Sunday, February 5, 2017

The destruction of society EUROZINE REVIEW

‘In Russia, the authoritarian state is pressing ahead with the destruction of society,’ write the editors of Osteuropa (Germany). ‘Almost 150 clubs, associations, centres, movements and institutes across the country have been hit by the slander campaign intended to silence institutions that have fallen out of favour. They are defamed by the Ministry of Justice as “foreign agents” – in other words spies – and, through fines and threats of imprisonment, are pressured into acknowledging this stigmatization by placing themselves on a register of agents. Now, with the inclusion of the Levada Centre and Memorial International, the repressive state has sent out a new signal: international renown no longer serves to protect. The aim is to spread fear.’

Spiral of repression: As Jens Siegert explains, the economic crisis of the 1990s forced Russian NGOs to seek funding abroad; when the Russian economy began to improve, few Russian foundations were prepared to support NGOs seen as critical of the Kremlin. After NGOs resisted the 2012 law obliging them to declare themselves as foreign agents, the Ministry of Justice began to blacklist them itself. One such group is the Women of the Don Union, which campaigns for human rights and the rights of women in the northern Caucasus, and whose operations have been paralysed since the authorities began a criminal investigation into its director Valentina Cerevatenko in June 2016.

Poland: In an interview on the ‘illiberal spirit’ in Polish politics, Basil Kerski talks about the future of the European Solidarity Centre in Gdansk, of which he is the director. The ESC, Kerski explains, receives a mix of state, regional and city support. Since Poland’s larger cities and the majority of its regions are still governed by the liberal Civic Platform or independent mayors, they enjoy some protection from government interference. Visitor popularity also secures the autonomy of the museum’s curators and shows that ‘one can narrate the recent history of Poland in a multi-perspectival way and thus create broad identification.’ At the same time, the political engagement of the ESC irritates many politicians and makes ‘a conflict over the future of our museum’ inevitable. ‘Despite its success, and above all its broad acceptance by the citizens, our future is open.’
More: Jevhen Fedchenko, founder and editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian portal StopFake.org, describes the site’s evolution from Ukrainian ‘self-defence’ outfit into watchdog organization on Russian disinformation activities worldwide; and Eva Kovacs reconstructs the ‘parallel’ biographies of two women, a Jew and a Roma, subjected to involuntary sterilization – one at the hands of Josef Mengele in Auschwitz, the other by the Hungarian authorities in 1970 – and discusses how these acts of sexual violence prompted processes of ethnic and gender identity-formation.

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In Merkur (Germany), Swiss cultural historian and Slavist Felix Philipp Ingold examines the ideology of neo-Eurasianism and its influence on Russian geopolitics. A ‘state ideology’ supported by research institutes, media organs and propaganda centres, neo-Eurasianism advocates military rearmament and nuclear deterrence, support for sympathetic regimes such as Syria and Iran, the formation of alliances against global capitalism, and ideological warfare on ‘totalitarian liberalism’. Russian foreign policy, neo-Eurasian to the core, aims to ‘restore the territorial integrity of the Soviet Union’ and to counter NATO ‘militarism’ with a ‘continental alliance of nations stretching from eastern Europe through Central Asia to the Pacific’ – a concept ‘modelled on the multinational Soviet bloc, but which far exceeds its range’.

Eurasianism emerged in the late Tsarist and early Soviet periods, where it was called ‘Pan-Mongolism’, ‘Scythianism’, and ‘exodus to the East’. Alongside western thinkers Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt and C.G. Jung, its preeminent ideologues included the philosophers Konstantin Leontyev and Vladimir Solovyov, the linguist Nikolai Trubetzkoy, the poets Valeri Bryusow and Alexander Blok, and composers Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky. From the 1960s, the tradition was continued by cultural historian and ethnologist Lev Gumilyow and, since the late 1990s, by Aleksandr Dugin. The latter’s monumental work The Foundations of Geopolitics has, writes Ingold, ‘has become a textbook for all decision makers in the most important spheres of Russian political life’. In it, Dugin predicts an ‘an incessant duel of the civilizations’, from which Russia will emerge as the new world power.

Dugin’s philosophical lodestar is Martin Heidegger, whom he sees as offering a philosophy perfectly matched to the ‘Russian mentality’. Heideggerian Dasein is, Dugin argues, congruent with a specifically Russian ‘being in the world’. Yet his esoteric rhetoric should not, warns Ingold, ‘distract from the relentless rigour of his thought, which goes beyond everything imagined by Bolshevism’. The geopolitics of the neo-Eurasians is ‘a new militant patriotism that places absolute value on the homeland and lends it global dimensions’. Like the Russian president himself, neo-Eurasianists are far removed from the idea of Russia’s geopolitical role as mediator between East and West, as propounded by philosopher Pyotr Chaadayev in the 1830s.

Vikerkaar (Estonia) focuses on the tension between liberal universalism in international relations and the particularist reaction to it. Rein Müllerson, Professor of Law at the University of Tallinn and former advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev, argues that the universalist moment of the 1990s is over and that a new concert of nations is necessary:

‘Since the Cold War, high – some would say naive – expectations of a world in which law, impartially interpreted and applied, would have primacy over politics have not materialized. Differing visions of desirable and possible world orders are accompanied by propaganda warfare where even international law is used as a tool of hegemonic dominance or, conversely, as an instrument to counter such dominance. … The only realistically possible international system is a multi-polar one. International law, as a normative system based on the balance of interests and compromises and not necessarily on shared ideology (though this may underpin domestic legal systems or EU law), can function relatively well only in a multi-polar, balance of power, concert of powers system which is consciously and conscientiously built and accepted as legitimate.’

Rejoinder: Talk about spheres of influence is the last thing small nations like to hear, however. In a rejoinder to Müllerson, Juri Saar makes the case for fundamental western values such as truth, personality and contract, and argues for their relevance in international affairs. These pillars, Saar claims, have been undermined by postmodernist thought and, more recently, by Russian information war. Inspired by the philosopher Maurizio Ferraris, Saar advocates a new realism, one that returns to universalist Enlightenment values… read more: