The first sovereign of independent Russia, Ivan III, brought from what was once Byzantium not only his wife, but also, again freed from the Turks, the double-headed eagle, emblem and expression of an idea. Although various Eastern European countries consider themselves in some way heirs to this imperial ideal, nowhere has the tension between East and West been as strong as in Russia, except perhaps in Turkey itself.
After Peter the Great, the double-headed eagle looked more and more to the West. Perhaps the elite perceived itself in the same way as today’s small group of pro-Western intellectuals. But how did the people view themselves?
It must be said that Russia’s attempts to conform to Western models have all failed miserably, although it has sometimes taken decades, or even centuries, for the failure to manifest itself. The attempt undertaken by Peter the Great to create a European Russia became almost mythological, a cornerstone of Russia’s identity. But beyond the success achieved through reforms, we can conclusively say its consequences were disastrous for the country.
In Russia, there is a very lively debate currently going on about the country’s history. Exactly 100 years ago the Bolsheviks seized power, plunging the country into chaos and the tragedy of civil war. The latter ended long ago, but history remains, today as it was then, a battlefield except that now, the conflict is not between communists and their enemies, but between liberals and traditionalists. History now runs the risk of being no longer a science, but a slave to ideology.