20.12.2009
Policy Transformation
№4 2009 October/December
Viatcheslav Morozov

Viacheslav Morozov is Professor of EU-Russia Studies with the Institute of Government and Politics at the University of Tartu.

A heady wind of change blew throughout Europe at the end of the
1980s and one might have thought that European history was
experiencing a new birth. There was a sense of joy about a
breakthrough into the future mingled with a sense of triumph
associated with the attainment of a very important goal. People
thought that nothing would stop them anymore from “living like the
Europeans” now that Communism had fallen. It took years before
people realized that the two attitudes were incompatible. The
contradiction between the sense of a revolutionary event and the
feeling of a materializing utopia has determined to a great extent
the course of both European and global history over the past twenty
years. In order to move beyond the impasse that democratic politics
is in it is important to regain awareness of the unfinished and
unpredictable nature of history. First, however, it would be useful
to clarify how this awareness was lost.

THE MAIN IDEOLOGEME OF THE DAY

It is extremely risky to begin a discussion of the
transformation of European policy with references to “The End of
History” by Francis Fukuyama. Most readers are quite familiar with
the contents of his article published in the summer of 1989, which
eventually became much more famous than the subsequent book of the
same title. As for Fukuyama’s critics in Russia, they have long
lapsed into banalities. Still, it is not possible to ignore this
text – not so much because of its originality, as its
predictability. “The End of History” illustrates perfectly the
post-modernist notion of “the death of the author”: while the
emergence of a text of this sort was fully dictated by historical
necessity, the fact that Fukuyama wrote it was entirely contingent.
Had it not been Fukuyama, someone else would have produced it
anyway.

It is well known that Fukuyama did not claim the role of a
trailblazer. He quotes Hegel, who came up with the classical
formula of the end of history, along with its best-known 20th
century interpretation that can be found in the works of Alexander
Kozhev. Fukuyama’s impact on the understanding of international
relations in the United States has been largely overstated in
Russia, as his work only partly correlates with the mainstream
academic debates over the past several decades. In some sense, the
subject of “The End of History” lies outside academic discourse and
belongs to the sphere of ideology. As Fukuyama made an attempt to
analyze the current situation, he de facto formulated the main
ideologeme of the era. This is why he cannot be ignored in a
discussion of the outcome of the “glorious twenty years.”

Unlike Marx’s Communist utopia, the idea of the end of history
does not set any political horizons. It simply describes the
current moment of time (or a future which can already be
distinguished in the present), but this does make it less partisan:
in the final run it leads to depoliticization. Fukuyama insists
that all remaining contradictions and conflicts of global politics
can be resolved in the framework of liberal ideology. The concept
elevates liberalism to the rank of an absolute, supra-historical
truth that sets the only correct vector for the development of all
humankind. The case is not limited to abstract liberal values –
individual freedom, for instance – and concerns the very concrete
institutional and legal reality of Western European and North
American countries. It appears that all the nations belonging to
the Western political community have already found answers to all
the fundamental political questions, while their less fortunate
neighbors should give up their futile search and start copying
Western models. Now the main tasks of democratic states or the ones
moving towards democracy lie in the domain of governance, where the
simple observance of procedures guarantees the results. The figure
of the charismatic political leader is replaced with a red-tape
technocrat who has a directive to follow in any possible case.

In Europe, this mechanism was set in full motion with the aid of
identity policy. The restoration of sovereign national statehood in
the former Socialist camp proceeded under the motto of reverting to
the “genuine” European identity that has been preserved in spite of
Communist oppression. Since a genuine Europe was identified with
the EU and NATO, the fastest possible integration into
Euro-Atlantic structures was essential for becoming full-fledged
Europeans. Naturally, this integration implied certain conditions
that were set forth by the “older Europeans.” Also, it implied a
more or less exact replication of their legal and institutional
norms. Appropriate mechanisms were built quite quickly. First,
there was the Phare program and then the entire multistage plan of
enlargement crowned with the Copenhagen criteria.

The technocratic machine of Europeanization was from the very
outset focused on embracing the maximum possible number of
countries bordering the European Union, including those that have
vague prospects for accession even now. The Euro-Mediterranean
dialogue is called upon to bring the countries of North Africa and
the Middle East into the realm of Euro-Atlantic influence.
Following the 1995 Dayton Agreements, the EU has played an
increasingly active role in the Western Balkans. The European
Neighborhood Policy, open to everyone, was supplemented in 2008
with invitations to former Soviet republics to join the so-called
Eastern Partnership. The EU’s internal norms were presented as
universal ones in all these situations. The starting point of the
dialogue was the assumption that the rules accepted in the EU fit
everyone, can have no alternatives and must be accepted by all
candidates. This stance is not at all surprising since the
universalization of the EU’s legislative system as a power resource
is far greater than any other that Brussels can rely on. It is
certainly more significant than military coercion (for which the EU
does not have the necessary resources) or the management of capital
flows.

A critical glance at pan-European provisions as a resource of
power does not presuppose their reassessment in substantial terms.
More than that, many of the principles advocated by the EU, the
U.S., the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe, and other international actors on behalf of
democratic states deserve being recognized as having truly
universal value. I would put on this list freedom of speech;
independence of the mass media; transparency in the operations of
state power agencies; independence of the courts and the equality
of all people before the law. The same examples, however, reveal
the full measure of complexity of practical application of the
norms that are  accepted by nearly everyone at the abstract
level. Should freedom of speech cover attempts to proliferate
racial hatred? Or can corrupt journalists make use of it? Or where
is the border between ensuring the equality of discriminated groups
and the infringement on the rights of the majority? Mixed cases and
contradictions of all sorts emerging at the junction of differing
norms form the subject of intense political debates in democracies
today. Moreover, the intensity and fruitfulness of such debates
show the true degree of democratic development in society. A true
democracy is not an ossified system that produces answers in
advance to all the possible questions. It is a never-ending search
for a compromise between individual freedom and the existence of
society as a sovereign whole.

The sensation of the end of history that enveloped the Western
world in the late 1980s-early 1990s proved to be a disturbing
symptom that testified to the loss of the ability for democratic
pursuit and continued to undermine this ability itself. Along with
other forms of “democracy promotion,” the EU’s enlargement propped
up the illusion that the democratic countries themselves had
accomplished everything and what remained to be done was to clean
up the undemocratic backyards of civilization. That the triumph of
democracy had degraded into a crisis became very clear on September
11, 2001, when democratically-elected governments started to shake
off democratic freedoms very easily. It turned out that the
majority of the political class and ordinary people put more value
in a secure and safe existence than in the readiness to accept the
challenges of a yet unknown future.

ONE MORE DISINTEGRATION OF A UNITED EUROPE

The depoliticization that was typical of the period immediately
after the Cold War was not free of inner controversies. Access to
Europe can be used as a resource of power only if two important
conditions are met. First, the candidate country
as a target object in the power relationship must strive to become
a part of Europe, and importantly, into a Europe  personified
by the wielder of power. Second, the right of the
latter to define the criteria of European self-identity must not be
questioned. It seemed at first that neither of the two conditions
could raise any problems. A radical opposition to the choiceless
Europeanization was only displayed by the Balkan nationalists, and
the proponents of a united Europe targeted most of their efforts at
appeasing the region. The problems of the democratic transition in
other countries, like Russia under Boris Yeltsin, Slovakia under
Vladimir Meciar, and Ukraine under Leonid Kuchma, looked temporary.
There were no marked differences left in the world of victorious
liberalism between countries and regions, except for the fact that
some had already reached a brighter future and others were still
moving towards it.

Yet the triumphant progress of democracy slowed down by the end
of the 1990s. While the countries of Central and Eastern Europe
became increasingly “Europeanized,” Serbia, Belarus, Russia,
Ukraine and many other post-Soviet countries were less and less
inclined to follow the precepts of technocrats from Brussels. Where
each of these cases has eventually led up to is a separate story;
the causes of the “deviations” in each particular country require
independent scrutiny. Let us single out just a few basic moments.
In the first place, any references to the specificity of national
cultures as the root causes of failures in democratization cannot
be considered valid. There is no doubt that cultural differences do
have political importance, but it is not these differences that
predetermine development pathways for countries and nations.
Russian researchers Alexander and Pavel Lukin indicate that both
today’s German democracy and Nazism can, with an equal degree of
credibility, be derived from the German cultural tradition.
Similarly, the specific features of the Confucian culture provide a
no less potent explanation for the past backwardness of countries
making up that cultural area than for their subsequent
technological breakthrough.

The qualitative difference between Russia and the countries that
succeeded in riding the “third wave of democratization” should be
sought, in the first place, in how Russians understand their
homeland’s European identity. The “come back to Europe” formula,
which implied the recognition of the EU’s and other Western
institutions’ right to set the criteria of “Europeanness,” was not
acceptable for Russia. The Russians found it all the more difficult
to accept the role of a European apprentice because, for a number
of historical reasons, their own social model had drifted much
farther away from the European standards than, for example, the
Estonian or Czech model. The path to the Europe incorporated in the
EU was longer and more difficult for Russia than for other former
member-states of the Eastern bloc. In addition, the new partners’
readiness to support the Russian transformation, measured by the
size of financial aid per capita, was visibly lower.

Last but not least, accession to Western institutions was a
symbolic step for all the new members of the EU and NATO. It
symbolized their eventual liberation from the yoke of imperial
oppression. Setting off Russia against Europe, democracy and
civilization has become a political reality in the entire region,
although its impact on the political process varies from country to
country. The “color revolutions” showed that the specter of Russia
can be exploited as an instrument for political mobilization even
in countries where the new Russia initially was not associated with
the gloomy Soviet past and where this past was not viewed as so
gloomy.

Political mobilization through drawing contrasts between the new
democracy and the authoritarianism of the past happened to take
place in Russia, too, but it was much weaker and failed to live
through the shock therapy. To follow the same course that its
Western neighbors had opted for, Russia would have had to do
something bigger than withdrawing from the Soviet Union together
with the other republics. It would have had to secede from itself,
to work out a new identity based on the rejection of the Soviet
period of its history and, on a broader scale, of its imperial
past. While other post-Soviet states that broke away from
authoritarianism managed to retain their national historical
narratives and rolled up the sleeves to modify and fortify them,
Russia would have slid into a hole and would have had to start
writing its history from scratch. The experience of postwar Germany
shows that such a radical change in people’s mindset is possible,
but it also demonstrates the scale of the upheavals that society
has to go through in this case.

In a word, while the political class in Central and Eastern
Europe deemed Europeanization under the EU’s diktat to be the
simplest and most obvious course, it meant huge political costs for
Russian politicians. Pro-Western Russian liberals paid a terrible
price for their attempts to “return Russia to civilization.” Many
of them are still accused of treachery, while mass consciousness
paints the 1990s as a time of tumult and decay. Therefore, it is
not at all surprising that the new generation of Russian leaders
have turned to a different form of political thought that is no
less typical of this country and that singles out Russia as a
separate civilization. It must be emphasized that the ideas of
independence and even “great powerness” do not imply a renunciation
of the European choice. They simply mean that Russia is positioning
itself as a different, alternative or even more genuine Europe and
thus claims the right to independently define the criteria of
belonging to European civilization.

There are plenty of concrete examples of political actions and
processes based on the perception of Russia as the “genuine
Europe.” Moscow’s policy towards the Baltic states can serve as a
most characteristic one. Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius are constantly
criticized for encroaching on the rights of their Russian-speaking
population, for sympathizing with the neo-Nazis, for trying to
revise the results of World War II, etc. The Baltic republics are
accused of something much more significant than being hostile
towards Russia – the charge is that they undermine common European
values like human rights, denunciation of totalitarian ideologies
and commitment to the Helsinki principles.

Among other examples one can cite the elevation of the victory
over Nazi Germany into the fundamental event in national history
(“The Soviet people saved Europe from Nazism”) or the concerns
about the looming loss of identity by Europe (as a result of
Americanization, the decay of high culture, the inflow of
immigrants, etc.). Even when Russian ideologists mention
sovereignty, national interests or the balance of power, these
notions refer to the discussion of common European values and norms
rather than the tradition of realistic foreign policy thinking.

The latter illustration is especially graphic as it highlights
Moscow’s attempts to offer its own version of European normative
order by directly challenging the European Union. There is no doubt
that nationalism remains an integral part of the ideological field
everywhere in the EU, but references to  national interest as
a way of defining global geopolitical priorities are scorned as a
sign of bad taste. When Russian politicians and diplomats speak
about national interests, this sounds outdated at best. At worst,
this is taken as a manifestation of imperialist ambitions. But the
contention between the two Europes is not limited to the problem of
nationalism or ways to overcome it. The fight for control over
energy resources is also taking place primarily in the regulatory
field. While Brussels uses the Energy Charter Treaty to promote its
own model of energy market regulation to the neighboring regions,
Moscow operates with notions like equal security of suppliers and
consumers or reciprocity in the access to assets.

Especially heated debates flare up around the vital normative
notions of our times – democracy, human rights, sovereignty and the
territorial integrity of states. Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, the
status of Kosovo, the conflict with Georgia and the recognition of
Abkhazia and South Ossetia – all these cases ultimately boil down
to the question of who has the right to tell the difference between
a legitimate regime meeting European values and a regime that is
illegitimate, authoritarian and self-proclaimed.

The era that began as “the end of history” is ending with the
emergence of a new boundary between the West and the East in
Europe. Descriptions of this border as a new Iron Curtain or a
reversion to the standoff between the two blocs are not quite
appropriate, since they unreasonably limit the historical
retrospective. Europe has been debating for several centuries –
practically since the beginning of modern history – over what it
means to be a civilized society. Larry Wolff, a U.S. historian,
showed some fifteen years ago that the very notion of Eastern
Europe came into being in the 18th century when European
civilization began to be viewed as unique and universal. That is
why it would make sense to stop talking about a resumption of the
Cold War and to state the fact that Russia has again failed to
escape the role of an outsider and a not-quite-European country at
another spiral turn of social transformation. Like any social and
cultural form, the era of Russia’s exclusion from Europe is not
endless and will be over one day; this issue may even lose its
pressing character (for instance, if the center of the global world
shifts to Asia). Still, the current situation shows an amazing
stability and we Europeans just do not have enough political
imagination to eradicate this standoff. Technocratic
Europeanization inspired by the illusion of the end of history did
not open up any new intellectual horizons in that sense. This is
why it did not have any chances from the very start of bringing
about the unity of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.

HISTORICAL DEADLOCK AND HOW TO OVERCOME IT

Even if the standoff between Russia and the EU as two normative
projects signals a relapse of the old debates on European
civilization, the debate is now taking on a new form. One more
reason that makes talk about a return of the Cold War sound wrong
is that today’s Russia, unlike the Soviet Union, is not putting
forward any radical alternative to the Western model. In this
sense, the Russian challenge to the U.S. global domination and the
EU’s regulatory rule in Europe stands in a dramatic contrast to the
Soviet ideology and the radical Islamism of today.

Although the post-Stalinist Soviet foreign policy was based on
the principle of peaceful coexistence, this did not prevent serious
preparations on both sides for a global nuclear war. The Soviet
propaganda machine was reluctant to discuss human rights and
stressed on every suitable occasion that working people can fully
enjoy those rights only in the Socialist countries. The concept of
common human values appeared in the Soviet vocabulary only after
the start of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika. The same discussions
continue today. For instance, while the current Foreign Policy
Doctrine criticizes the “historical West” for striving to “maintain
a monopoly over globalization processes,” it says nonetheless that
“competition between different value systems and development
models” is unfolding “in the framework of the universal principles
of democracy and market economy.” In contrast to the Soviet era,
the Kremlin administration agrees today that some universal
standards of democracy, human rights and economic freedoms do
exist. It generally recognizes, for instance, that in the U.S. and
the EU these norms are secured much better than in Russia.
Ideologists in Russia are extremely displeased only with what they
consider to be prejudice towards Russia and the employment of
double standards in a cynical political game. In spite of all
patriotic talk about Russia’s “lofty spirituality” and its “special
path,” Russian identity discourse remains focused on Europe and
European values. Even if the pessimistic predictions come true and
Russia leaves the Council of Europe, it will not have anything else
to offer to the wider world than the very same idea of democracy –
with the exception that this democracy may be “sovereign.”

In other words, all attempts to position Russia as an
“alternative Europe” of some kind are part of the struggle for the
existing ideological and political resources rather than a search
for a radically different path. It may sound like a paradox, but
the idea of the end of history has taken firm root in Russia too.
In the beginning, we accepted the neo-liberals’ ideological clichйs
almost literally and passionately embraced the idea of remodeling
the country to fit these intellectually dismal schemes. The feeling
of novelty and eventfulness of our time was gone right after we
decided that the Washington Consensus had furnished us with answers
to all possible questions. A brief period of enchantment with the
West gave way to frustration over the poor results. The
revolutionary spirit waned away to be replaced by anomie and apathy
which found an ideological reflection in a revulsion against
“Western democracy” and in a desire to revive the old good Soviet
times.

Since it is impossible to make the clock of history tick
backwards, Russian policies of the first decade of the 21st century
are an amazing hybrid of modernization and restoration. On the one
hand, most decisions are still made according to the recipes
suggested by Western technocrats, as no alternative options are in
sight. On the other, the political process increasingly reminds of
the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev, with its one-party system,
the propaganda monopoly over the mass media, semi-official
xenophobia and a creeping rehabilitation of Stalinism. Not a single
large-scale project is fully completed without giving grounds for
the suspicions of megalomania, window-dressing and “elements of
corruption”. It is quite clear that genuine global alternatives
will not emerge from within contemporary Russian society. The
non-conformist projects that do loom on the Russian ideological
horizon – diehard racism, Orthodox fundamentalism or, last but not
least, dogmatic Stalinist socialism – imply choosing between bad
and worse.

If we really have a chance to extricate ourselves from the
morass of depoliticization, new politics will not grow out of the
depths of the Russian soul or from the intellectual toil of Kremlin
officials. Nor will it be invented by the Western champions of
democracy, who mostly share the stagnant worldview of their Russian
counterparts and are preoccupied with the preservation of
“stability.” Yet a spark may snap one day at the joint of these two
ideological fields.

One of the most curious splits in global policy today lies
between the pro-democratic hegemony of the West and that of its
opponents who continue to observe the format of democratic
discourse. The urge to criticize the U.S. and the EU for their
failure to live up to the democratic standards is typical today not
only of Russian politicians, but also of the leaders of such
countries as Brazil, China and Venezuela. In most cases, their
criticism is not without ground and therefore it has the potential
of seriously undermining the Western monopoly to set standards and
simultaneously facilitates the rise of democracy as a universal
reference point. None of these countries, however, is capable of
imposing a new monopoly, as they will not have enough political
weight for this in the foreseeable future. As a consequence, the
notion of democracy is still hanging in midair. The abstract idea
lives on and continues to attract people worldwide, but its link to
a concrete empirical reality is thinning. Hence there is no
surprise over the extreme alarm that this tendency is causing among
the proponents of “stability.” But if we reject the conservative
position, we will clearly see that the current situation opens up
new horizons, as it prompts a critical reassessment of the liberal
democratic values.

If this account is true, the  prospect for democratic
politics liberated from the need to endlessly refer to the Western
models is turning into the most pressing issue of our time. The
twenty years that have passed since the end of the Cold War suggest
that international experience must be re-thought, with due account
taken of local tensions and conflicts. The link between the
abstract values of individual freedom and collective
self-government, on the one hand, and the concrete historical
situation of local society, on the other, should each time be
established anew. It takes much civic courage and responsibility to
return, again and again, to the roots of legal and political order,
and yet this is the only way to push history out of the deadlock
and impart meaning to politics again.