Andrey Zubov, a Ph.D. in history and a professor of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations was fired from the institutions for his views. He recently read a lecture at the Journalism Institute of the Shevchenko National University in Kyiv. His thoughts on the internal insustainability of the bolshevist project, the revolution of dignity and cultural integration are published by platform.ma .
I stood up not so much for Ukrainians as I did for the dignity of my people. It is very important. I did not want people to think of us thata badly. I understood that if I remained silent, then I would give my students a glaring immoral example and decided act in accordance with my conscience. Everyone needs to behave in that manner, to the extent that you can. And then changes will occur in both the Ukrainian and Russian societies.
Our authorities have changed their rhetoric in the latest period. If during the moment of the occupation of the Crimea they spoke of their defense of the rights of Russians, then now they speak about defending Russia’s interests. There is no ethnic conflict between the Ukrainians and the Russians in Ukraine. The presidential elections have shown that. The issue is about about the nation’s consolidation irrespective of the language and territorial bonds. The people in Odesa and Kharkiv were allowed to cast their votes freely and to vote for the unified Ukraine. This is a very important factor. That is why the accent has moved from the national plane to the geopolitical.
Russia against the West
My main interest is the confrontation between Russia and the West which has so dramatically impacted Ukraine. Can we speak that this some eternal geopolitical invariable? History analyses human experiments in life. As a historian, I can say that the results of Russia’s confrontations with the surrounding world were very tragic. I am speaking of the old pre-Soviet Russia. The first moment is the Russo-Japanese war when in reality Russia was at war with the whole world, beginning with Japan and Poland and finishing with the Crimean Khanate. The second period is the Crimean war of Nicholas I. This also represented an ill-advised adventure against all of Europe. These are major failures in Russian politics.
Succesful Russian politics were only possible in in the systems of the European coalitions.
Old Russia never set itself against all of Europe and the entire civilised world. Let’s recall the Great Northern war: Russia entered a coalition together with Denmark and Poland against Sweden, Italy and the Crimean Khanate. Let’s recall the Holy Alliance which included the Austrian Empire and Prussia, and in which Alexander I participated during the foreign campaign in 1812. And that union was a prototype of future forms of European integration. It was directed not against somebody but in order to build Europe’s integrity and unity. This did not happen at that time. But the idea itself of an alliance for European peace after the horrible war with Napoleon nevertheless brought a colossal result.
The Great Northern War Union, the Entente were alliances directed against somebody and not necessarily the best decision. It is important that Russia was not against everyone. Additionally, for Russia, it was not only a political union, but underlined its cultural integration with Europe. Imperial Russia terribly lagged behind Europe for the period of its isolation which began after the proclamation of the Russian Autocephalous Church in the middle of 15 century. But Russia’s gradual convergence with Europe led to the fact a cultural group emerged, society’s elite, which was completely European by virtue of their education and their knowledge of languages.
The European cultural circle gradually expanded. If the number of the Europeans in the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 19th century was comprised of 1.5% of the population, by 1917 they numbered 15-17% of the population, originating from peasants and urbanites who received a higher education. The integration occurred in the economic, industrial, banking, engineering and educational sectors. Had Russia insulated itself from European universities and Europe’s technologies and began to cooperate only with China, Persia and the Ottoman Empire, what state would Russia and Ukraine be at the present moment?
About the Soviet Union
And then, as a result of the communist movement, the majority won. And the USSR immediately tried to spread its power over the entire world . But on the other hand, it was power based on society’s lowest common denominator. Let’s recall the Russian version of the Internationale.
“We will destroy the entire world with force
To its very root, and then
We will build a new world, –
Those who were nothing, will become everything.”
But he who was a nothing, unfortunately, is an utterly uncultured person.
And thus for the first time in the European history, a society appeared in its midst that was culturally completely alien to it. This was the Soviet society. It was feared in Europe, in the same way as this is now happening in Ukraine. On the one hand, some representatives of the government make very friendly statements concerning Ukraine, while others don’t object to the conduct of military actions in Donbas. Hence, the carrot and the stick. The same occurred in the USSR in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
But there was a built-in inner unsustainability within the Bolshevik project. It was based on the fact, that the cultural elite, which was perceived as the enemy, had been destroyed; yet without it, it is impossible to develop a country. The extent to which the Soviet Union destroyed the individual’s intellect is beyond belief. That means that the country was doomed. It means that it is not able to and will never be able to live alone in the world. And that is why the USSR ended up in a state of its gradual stagnation.
Following the war, an absolutely new European world started to be constructed. It was not a world-coaltion, but a world of a unified West, including the victors and the vanquished.
The losers had no preconceptions. Sure, they lost. But they are receiving assistance and that is the most important Christian postulate. And this led to the gradual crystalising of an atmosphere of mutual trust in Europe. And the war between Germany and France, which in the 1930’s seemed to be unavoidable, became inconceivable in 1960’s and 1970s. And nobody forced to join Europe. There was one single condition: the acceptance of democratic values in their economy and in their politic system, and the acceptance of human rights values.
The Eastern Union was aggressive and initially brought oceans of tears: the post-war relocation of the people, violence and cruelty were everywhere. Vengeful to the last drop, it assumed the fate of a Satanic power. The Bolsheviks did not have equal partners – they had only enemies or vassals.
Gorbachev was a brilliant politician; he felt that there was a way to survive. It was not to play with ideological issues, but to integrate into that desired world and to give the USSR a developed economy, life, and unity. He promoted common human values, which he feels are needed to build the single European house from Lisbon to Vladivostok. He was ready to let all of Eastern Europe go its own way. And the USSR also should join with Europe. But he clearly understood that the USSR could not achieve that with its class-structured Marxist and atheistic values. The brilliancy of this idea is founded not only in in the return of the USSR to the system of the European coalition, but also foresaw today’s unified Europe. But none of that happened.
The problem is that people’s cultural values were erased. He was ready to join with Europe but the majority of the people in the USSR had another manner of thinking. They thought that the USSR was a fortress, and that beyond its walls were enemies, that everything was a conspiracy against the Soviet Union. They did not understand that they were different. They thought that if they wore European suits they would become Europeans. But the crux of the problem is inside. And we now have a tragic situation: the country now wears the suits, while the process of its internal regeneration is a long-term process. This process, however, is know to have its moments of recidivism. And gradually the recidivism happened in Ukraine, and in Russia.
A European-like state background has emerged, but in fact the cynical Soviet society has returned without any inner freedoms.
All post-Soviet countries, except those which successfully integrated into Europe, wanted to get closer to each other. In the past 20 years a new society was created. Ukrainians represent not a post-Soviet but a new leading cultural layer. You have become an internally free people. Two circles have emerged: the first is an old anti-cultural Soviet layer which wants to live only for itself and a new layer, ethical one which wants to live for the general good, for the country, for some absolute values. This is the top contradiction today. It is no coincidence that your latest revolution was called the Revolution of Dignity. It is in fact so. And one of the elements of this revolution is its European direction. You live and learn from those you live with.
There are some things in Europe that many people don’t understand: the burdens of freedom. The reaction of a free society is to give people a chance to live in the manner they have chosen. Holland chose one model of freedom, while Poland another. A demonstration of several thousand people is taking place today in Paris in support of traditional values: this has become possible only because Europeans had a right to choose the type of state they should build and they used that right based on the country’s public demand. There are no ideal people or ideal civilisations; homosexuality was also common during Plato’s time; then what should I do now – not read Plato?
The Eurasian Union is a Soviet-like union once again. It consists of one dominant state and then others, which should be subordinate to it: Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus. That is a version of the Soviet Union, an attempt to restore a destroyed state. It has been created primarily in accordance with the principle of being friends against someone. This union is the antithesis to Europe. A union insulated from developed counties can only lead to collapse, and a political and economic fiasco.
Your revolution of 2013-2014 clearly started as a revolution in favour of Europe. Not because everyone believed that they would live better economically. You understood that this is a guarantee of a free society, a guarantee of your future freedom. It is a departure from the post-Soviet oligarchic unethical lifestyle which we recently lived in. You managed to overcome that force which did not want to depart. And when you won, you made it clarified whether that force lived for Ukraine or for itself. And in this case you were assisted by one factor which we lacked of in Russia. It is a factor of a newly created middle class and the factor of the popular support. Why is that? Because in the Soviet period public society was destroyed and social thinking eradicated. Its destruction occurred in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Namely then the Bolsheviks struck their hardest blows at the USSR: the Red Terror and the Great Terror of 1937-38. In the Soviet Union, 95% of its clergy was exterminated or jailed. It was the total destruction of the society. Our society was minced and pounded. Those territories of the USSR which had not been in the USSR till 1940 did not live through this nightmare. That is why Western Ukraine and Western Belarus are more capable of this social restoration.
Because of this there is high public culture in Ukraine, the culture of Kyiv and Kharkiv is connected with the Western Ukrainian social layer of simpler but extant generations along with their heightened consciousness.
When the people of Volyn saw as their children on the other side of the river (on the border between the USSR and Poland) were dying because of the famine in 1933, they tried to go and help them but they were shot by machine guns on the border. These events gave an impetus to the vigorous Ukrainian nationalism. Stepan Bandera strived for this. The historical memory of the nation has been preserved up to now and ultimately created this double force. The events occurring on Ukraine’s south-eastern border is not a war between Ukrainians and Russians. It is not even a war between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. It is a fight of the Soviet and non-Soviet, of a free, European and natural way. This is a struggle not with weapon but with the help of the word. It is because any man will change from bad to good sooner or later. We need to proper words for Donbas, Crimea and Russia. And then Ukraine’s example will be exclusively useful, important and significant for all of us.
Translated by Anatoliy Shara; edited by Myron Spolsky