Paul Robinson over at Irrussianality recently had a piece drawing attention to a strange characteristics of some Russian liberals – they appear to hate their own country. Robinson suggests this stems from their hatred of Putin, but I would suggest there are more fundamental and broader reasons. Here is my explanation of the Russian liberal’s self-hatred:
It is the case that in most people’s minds Europe’s most meaningful dividing line is that between western and eastern Europe. Most believe this is a leftover of the Cold War and the division between the capitalist and the socialist blocs running along the Iron Curtain.
The reality is this division is far older – it dates back to the Enlightenment era and the 18th century. It was then that Western Europe created for itself the notion of a retrograde, semi-barbarian and potentially menacing Eastern “Europe” that covered the eastern half of the continent beyond German lands.
That is to say Western Europe created for itself an inferior “other” that made it easier to highlight its own alleged civilizational, racial or moral superiority.
Though the content of the complaint the west raises against the east changes with times, the basic fact that west has a need to assert its own superiority over east has remained a constant on the European landscape.
This has naturally presented Eastern Europe with a dilemma of whether to accept or reject the judgment of the more prosperous and economically, and sometimes politically, dominant west. This response, as one would expect, has varied.
On the one hand, there have always been Eastern Europeans who have flat out rejected any notion of western superiority. Individuals who today would note that aside from recently achieving somewhat greater levels or prosperity and technology Western European “achievements” also include the colonial subjugation of most of the non-European world, the Transatlantic slave trade, and the Third Reich.
On the other hand, there have always also been Eastern Europeans who are swayed by the western view of Eastern Europe as primitive, retrograde and counter-civilizational.
The caveat here is that such Eastern Europeans as a rule exempt their particular country from Eastern Europe and therefore from this judgment.
Thus a pro-western Czech may share a dim view of the eastern half of Europe, but he will insist that Eastern Europe does not encompass Czech lands, which for a millennium were part of the German Roman Empire. He is bound to proclaim the east really only begins once you cross into Slovakia, or further on into Hungary, to the east.
A pro-western Hungarian will point out that Catholic and Protestant Hungary can by no means be an “eastern” country and that Eastern Europe only begins once you cross into Orthodox Romania to its east.
A pro-western Romanian, will point to his Latin-based tongue and insist the east doesn’t begin in earnest until you’ve traversed his land and entered Slavic Ukraine.
A pro-western Ukrainian will then give you a list of ways in which his country differs from Russia to back up his view that true east doesn’t really begin until you’ve crossed the border between the two.
Only the pro-western Russian does not have the comfort of an even more Eastern European neighbor. He can scarcely claim that it is only once you’ve crossed into Mongolia that Eastern Europe begins in earnest. Therefore he has no choice but to see his own country as the best and closest personification of Eastern European barbarism there is.
Should this view be coupled with inability to win power and transform the country a Russian westernizer’s only refuge is frustration, depression and self-hatred. That is, the hatred of his own country which is not only backward and barbarian – but that in rejecting his leadership shows it actually cherishes its backwardness and barbarism.