There are unexpected paradoxes in today’s political debate in Russia. On one hand, mass-scale protests have made clear that there is great demand for acceptance of Western norms of civic freedom, human rights, free elections, transparency, and rule of law. Yet on the other hand, local Russian discourses have become more inward-looking than ever before. Today, Russians are eager to test the state’s “Self.” The country is in search of understanding its domestic polity. In so doing, it is neither willing nor able to formulate a coherent message to other states, even to its immediate neighbors. But these days, Russia does not need external reference points to discover its own specificity (and peculiarity) in the world. In this sense, the Russian discourse – at least across academic segments – has liberated itself from the artificial and even false construction of enmity toward the West and many of its post-Soviet neighbors. Such circular reasonings were highlighted at a recent conference at the Russian Academy of Public Economy and State Service (“Russia’s Pathways. New Languages of Social Description,” March 23–24). The views expressed captured many swirling sentiments, such as: Russia has joined the chorus of critical voices lambasting both global capitalism and its Russian peripheral version (Boris Kapustin, Yale); it accepts the language of democracy but wishes to unveil its anti-capitalist and non-Western meanings (Artemiy Magun, European University of St. Petersburg); Russia is keen on discovering a variety of non-Western models of federalism (Andrey Zakharov, “Neprikosnovenniy zapas” journal); or, as others put it, Russia seems open to a post-colonial elk, driving it closer in spiritual partnership with BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China) than with Western institutions. In short, a self-immersed Russia is not going to be an easier partner to deal with. But it could be more comprehensible and less confrontational.
Andrey Makarychev is a Guest Professor at the Free University of Berlin, blogging for PONARS Eurasia on the Russia-EU neighborhood.