Russia and Europe: No Intermediaries Needed

17 november 2007

Leonid Polyakov

Resume: The state per se – no matter whether it is modern or post-modern – has the right to monopoly on power, for which Ivan Krastev criticizes Russia. And the European Union (like Russia) will not allow anyone to establish rules of their own on EU territory.

An article by Ivan Krastev in this issue (Russia as the “Other Europe”) contains a paradoxical conclusion: Russia is Europe, and this is why the conflict between Europe and Russia is much deeper and more dangerous than the former confrontation between Western democracies and Soviet Communism.

The primary logic of the article is as follows. “The Kremlin’s ‘sovereign democracy’ project” does not mean separation from Europe, but an attempt to become “the other Europe,” namely, a very old Europe of the 19th century, a Europe of nation-states that is concerned about the balance of power and tempted by imperialism. This modern Europe is opposed by the European Union as a post-modern state. The author describes political post-modernity in the following way: “A highly developed system of mutual interference in each other’s domestic affairs and security based on openness and transparency. The post-modern system does not rely on balance of power; nor does it emphasize sovereignty or the separation of domestic and foreign affairs.”

Since “sovereign democracy” places special emphasis on sovereignty (that is, the principle of non-interference by other countries in the internal affairs of Russia), Russia is guided by the idea of a nation-state – a phenomenon that Europe has already overcome. Hence, the author concludes that there is a political and ideological incompatibility between Russia and the European Union: each views the political structure of the other as an intermediate step on the way toward the most desirable model. The EU expects that Russia will give up on the principle of sovereignty, while Russia believes that the EU will necessarily disintegrate into classical sovereign nation-states.

First, I must give credit to the author, who resolutely rejects the stereotyped view of the Europe-Russia conflict as a “clash between democracy and authoritarianism.” This redounds to his honor as a prudent analyst who is careful about using trite propaganda clichés.

POST-MODERNIST KANT

Yet, even the “post-modernist” explanation that is proposed by the author does not look convincing. Krastev begins his thesis by putting “sovereign democracy” in direct opposition to the European Union as a post-modern state. This is strange. On this issue, I tend to trust Romano Prodi, the incumbent prime minister of Italy, who said in his lecture at the University of Ulster (Derry) in 2004: “Kant may have been pleased to see what we have done in the European Union – a form of supranational democracy in a Union of sovereign Member States. In some ways, our Union enshrines the essence of Kant’s federation of sovereign democracies.”

If Krastev had recalled these words, uttered by one of the key policymakers (and theorists) of the EU, he may have refrained from equating so categorically the “sovereign democracy” project with the isolationist bygone past of Europe. Furthermore, perhaps, he would not have described the European Union as a “post-modern state.” Kant a post-modernist? How can this be?

Krastev assigns to post-modernity the following features. First, there exists “a highly developed system of mutual interference in each other’s domestic affairs.” This is a real discovery, as it is well-known (since Jean-François Lyotard for the first time described “the post-modern condition” way back in 1974) that post-modernity is principled non-interference in the affairs of others. It implies absolute tolerance and complete acceptance of others in their authentic “otherness.” Instead, we are proposed “a highly developed system of mutual interference.”

Meanwhile, the crux of the matter is simple. The fundamental principle of the EU is that its members have voluntarily assumed and continue assuming a certain set of legal norms that are compulsory for all. Obligation presupposes voluntarily recognized responsibility for non-fulfillment of the norm. It is as simple as that. One can speak at length about a highly developed system, but there is nothing post-modern in that. On the contrary, this is the political essence of modernity, which was graphically manifest in the Westphalian system (1648). As concerns “interference,” well, Britain has closed its labor market for Bulgarian manpower – and now try and interfere with your “highly developed system!”

Another element of the post-modern European system, according to Krastev, is “security based on openness and transparency.” This is even stranger. Indeed, what does the openness of Bulgaria to Romania, or its transparency for Luxembourg, have to do with its security? Meanwhile, the security of the EU members is guaranteed by an organization that Krastev never mentioned and whose membership is a coveted goal of all members of the former Warsaw Pact. Shall we associate NATO and post-modernity? Whatever next!

The third feature that distinguishes modernity from post-modernity-Krastev style is the understanding of ‘sovereignty.’ For a post-modern state, “sovereignty is a seat at the table,” while for Russia it is “the right of the government to do what it wants on its territory and to execute its enemies in the center of London.” These words, coming as they do from a scholar who refrains from discussing Russia and Europe in terms of “authoritarianism” and “democracy,” sound very unusual.

FOLDING SEATS NOT WANTED

But this is not the point. Krastev substitutes the problem of state sovereignty (the EU) with the issue of the type of sovereignty, which every member of this union has. The state per se – no matter whether it is modern or post-modern – has the right to monopoly on power, for which the author criticizes Russia. And the European Union (like Russia) will not allow anyone to establish rules of their own on EU territory (except, perhaps, when it comes to the construction of secret CIA prisons). But members of the EU, each with its own “leftover” sovereignty, really sit “at the table” in the European Commission and in the European Parliament.

In what sense would Krastev like Russia to understand its sovereignty as “a seat at the table” as well? Is this some sort of invitation to the European Union? Then show your mandate. And bear in mind that Russia’s seat – if we agree to that at all – must be exactly the same as all of the other seats, with the same “menu” and “standard of service,” so to say. Don’t bother offering us folding chairs.

And another thing: For the first time, the new draft of the European Constitution proclaims the right of withdrawal from the EU – even if all the other members object. This means that the Europeans themselves do not view their stay in this “State” as something irreversible, and that their own sovereignty is still of paramount value for them.

In order to prove the “backwardness” of Russia (appearing before post-modern Europeans as their own bygone past), Krastev asserts that “the regime of sovereign democracy” is building its policy vis-à-vis the European Union on the principles of “the balance of power and the imperial urge.” Let us specify something on this point. The “balance of power” has been the essence of the policy of the invariable national interests of the British Isles vis-à-vis Continental Europe since at least the 17th century. The British have always sought (and continue to seek) to prevent a union that would be stronger than their military and economic potential. Hence the imperial urge of European powers of the 18th-19th centuries as a race for resources.

And now consider: In what sense can this British policy toward Europe be attributed to Russia? Whose union should we fear? Perhaps that of Bulgaria and Norway? And what resources do we lack to a degree that we allegedly have to struggle for the establishment of a colonial empire?

A nice kind of “post-modernity” we are being offered! Meanwhile, this newfangled term is only used to scare the Europeans who are already apprehensive about the specter of Russia rising from the European past. Personally, I do not think such a plan will work. Russia and Europe have long been engaged in mutual and productive dialog in many fields. We understand each other very well and do not need intermediaries and interpreters.

Last updated 17 november 2007, 11:28

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