Cluster of Civilizations

6 june 2017

How They Get Along in the Modern World

Vladimir Khoros - Doctor of History, is Head of the Center for Development and Modernization Problems of the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russia.

Resume: Our oikumene will have to be recognized as multi-civilizational if a more balanced and multi-polar world is the ultimate goal. It is this kind of approach that is capable of making civilizational dialogue conflict free and mutually enriching.

The time is ripe for delving into how civilizations are getting along and keeping in touch with each other in the global era. In looking for the causes of multiplying conflicts it is not enough to point to global economic and geopolitical contradictions alone. The civilizational aspect is crucial as well. It aroused particularly keen interest in the last quarter of the twentieth century. In Russia, this interest stemmed largely from the need to refurbish the less attractive theory of social formations or replace it with something more relevant. Samuel Huntington’s article (subsequently a book) played a big role in invigorating the civilizational discourse. His initiative induced the emergence of quite a few meaningful works on the problems of civilizations in many countries, including Russia.


There are many definitions of what a civilization is with two fundamental approaches behind them. One dates back to the eighteenth century, to the age of the Enlightenment; it defines civilization as another level of human development, a counterbalance to savageness and barbarity. About a quarter of a century later a different approach started taking shape. It postulated a plurality of civilizations in history, with specific traits inherent in different countries or regions (Nikolai Danilevsky, Oswald Spengler, Arnold Joseph Toynbee, and Pitirim Sorokin). Although its advocates sometimes used different terms (Danilevsky, for instance, proposed a concept of cultural-historical types, Spengler considered different variants of cultural forms, and Toynbee often replaced the term ‘civilization’ with a certain type of “society”), all of them had in mind certain special socio-cultural entities that eventually earned the name of “local civilization.”

Both approaches exist these days in a certain form. In its early days, the former was distinguished by its Western-centrism. It maintained that only Western societies had achieved the level of civilization. In a sense, this was the point of departure for Francis Fukuyama, the author of a highly controversial book called The End of History and the Last Man (1992). Fukuyama argues that the modern world is witnessing the establishment of the Western mode of life—the economic model, democracy, and cultural stereotypes all other peoples will follow from now on—which in other words spells the “end of history.”

Huntington, an advocate of the latter approach, was more cautious. He expressed no doubt about the existence of different civilizations—Western and a number of non-Western ones. Pluralism will continue. Although the West will retain its economic, technical, and military supremacy over other regions for the time being, this state of affairs cannot last indefinitely. Moreover, it is resistance to Western forms of globalization that gives a fresh impetus to non-Western societies. Huntington points out certain signs indicating that the strength of Western civilization is waning (specifically, its dilution by immigrants), and predicts the emergence of different coalitions against the West. For this reason, the optimal picture of the future in Huntington’s eyes is not domination, but self-preservation—a “self-defense” of the West amid the “clash of civilizations.”

I was one of the organizers of a major joint inter-institute project at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of the World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), titled Civilizations in the Modern World, which produced a methodology for analyzing civilizations and comparing them in accordance with a certain scale of values. I will rely on those findings in this article.

Not claiming to produce an exhaustive formula, I suggest a definition based on distinctions between the terms ‘civilization’ and ‘culture.’ In contrast to culture, which constitutes the whole complex of meanings and values in use in a specific society, civilization is a “firmed,” crystallized structure, embodied in certain long-term values and mental paradigms that have passed the test for strength, endurance, and averageness and, respectively, for being of some value to society. A civilization incorporates not just values, but institutions, as well. In other words, certain agencies and forms that translate respective values into life.

Civilization has a certain structure, hierarchy of levels, and cross-sections. In it one can identify first the kernel of basic values that are metaphysical by nature—an understanding of God, attitude to nature, space, and time, the place of man in space, and the degree of his freedom, as well as necessity and cognitive abilities. These are the elements that can be pieced together to create a picture of the world characteristic of any civilization.

The structure of society, the values that bind it together (basic social cells, groups, and classes, the degree of elitism and egalitarianism, vertical mobility, the status of the person, the man and the woman, etc.) constitute another segment of civilization. One more way to look at civilization is from the standpoint of power, the nature of leadership, the role of the state, and the level of feedback between the government and society. Lastly, civilization can be viewed as the values of the economy, labor ethics, forms of ownership, and market economy relations. All these spheres and cross-sections are interrelated, although not always directly. Their links are not confined to ordinary subordination and can manifest themselves only after a long period of time. For instance, the Christian idea of “a particle of God inside us” implies the equality of all people and the potential of political democracy, but all this did not materialize in an instant and did not appear everywhere.

Civilizations go through different stages of evolution. In each of them one can identify certain internal cycles associated with external influences. China has so-called dynastical-demographic-ecological phases (economic, social, and cultural rise starting from the first days of a dynasty, population growth, a worsening of the economic situation, degradation of the managerial class, a political crisis, and a grassroots explosion which forms a new dynasty, etc.). Japan experiences phases of sociocultural “openness” (to China and then to the West) and of “seclusion” and relative autarchy. Intermittent periods of “emergence-stabilization-crisis-days of trouble” are characteristic of Russian civilization. In the period of independence in Latin America, the “dictatorship-turmoil” cycles are the most noticeable. All these cycles embody the periodic internal and external “challenges” and “responses” to them (in Toynbee’s terminology). To a large degree the cycles are an up-and-down sequence of socio-cultural energy, when periods of confidence, determination, optimism, and creation give way to periods of fatigue, loss of bearings, skepticism, and regression.

Modernization is a special phase in an evolution. In the broad sense, modernization is a period of transition from a traditional society to a modern one, from agriculture to industry. This is a rather long historical period, stretching from approximately the sixteenth century to the present day. In many countries, this period is still incomplete. Modernization encompasses all spheres of society, including engineering, the economy, social affairs, politics, law, and culture. The latter aspect of society is particularly important, because the point at issue is how imported values differ from traditional ones (readiness for change and innovation, rationalism, market economy stereotypes, democratic benchmarks, etc.). In this respect modernization and civilization-related matters overlap. When examining a specific civilization, it is important to determine the current stage of its modernization, whether it is final, ascending, stagnant, critical, or inverse; and, of course, its current cycle and condition.

Fernand Braudel defined civilizations as “long durations.” But durations may vary. China and India have existed for thousands of years, while North America is just several centuries old. Yet according to some scholars, North America has already developed into a local civilization in its own right, while remaining a branch of the European one. Latin America (500 years old), and even Russia (1,000 years old) are considered young civilizations. Some civilizations emerge on the basis of one ethnos and state (China, Japan), while others constitute a super-ethnos or poly-state entity (Europe, the Islamic world, Russia). More homogenous civilizations have also taken shape over one ideological kernel (Europe, the Islamic world). But there are also civilizations of a different sort, sometimes referred to (probably not very accurately) as “border civilizations,” where different ideological principles co-exist and are capable of entering into conflict with each other (Russia, Latin America, Southeast Asia). All these parameters have to be taken into account when examining inter-civilizational contacts.

Lastly, there are “peoples between civilizations” that are sandwiched inside the so-called “limitrophe” space between super-ethnic systems or imperial entities. Some authors (such as Vadim Tsymbursky, who conducted in-depth research into this topic) lists in this group a number of Eastern European countries, the Balkans-Danube region, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and other territories.


How do civilizations feel today in the globalizing world of the twenty-first century? The opportunities for a dialogue between them and its productivity largely depend on how well the participants feel and in what shape the civilizations they represent are at the moment.

Firstly, one should point to the processes of civilizational consolidation in Asian countries, which above all concerns India and China. India’s civilizational revival began in the nineteenth century (Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo Ghose, and others). The gradual acquisition of civilizational identity fueled the national-liberation movement led not only by major public figures, but also by outstanding thinkers such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. These “founding fathers” determined the key features of the strategy that guaranteed the development of the Indian “world of the worlds” over the past half century. These successes are rooted in the cult of knowledge, which forms the basis of Indian civilization and contributed to the high-tech boom; traditions of self-government and election, which, in combination with the “Westminsterian” British political model, helped the democratic system find its feet. The modern Indian civilization shared with the world its great idea of satyagraha, or non-violent resistance, an idea that is destined to play a role in global political life.

The Chinese civilization, which is just as old, is on the rise as well. Since the middle of the last century, China has actively struggled to overcome a prolonged socio-cultural crisis caused by external pressures and internal turmoil. China blended government control and the encouragement of private enterprise, including businesses from neighboring countries, to perform a true economic miracle in just a few decades. The civilizational component is unmistakably present in China’s successful development today. Take the restoration of the family lease of land, which has deep roots in Chinese history. The establishment of a market economy “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” and the “Strategy of Four Modernizations” rely on the principles borrowed from the traditional socio-cultural heritage. Confucian ethics, the cult of knowledge, and cheerful Chinese pragmatism all fit in surprisingly well with the post-industrialized world.

This does not mean that both civilizations have a cloudless future ahead. India’s social and inter-caste contrasts and widespread poverty (affecting hundreds of millions of people) look particularly glaring amid modern progress in science and engineering. Apparently, this is the reason for ever more frequent manifestations of religious intolerance; for instance, Hindu communalism, which contradicts the traditional cultural pluralism of Indian civilization. At the same time, religious skirmishes are not accidental. The ideological kernel of Indian civilization is not homogenous and there is a tangible Islamic component noticeably present.

In China, alongside the officially proclaimed Socialist ideas, social polarization is widening and the governing and business elite (New Chinese) is becoming increasingly estranged from the rest of the people. Major economic problems are the reverse side of economic growth. Some researchers believe that Chinese civilization is going through another characteristic cycle. The rise will be followed by decline and socio-cultural disorder. However, in either case pessimistic forecasts will not necessarily turn out to be true.

Great problems are emerging inside Japanese civilization. The Japanese were the first in Asia to carry out successful modernization of the country. Subsequently, having survived the catastrophe of a militarist adventure, Japan compensated for it with an economic miracle that stunned the entire world. It is not accidental that in postwar Japan the “nihonjinron theory,” postulating the exclusiveness of the Japanese people, enjoyed wide acclaim. Towards the end of the twentieth century the “Japanese spirit” started waning. The values of groupism and self-sacrificial diligence at work gradually lost their attractiveness. Corporate unity and lifetime employment were increasingly called into question. The cult of consumerism gained the upper hand. Globalization entailed the spread of individualism and other Western liberal values, which have already infected a large share of the political and business elite.

In describing the current state of Japanese civilization, historian and political scientist Vassily Molodyakov has remarked that if it manages to provide a wakon-yosai response (a combination of the Japanese spirit and Western technique) to the globalization challenge, as it has done since the Meiji period, Japan will remain its own self. If not, “it will turn into a spiritual province of the globalized world.” Molodyakov believes the former possibility is more likely. Japan’s civilizational history indicates that it is prone to certain cyclicity. After periods of “openness” and cultural borrowings, the country turns back towards its own self. To be fair, it should be admitted that this wish to get back to Japan’s roots may be fraught with relapses of the samurai spirit.

Southeast Asia is a crossroads of civilizations. The region is in a stage of civilizational maturing. To a certain extent this has been consciously induced, which can be readily seen in the “civilizational engineering” of ASEAN leaders and their efforts to establish cooperation, including cultural ties. The socio-cultural basis for cooperation can be found in the customs and traditions of the rural community in a rice-growing region, with its free peasantry and consensus traditions, in particular, among borrowed “high” religions. Good-neighborliness is a characteristic feature of the social culture of Southeast Asia and the ability to achieve accord not through argument, but through readiness to compromise. This is due to well-established procedures that brought about “mutual adjustment without abdication of one’s own identity,” as orientalist Igor Podberezsky argued. This experience may be crucial to inter-civilizational dialogue at present and in the future.

Latin America is in the phase of civilizational maturing too. The region is transitioning from a controversial and conflicting “incompletely formed culture” (Valery Zemskov) to a community more integrated socially and culturally. Signs of this appeared after the crises of the 1980s and 1990s. The search for civilizational identity has acquired different forms: from opposition to globalization and U.S. policies, the so-called left turn, to the slogan “For Twenty-First Century Socialism” and the regaining of rights to resources. Quite significant is the ever more active involvement of the “indigenous factor” in social and political affairs. This is not just an attempt to restore historical justice and compensate South American indigenous peoples for the suffering of their ancestors, but a desire to blend certain elements of pre-Columbus civilizations (for instance, the spirit of communalism) with the socio-cultural realities of Latin America.

It was here that the first springboard of the anti-globalist movement was established. One can also point to the growing political, social, and cultural influence of the Latin American diaspora (mainly in the U.S.).

The situation in Tropical Africa is one of the most complicated. One in two Africans lives on less than one dollar a day. Shockingly, 58 percent of the population have no access to drinking water and 40 percent cannot read or write. Moreover, the systemic crisis in Africa is to a far greater extent a civilizational crisis.

The civilization of Tropical Africa derives its strength from its socio-cultural adjustment to the specific natural landscape of the continent. On the other hand, Tropical African civilization has not produced its own written language or traditions in science and engineering. Thus, the region has not been able to overcome the effects of painful contacts with the West, which has by far surpassed it intellectually, technically, and organizationally. This explains why destructive processes have prevailed over constructive ones in the past 150 years of Africa’s evolution. Globalization merely enhanced this trend.

British writer, historian, and Africanist Basil Davidson said that African civilization is not just archaic, it is unique and unprecedented. Likewise, Russian historian Igor Sledzevsky showed that African civilization, if backward, is not “inferior.” It is “different” in the sense that it has produced an original type of lifestyle, where the values of joint existence and communication, “a world of people and not depersonalized roles and functions,” prevail over individual consumer needs. This is what makes it significant as one of the models or branches of humanity’s socio-cultural evolution. Should this branch vanish without a trace, it would be a great loss.

This model can survive and develop without following the “from inferior to superior” pattern or being transformed into a different type of civilization, but on its own basis. It will merely get richer and more complex while relying on its own achievements in science and engineering. Opportunities for this do exist. For instance, Africa may see a boom in environment-friendly technologies matching the specifics of the local terrain, along with the emergence of minor industrial centers in rural areas whose operation is tightly coordinated with the life of local communes, etc. The industrialized world might be of great help to Africa in this respect.

Leonid Blokhin, who earned a doctoral degree for his studies of rural Tropical Africa, came up with a remarkable idea. He provides convincing evidence that the traditional system of agriculture in Tropical Africa has many merits and insisted on the feasibility of preserving it in some form. He argues that the imitationary paradigm of development that has prevailed so far should be replaced, chaotic urbanization brought to an end, and incentives created for returning at least some of the population to rural areas. But agriculture will have to be subsidized the way it is done in many countries (including advanced ones). African farmers may receive subsidies in the form of an ecological rent, envisioned as a fee from external sources to preserve the rainforest, the lungs of the planet. Industrialized countries can easily afford this (instead of providing controversial “aid” and loans, which merely exacerbate the African debt burden). Such a policy would be reasonable and rational from the universal humanitarian viewpoint and would also provide certain compensation, albeit belated, for the damage caused to Africa during the years of colonialism.


In studying inter-civilizational relations, the worst controversies break out over the Islamic world. It is important to separate civilizational problems from geopolitical, ideological, and mythological concerns, as well as the numerous propagandistic publications brimming with speculation about an Islamic onslaught against Christianity and the entire civilized world, where terrorism is presented as a brand name of Islam, etc. As far as the civilizational parameters of the modern Islamic world are concerned, its rise and the expansion of religious, ideological, and political activity are more than obvious. Its growth can be seen in quantitative terms—the number of Muslim believers has already increased by more than one billion.

After a long period of stagnation resulting from internal turmoil and external factors (colonial dependence to a great extent), at some point the Muslim community had to consolidate and start developing, which happened approximately in the middle of the last century. Islam has been very successful in attracting supporters by virtue of its simple religious rules and rituals, and also because believers feel doubly protected—firstly, by Allah, who relieved the believer of original sin, and secondly, by the ummah, the community of brothers in faith.

The Islamic world is becoming more active with the growth of religious fundamentalism, which is sometimes interpreted as obscurantism and a drift back into the Middle Ages. In reality, Islamic fundamentalism is geared both explicitly and implicitly to plugging Islam into modernization processes and spearheading them, which is quite natural for a religion that has always claimed a dominant role in all spheres of life. It is from this standpoint that one should consider the Iranian revolution, for example. Even in Turkey, where Kemalism first carried out modernization regardless of Islam and even contrary to it, Islam is now gaining a stronger foothold on the political scene. Naturally, the process of Islamization (particularly in its fundamentalist disguise) evokes various excesses and extremes.

Undeniably, Islamic terrorism has religious roots. Historically the emergence of the Muslim world was a process of expansion and struggle with the infidels. But it would be wrong to tightly associate terrorism with Islamic values. In most cases, religious slogans are the outer shell. The real reasons why terrorism spreads in a Muslim environment are rooted in the internal problems of that environment, an insufficient level of modernization and social disorders, as well as pressure (including the use of force) from the West, which wants to control regions that possess major energy resources. Therefore, reliance on moderate trends in Islam, the humanistic potential of the Quran and other sacred texts, and efforts to promote modernization may furnish the basis for a constructive inter-civilizational dialogue. Indeed, that could provide far more effective resistance to extremism in Muslim countries than political, let alone military, muscle flexing can offer.

Now a few words about two Western civilizations—Western European and North American, which still have the largest effect on the modern world. The West entered the twenty-first century at the peak of its economic and geopolitical strength, but signs of a civilizational crisis were already evident. As early as the beginning of the last century Spengler proclaimed the decline of Europe. It was Europe that started the two world wars. Both of these were largely intra-civilizational conflicts. And after a brief period of postwar ascent (the so-called welfare state era) the deformation of basic Western values and institutions continued and even intensified, ridding them of their humanistic content.

Anthropocentrism, a product of the Renaissance, and the anticlericalism and atheism of the Enlightenment resulted with time in the “death of God” and the denial of any absolute ideal, rule, or norm that might lend a meaning to human existence amid a loss of prospects and the prevalence of daily routine over the future. Also, it brought into being post-modernism—the relativization of truth and, in fact, the rejection of truth. Instead, a compensatory bias developed towards individual “self-realization,” “legitimate egoism,” the wish to get “everything right away”—the glaring cult of consumerism, hedonism, concern about status, and lust for supremacy and power.

A look at the structure and values of society instantly reveals a gradual devaluation of the principles of the bourgeois-democratic system and the corresponding type of social relations—neglect of certain elements of egalitarianism, equality (let alone fraternity), obsession with elitism, wealth, and supremacy over others, and prestige (sometimes at any cost). Social stratification becomes ever more manifest when the middle class—the pride of the welfare state—is diluted. These shifts are proclaimed as a “new normal.” Ideas of social Darwinism become ever more widespread. The principle of social justice is called into question or recognized to the minimum extent, just to maintain the impoverished classes and prevent massive unrest.

An atomized individual becomes the primary cell of such society. The individual is proclaimed as the center of public life, focused on ensuring “the rights of the person” and his autonomy from some group or society in general.

In politics, one can observe unprecedented concentration of power in the hands of informal, “latent” institutions (shadow associations, the official entourage of leaders, groups of experts, and security services), while the institutions of democracy (civil society, parliaments, elections, and referendums) turn weaker or formalistic. Control and manipulation of public opinion through the mass media has become stronger and more sophisticated. There are signs indicating that the “nation state” is turning into a “corporate state”—a super-structure that serves its own interests in the first place and exists for its own sake rather than for the sake of society (as viewed by Russian historian and philosopher Andrei Fursov).

The West offers this model to the rest of the world in order to keep it under control and to clone the same “corporate states” in other countries, which are regarded as junior and dependent partners. This kind of “offer” goes hand in hand with strong pressures, such as economic, political, and military ones.

Westernism (a term coined by Russian sociologist and philosopher Alexander Zinoviev) is most characteristic of North American civilization, which sets the tone in the globalization process and asserts its right to world hegemony. Western Europe does not stay aloof either. Suffice it to recall the European Union’s eastward expansion, conducted for economic, geopolitical, and civilizational purposes. At the same time, the number of people supporting a different mode of life—an alternative to free market fetishism and the cult of consumerism—is growing in Europe and the U.S.


Russian civilization is in a rather precarious position. Historically, its modernization entailed considerable social costs and conflicts. Russia has persevered through revolutions, wars, and the excesses of the Soviet era. As for the post-Soviet period, Russia has experienced fundamental civilizational disorientation. Rapid neo-liberal reforms (pseudo-liberal would be a better term) caused great economic, social, and cultural harm to society. Russian civilization, too, experienced the effects of shock therapy. The country’s past was portrayed only in dark colors. Russian values and institutions were declared obsolete and not competitive. A massive propaganda campaign in favor of outright individualism followed (one of the newly-founded magazines was called Egoist). Individual and personal rights were proclaimed superior to society. The cult of material wealth, success, and money acquired the status of official ideology.

This defiance of one’s own national values and traditions utterly ignored the experience of other civilizations and societies (India, China, Japan, and others), which in the process of carrying out their own modernization and borrowing technological, administrative, and other solutions from the West by no means turned their back on their past, but, on the contrary, actively used certain traditional values and institutions in their successful movement forward.

European cultural values (equality, humanism, scientific knowledge, and democracy) certainly exerted an influence on Russian civilization. But a different “traditionalist” component (sometimes incorrectly defined as “Oriental”) was developing along the way, giving birth to original features—values and institutions—to help ethnic groups (and eventually the super-ethnos) adjust to the ecological and economic environment and external effects. For instance, the ways and customs of common life (communality); the special cementing and mobilizing role of the state; readiness to make personal sacrifices for the sake of common interests; economic ethics stemming from the specifics of the “feeding landscape;” the Russian version of Orthodox Christianity; and other rules and customs resulting from this.

Russia today must fundamentally inventory or overhaul its own civilization in order to determine its viable and obsolete elements. The country is at a civilizational crossroads—either it will manage to defend itself as an economic, political, and socio-cultural entity or fall to pieces and sink into oblivion. Gaining a civilizational identity in the current situation is a matter of exclusive importance.

A dialogue between civilizations in the modern world is both possible and necessary. Human nature is basically the same and existing local civilizations (whatever their distinctions) have common grounds for mutual understanding. For the dialogue to be successful, certain conditions have to be in place, such as readiness for cooperation, mutual trust, and equality. Up until now the process of globalization looked like a one-way street, with the West invariably determined to lecture and subjugate. This only induced clashes between civilizations.

Of no small importance is the fact that Western-centric globalization provokes major political and socio-cultural splits among the cosmopolitan and globalism-minded elites, on the one hand, and nation state-oriented ones (and not only them) in non-Western countries, on the other hand. Such a split between the neo-liberals and statists is quite obvious in Russia. China is witnessing growing disagreement between the advocates of a free market economy and unrestricted growth of external ties and those who want the government to play a regulatory role and national traditions to be preserved. To some extent such confrontation exists in many other countries. Judging by Donald Trump’s presidential election drama, in particular, the controversies over his rhetoric in defense of “American values” and national interests, such a divergence of opinion is growing in the West as well.


The problems of inter-civilizational contacts keep growing within migration processes. Intercountry migrations have not necessarily yielded negative results. In fact, migration flows at a certain point brought into being the United States and to a large extent migrants merged into the “melting pot.” Moreover, Indian and Chinese migration did not create any special problems for the recipient countries. In the era of globalization, the picture is changing.

As before, migration flows go mostly from poorer countries to richer ones. The causes and stimuli are bilateral. The West, in particular Europe, is getting older and the able-bodied population is shrinking. According to a forecast from the European Commission, the workforce will plunge by ten million people in the next two or three decades. The need for cheap labor is growing, particularly for non-prestigious jobs. Meanwhile, the economic and social situation in many peripheral countries is getting worse. In Africa, for instance, the number of poor people (those who live on less than one dollar a day) has grown by 31 million over the past twenty years amid soaring unemployment. Multiplying conflicts (in particular, those in the Middle East) cause refugees to flee for their lives to relatively safer regions. Therefore, it is no surprise that the number of international migrants over the past 30 years has more than doubled (to 232 million, or 3.2% of the global population) and, as UN experts believe, may exceed 400 million by the middle of the century. Although they fill an objectively vacant niche on the labor market, migrants cause the earnings of a large group of indigenous workers to go down, which produces a negative impression on the host country’s public conscience. Indeed, migrants may heave a sigh of relief after getting away from the problems they had to struggle with at home, but the unfriendly eyes of locals in host countries cannot but make them feel like second-rate people. As Toynbee said, the interests of migrants, of “the external proletariat,” collide with the interests of the “internal proletariat.”

Additionally, the historical factor should not be forgotten. The Western countries’ external proletariat began to be formed in the colonial era. European countries subjugated the periphery politically, economically, and culturally. When the grip of colonial countries eased and the peripheral countries began to gain independence one by one, the migrant flow was shifted into reverse. The westward movement of the population was an asymmetric response to the more than three centuries of Western hegemony, Western imperialism, and colonialism. In Great Britain, some analysts are already pointing to the risks of reverse colonization of the West by the South and of the possibility that the Roman scenario may play out once again—the capture of the Eternal City by hordes of barbarians. Migration has grown noticeably over the past decades. The share of migrants in Germany is already about 10 percent, in France, 11 percent, and in Switzerland, 19 percent. By the middle of this century one in four U.S. citizens will be Hispanic.

Russian historian Valery Solovey says migration is an “insurgency of ethnicity.” Immigrant groups are rejected by the population of Western societies due to race, outward appearance, and physical features. In fact, the ethnic factor may serve as a certain marker. But to my mind cultural distinctions—language, religion, and customs—play a far more important role. Naturally, this dissimilarity enhances mutual estrangement resulting from economic, social, or political factors. The degree of estrangement may vary, but, in any case, it does exist and keeps getting worse. It is not an invasion of barbarians, but a mismatch of civilizations fermented by historical causes. This explains why Western politicians are saying increasingly more often that the policy of multi-culturalism does not work.

In Russia, migration problems have their own specific, and rather painful, traits. Firstly, Russian-speaking people, who once lived in the peripheral republics, have to return to Russia because the local nationalist-minded authorities have created adverse living conditions. Certain cultural distinctions play a role as well. Apparently, such distinctions existed in the Soviet era as well, despite the officially touted mantra of a homogenous Soviet people.

In the early 1990s, 25 million Russians found themselves “abroad,” cut off from their homeland. Those who tried to return to Russia received a rather cool reception not only from the local population (“They take away our jobs!”), but mostly from civil servants at the local and federal levels. Still, 11 million ethnic Russians have resettled to Russia. Yet far from all of them have managed to settle down properly, obtain the necessary documents, etc. In fact, the Russian authorities have turned their “internal” proletariat (as a rule, skilled workers) into a foreign one at a time when demand for a workforce during a deep economic slump is an objective need.

The same objective need for labor created another migration flow—that of guest workers from the former Soviet republics, where the situation on the job market is even worse than in Russia. For instance, some guest workers, such as those from the Caucasus, have managed to find good jobs (especially in retail trade) and dared to act very freely, sometimes even aggressively. Occasionally this has triggered conflicts with the local population, such as the racial violence in the city of Kondopoga in Russia’s northern Republic of Karelia. Another group is a poorly paid hired contingent (mostly from Central Asia) forced to live in squalid conditions just for the sake of sending their hard-earned cash home to their families. Their problems are not just material, but also moral, because an unfriendly local population makes them feel their inferiority and second-rate status. Civilizational discord adds to social and ethnic rifts. The internal and external proletariat is split not only in terms of social status and the level of education, but also along cultural lines (including religious divisions).

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Civilizational contacts in the globalizing world require ever more serious attention. They are built into the problems of the world economic space and international political collisions. Our oikumene will have to be recognized as multi-civilizational and comprising local civilizations if a more balanced and multi-polar world is the ultimate goal. It is this kind of approach that is capable of making civilizational dialogue conflict free and mutually enriching.

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