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Russia and Europe
You would have to be heartless, not to regret the disintegration of the USSR, but you would have to be brainless trying to restore it.
Thinking about the chosen topic, many associations come to one’s head. I would even dare to call it provoking, as it raises plenty of questions. With no doubts, the theme can be a source of uncountable academic disputes. Why is that? In my opinion, the problem is far more general. It does not lie between Russia and the European Union, but in the relation between Russia and Europe itself. There exactly I would like to shift my attention, when posing fol-lowing questions, which I find central to the problem: “Does Russia belong to Europe? Has it ever been part of Europe? Will the Russian Federation find its place in the new Europe of the 21st century?” It will not be easy to get the desired answers and I am not sure that even after completing my essay I will be able to present them clearly. But the French word “essai” stands for a try, and that is exactly what I wish to do – to try my best in analyzing the situation concerning Russia-Europe relations, disregarding the fact that it is neither topical at the mo-ment nor that I lack sufficient knowledge about the subject. The reason why I chose this the-me is that I thought I could not bring anything new to the debate around the current enlarge-ment of the Union, as it is widely discussed everywhere in the media. Instead, I decided to look further into the future to see the potential integration of Russia and touch something less known by doing so.
The interaction of Russia and Europe consists of various components – such as geo-graphic realities, historic experiences or cultural characteristics, to name only few of them. It is important to look closer at each of these links, so that we could trace the possible answers to the questions mentioned above. Also, in the course of collecting materials for my essay, I realized that one has to be well aware of the fact that there are considerable differences in the view over this matter between people in the West and the native Russians. Fortunately, the author of these lines does not belong to any of the groups and thus such dualism can be avoided. Nevertheless, it is useful to specify my sources of information upon which the essay is based. I not only used history books and articles from magazines on international relations, but books of fiction and poetry, too. To be honest, I should also make clear that some of the presented ideas might seem quite subjective, since they derive their origin from my own per-sonal experience with Russian culture. As for myself, I do not reserve the right to offer the universal truth, however I will try to be objective whenever possible. Let me start with some-thing more scientific and focus on the geographical and geopolitical factor first.
The question, whether Russia lies in Europe or not, is a problem of Europe being taken as a continent. While the western frontiers are clearly defined by the Atlantic coast, Europe’s eastern limit, running southwards from the Urals, is more symbolic than natural. This can be illustrated on an example from the Russian reality: Not far from the industrial town Pervou-ralsk, which is proud to be the farthest European city to the east, amounts a several meters tall border-stone, on one side of it you can read the sign “Europe”, while “Asia” on the other. Russian geographers set up the frontier between the two continents in the 18th century, but this cannot satisfy anybody more than just a metaphor. Europe is not a continent, it is rather a large peninsula, at least from geographical point of view. If we take this as an unchangeable fact, then we must agree, that Russia is part of Europe. Actually, the two are overlapping enti-ties. Half of Europe is Russia; half of Russia is in Europe. It is difficult to draw a dividing line between Europe and non-Europe – geographically. Trying to do the same, while using a civi-lization criterion, the question ‘where does Europe end?’ would be even harder. It may end thousands miles away from Europe, (for example in Australia) and at the same time within Europe itself (e.g. in some remote villages in the middle of Transylvania). In this regard, trying to reach a consensus in the question of Russia’s “Europeanness” is impossible. For this reason, I will try to draw my attention somewhere else.
Nothing, in my view, can tell us more about the current state of things, than the past. That’s why I want to devote the next several paragraphs to history, in order to “be able to understand the present better”. Let’s find out what Europe and Russia have had in common from the very beginning. The early Russian history is not too different from the one of the rest of Europe. The first organized societies appeared on the territory approximately in the 8th century. It was the time of the Kievan Russia, which in one period became the biggest Euro-pean empire, although it stood rather on the edge or even outside the main affairs of Europe of that day. Still, there were some sticking points. For instance in 988, its Prince Vladimir, acquired Christianity as if copying what many other European rulers did and the new religion began to spread all across the country. We can see that future Russia was keeping pace with Europe and it wasn’t but before later in its history that Russia began to fall behind. Actually, we can find one example, when its peoples were even in the lead, as to civilization. It was the case of Novgorod the Great.
Its existence dates back to the eighth century, as the region around the city of Great Novgorod began to flourish. Unlike the Kievan Russia, it had more connections with the North and the West. It was divided into five parts, each of it having its own self-government. When decisions were to be made, public assembly was gathered on the call of a bell, which became the symbol of town’s rights and freedoms. It very much reminded of democracy, of
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