(Guest post by Aliaksei Kazharski) In the past, the West was a threat because of capitalists. Now it is because of gays. This according to a discourse that unexpectedly took center stage at a recent East-West conference in Kaunas, Lithuania. Are Eurasianists running out of reasons for why “Europe can be bad for us?”
The discussion about the purpose of the Eurasian union was occupied by active ideological proponents and advocates of Eurasian integration rather than by scientific analysis and critical arguments.
There was a speaker from Moscow who suggested that Armenia's recent joining of the Eurasian Customs Union was a “free choice of integration alternatives” rather than a result of Russian coercion.
One Belarusian academic tried to construct the European integration of the Baltic states as an altogether disastrous experience of de-industrialization (he was corrected by the Lithuanian chair).
What was notable in the debates was that many advocates of Eurasian integration referred in some way to issues of gender freedom. The discussion was supposed to be mostly about the economics of Eurasian integration but a notion kept re-emerging: that Eurasian integration needs to be based on some kind of “traditional values” to which the EU, with its experience of LGBT emancipation, is a cultural threat.
Whether “traditional values” as seen from the Eurasianist perspective implied any positive political program and not just a resentment of Europe's gender liberalism was not at all clear.
Overall, the deliberate politicization of gender issues by advocates of Eurasian integration may well be a sign of a new trend in political discourses. The geo-economic Eurasianism may be now merging with the new quasi-conservative ideology which actively opposes liberal policies.
Europe, as a source of these policies is socially constructed as a threat to the “traditional values” at home. The marriage of geopolitics and anti-liberalism is not too surprising considering that Aleksandr Dugin’s radical neo-Eurasianist ideology has always promoted an anti-Western identity. It also coincides with the seeming anti-liberal turn in Russian domestic politics, marked by the so-called “anti-gay laws” and the punk sermon trial which ushered in a shadow of clericalism.
Ironically, these “family value” developments happen against the background of the unionist’s ringleader, Vladimir Putin, who divorced his wife, preceded by medialized rumors of an affair with a young gymnast named Alina Kabaeva.
The truth is that, apart from castigating Europe for legalizing gay marriages, Russia has little prospect for genuine social conservatism as a political ideology. The Communist modernization uprooted the traditional institutions of all these societies in very brutal ways which included tearing down of churches and systematic execution of priests.
The post-Soviet societies formed on the ruins of Communism tend to be atomized and nihilistic. As far as religion is concerned, only a minority are regular churchgoers. This is why the conservative ideology is unlikely to take deep root. But securitizing gay marriages can be a new way to explain to the public why Russia and its Eurasian partners need to pursue their own union instead of integrating with Euro-Atlanticism.
Aliaksei Kazharski is a Research Associate at the Comenius University in Bratislava, Institute of European Studies and International Relations. This comment was invited by Andrey Makarychev.