By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

An intense debate has surfaced in some Russian as well as Western journals which centers around the question: what is the cause for the “diverging” perception on the side of the European and Russian society and elite concerning the “cultural development” as well as the “value system”?

In two essays that were written by Russian experts – Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and leading Valdai Club member Professor Sergei Karaganov (see )– the authors present their thesis that there is a widening “gap” between the new “Western value system” which deviates from the old value system that was created in post war Europe under Adenauer, De Gaulle and De Gasperi, and the new value system which has developed in the last 25 years; a system which puts emphasis on consumerism, multiculturalism, relativism, democratic regime change and the fight for military supremacy as it was evidenced by the failed interventions in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. The Russian value system which after 70 years of communism broke from its tragic and godless past, is today – according to the authors – ironically the one that strongly defends the Christian values: family, a non-consumerist economic model and sovereign nation. Yet they both underline that this value system is becoming increasingly attractive also among Western countries.

A reflection of how this debate about value systems is conducted from the standpoint of Western and Russian perception is contained in an article which was published beginning of April in the German Online Edition of “Russland-Analysen” (nr 314) by Professor Hans-Henning Schröder, a leading Eastern European expert from the Free University Berlin. Schröder analyses an article by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the spiritual foundations of today’s Russian foreign policy. While admitting that in 2015/16 Russian diplomacy has succeeded in “regaining ground”, that Russia has returned into world politics and that “without a participation of the Russian government, no political solution is possible”, Schröder expresses on the other side deep skepticism and looks very critically at Lavrov’s article “Spiritual basis of Russian Foreign Policy” which was published in the March 3rd edition of “Russia in Global affairs”. According to Schöder the article is a “conglomerate of ideologies”, a “reaction formation” and an attempt to “artificially” construct on the basis of “historical legends” and “narratives” the legitimacy of today’s Russian foreign policy. On the other side Schröder leaves no doubt, that furthering the dialogue with Russia is indispensable to solve today’s global problems. In order to understand what really disturbs him it is worthwhile to have a closer look at Lavrov’s article.

Interaction must be based on cultural and religious diversity

The Russian carrier diplomat Lavrov, who ranks “third” in terms of popularity behind President Putin and Defense Minister Schoigu (according to Schröder), reviews in his essay Russia’s foreign policy during the last centuries and decades by underlining as his main thesis that a “substantiated foreign policy is impossible without reliance on history” and that history shows that “Russia wasn’t in the backyard of Europe nor a political outsider”.

An example is the period of “Kiev Rus”, the adoption of Christianity in Russia in 988 (1025 years ago) which “boosted the development of state institutions, social relations and culture and made Kiev Rus a full member of the European community”, Lavrov explains. In the 11th century three daughters of Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise (980-1054, Grand Prince of Kiev) became the queens of Norway and Denmark, Hungary and France. Yaroslav’s sister married the Polish king and his granddaughter married the German Emperor. Lavrov observes that the “cultural level” at that time was unprecedented, since the Russian people possessed a “cultural matrix of their own and an original type of spirituality that never merged with the West.” This period was important for the assertion of the Russian State’s independent role in Eurasian.

While the tradition of “Kiev Rus” was not broken under the “Mongolian yoke” (14th /15th century) it managed to emerge from this as a single state which was later regarded both by the West and the East as successor to the Byzantine Empire, that ceased to exist in 1453. What then followed along the entire Eastern perimeter of Europe, Lavrov argues, was that Russia began a natural expansion towards the Urals and Siberia, absorbing their huge territories. “Already then it was a powerful balancing factor in European political combinations, including the well-known Thirty Years War that gave birth to the Westphalian system of international relations, whose principles, primarily respect for state sovereignty, are of importance even today.

Russia is essentially a branch of European civilization”, Lavrov underlines, which – while making giant leaps in technology and science – nonetheless was able to preserve its cultural code and ita value system. This was exemplified in the policy of Tsar Peter the Great who managed to “put Russia into the category of Europe’s leading countries in a little over two decades. Since that time Russia’s position could no longer be ignored. Not a single European issue can be resolved without Russia’s opinion”, Lavrov writes. In the middle of the 18th century Russia played a key role in a pan-European conflict, the Seven Year’s War: “Russia’s size, power and influence grew substantially under Catherine the Great when and, as then Chancellor Alexander Bezborodko put it, ‘not a single cannon in Europe could be fired without her consent’.”

Lavrov shares the view of French historian Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, the permanent secretary of the French Academy, who said that the Russian Empire was the greatest empire of all times in terms of size, ability to administer territories and longevity of its existence. Following Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyayev, she “insists that history had imbued Russia with the mission of being a link between the East and the West.”

History also teaches, says Lavrov, that whenever during the past two centuries attempts were made to “unite Europe without Russia and against it”, this led to “grim tragedies, the consequences of which were always overcome with the decisive participation of our country.” Lavrov refers to the “Napoleonic wars upon the completion of which Russia rescued the system of international relations, that was based on the balance of forces and mutual consideration for national interest and ruled out the dominance of one state in Europe without serious armed clashed during the subsequent 40 years.” (…) “[T]he ideas of (Tsar) Alexander I could be described as a prototype of the concept on subordinating national interests to common goals, primarily, the maintenance of peace and order in Europe. As the Russia emperor said, ‘there can be no more English, French, Russia or Austrian policy. There can only be one policy – a common policy that must be accepted by both peoples and sovereigns for common happiness.’”

This Vienna system (with reference to the Congress of Vienna 1814-1815, which aimed at developing a long term peace plan for Europe ) was destroyed in the wake of the desire to marginalize Russia in European affairs, Lavrov notes and the “imbalance of pan-European mechanisms triggered a chain of events that led to the First World War.”

In reference to the Russian Revolution 1917, whose 100st anniversary will be celebrated next year, Lavrov emphasizes that “without doubt the Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing Civil War were a terrible tragedy for our nation”. On the other side there also was an impact of the reforms in the Soviet Union on the formation of the so called welfare state in Western Europe in the post-World War II period. The Second World War aspirations of the European elites to unleash Hitler’s war machine on the Soviet Union played a fatal part. After the war, the Soviet Union played a role as key partner in determining the parameters of the European and the world order.

In Lavrov’s opinion, those historical examples are key in order to “understand the continuity of Russian history, which should include all of its periods without exception and the importance of the synthesis of all the positive tradition and historical experience as the basis for making dynamic advance and upholding the rightful role of our country as a leading center of the modern world and a provider of the values of sustainable development, security and stability.”

Missed chances and reason for “cultural divergences”

A major historical chance was missed at the end of the Cold War, where “we had the practical chance to mend Europe’s divide and implement the dream of a common European home, which many European thinkers and politicians, including President Charles de Gaulle of France, wholeheartedly embraced”, Lavrov writes. Russia was fully open to this option and advanced many proposal and initiatives in this connection and logically “we should have created a new foundation for European security by strengthening the military and political components of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

However, the Western partners chose differently. They opted to expand NATO eastward and to advance the geopolitical space they controlled closer and closer to the Russian border, which as result soured the Russian relations with the US and EU. George Kennan would have been right in saying that the ratification of NATO expansion was “a tragic mistake”. Today the US tries to ensure its global leadership by using sanctions, external pressure, direct armed interventions, large scale information wars and unconstitutional change of governments by launching “color” revolutions. These democratic revolutions appear to be destructive for the nations targeted by such actions.

In light of today’s geopolitical conflicts, Lavrov calls for an honest and deep dialogue between Russia and the West, since the problems of the modern world can only be achieved “through serious and honest cooperation between the leading states and their associations in order to address common challenges. Such an interaction should include all the colors of the modern world and be based on its cultural and civilizational diversity, as well as reflect the interest of the international community’s key components.”

The Foreign Minister emphasizes the need for a respectful “interaction of diverse cultures and religions. We believe that human solidarity must have a moral basis formed by traditional values that are largely shared by the world’s leading religions.” He draws particular attention to the joint statement by Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis, “in which among other things, they have expressed support for the family as a natural center of life of individuals and society.”

He ends his essay with a quote from Henry Kissinger who recently travelled to Moscow where he met President Putin. Kissinger said: “Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium, not primarily as a threat to the United States (…) I am here to argue for the possibility of a dialogue that seeks to merge our future rather than elaborate our conflicts. This requires respect by both sides of the vital values and interest of the other.

Wiesbaden, May 7 2016


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