Monday, June 8, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s ‘Vulgar Eurasianism’ Has Chekist Roots

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 8 – Vladimir Putin’s comments during his recent visit to the graves of Denikin, Ilin, and Shmelyov at Moscow’s Donskoy Monastery Cemetery represent a kind of “extremely vulgar Eurasianism,” one whose full dimensions and shortcomings, a Moscow commentator suggests, the Russian prime minister does not comprehend.
In an article in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Mark Feygin gives a brief outline of Eurasian doctrine as it emerged in the first Russian emigration in the 1920s and 1930s and explains both how it was exploited by the Soviet government and why its teachings, at least in any detail, have no future (
Beginning in the early 1920s, various émigré writes, including Prince Trubetskoy, Petr Savitsky, and a number of others elaborated in various writings a doctrine whose basic features, Feygin, suggests, include the following: First and foremost, “Russia is not Europe and it is not Asia; it is a special unique land, Eurasia,” hence the name of this ideological trend.
Moreover, these writers held, “Kievan Rus was only one of the East European Slavic principalities and therefore was not the single source of Russian statehood.” Far more decisive, they suggested, was the Mongol conquest, which led to the appearance of “the Holy Muscovite Rus, the single and great eastern empire.”
The “state machine” of that entity, the Eurasians argued, was “completely taken over from the Mongols,” and consequently, the Russian land is “by this logic, the direct heir” of the Mongol horde. The Petrine reforms represented an effort to break out of this to Europe, but the 1917 revolution, albeit under different ideological flags, returned the country to its true nature.
“One of the most important foundations of the Eurasian theory,” Feygin continues, “is the special place of the Great Russians among the Slavic tribes.” For the Eurasians, “they are the central element of imperial construction.” Moreover, the Eurasians are remembered for promoting geopolitics and the need “to think in spatial terms.”
And because the Eurasians viewed the Bolshevik revolution has having returned the imperial essence, albeit “Soviet in form,” to the Russian state, a view that allowed the followers of this term to view “communist ideology in utilitarian terms,” their ideas served as a bridge across which some anti-communist Russians were able to cross over to the Soviet side.
Not surprisingly, the Soviet government exploited this ideological trend through the Trust operation and later, first drawing émigrés into its sphere and then discrediting the movement by revealing its ties with the Soviet secret police as a means of forcing Russians abroad to choose an even closer identification with Moscow or face complete isolation.
While Stalin was not unhappy to have the support of those who viewed his state as a continuation of the empire, the Eurasians were too intellectually diverse to be acceptable in the Soviet dictator’s totalitarian state. And consequently, from the mid-1930s until near the end of Soviet times, Eurasianism was largely absent from Russian thinking.
(The chief exception involved Lev Gumilyev, the controversial geographer whose ideas on ethnogenesis were at least partially informed by his contacts while in the GULAG with several Eurasians who had been swept up by the Soviet secret police in Eastern Europe at the end of World War II.)
But in the last 15 years, Eurasianism has made a comeback as the result of the efforts of Aleksandr Dugin, a Moscow ideologist close to the Kremlin who has resuscitated and revised the Eurasian doctrines in support of a neo-imperialist and anti-Western vision of the future of Russia and its neighbors.
In Feygin’s opinion, classical Eurasianism has little or no future and is certainly something about which Putin has only the vaguest ideas. But the impulse behind Eurasianism, the notion that Russia is neither European nor Asian, that it has a special path, has not disappeared and informs the thinking of the Russian prime minister and those around him.
Unfortunately, for him and for Russia, conditions now do not favor “the independent existence of a Russian horde.” Such an entity would require “a Chinese protectorate,” in which there “would not be a Muscovite Rus but more a Mongolian one, when princes travelled to Sarai and alter to Karakorum for princely certification.”
“Now,” Feygin concludes, Russian leaders would not need to travel anywhere. “The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China would send a responsible worker for the administration of a ‘white’ colony,” an arrangement the “Yezhednevny zhurnal” writer suggests few Russians, including Putin, would be entirely happy with.

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