The Other EuropeThe Specific Features of Values in Russia and Other Post-Communist Countries

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The subject of our last meeting was «Europe and the Muslim World», and today we are invited to discuss the topic «Europe Faces Outward". To my mind, in both case this are attempts to search for European identity by comparing Europe with the outward world. In the mean time Europe itself is far from being homogeneous. Let's take Russia which is considered to be a European country and for centuries played an important role in European history. Over 75% of its population live in the European part of the country, and up to 90% of its citizens are historically linked with one of the major European religions – Christianity. Nevertheless in the agenda of our meeting my presentation is entitled "Europe and Russia". I am convinced that to a great extent such title reflects the present situation. Russia is still "not exactly" Europe.

All the speakers, announced in the agenda, except me, for arriving to Barcelona had simply to purchase their air tickets. In my case, my Russian citizenship, makes my annual travel to our meetings more and more difficult, due to the emergence of new and more elaborate barriers on the way of getting visas to the EU-member countries. This is only a very small fragment of the whole picture illustrating how Europe fences itself off Russia. Post-Soviet Russia, in its turn, also psychologically fences itself off Europe (or to be more precise and using the political vocabulary - from "the West"). In 1991 67% of Russian respondents regarded the West as a pattern of future development of Russia, whereas in 1999 68% of respondents shared an opposite view, asserting that "western political system and life style do not suit us". By 2007 the share of such respondents amounted to 87%. It reveals the feeling of almost total distrust towards the West. I am sure that the events in South Ossetia, will manifold increase anti-Western feelings in Russia, because the majority of Russian citizens believe that Georgia military assault of Tskhinvali undertaken on August 7-8 and nearly complete destruction of the city has been inspirited by NATO member-countries, the United States, in the first place.

Crisis situation help to reveal those tremendous deviations in political assessments of political events existing in Europe and Russia.
Thus, for instance, the majority of West European countries think of NATO activities in Serbia during the crisis in Bosnia and Kosovo as legitimate, and find it admissible to violate the territorial integrity of the country for the sake of ethnic minorities protection. At the same time the same countries resolutely accuse Russia of violating the territorial integrity of Georgia, despite the fact that Russia acted exactly on the same pretext as NATO in Serbia – for protection of local the minorities ( Ossetians and Abkhazians), and used the same Western terminology (Peaÿÿ enforÿement). More than 40 countries had recognized independence of Kosovo, but accused Russia of its recognizing independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It is necessary to note here that for the last 17 years (since Dagomyss agreement June 24,1992) South Ossetia and Abkhazia existed independently from Georgia, having status of "unrecognized states". For a long time they had no economic relations with Georgia, who had no other way to integration these territories otherwise than by force. In July 20, 2004 the president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili publicly announced that he did not exclude the possibility of renouncing the Dagomyss agreement. "If it impossible to rise a Georgian flag in Tskhinvali within the framework of the treaty, I am ready to exit from this agreement" he declared. Though after two attempts in South Ossetia (in 1991 and 2008) and eight attempts in Abkhazia undertaken with the aim to force the country to return into Georgia, which led to numerous losses in peaceful population, voluntary return of Abkhazia and Ossetia into Georgian state became impossible.

I would like to express my personal point of view. I am against forceful return of any territorial and ethnic entities into the structure of any state and express negative attitude towards anyone who backs the return, be it Serbia with regard to Kosovars, Russia with regards to Chechens, or Georgia with regard to Ossetians. Though I cannot say that such a viewpoint is shared by the majority of Russian people.
In my country it is very important to understand who is using violence as a weapon: "ours" or "strangers". In Russia both government and public opinion were resolutely against the violation of territorial integrity of "our" Serbia, whereas today they are no less resolute in backing up violation of territorial integrity of "stranger pro-Western" Georgia. In my country Georgian attacks on the citizens of South Ossetia were regarded as manifestations of aggression and genocide, whereas the activities of Russian troops in Chechnya, during the two assaults on Groznyi when the losses in peaceful population manifold outnumbered those in Tskhinvali, were called " restoration of constitutional order". Over the past decade more than 50% of population in Russia expressed anti-Caucasian sentiments, and over 75% of Russian citizens were hostile towards the Chechens, which makes me doubt about the sincerity of intentions to protect the Ossetians and Abkhazians. I assume that most Russians won't be able to distinguish them from Chechens or Georgians, who are greatly disliked in Russia today.

Unfortunately, protection of minorities both in Russia and other countries is quite often used as a legitimate pretext to solve ones geopolitical problems, for example, to demonstrate ones super power status.
It is not my task to analyze in details the reasons of retaining double standards in regards to "ours" and "strangers", and the fact that images of "ours" and "strangers" in Russia and in the West diametrically oppose each other. My field of study is much narrower. I would like to understand why Russians persistently uphold the specific system of values which in many aspects drastically differs from that accepted by the majority of people in Western Europe?

The most popular answer in contemporary Russia is the following: "Russia belongs to specific civilization, its cultural traditions, or as they call it now, "cultural code" of its population differs from the European ones. It is believed that this traditional cultural code remains unchanged over the centuries. I find such an approach absolutely inadequate, and unrealistic, because in Russia the level of destruction of existing traditions and mechanisms of their transference is much higher than in most of the European countries. Notions that Russian people and Russian culture have at least some influence on modern Russian policy are nothing but a myth.
What do we mean by trandition? Tradition is a handing down from one generation to the next of the norms, ideas and values that all members of the community are expected to abide by. This process needs institutions which play the role of carriers, custodians and – most importantly – controllers of these precepts. Social control uses moral incentives to maintain traditions and moral sanctions for their violations.

Zygmunt Bauman has drawn the conclusion that society is doomed to extinction and there will be a full collapse of social norms if the decay of traditional institutions of collectivity is not made up for by new institutions of informal contacts, mutual assistance and social control. This replacement or recombination of the old and the new traditions is taking place in many European countries.
The data of the European Social Survey (ESS) taken in 2004 and 2005 in 24 countries and in 2006- 2007 in 27 countries differ as to the level of involvement of population of the European countries into informal associations – traditional (neighborhood and religious) and also new institutions that bring together people of the same age, gender or profession, charity funds and others.
The highest level of involvement of population into such informal associations is typical for Northern Europe (Scandinavia and Finland) – more then 69%
In Western Europe – 54-62%
In South Europe – 25-30%
In post-Communist countries of Europe – less than 20 %.

It should be mentioned that Russia demonstrated the lowest in Europe level of development of informal social institutes (both traditional and newly formed ones). Depending on the type of organization it is three to six times lower than in Western Europe
European countries differ in their attempts to preserve of institutes responsible for transfer of cultural traditions (the intensity of neighboring and family contacts and communication in the field of religious relations), and the value of traditional norms – customs and ideas of ethnic and religious origin.

The acknowledged leaders here are South European countries, Greece and Portugal in the first place, and at the bottom of the list are the post-Communist nations, except Poland. Russia again stands out as the country possessing the lowest degree of safeguarding traditions.

In Russia, the traditional institutional environment has been demolished and has not been replaced with anything new. This fact per se casts doubt over society's ability to hand down any standards at all, whether traditional or not.
If so, how could one explain the stability of numerous standards of behavior, for example the historically persistent patterns of Russian behavior as mass non-compliance with the law?

Alexander Herzen, a 19th century Russian pro-Western thinker, highlighted this feature as a purely Russian ethnic one. "Whatever social rank a Russian belongs to, he will bypass the law anyplace where he can go unpunished, and the government acts in precisely the same way," he wrote. It should be noted, however, that neither the much-respected Herzen nor the numerous experts of the past who frequently quoted this thought ever did comparative research and thus were hardly able to say against what countries and peoples this feature of Russian life looks specific.

Cross-cultural research done with the aid of sociological polls and social/psychological tests has appeared but only recently and the results seem surprising at first glance. They shows that the citizens of post-Communist European countries have common features, while at the same time dramatically differ from other Europeans.

In the first place, they are far less ready to respect the law and have a greater inclination to justify possible violations of the law. Post-Communist nations that participated in research are among the top of the list in the ranking of countries with the biggest percentage of people who have been forced to give bribes. It is not surprising then that the same countries are in the top of the list in terms of readiness to give bribes.

Surprisingly, the Estonians are the most ready to give bribes, while the Finns – ethnically close relatives to the Estonians – are at the bottom of the list. This leads us to the conclusion that the age-old ethnic closeness of the Estonians and Finns and their relative long life within the Russian empire have had less impact on the specificity of their actual behavior and consciousness than the decades when Estonia was part of the Soviet Union.

It should be noted that disrespect for the law took root in many post-Communist countries during the lifetime of just one generation of people who got trapped in the millstones of the totalitarian system. The impact of this system is easy to explain: if the standards of law and order are established through violent interference on the part of an authoritarian power instead of being naturally assimilated by an individual, this coercive obedience inevitably estranges people from the power and the law. Estrangement of this kind does not flow out of tradition; it is a product of people's situational adjustment to monotypic conditions of life.

Another remarkable fact is that in societies in which a sizable number of elements of traditional organization has been preserved, estrangement from the authoritarian power leads to entirely different consequences than in societies with demolished traditional institutions. Take for instance the North Caucasus republics, where people's alienation from the authorities and their laws has been replaced by the growth of informal traditional institutions – family, territorial, communal and religious. This has not happened, however, in most other parts of Russia.

In traditional societies, people's alienation from the external environment increases the importance of trust in "their immediate" environment, while in de-traditionalized societies alienation affects even the immediate environment. According to the poll conducted in Russia more than a half of the respondents treat suspiciously even the social environment which they are closely related to – in the questionnaire they underlined the statement "the majority of people will try and treat you dishonestly."

When traditional institutions for safeguarding and reproducing cultural norms no longer work or become weakened, society becomes unprotected to various government manipulations . The most efficient manipulations are those exploiting the "image of enemy", different fears, and phobias.

But, how then does is happen that certain features of Russian life can be traced over centuries? Why indifference of Russian people towards law and total permissiveness of bureaucracy in Russia described in the works of the 19th-century writers Nikolay Gogol and Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin looks like observations by a contemporary?

My answer is the following. The current political system in Russia and numerous elements of Russian system of values show inertia not so much because of culture tradition but, rather, owing to the weakness of impulses for a change of the political regime and social system. Raw materials remain the backbone of Russian exports – the same as they were during the reign of Peter the Great, with the only difference being that oil and gas have replaced timber. And this circumstance to a great extent restrains modernization not only in economic but in political life of the country. Why should one bother to learn to work and live in a new style if the inflow of oil dollars permits him to exist in quite a bearable way?

The top rulers continue to set up governors in provinces like the Russian tsars did in the past. If people have no chance to participate in governance of the country even at the regional and local levels and if they fully realize their inability to influence not only life in the country in general, but life in their own region, they become alienated from law and authorities. Today, like in the 19th century, Russia does not have a society capable of influencing the authorities. I view it, first and foremost, as a set of specific conditions that create different opportunities in Russia and in Western countries.

Even if society becomes fully aware of the problems, this does not immediately create prerequisites for their removal.
There is a consensus in Russian society today in recognizing the many social and economic problems and this can be seen in the promulgation of the so-called ‘national projects.' Among them education and science, solving of demographic problems, curbing of corruption. However, these are not genuinely national projects since they do not rely on a civil nation. These are governmental projects which suggest the use of traditional tools – mobilization measures and distribution of resources. This very fact dooms such projects to failure.

Science. The Soviet authorities were well aware of the significance of scientific and technological progress. At the same time, Soviet modernization based on mobilization ripped science from its natural groundwork – emancipation of the individual and the existence of incentives for creative research. As a result, great achievements were beneficial only for a rather narrow sphere of life, mostly military defense. Eventually, the shackled development of science led to a situation where the thin ranks of research intellectuals were further thinned by repressions and the brain drain, as scientists would flee the country at the first opportunity. The brain drain continues but today scholars leave Russia and move to the West looking not for "bread" but for the air of freedom.

Demography. Modernization based on mobilization counts on demographic resources. A country can win wars by sacrificing many more human lives than its enemy and launch great construction projects without sparing other people's lives. This way of doing things might be still possible in China, but Russia's human resources are waning. And what does the Russian government do in such conditions? It mobilizes resources and distributes them to stimulate births. Yet Russia does not differ from the rest of Europe in terms of birth rates. It is a different story when you look at the mortality rate in Russia – it is the highest in Europe and life expectancy is the lowest. Why? Because reducing death rates cannot be resolved through mobilization. Former Socialist countries which used to have similar levels of mortality and life expectancy as Russia before they entered the EU have made sizable improvements in that sphere. This has happened largely thanks to the adoption of EU standards which put the highest value on human life. Healthy lifestyles have become prestigious and sought after in these countries. The EU has renounced smoking on a national scale. People have started exercising not only for the sake of the prestige of a great power, but for their own health.

Corruption. There is no need to explain that increasing corruption, can halt life in any country. Yet many Russians still do not realize that such a decease can be cured through government efforts only. Moreover, the corruption clot gets bigger if more and more power accumulates in the hands of the state. The more inspections there are, the bigger the bribes and the wider the spread of corruption. World experience shows that without adequate social control even mere reduction of corruption seems quite impossible. Any hopes to resolve the problems which Russia is facing today using obsolete methods of state mobilization are a sheer illusion. Therefore I am sure that sooner or later problems and challenges faced by Russia will stimulate liberalization of the regime in Russia which would be bound to rely upon civil society, which might be regarded as a certain westernization and europeization of the regime.

All my hopes are linked with the coming generation, the generation of my son. I believe in those men and women who are in their twenties or thirties and belong to the first ‘westernized' generation in Russia. Representatives of this generation have rather western habits and even possess western working experience. They want and they can make money in the process of hard qualified work. This generation is to a great extent independent from a government. While Soviet-born people greatly depended upon the help received from the state, new generation is ready to solve its problems by itself. This generation ridicules Russian pro-western liberal intelligentsia, and some of its representatives welcome anti-western, foremost anti-American, sentiments in society. Why does it happen? They became richer and do not want to feel themselves as citizens of some second-rate country. They are not happy with the world order where their country is not ranked within the world's super powers. At the same time they would hardly to fight for getting such a status. On the contrary, being pragmatics, afraid of any revelations of radicalism, they will try to do their best in order to protect their major value – their well-being. I hope that in time this pragmatic generation will get rid of such juvenile form of self-determination realized through rejection of the concept of "other". I also believe in political maturing of Russia, which sometime in future will stop being "Other Europe" and become simply Europe, faced with the general problems of the continent and global challenges.
 

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  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
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