Jobs vary. Doing some right is possible only in a mood slightly different from normal. A media industry soldier, a rank-and-file news provider working in the field as a rule is a person in a deranged state of mind, a fever, if you wish. This can surprise no one. The news business is done in a rush: you’ve got to find out what’s new earlier than everybody else, report the news faster than the others and also be the first to explain what it means.
The excitement of those who inform spills onto those being informed. The excited are certain their own excitement is a thinking process and even its substitute. Small wonder such durables as “beliefs” and “principles” are pushed into the background to give way to disposable “opinions.” Hence the heaps of forecasts doomed to fall flat. Nobody looks confused, though. That’s the price to be paid for keeping up the speed of the breaking news flow.
Amid this media noise the tacit irony of fate is audible only to select few. By and large people seldom care to learn there is slow, fundamental news that does not float on the surface of troubled waters of everyday life, but rises from the depth, where geopolitical currents and historical epochs collide head-on. The real meaning reaches us only after a long while, but learning it is never too late.
The 14th year of this century will be remembered for some important and some very important developments everybody knows about and has discussed many a time. But the greatest of those events is just beginning to display its true meaning. This slowly traveling message from deep space has just begun to reach our ears. The breaking news is Russia’s epic westward quest is finally over. Repeated and invariably abortive attempts to become part and parcel of the Western civilization, to get into the “good family” of European nations have ground to a final halt.
Beyond 2014 there lies an indefinitely long period, Era 14 Plus, in which we are destined to a hundred years (or possibly two hundred or three hundred) of geopolitical loneliness.
Westernization attempts, so lightmindedly started by False Dmitry and resolutely continued by Peter the Great, varied in nature and scale. Russia resorted to no end of tricks in a bid to pass for an equal of Holland, France, America or Portugal. It tried to elbow its way into the West real hard. Whatever ideas might have emerged and whatever upheavals might have occurred there, our ruling elite always responded with much enthusiasm. Occasionally with too much enthusiasm.
Our monarchs eagerly married German brides, the imperial nobility and bureaucracy readily absorbed “vagabond strangers.” Oddly enough, European re-settlers to Russia got promptly Russianized more often than not, while Russians showed little intention to get Westernized, if at all.
The Russian army attained triumphant victories in all big wars in Europe, whose record of military conflicts is a reason enough to rate it as a continent more bloodthirsty and more prone to mass violence than any other. With its great victories and tremendous sacrifices Russia gained many territories in the West but made no friends.
For the sake of European values (in those days religious and monarchic ones) St. Petersburg volunteered to act as the architect and guarantor of the Holy Alliance of three monarchies. And it diligently and painstakingly complied with its duties of an ally when the Habsburg Dynasty was to be rescued from the Hungarian uprising. But when Russia found itself in a precarious position, though, Austria did not lift a finger to help it, but on the contrary turned to foe.
With the passage of time a new generation of European values took over. Karl Marx came into fashion in Paris and Berlin. Some natives of Simbrisk and Yanovka wished to turn everything the Paris way. They were very afraid of falling behind the West, which at that time was obsessed with socialism. They were extremely worried a future European and American working class-led world revolution would leave their remote “God-forsaken” corner of the world neglected. They worked real hard. When the class struggle storms eventually died down, the USSR, which had taken years of hard toil to build, suddenly discovered that the Western world had turned capitalist, and not peasant-and-working class way. And that the growing symptoms of autistic socialism will have to be carefully hidden behind the Iron Curtain.
At the end of last century the country began to feel bored with its “uniqueness” and knocked on the door to the West. In doing so some thought that size matters: there is not enough room for us in Europe, we are too big and expansive to fit in. Frightfully big. This means the territory, the population, the economy, the army, and the ambitions are to be downsized to those of an average European country. Then we will certainly be invited to step in. We agreed to shrink. We began to worship Hayek as fiercely as we had worshiped Marx. We slashed the demographic, industrial and military potential by half. We turned our backs on the other Soviet republics and were about to say good-bye to the autonomies… But even a downsized and humble Russia proved unable to negotiate the turn towards the West.
Lastly, a decision was made to do away with downscaling and downsizing and, what is more, to come out with a declaration of rights. The events of 2014 were unavoidable.
However similar the Russian and European cultural models, they run on different software and have incompatible interfaces. They are not destined to be plugged together into a common system. Now, that this old-time suspicion has turned into a fact of life, some have been wondering if it is worth taking a turn the other way, towards the East and Asia.
It is not. I can explain why. Russia has already been there.
The Moscow proto-empire emerged in the process of intricate military and political coworking with the Asian Horde, which some tend to describe as yoke, and others, as an alliance. Whether it was a yoke or alliance is beside the point. Willy-nilly, the eastern development vector was selected and tested.
Even after the Great Stand on the Ugra River the Tsardom of Russia essentially remained part of Asia. It eagerly took over lands in the East. It laid claim to the heritage of Byzantium—Asia’s counterpart of Rome. It remained under the great influence of noble families of Horde origin.
Moscow’s Asianism peaked with the appointment of Khan Simeon Bekbulatovich, of the Khanate of Qasim, as Grand Prince of all Rus. The historians who are accustomed to portraying Ivan the Terrible as an extravagant eccentric sporting Monomakh’s Cap attribute this escapade to his innate sense of humor. The reality was far more serious, though. After Grozny there emerged a strong royal party that wished to see Simeon Bekbulatovich as a ruler in his own right.
Boris Godunov even had to demand that the boyars who vowed allegiance to him should pledge they would never wish to see Simeon Bekbulatovich or his offspring on the throne. In other words, the state was just half a step away from being taken over by a dynasty of baptized Chingizides and firmly tied to the eastern development paradigm.
As it would soon turn out neither Bekbulatovich nor the Godunovs—descendants of a noble Golden Horde family—had a future. There followed a Polish-Cossack invasion that brought new tsars from the West. However brief the rules of False Dmitry, who long before Peter the Great dismayed the boyars by his European habits, and of Polish Prince W?adys?aw IV Vasa, both were rather symbolic. Against this background the Time of Trouble looks not so much a dynastic crisis as a civilizational one—Rus broke away from Asia and started its Europeward drift.
To cut a long story short, Russia had spent four centuries moving East and then another four centuries moving West. Attempts to take root failed in either case. Both roads were tried. These days the demand will be for third-way ideologies, third-type civilizations, a third world, a third Rome…
And yet it is very unlikely we are destined to become a third civilization. A dual, two-fold one is a more probable option. A civilization that has absorbed the East and the West. European and Asian at the same time, and for this reason neither quite Asian and nor quite European.
Our cultural and geopolitical identity is reminiscent of a volatile identity of the one born into a mixed-race family. He is everybody’s relative and non-native at the same time wherever he goes. He is at home among strangers and a stranger at home. He understands everybody and is understood by no one. A half-blood, a cross-breed, a weird-looking guy.
Russia is a Western-Eastern half-breed nation. With its double-headed statehood, hybrid mentality, intercontinental territory and bipolar history, it is charismatic, talented, beautiful and lonely. Just as a half-breed should be.
The wonderful phrase Emperor Alexander III never uttered—“Russia has only two allies:its army and navy”—is possibly the best-worded description of geopolitical loneliness which should have long been accepted as our fate. Of course, the list of the allies can be expanded to taste to include: factory workers and teachers, oil and gas, the creative class and patriotically-minded Internet bots, General Frost and Archangel Michael… The meaning will remain the same—we are our own allies.
What will the forthcoming loneliness look like? Will it be the loneliness of a middle-aged bachelor at the edge of the dance floor? Or the happy loneliness of the front runner, an alpha nation that has made rapid headway to leave all other peoples and states far behind? It depends on us. Loneliness does not spell isolation. Unlimited openness is likewise impossible. Either would be a repetition of the past mistakes. The future will have its own mistakes to make. Mistakes of the past are out of place there.
It is beyond doubt Russia will trade, draw investment, exchange knowledge, fight wars (war is a means of communication in a sense), participate in common undertakings, enjoy membership of organizations, compete and cooperate, and arouse awe, hatred, curiosity, affection, and admiration, but no longer with false goals and self-denial.
Life is going to be tough. A Russian rapper’s catchy phrase will come to mind over and over again: “There are thorns, more thorns and nothing but thorns all around! S…t! Where are the stars?”
The real thrill is ahead, and so are the stars.