In the middle of the nineteenth century, however, Russia began slowly drifting away from its European orientation and towards Asia. It started from a new perspective in Russian philosophical thought, according to which the elite viewed their country as having a noble destiny of uniting in itself the qualities of the two words: European and Asian, but eventually producing a new identity product. The birth of the idea of Eurasianism largely happened as a result of the defeat in the Crimean War of 1855, when the tsarist Russian authorities decided to abandon their course of European alignment and to turn to Asia for spiritual and cultural comfort and enlightenment.107

In its essence, Eurasianism advocates for a “return to the East” and proposes to view the Russian identity as the unique amalgamation of the Eastern and Western cultures.108 However, this notion had territorial connotation: it located Russia between the two geographic extremes and adds to its cultural context. According to Yelena Nikitenko, Eur- asianists view Russia as “a special cultural-historical world, which syn?thesizes the features of Eastern and Western cultures; the link between

these worlds____Russia as a geopolitical, political, and cultural entity . . .

belongs both to Europe and Asia.”109 For them, “there was an organic link between the geographical area, the specifics of each culture, and

the people living in the area____Russia is neither Europe nor Asia, and

therefore there is no European and Asian Russia, but only parts that lie to the west and east of the Urals.”110

After the October 1917 revolution, when the Soviets came to power, Eurasianism received a boost from numerous Russian emigres and refugees to the European countries and the United States led by Nikolai Trubetskoi, Petr Savitsky, and George Florovsky. As Sergei Nizhnikov notes, “Eurasianists emphasized the role of the Turan-Asian element in the history of formation of the Russian culture and statehood. All of them occupied anti-Western, but not all—anti-Soviet stance. . . . The Russian Revolution, some of them thought, “hacked through a window to Asia.” They rejected cultural and historical “eurocentrism,” based on the pluralist perception of culture and rejection of existence of universal progress.”111 This brought along the depiction of Russia as cultural interaction of the continent, whether or not other parts of it consented to such geospiritual leadership in Russia.

With its Asian-centric move, the Eurasianists’ vision also emphasizes the quality of the discourse equal to the concept of the “Third Rome” developed by the medieval Russia priest and philosopher Fil- aret. According to this Slavophil vision, the Russian nation has a larger geopolitical meaning and a messianic destiny. Matthew Johnson claims that in this identity vision, “Rome did not refer to a place. . . . Rome was a concept; it was historical, legal, theological and, certainly, in the poetic sense, mythical and mystical.”112 It was the receptacle of the most developed civilization among its contemporaries, and Russia was meant to inherit this engine of progress and spread it around to lesser cultures under its influence. From this standpoint, “the Eurasianists synthesized old Slavophil views on the ‘people’s truth’ and the contemporary theories of public democracy of the twentieth century,” which later became a very peculiar form of Russian nationalism.113

As inherited from Slavophils, a special place in Eurasianism was given to Russian Orthodoxy as the governing religion of the nation, but with a twist. George Florovsky defines the view of the Eurasianists of their Christian origins as their “cultural and everyday need; as historical heritage of Russia. Eurasians feel the Orthodox elements, experience and understand Orthodoxy as historical and everyday fact; as the subconscious ‘center of gravity’ of the Eurasian world; as (only) its potency. And yet . . . Russia is turning in their minds into the ‘legacy of Genghis Khan.’ Thus Russia is taken out of ‘from the prospects of the history of Christian, baptized the world’ and its ‘Byzantine heritage’ becomes obscured by a ‘Mongol’ one.”114 Spiritually Russia becomes an idiosyncratic amalgamation of Christianity, as a faith, with Asia, as a geohistorical point of reference.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and rebirth of Russia, the Eur- asianist school of thought acquired a strong scent of nationalist identity. This, however, was not a novel embodiment for the Eurasianists. Back in the 1920s, a prominent Russian thinker and minister of foreign affairs of the Russian Provisional Government after the Revolution of February 1917, Pavel Milyukov, named political concepts of Eurasianism as the “Russian racism.”115 The neo-Eurasianists reanimated century- old vistas of their predecessors on “the problems of choosing an original social and cultural strategy for Russia; return to the social-ontological cultural grounds; definition of the primary purpose of the value-based worldview potential of the Russian mentality; return to the cultural- aesthetic space; quest for new meanings in the fundamentals of art and many more.”116 The central part of the neo-Eurasianism became the Russian neo-nationalism. Europe was philosophically but not territorially left out from this quest.

The Eurasianist discourse was taken to an extreme in its “neo-” form by Alexander Dugin, one of the main ideological gurus of the contemporary, revived Russian nationalism. Dugin asserts, “The presence of the Western logos to universality refuses to recognize this universality

as inevitable____It considers Western culture as a local and temporary

phenomenon and affirms a multiplicity of cultures and civilizations which coexist at different moments of a cycle.”117 I. A. Smaznov defined two main directions in the contemporary “neo-Eurasianism”: theoretical Eurasianism, which develops the concept of “the Eurasian empire built on the territory of the former Soviet Union,” and economic Eur- asianism with the aim of “rebuilding of the economic interactions of the former Soviet Union republics.”118 Dugin belongs to the first category, which heralds the revival of Russia not only as primus inter pares on the post-Soviet space, as it was during the USSR, but as the main potent actor in the whole Eurasian space, stretching from Lisbon to the Ural Mountains.

In more practical terms, the recently reemerged concept of “Third Rome” is translated into the “Russian world,” which has the goals, as defined by Dugin, of “restoration of a Greater Russia, crushing American hegemony, creation of the multipolar world; liberation of Russia from its fifth and sixth columns, the triumph of the Russian spirit, and the flourishing of Russian civilization,” which is promoted as an antipode of the Western civilizations.119 Dugin’s Eurasianism is linked to the quest for defining the “Great Russian Idea”: the Russian identity. Here is where the geographic dimensions of Europe come to light. In one of his interviews, Dugin gave the following definition of the Russian idea: “We need to take over Europe! Conquer her! And annex her! . . . And then, if we define the national idea as the annexation of the European Union into the Eurasian Union and our expansion into Europe—only then can we actually, by and large, get together around a great goal. Just imagine: to annex Europe! This would be so Russian of us! . . . We would just establish a protectorate over them—that’s all!”120 Opponents of such a view on the Russian civilization as destined to rule the world are those who consider the Russian way of life to be “compensatory” in which its routine failures in most aspects of life, including agriculture and industry, are compensated for by the “bully” logic of intimidation of those who succeeded.121

With the ascent of Putin to power, neo-Eurasianism undertook a slow but deliberate crossing of the very cultural Rubicon separating Russia and Europe. According to Jeffrey Mankoff, “Eurasianism in con?temporary Russia is in many ways the recipe for the reconstruction of a state looking very much like the USSR, both in terms of frontiers and in terms of its authoritarian political system.”122 The regime, beyond the identity divide, artificially created and cultivated by the contemporary Russian political establishment, exacerbated the us-versus-them separation between Russia and Europe proper. Every subsequent clash between Russia and the European nations, be that in the cultural, economic, political, or military fields, became much worse than the previous one. Putin, in a sense, became an antipode of Peter the Great: he is on the path towards closing the circle of Europeanization of Russia by bolting the window, once hacked through by Peter, with the iron dowels of misunderstanding, prejudice, and envy.

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