there.
Moscow’s proto-empire2 was created in the atmosphere of a complicated military-political ‘co-working’ with the Asian Horde. Some tend to see it as oppression by the Horde and others as a union. It’s hard to say whether it was a forceful oppression or a willful union. But in any event, Russia developed along an ‘eastern’ vector.
Even after the Great Stand on the Ugra River, Russian tsardom continued in fact to be part of Asia. It willingly annexed eastern territories and had a claim to heritage of the Byzantine Empire, the ‘Asian Rome’. It was also greatly influenced by noble families of the Golden Horde’s descent.
The height of Asian influence came when Simeon Bekbulatovich, the Muslim-born khan of the Khanate of Qasim3 was appointed Grand Prince of All Rus’ by Ivan the Formidable. Historians, accustomed to think of Ivan IV as a kind of court jester wearing Monomakh’s Cap, attribute this ‘trick’ solely to his ‘natural playfulness’. But the reality was much more serious.
When Ivan’s rule ended, there was solid support in the royal court for Simeon Bekbulatovich to inherit the Tsardom of Russia. This forced Ivan’s successor, Boris Godunov, to extract from the boyars [SOTT.net: Russian nobility], while swearing allegiance to him, a promise “to not want Bekbulatovich and his children to become rulers of the Tsardom.” This means that the Russian state came within an inch of transitioning to rule by baptized descendants of Genghis Khan and consolidating an ‘eastern’ paradigm of development.
In the end, neither Bekbulatovich nor other descendants of the Horde’s nobility had a future. Invasion from Poland brought new tsars to Moscow from the West. Despite the relatively tame impact of rulings by False Dmitry, long before Peter the Great distressed boyars with his European ambitions, and long before Polish prince Władysław IV Vasa, these ‘policy changes’ contained symbolic meaning. In hindsight, the disturbance appears to be not so much dynastic in nature, but rather a civilizational crisis – Rus’ broke away from Asia and began its ideological orientation toward Europe.
So for four centuries Russia’s direction was eastbound, and then for another four centuries it was westbound. Neither direction produced any roots. We’ve reached the end of the road in both directions. Now new third way ideologies will be required; civilizations of the third type, of the third world, of the third Rome…
But it’s doubtful that we are ‘the third civilization’ – rather, a bifold and dualistic one that incorporates both the East and the West. Both European and Asian, and therefore neither fully European nor fully Asian.
Our cultural and geopolitical affiliation resembles the fluid identity of a man born of mixed marriage. He is everyone’s relative, but nowhere is he a native. At home among strangers, a stranger at home. He understands everyone but is understood by no one. A half-blood, a half-breed, a strange one.
Russia is a western-eastern half-blood country, with its double-headed nationhood, hybrid mentality, intercontinental territory and bipolar history. And just like any half-breed, Russia is charismatic, talented, beautiful, and lonely.
Great words that were never actually said by Alexander III: “Russia has only two allies: the army and the navy.” It is probably the most intelligible metaphor of the geopolitical solitude that we should have by now already accepted as fate. We could of course extend our list of allies to include workers and teachers, oil and gas, the ‘creative class’ and patriots, General Frost and Archangel Michael… But the truth remains the same – we are our own allies.
What form will our isolation take? Will it be a lonely and wretched existence? Or will it be the happy isolation of a leader, of an alpha-nation, which took a leap forward, and which other countries and nations now ‘make way for’? It depends on our choice.
Solitude doesn’t mean complete isolation. But unlimited openness is also impossible. Both would be a repetition of past mistakes. The future carries its own mistakes, it doesn’t need mistakes of the past.
Russia without doubt will engage in trade, attract investments, exchange know-how, and fight wars (war is also a method of communication), collaborate, be part of various organizations, compete and cooperate, evoke fear and hatred, curiosity, sympathy, and admiration. But this time without false goals and self-denial.
It’s going to be tough. And more than once will we recall this piece of classical Russian poetry: “There is only suffering, suffering and suffering around… but when will we finally see the f*cking stars?!”
It will be interesting. And there will be stars.
The new bridge network connecting with Crimea the Russian Motherland. Photo taken by Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov onboard the International Space Station, April 25th, 2018
1. ‘Proletary’ (The Proletarian) was an illegal Russian Bolshevik newspaper edited by Lenin; it was published from September 3, 1906 until December 11, 1909
2. Muscovy, or the Grand Principality of Moscow
3. Then a vassal state of Russia, today the Russian Republic of Tatarstan