Boris Mezhuev: ''Who calls oneself pro-imperial today risks being reputed a dissenter''
Political expert about different kinds of challenges in front of Russian and the West
In the second part of his interview to Realnoe Vremya, famous Russian political expert and opinion journalist Boris Mezhuev told about the missed chance of a ''reboot'', movements of the imperial pendulum in Russia and how our country is going through the global secularisation crisis. The first part is available here.
Regime is focusing
In one of your recent posts on Facebook, you wrote that the history of Russia in the last 25 years is a pendulum whose movements can be easily seen in the attitude of public opinion to the word ''empire''. We will speak about the empire later. Could you tell now when was the last time when the pendulum was at the opposite point, please? In other words, when was the latest crackdown?
During a ''reboot'' when this ''couple'' in the person of Medvedev and Obama became presidents of Russia and the USA. It was from 2009 to 2011-2013. Then there was a feeling that the external tension was reducing. It did not disappear completely, of course, but had a cotton like, very soft, almost imperceptible character. Then the regime inside the country moved towards some whipping up – appointment of governors by election was back, attitude to the political opposition, at least to the systematic one, changed. In general, what is called as ''Volodinskaya spring'' happened – a systematic liberalisation of the regime while consolidating the political nucleus of what was called ''pro-Crimean majority'' (initially, it was called ''pro-Putin majority'') after 2014.
Already in 2014, when it became clear that a new conflict was arising between Russia and the West and the conflict was strong and lasting, and especially now in 2017, we saw that the problem of management consolidation, control of regions, moreover, during simultaneous Islamism and part of the Islamic world, was very serious. This is why the regime is focusing, getting tense.
''During a ''reboot'' when this ''couple'' in the person of Medvedev and Obama became presidents of Russia and the USA. It was from 2009 to 2011-2013. Then there was a feeling that the external tension was reducing.'' Photo: kremlin.ru
Another thing is that this so-called consolidation of the vertical takes places in regions, not in Moscow where speaking oppositionist leaders whom I mentioned feel fine. I think the regime treats them as not dangerous people, in general. Probably it is its position: ''Let them speak than keep silent'', that's to say, let them express their point of view, as radical as it can be, than hiding it and accumulate anger and irritation in themselves. Obviously, the reason is that the power doesn't believe Soviet methods of reaching a consensus, which is correct, one the one hand. But, on the other hand, it starts going negative because the propaganda of sale of national interests needs to have limits. At one point, it becomes a destructive factor: people rhetorically perfect their natural irritation with the help of defeating oppositionist formulas. They learn to say not only ''we are sick of this power, we want a new one'' but also ''we are sick of this country with its too many complaints''.
So what do movements of the imperial discourse in Russia depend on?
The word ''empire'' starts rehabilitating in Russia when the expansion of power, either foreign or domestic (like in Chechnya during the post-Soviet years), doesn't affect territories under the real protectorate of the West. When the necessity of imperial expansion affects right such territories, this term immediately loses its attractiveness. So was it with Baltic states that rose in rebellion during Perestroika (whose annexation to the USSR in 1940 was not admitted by the United States) when after the unsuccessful commercial blockade and then Vilnius events an unsilenced cry about ''the Russian imperial syndrome'' was reigning in Russian intellectual circles. And the West felt fine about what happened in Abkhazia in 1992 and Azerbaijan in 1993, and the term ''empire'' became popular. We are talking about not only a purely military but also economic expansion. The ''liberal empire'' Chubais talked about in 2003 meant an economic activity of Russian companies in Kazakhstan and other countries.
But, it goes without saying, as soon as it came to Ukraine, as soon as it became clear the expansion of Russia faced severe criticism, there was a systematic repulsion from the West. And this repulsion is also full of a head-on clash against it – here everything changed again. Not only liberals immediately forgot the term ''empire'' but also even patriots started to feel shame of it a bit and justify ''it is not an empire, we don't want an empire, we want to protect the Russian population'', etc. In other words, as soon as Russia becomes an empire in the accurate sense of this word, this word becomes indecent or, more precisely, not very popular. If I call myself pro-imperial, I will be such Maverick, the person who says some awful things, even for the closest partners. Meanwhile, in the noughties, this word was pronounced without any problems, even liberals' attitude was calm and compassionate.
''To tell the truth, I treated the annexation of Crimea very carefully. It was clear what it would lead to. Another thing is that if such a decision was chosen, all doubts should be kept to oneself.'' Photo: kievsmi.net
Do you really have an imperial consciousness?
No, rather anti-imperial. I don't think Russia is an empire, that imperial identity is correct and I am an absolute enemy of any expansion. To tell the truth, I treated the annexation of Crimea very carefully. It was clear what it would lead to. Another thing is that if such a decision was chosen, all doubts should be kept to oneself.
Does it mean you support the Russian national state?
No. I call myself a civilised realist. In other words, I think that Russia is a separate civilisation. Russian people are its skeleton, of course. But it doesn't need to be only Russian (in the ethnic sense of this word). At the same time, I understand that there are territories outside the country that are inclined to Russia. And if another civilisation tries to annex a country including these territories to its military and economic bloc that excludes Russia beforehand, separation of these territories from this statehood can be justified, from our Russian point of view. It is desirable to avoid such an extreme option, but we can't exclude it.
In general, the division of formally single state into different civilisations, different gravitation nuclei is a law. We see it now in Near East where former single states are destroyed – Syria and Iraq. We saw how it happened in Yugoslavia. I was not against the conservation of the unity of Ukraine in 2014. But it is necessary to follow several conditions like the military neutrality of the country, its federalisation and creation of buffer states. Both American geopolitical experts and Russian diplomats talk about it.
Another thing is that they don't name the topic of preliminary theoretical signals of these practical consequences, precisely the idea of differences between Russia and the West's civilisations. And it is my first complaint about traditional realism. Its representatives are right that Ukraine is a buffer state. But they don't say between what it is a buffer because in this case they will need to reconsider the concept of Russia as part of Europe. And much depends on this concept in our life – from Eurovision contests to economic policy.
''In other words, the sociocultural logic follows the purely legal logic: does the fatherhood institute, these patriarchal roots with tyrannous and despotic power of the father in the family explain problems of our civilisation? Isn't mothers' power softer, calmer and more human?'' Photo: grodno.in
How to be with the West and not to be with it at the same time
Another question is linked with one of your recent posts where you wrote about the disappearance of the fatherhood institute in the West and then spirituality as opposition to physicality. Do you think that Russia will ''fall behind'' in this respect, a place where Benedict's choice you wrote about is possible or that ''monastery'' (civilisation) where human kind will be able to go through the dehumanisation and de-atheisation?
It is a good question. But I would make it more realistic first. What did I write about? I wrote that we understand the current secularisation process just legally, just like an expansion of rights – human rights, rights of women, minorities, transgender people, etc. But this process has its own certain logical unwinding – like DNA spiral or computer virus. It is linked with a constant cancellation of new taboos. No 18-century enlightener who wanted to separate the Church from the state could presuppose it could come to the legalisation of same-sex marriages or that the question whether to allow transgender people to see service in the army in America.
It is not too difficult to guess how this programme will develop further on. If the topic of bisexuals arises, there will be a question: why can't one have two partners, a man and a woman? Why can't one live with them legally? Why can't we legalise polyandry, that's to say, an opportunity for a woman to live with several men and register this co-habitation legally? The next question arises then: what will happen to the fatherhood institute? There will certainly be a reasoned opinion that is already pronounced by feminist radicals today: to get rid of it as an unnecessary institute. In other words, the sociocultural logic follows the purely legal logic: does the fatherhood institute, these patriarchal roots with tyrannous and despotic power of the father in the family explain problems of our civilisation? Isn't mothers' power softer, calmer and more human? If the idea of reigning masculine roots disappears, it will be a serious change of a human being as species. Because our idea of spirituality against pure physicality lies on fatherhood. And with mothers' power, a human will stop being different from the world of animals, turn into a highly organised animal, not immediately but gradually, during evolutional degradation, so to speak.
Can Russia oppose it if it has power and possibilities for it? Russia has only one guarantee to make this possibility real – the idea coming from the Byzantine heritage, the Orthodox religion that the West has a kind of wormhole despite all its achievements. In addition, in the 19 th, this idea among Slavophils looked strange – it was unclear what kind of wormhole it was. And answers that were found were not very sensible. It might seem, for instance, this wormhole is linked with the constitutional order and dates back to the heritage of Ancient Rome with its cult of formal law. Today we are unlikely to agree with this concept. Nevertheless, Slavophils also felt some internal defect of the West. This element of disbelief at the Western civilisation, even in an unarticulated, theoretically unexplained state, is quite powerful in our consciousness. By the way, it is the subsoil that liberals call ''imperial syndrome''. The thought that Russia needs to create something its own, it needs to have a future that is different from that of the West comes from this feeling. In general, this element is an ideal (or pragmatic) foundation of the rest – our defence ministry and the necessity to fight for the sovereignty of our lands.
''Is Russia able to make ''Benedict's choice''? Of course, to naively believe that Russia will be a single civilisation and how the single civilisation will up and completely turn its back to the ''rotten West'' if we look realistically. But it seems that many things are going to happen in our history.'' Photo: wikipedia.org
By the way, when George Kennan (Editor's Note: American diplomat, political expert and historian, the author of the policy of ''containing'') understood it once. In his long telegram to President Roosevelt, he wrote that Russian tradition didn't trust the West. On the one hand, attraction to it, realisation that the true future is in the West in some sense, the idea of future, progress comes from there. On the other hand, there is an understanding that this future contains an element of something improper.
Yes, ''rotting'' as Russian conservatives used to say. Very and very pro-Western people in Russia also have this idea. I would even say no cultural rise of Russia is possible without this realisation. All our culture is based on ''yes, we take some forms from the West but we understand they have something incorrect and dangerous'' to a certain degree.
European culture treated ancient times almost in the same way. It said ''yes, ancient Roman culture is a wonderful culture. But out God says their gods are incorrect gods''. Spengler described this phenomenon with a geological term ''pseudomorphosis''. For instance, if you look at ancient synagogues, you will see it is the same ancient classicism. At the same time, they have something that shows Eastern peculiarity.
Is Russia able to make ''Benedict's choice''? Of course, to naively believe that Russia will be a single civilisation and how the single civilisation will up and completely turn its back to the ''rotten West'' if we look realistically. But it seems that many things are going to happen in our history. I think some powerful ideological movement can suddenly arise in Russia from a place environment we just don't have the idea of. Like communism in the past. This movement will need to solve two problems in Russia very quickly – how to be with the West and not to be with at the same time.
Of course, now it is impossible to formulate even hypotheses about how it will happen. But it is almost obvious that it is going to happen. Indeed, Russian conservatives (particularly, Danilevsky in Russia and Europe, Rozanov) warned that the traditional family institute will be inevitably destroyed during secularisation. We needed to see the late 20th — early 21st centuries to make sure that these are not bogeyman stories of right-wingers but a stubborn reality.