Ukraine’s European Illusions

27 december 2013

A Simplified Analysis of State Orientations

Sergei Datsyuk is a Ukrainian philosopher and advisor to the Gardarika Strategic Consulting Corp.

Resume: To enter a world where there is a highly developed mentality and infrastructure for a country that is not even relatively highly developed is to doom oneself to becoming a resource, to being subject to cynical use by European civilization, which is past the heyday of its intellectual development and strength.

The original version of the article was published in Russian at

If there is something for Ukraine that could conventionally be called a geopolitical orientation, then presently it is definitely making a geopolitical choice. Ukraine has spent the 22 years since gaining its independence full of doubt and hesitation, and now the country is fed up with all of that and has become more decisive. Given the ferocity of the incumbent government, we Ukrainians will inevitably find ourselves compelled to select an option out of wholly non-strategic considerations.

A country’s decision about political orientation can be considered at four levels:

1. Political economics (political and economic benefits) are a level of public communication where the foreign policy alignment of a country is examined frequently. This level is easily comprehensible to both public politicians and the majority of the electorate.

2. Norms and institutions are expert assessments that consider cultural norms and institutions. At this level, values are understood exclusively as legal norms.

3. The metaphysical level is where the true values are explored that underlay the existence of a state and its operational mode. This level includes political philosophers who want to build concepts for a political orientation and a political identity.

4. The ontological (analytical and synthetic) level, at which the foundations of reasoning as such are identified or established in case there is a failure to identify them. This is the level of fundamental philosophy, and a sphere where values change – a process reflected in ideas, concepts, and paradigms.

Given the specifics of the relationship between the Ukrainian government and big business, Ukraine could be regarded as a huge corporation, albeit an inefficient, loss-making, and hopeless company. But if we are speaking about the future, the corporate imagery is insufficient. The country will inevitably acquire completely new horizons in future – in the cultural, scientific, spiritual, and transcendental spheres.

It makes no sense to try to view relations between individual countries as those between corporations; that is, exclusively through the prism of political economics and immediate benefits. A country is not a corporation, even though a country must consider the long-term prospects of its citizens, with their various motivations, including some not targeted at consumption or competition.

Most of the current debates about Ukraine’s European choice are conducted at the level of political economics. Ukraine’s primary European illusion lies in the realm of political economics; that is, in conceiving the EU-Ukraine situation as such that everything else is non-existent.

Questions are seldom raised at the level of institutional norms. And when such questions do arise, it mostly happens in expert quarters. Incidentally, the issue of imprisoned Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko also falls into the category of norms and institutions. No doubt, the normative/institutional approach is much broader and has a more fundamental meaning. Still, the problem helps Ukrainians perceive a simple situation, in which it is not possible to sacrifice tactical and narrow corporate interests for the strategic interests of the entire nation.

Importantly, values can be considered at the normative/institutional level only as norms of legal institutions and can be analyzed from this viewpoint alone. Selecting values is impossible at this level of analysis. What is possible is espousing internal norms or submitting to international norms.

The selection of values occurs at the metaphysical level, and the metaphysical interpretation of the reasons for such a choice also takes place there. Situations that make the metaphysical choice impossible (for example, if some values cannot be accepted for one reason or another, or if they present problems) necessitate a transition to the ontological level, where new values are generated, meaning a change in the metaphysics of values.

The ontological level is not quite analytical since it is the medium where new values are synthesized. The nature of the values generated today is such that they are not national anymore. Thus, the ontological choice is admissible only if it is applied to all humanity with no fundamental differences between Europe, the U.S., China, India, Russia, and Ukraine.

While the Eastern Europe countries that have joined the EU would score well at the levels of political economics and norms and institutions, Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus would not. Firstly, post-Soviet countries need to reassess the metaphysical level of their global affiliation. Secondly, they must create a new ontology; that is, lay a new groundwork for their world outlook.THE ILLUSION OF CHOOSING BETWEEN RUSSIA AND EUROPE

A United Europe was modeled after the following scenario: in 1951, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg set up the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) – an association that attached paramount importance to issues of equality and equal influence. Those same countries created the European Economic Community (EEC) (which was actually a customs union) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom) in 1957. The European Parliament, a representative, consultative, and, later, legislative institution, was created in 1959. Those countries that did not join the EEC set up the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The ECSC, EEC, and EFTA merged into the European Communities in 1967 and Britain joined them in 1973. The first direct elections to the European Parliament were held in 1979. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 established the three pillars of the European Union—an economic and currency union, a common foreign and security policy, and a common domestic and justice policy.

European countries first set the goal of pooling all their resources to forestall another war on the continent. Next, they established the customs union and later the parliament. Subsequently, they concluded a common treaty aimed at the unification of Europe. This is what the pragmatic Europeans did.

Now let us look at the course chosen by Russia, a country that tried to recreate the Soviet Union after its disintegration. The Commonwealth of Independent States, a regional organization established to foster cooperation between former Soviet republics, was founded in 1991. Russia and other countries perceived it in different ways. For Russia, the CIS was an organization to keep its former satellites under its influence, while other countries thought the CIS was a way to ensure a civilized divorce. That discrepancy in positioning fueled a number of confrontations and conflicts. Indeed, Russia’s willingness to act from a position of force has played an important role in the CIS.

In 2011, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Tajikistan signed a treaty to establish a free trade zone within the CIS. However, Russia has never stopped its trade wars against other former Soviet republics, now independent states. The peak of the trade war with Ukraine took place in the summer of 2013. The Ukrainian government did not even think of appealing to the free trade zone treaty, which means, in practice, that the treaty is irrelevant.

From the very outset the CIS did not envision pooling the energy resources of its members like Europe did. Russia continues to act as a monopolist and it uses its monopolistic position to set unfair prices for its “partners.” Russia does not accept even the slightest attempts of other CIS member-states to raise the issue of control over its monopolistic positions on the energy market.

The 2000s saw the rise of the so-called Putin economic model. The internal integration practiced in today’s Russia is not really the Putin model; rather, it is the logical continuation of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin model.

Russia is a corporate state that has a board of shareholders and a corps of workers. Deposits of energy resources are poorly inventoried and only formally declared as the property of the people. The board of shareholders (i.e. several dozen families) appropriates the earnings from the sale of resources. Some of the proceeds from the sales are moved abroad and some are channeled to the federal budget, where corporations with close links to the government siphon them off.

Pieces left over from the sale of energy resources go to the “workers” of the corporate state; that is, to the remaining citizens. Taxes do not matter much in this model and a population of 140 million is not necessary because half of them are freeloaders. This type of model will find a way to downsize the population to 60-80 million.

On a purely personal level, President Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev may be decent human beings, but that is not important. The essential thing is that their actions are guided by a model that appears to be an independent actor.

Unquestionably, something similar is unfolding in Ukraine. Several dozen families profit from the sale of metallurgical and chemical products. Also, several dozen families (today less than ten families) siphon funds from the state budget through bidding contests and other methods of money appropriation.

However, the Ukrainian elite has far poorer intellectual properties than the Russian elite, and a much weaker economic and political power. It fears that the Russian elite will take away its business, privatize large industries, buy up its territory, and do other nasty things after Ukraine’s integration with Russia reaches a certain level. There is some basis for those apprehensions, because Russia has never stopped acting from a position of force or ceased exerting pressure on Ukraine, even before integration.

For the Ukrainian elite, the so-called ‘European choice’ is an attempt to keep power in its hands inside the country. The Russian elite uses the Ukrainian elite today in much the same way the latter uses the Ukrainian people. That is why the Ukrainian elite hopes that European leaders will use it less cynically, yet allow the Ukrainian elite to continue exploiting the Ukrainian people. This covert dream of a sadist-masochist morphing into a sadist is an illusion: the Ukrainian elite’s delusion regarding a more caring Europe, which will defend it against malicious attacks from Russia and permit it to go on robbing its own people. Such an illusion could be dismissed as an amusing misconception if it were not taken in earnest.

Some Ukrainian intellectuals and social activists harbor an illusion that suggests the European elite will refine the Ukrainian elite; or at least not let it be so ruthless and cynical towards the everyday Ukrainian.

This is pure illusion. Imposing new values implies the enforcement of new motivations, and there is no enforcing the latter. Motivations arise from the legitimate practices one assimilates as a child or during an identity crisis that not everyone experiences, even more so without losing something. In other words, it will be difficult for the Ukrainian elite to give up its dirty political tricks, which include shakedowns, raids, set ups, scams, and kickbacks.

The second big illusion suggests that Ukraine is choosing between Europe and Russia. Neither an association with Europe nor membership in the Customs Union will deliver Ukraine from Russian pressure. Indeed, if mice do not want to be eaten by cats, their only escape is to turn themselves into hedgehogs. A transformation like this is genetically impossible for mice, but any human being, to say nothing of a country, always has the chance to build up its strength.

Moreover, talk about a choice between Russia and Europe is utter nonsense. The choice is much more profound and fundamental. It is a civilizational choice where a civilization will be built from scratch. Europe will not dominate the world forever and will not likely remain a Christian civilization. It is even less likely that a Russian-speaking Orthodox Russia will survive. This means that choosing between Europe and Russia is illusionary, because neither Russia nor Europe has a future. The world will continue to transform beyond recognition, with basic values changing first.UKRAINIAN ILLUSIONS ABOUT THE EU

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky has described “European values” as “the creation of a heated brain of intellectuals espousing North-Atlantic propaganda.” Speaking in an interview with the News Armenia agency on 28 September 2013, he said that these values “do not exist in reality. Each individual has values of his own, and if you put those people together, then some of those values will unite them.”

This is quite an unsubstantiated claim, since this kind of denial presupposes criticism of the doctrine of European values and European identity, which European intellectuals have asserted in very heated theoretic and political debates throughout the unification of Europe, and who continue doing so now. No doubt, North-Atlantic propaganda exists at the level of political economics, legal norms, and institutions. Yet these are not the levels at which the discussion of values as such takes place. To make a statement like Medinsky’s, it is important to rise to a metaphysical level of analysis; otherwise it will simply be an irresponsible action.

In his book The Divided West (2006), Jurgen Habermas analyzed European values in the context of a search for European identity.

These are precisely the values that make Europe distinct from the rest of Western civilization. Habermas singles out seven attributes of European identity (synonymous with European values): secularization, primacy of the state versus the market, prevalence of solidarity over business achievements, skepticism towards technologies, awareness of the paradoxes of progress, renunciation of sword law, and orientation on peacekeeping in light of the historical experience of losses.

European values do exist and they can be viewed not only as projections, into which we are trying to fit. They can be subjected to critical analysis in the sense of reshaping them into an open civilizational project, in which Ukraine would have both a place and fair prospects. Additionally, the first three values pose a particular problem for Ukraine. In other words, the third illusion is that we, Ukrainians, match Europe in terms of our values. We do not.

Our structure of values does not match the European one, and this particularly concerns secularization, the primacy of the state versus the market, and solidarity. It will take an entire era to implement those values in Ukraine and we should start doing so right now. We do not understand these values. Unfortunately, Ukrainian intellectuals do not accept this truth and politicians do not address it.

One can hear frequently in Ukraine that association with the EU will mark the first step down towards integration with Europe, but this is not the case. In this sense, Ukraine’s European prospects will not change once it signs an association agreement.

Habermas wrote that the problem of borders could naturally be settled in the constitution, but it remains open for political reasons. It seems there is a tacit agreement that the EU can expand eastwards only if those Balkan countries are included that are not yet part of the union. All associations beyond those borders should be regulated by association agreements. The issue of designating boundaries has been challenged by Turkey’s membership application, which has affiliated itself with contemporary Europe since Ataturk. Habermas concludes that the problem can remain open and he cites the relevant Copenhagen decision and the routine accession procedure.

EU officials share that opinion. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a 23 October 2013 interview with the Bild newspaper: “We will admit the Balkan countries in the long term if they fulfill all the criteria. […] The doors of the European Union should remain open to Turkey.” Thus, integration with the EU is a Ukrainian delusion, since association with the EU is bound to be the end of its journey to Europe. The European project is barred for Ukraine, since it has no future in it.

Associated membership in the EU expanded into full-fledged membership is simply a dream of the Ukrainian elite. In reality, it is the last stop on the road for Ukraine. In other words, the Ukrainian elite’s fourth illusion is the belief that it will be possible to transform associated membership into full membership one day. This is hardly possible, but not because we do not want it; quite the contrary, we crave it (although we are doing too little to achieve it). It is impossible because Europe does not want it. This reluctance is not a momentary whim on the part of the Europeans or a result of calculations of political and economic benefits. It is a result of metaphysical analysis, which is simply absent in Ukraine.

European intellectuals, who are represented in Habermas’s ideas, have formed a project based on value projections for each new country admitted to the EU. In other words, the pattern of admission is such that the European project is formed by the core of Europe, an avant-garde of member states made up of Germany and France that has an exceptional position. Other countries join the EU under conditions put forward to them and they must fully obey decisions made by the EU’s power-wielding vertical.

Habermas wrote that there could be no separatism in the framework of a future European Constitution. Europe’s avant-garde cannot turn into a closed off smaller Europe. It should act as a driver engine like it has done many times. From this standpoint, today’s EU project is a closed one where the core plays a domineering role. This dominance is preordained by intellectual achievements that Germany and France have boasted in the past. However, Ukraine is incongruent with Europe’s intellectual history. We have never had a sufficient number of powerful intellectual movements and we are not making any efforts to generate an intellectual movement today.

The desire for an association between Ukraine and Europe is not an intellectual movement in this sense today. Ukraine’s fifth illusion is that association with Europe is possible without specifically targeted long-term intellectual work. In other words, we are going to enter this association, while blindly relying on European intellectuals and without the slightest idea of the intellectual movement, within which Europe united in the past and in which it continues its internal integration today. We need an intellectual movement of our own. The lack of such a movement eliminates the possibility of the country’s integration and even sheds doubt on its very survival.

How could this possibly look? We would need several dozen books with a metaphysical analysis of the ethical, political, and economic leanings of Ukraine, as well as public discussion involving politicians. Subsequently, party programs should be brought into conformity with the metaphysical findings. The parties should take these programs to parliamentary and presidential elections. The events that unfolded in Ukraine over the past two decades did not have any serious metaphysical basis. That is why our metaphysical values are not fundamental (they are derivative and compiled) and neither the elite nor the masses have assimilated them as political guidelines.

Whatever the current arguments over European legal guarantees, dependence on Europe is not any better than reliance on Russia. Today Ukraine is weak intellectually, politically, and economically. And you cannot establish partnership relations when you are weak, because you will have to play a secondary role. Poor cousins are always worse off. Europe will not miss the chance to get rich at Ukraine’s expense in exactly the same way that Russia would.EUROPEAN THREATS TO UKRAINE AND THE WORLD

Although Europe has a high standard of living, it is not a very attractive place for the future. The indigenous population has a low biotic potential. In other words, like Ukraine, Europe has its own illusions.

Europe today is on the brink of economic bankruptcy. Demographic processes have already brought about a sharp retreat from the policy of multiculturalism. Ukraine does not have the intellectual resources to respond to such challenges, which is why a closer rapprochement with Europe will make these challenges Ukrainian as well. And what kind of a country will Ukraine be for Europe?

Poland, for instance, is seeking a position in Europe’s research laboratory (but not as a generator of scientific theories). Ukraine has no aspirations in that direction. Intellectuals are not needed in Ukraine, because intellectualism is something that country could not play at in the global division of functions even hypothetically. We are an agricultural and industrial country with a low intellect. If we do not like this state, we should fight for something different. In order to wage that struggle, the elite need different motivations, the population requires different energies, and, correspondingly, should target different objectives. Yet the current consumerist zombification makes all these things hardly worth dreaming about.

Generally speaking, Ukraine’s choice of a position does not depend on its foreign policy trajectory. Whether it joins the Customs Union or forms an association with the EU, Ukraine will be assigned a rigid functional specialization. We tend to think that Europeans will be more tolerant towards us than the Russians, but that is yet another delusion. A country with a meaningless intellectual dimension does not deserve anything, and the self-enrichment minded elite does not deserve respect even from its own people, without mentioning other nations and their elites.

The intellectual leader of the world from the beginning of the 17th century to the middle of the 20th century, Europe started ceding its positions in intellectual leadership to the U.S. in the second half of the century in ever-increasing proportions. Presently, Europeans retain intellectual leadership in just a handful of areas.

Britain is witnessing a transition from science to the rails of consumerism. A ‘British researcher’ does not sound as prominent today as it would have even a decade ago. Indeed, frequently it sounds like a mockery. Britain’s traditional utilitarian philosophy, which has evolved – or degenerated – into American pragmatism, is good for the robust development of technologies, business, and a corporate state, but in terms of civilization, it is not very promising. Affluence based on technological and economic successes never lasts long.

Delaying philosophical development (postponing mental innovations), combined with cognitive rigidity (an unpreparedness to change the vision of the world), is typical of France and Germany. This is important for the two countries, as they were the sources of the world’s conceptual/philosophical and intellectual development in the second half of the 20th century. Now these sources have dried up. Even worse, no other global country can (or wants to) take this function on itself.

Italy has been transforming postmodernist nihilism into futurology (the Club of Rome and the New Left) over the past several decades. The Club of Rome was the last attempt to impart a fundamental character to the systemic approach. But it has lost the intellectual competitive struggle to French postmodernism, which has become the first global philosophy. The ideas of the Club of Rome have exerted extensive influence on the UN’s value-laden concepts, but the latter have failed to generate any ideas of governance for humankind. The UN has proven to be an organization hostile to reform because at its foundation it is made up of countries with various types of government. Quite likely, it will be destroyed along with the countries as such.

Spain has sunk into a profound intellectual crisis and a civilizational defeat. It is a provincial country resembling Ukraine in some respects. That is why it is hardly worthwhile to expect any intellectual breakthroughs in the short term there as well.

All the European countries that might have become the driver for an intellectual movement amid a global crisis are stymied today. In addition, they are under strong pressure from Islamic countries, China, India, and even Russia. Islamic civilization is especially dangerous to Europe.

European Muslims are a very active force, against whom Europeans are unable to compete, especially amid current understandings of tolerance and political correctness. The Islamic energy of today is destructive, not creative. The Islamic philosophers and scientific achievements of the seventh to the eleventh centuries are now part of history. The only thing Muslims today have mastered is how to sponge off of Christian achievements. Although Muslims are still demographically very strong, they do not possess projective thinking. An Islamic Europe – and it may become so soon enough – will pose a grave risk to human civilization.

The globalized world stands in marked contrast to the world in which we lived previously. For the post-Soviet countries, that transition coincided with the change from the Soviet Union to a market-oriented democracy, and from an industrial society to a post-industrial one. The globalized world implies an assignment of functional specialization – countries quickly find themselves in a tough and highly specialized international division of cultural, political, and economic processes: governing intellectual countries of the post-industrial type (the U.S. and Europe, which is already losing this function), half-intellectual countries of the industrial type (China, which is quickly acquiring the post-industrial function), half-intellectual and half-industrial nations (Russia, which is losing these statuses, and India), and non-intellectual and half-industrial nations (Ukraine, Turkey).

Ukrainian intellectuals and politicians are delusional regarding Europe and Ukraine’s future in the world. These delusions are comparable to the blind faith of the early Middle Ages because they are irrational. In other words, the issue is not about a rational choice, but about the choice of a faith. There are Euro-skeptics and Euro-optimists. Skepticism and optimism are different intentions of faith. There is also realism, but it is always forgotten when people are reluctant to do anything and entirely rely on faith. There is no sense urging a weak person to be a realist, because his realism suggests that “things will go from bad to worse anyways, so let them be just a little bit better today.” A weak person has a weak strategy, and this is a strategy of today.

To enter a world where there is a highly developed mentality and infrastructure for a country that is not even relatively highly developed is to doom oneself to becoming a resource, to being subject to cynical use by European civilization, which is past the heyday of its intellectual development and strength. In other words, Europe is losing in both respects to the U.S. and China, as well as to the Islamic world.

 Ukraine’s pro-European illusions are tantamount to dreams about a promised land; about wealth and power that will rain down as prizes for centuries of humiliation and hardship. But humiliation and hardship lose significance if people turn out to be unworthy of their memory. Indeed, what does not kill you and make you stronger, dooms you to gradual decay.

This is not even a metaphysical challenge, but an ontological one. The dilemma is whether we make an intellectual effort and transform the foundations of our lives, or else any reminders about us will disappear in the short term.

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