The book came out resolutely against then First Secretary Gorbatchev’s suggestion that not only the Soviet Union, but also the US and Japan, should be part of a large ‘European House’.
The URSS, a giant that reaches to the Pacific, is still not part of Peter the Great’s Europe, even though Russians are considered as Europeans in contrast to Asians and Muslims. But whether in Europe or Asia, the URSS is too large to be included in any group, too immense to be primus inter pares. Poland, Bulgaria and Romania today constitute Eastern Europe, while Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary make up Central Europe. To cling to the formula ‘Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals’, which would make Russia its Eastern region, is not only outrageously ethnocentric, implying that Europe is white and Christian, it prevents us from building a credible European future.
Though today Gorbatchev’s vision is not mentioned in reference to Vladimir Putin’s project for a Eurasian Union, one cannot discuss the latter without referring to the former. Or rather, at the risk of appearing too pretentious as a woman who twice eschewed academic credentialization, one cannot discuss Putin’s dream without considering the message of ‘Une autre Europe, un autre Monde’.
Regarding the Soviet Union, the French historian and founder of the Annals school Fernand Braudel wrote:
The destiny of this country which is located in the middle of the Eurasian landmass has been that of an immense frontier-zone between Europe, which it protects, and Asia, whose ever more brutal assaults fell upon it. Russia’s invaders – Mongols, Turks, Arabs – were nomads. Its merchants, city people, travelled the immense territory, but refrained from visiting its peoples. Thus, it is no surprise that while Westerners think that democracy equals the right to emigrate, the Russians, huddled together because of their geography, have always seen emigration as a betrayal.
I noted that “It took Levi’s, a non-violent invasion, to change that mentality”, and that “while so many changes are happening in the USSR, Europe remains attached to its old criteria, seen as immutable even in the space age, locating the European frontier at the Urals, a holdover from a time when Nation-states did not yet exist, but only peoples, when it was necessary, as Braudel wrote, ‘to separate light from darkness, barbarism from civilization, as peoples moved from East to West.’”
I held the first copy of my book on the day the Berlin Wall fell in November, 1989. Western Europe still consisted of only twelve countries and was called The Common Market. The latter chapters of the book proposed ways in which East and West could be reunited, forming a larger entity. Two of my neighbors in Paris at the time were a German-Italian couple, with whom I shared champagne that night, and they were sure I was being overly optimistic when I announced without the slightest hesitation that Germany would be reunited within a year. (It happened in October of 1990.)
Although my elaborate plan for a gradual building of confidence between the countries of Eastern and Western Europe had proved unnecessary, during that year I spoke out in EU meetings in Brussels for an accelerated entry of the newly independent countries into the European Union. French President Francois Mitterrand wanted the project put on the back burner, having also tried to delay the reunification of Germany, that country having invaded France three times in the last century. My book accused France of continuing to fear Germany while condemning it for what were at the time its pacifist policies vis a vis a Soviet Union, preventing Europe’s two largest countries from forming the center of a revitalized Europe and delaying its independence from the United States. Since the end of World War II, Washington had consistently portrayed the Soviet Union as an existential threat to Europe, falling back on Finlandization (a soft, economic takeover), when predictions of Russian tanks rolling unopposed across the European plain failed to be taken seriously in the face of NATO’s massive buildup.
Fast forward to the present: Gorbatchev, though a hero in the West, was swept away by his own people, to be replaced by a man who became a joke, but not before presiding over a Washington-directed economic overhaul that left Russia weaker than at any time in its history. When Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin, declared that the end of the Soviet Union was the biggest disaster in history, he was referring to the costs to ordinary citizens of that dislocation. American politicians seized upon that remark to condemn his idea of a Eurasian Community as an ill-disguised plan to recreate the Soviet Union, resubjugating hapless neighbors.
Washington’s deliberate distortion of this project is facilitated by the fact that most Americans ignore the fundamental difference between a socialist worldview and that of a capitalist empire. A fundamental part of the socialist ethos is a privileging of negotiation over armed conflict, and as a logical consequence of this, a conviction that there must ultimately be some form of world government. That of an empire is to ‘do what it takes’ to ‘get the job done’ of aligning the periphery with the center’s plans.
(Russia is no longer a socialist country, but as I have written before, it has not thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and hence should be labelled as an aspiring social-democracy that has yet to develop an advanced parliamentary system such as exist in Northern and Western Europe. That socialist social policies have been maintained or reaffirmed is illustrated by the desire of Russians living in Ukraine to rejoin the mother country, whose social benefits are better than those of its oligarch-ruled neighbor.)
The conviction that international relations should prvilege cooperation over con-frontation is reflected in everything that Putin writes or says – including his consistent refusal to be dawn into a conflict over Ukraine – and forms the bedrock of his Eurasian project. Alas, the intellectual foundations for Putin’s dream are never discussed, being way too complicated for your average American reader – not to mention his average political representative who didn’t even know where Ukraine was newscasters began pinpointing it on a map. By systematically dismissing Putin’s pronouncements as propaganda, Washington can declare that his plan is a threat to Europe, the West in general and the United States in particular. In fact, it is no more a threat than was the plan I outlined in 1989: both, however, could free Europe from American hegemony.
Putin’s Eurasian Community, which would include China, India, Iran and eventually the countries of the Middle East (he just invited Turkey to join while clinching economic deals in the wake of U.S. sanctions), with Europe as an equal partner, would be a close cousin to my idea of a Eurasia composed of a Thirty nation Europe, the URSS, India, China, and Japan, in which the URSS would have been simply one of five giant entities and therefore a threat to none.
As things stand today, Russia has re-cemented the ties it had forged with China during the early postwar years, after a tense period that lasted from the mid-fifties to the early eighties, when the two leading Communist countries each feared the other. Today the United States sees each of them as a threat for different reasons: Russia contains within its immensity a veritable cornucopia of minerals and other scarce resources, while China is set to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy with the next year. Washington is said to have revised its estimate of the China threat from the 2020’s to the near future. And when Russia and China created the BRICS – inviting India, Brazil and South Africa to join with them – their combined threat became existential. Hence the plan to double down on NATO’s eastward march, via Ukraine, with Georgia next in line, weakening Russia before confronting China.
In the twenty-five years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe has only deepened its subservience to the United States, as illustrated by its abject decision to impose upon Russia sanctions that compound the disastrous effects of the 2008 economic meltdown on its welfare state. Washington will try to persuade the Europeans that dependence on Russian energy is Finlandization’s revenge, but they should hope Putin succeeds in his Eurasian project, because that would offer them another opportunity to replace Atlantic subservience with an equal partnership with the other continental giants.