PONARS Working Paper 023 - Inside/Outside
Europe and the Boundaries of Russian Political Community
October 1, 2004
Russian political discourse almost inevitably defines Russia through reference to Europe, which can be emotionally positive or negative, but still indispensable. This paper examines some aspects of the significance of Europe for Russian national identity construction, in particular those relevant for defining the boundaries of Russian political community. Drawing of the inside/outside boundary, inclusion of some relevant entities and exclusion of others, is a crucial constitutive moment for any political community, which to a great extent predetermines foreign as well as domestic policies. Russia is usually defined as a European country, but it is very easy to observe that its belonging to Europe is usually perceived as very problematic. Next section briefly discusses the nature of this problematic relationship and suggests several main characteristic features of Europe as it is being constructed in Russian political discourse. In the subsequent two sections I explore several basic models of relationship between Russia and other key signifiers: in addition to Europe, they are the West, terrorism, and the historical Other of the Soviet Union. The main model still positions Russia against the West, although the alternative models, putting Russia and the West together against the Soviet past or against the present threat of terrorism are also viable. Neither of these models, though, can provide adequate answers to the current challenges facing global democracy. At the same time, it is very interesting to note that Europe plays a unique role by always stretching across the dividing line between the internal and the external, leaving Russian national identity in the state of conspicuous indeterminacy. For most participants of the debate such dislocation is a cause of anxiety, but this incompleteness may also be explored as a resource which makes change possible and prevents totalitarian closure. This irreducibility might also be an interesting departure in our search for a democratic solution to current global problems.