17.11.2007
Russia and Europe: No Intermediaries Needed
№4 2007 October/December

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.