This Issue Back Issues Editorial Board Contact Information


Revansh istorii

rossiiskaia strategicheskaia initsiativa v XXI veke

Reviewer: Sally Boss

(The Revenge of History: Russian Strategic Initiative in the Twenty-First Century) By Aleksandr Sergeevich Panarin. Moscow: Logos, 1998. 391 pages. ISBN 5-88439-085-8. Hardcover. In Russian.

Panarin writes in the tradition of eighteenth-century historiographers such as Herder; his book concerns itself with the future of Russia and the Orthodox East. Under consideration also is “the crisis of the West.”

In the last paragraph of his book, the author says that he commented on “the revenge of history, and not on Russian revenge or the revenge of the East” (390). In books of this type, the last paragraphs are often constructed in such a way as to preempt criticism. To put it differently, the last paragraph is misleading. Here is the book’s table of contents: Introduction: What kind of future awaits Russia? 1. Identity and passion 2. The paradigms of Russian statehood. 3. The cycles of Russian history 4. In the search of a great idea 5. The experience of humanistic political prophesy 6. Geopolitical scenarios in the early twenty-first century. Conclusions: The revenge of history. The book says very little about the East or about history, and it ignores worldwide theoretical research in the field. Except for a few twentieth-century names serving mostly as decorations, it might have been written in Herder’s time. The text is devoted to the promotion of the idea that Russia should consider itself not just a state but a civilization, and should act accordingly. The underlying assumption seems to be that all civilizations seek to overcome their rivals. Samuel Huntington is invoked, and his views are distorted to suit Panarin’s.

Within this kind of vision, the enlargement of NATO is perceived as a threat to Russia. The author does his best to promote the decades-long Russian policy of creating a rift between Europe and the United States. He argues that American civilization has little to do with the European one, and that the United States displays hegemonic tendencies that should be rebuffed by Europe. The rebuff should take the form of repudiation of American interests in Europe. In Panarin’s opinion, America’s hegemonic tendency is apparent in the extension of NATO into the territories that twenty years earlier were dominated by Soviet Russia. The author invokes European self-interest: “NATO’s push toward the east is no less dangerous for Europe than it is for Russia. It is an example of the Americanization of Europe. In the long run it does not strengthen Europe’s status in the world but on the contrary, it weakens it because it makes the decision-making process more complicated” (370). Often the author forgets to conduct his discourse within his wishful-thinking taxonomy (Europe vs. the United States) and reverts to what he seems to really believe (and what he opposes); namely, that western civilization is more attractive to virtually all post-Soviet peoples than Russian dominance: “The genuine interests of Russia dictate a policy of reintegration of the post-Soviet space; without such reintegration Russia will be swallowed up by the wave of de-industrialization and will fall back to the level of third world countries. . . . The geopolitical concessions which post-Soviet Russia made to the West are the maximum [italics by A. S. P.] Russia will ever concede. Any further attack [italics mine, SB] by the West-be it in the form of a further enlargement of NATO or by playing the Ukrainian, Georgian, Azeri, or Central Asian ‘cards’ -would mean that the aforementioned concessions by Russia were like the concessions to Hitler at Munich. From the standpoint of global strategy, the 1990s were for the West exactly the same as German gains at Munich in 1938” (348).

Having compared the democratic West to Hitler’s Germany, the author proceeds to argue that Russia has “a double nature” (347): on the one hand, it is Eastern Orthodox, on the other, it has an Asian component. Likewise, [western] Europe (which is the proper partner for Russia, according to Panarin) is not a “monolith.” The flexibility of both entities allowed Peter the Great to “break into Europe” [prorubit’ okno v Evropu] by conquering the Baltic area. Panarin does not mention the partitions of Poland which gave Russia instant presence in Europe together with a relatively advanced material culture and an educated citizenry. For him, any territorial gain that Russia made, or could make, at the expense of Europe is described as “westernization” of Russia, a phenomenon of which Panarin approves. In other words, Panarin wants western Europe to permit Russia to expand into eastern and central Europe simply because such an expansion is advantageous for Russia. The fate of some 150 million people who inhabit the former Soviet sphere of influence in Central and Eastern Europe and who are opposed to Russia’s expansion into their territory is of no interest to him (in this he agrees with politologist Stephen Cohen of Princeton University and with journalist Patrick Buchanan). In spite of his invocations of Huntington, he seems to argue that Russia’s expansive interests are Europe’s interests as well. He is dissatisfied with the present situation, which he considers temporary. According to Panarin, the reclaiming by the West of its eastern marches (never mind that it happened with full agreement of their citizenry) makes the West “less open to the outside world and less pluralistic” (347). Panarin predicts that “the wave of westernization” will soon end. We can surmise that it will involve the “return” of, at the very least, eastern Europe to the status of Russia’s colony (central Europe, with its four largely Catholic states of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Czech Republic, may be reluctantly ceded to the West). Panarin clearly believes in the zero-sum game, and any concept of democracy is clearly alien to him.

Panarin is one of a growing number of so-called Eurasianists in the Russian politological elite. His spectacular rise from a professor of philosophy at the provincial university of Ul’ianovsk-Simbirsk to a prominent place in the Russian Academy of Sciences is one indication of this trend’s popularity in Putin’s Russia. Eurasianism is a code word for empire restoration, but some of its peculiarities go back to the pre-Soviet period where the word first appeared. As etymology indicates, Eurasianism involves a belief that Russia is a sui generis civilization (a belief reinforced by Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations), and that its peculiarities stem from the vastness of its territory and a combination of Slavic and Turkic elements. In Aktual’nye problemy natsional’noi politiki i federalizma v Rossii: Iz materialov nauchno-prakticheskoi konferentsii (Moscow, 1995, p. 10) Panarin wrote: “The supporting structure of our state is the union of the Slavic and Turkic peoples. Without this, Rossiia cannot be preserved; without this, Rossiia will split asunder to the Volga and beyond.” He further asserted that “[t]here is no way that we can keep a united Rossiia if we do not creatively reinforce ourselves by imagining a sort of a new historical and sociocultural synthesis of Slavicism and Mussulmanism on our territory, within the framework of our state. In other words, we are speaking of the restoration of a single spiritual space, permitting the Slavic and Turkic elements in our Eurasia to be integrated” (p. 50).

Needless to say, Panarin’s hope that the Slavic and Turkic peoples of Russia might form a voluntary union is at best utopian and at worst imperialistic: Panarin’s Eurasian culture is to be dominated by Moscow rather than Islam. It would appear that the Turkic people’s only accepted contribution is the supply of territory and the political system that became deeply entrenched in Russian political culture (the Muscovite state derived its political principles from the Mongol conquerors and from the Tatars who formed an earlier state on the Volga River). All the power is expected to rest with Moscow.

It should be noted that of all “European” states Russia has the largest percentage of Muslims. Most of these Muslims are of Turkic origin, and they are scattered throughout the “Russian” territory. While their largest concentration is on the Volga (Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan), they originally dominated southern Russia as well.

On the other hand, Panarin seems to hold the opinion that in order to make this Slavic-Turkic union strong, it is necessary for Europe to yield its “eastern marches” to Rossiia. ∆

Back to the April 2005 Issue
The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 5/25/05