The West and Russia: Why do we not understand each other?

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Vladimir Pachkov, SJ

 Vladimir Pachkov, SJ / Politics / 24 March 2021


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Cultural roots of a confrontation

After the end of the Soviet Union, both the pro-Western Russian elite and the vast majority of the population harbored the hope of becoming part of the Western community, or rather, of becoming part of Europe again, after having traveled their own path since the October Revolution. There was a belief that this would be a natural path for Russia.

However, after all the vacillating of the 1990s, it became clear during Vladimir Putin’s second term that this path was by no means a foregone conclusion. Europe did not want Russia, and Russia no longer wanted to bind itself to contemporary Europe and its values. Both were mutually disappointed; they had a false image and false expectations of each other.

Europe, as well as the West in general, was convinced that with the overcoming of the Cold War the “end of history” had arrived and that the rest of the world, including Russia, would follow the Western model. In Russia, however, hopes of being readmitted into the circle of European states proved illusory, not only because the nation was, in fact, far less “European” than had been imagined, but also because Europe, since the beginning of the 20th century, had changed considerably.

The two main cultural currents that connected Russia with Europe – the labor movement and bourgeois culture, with its humanistic education and historical consciousness – had dissolved and were replaced by a completely different current. The transition from modernity to postmodernity, which in Europe and the United States took place between the 1960s and 1980s, arrived in Russia with perestroika, but was quickly rejected.

Russia has therefore once again become a bastion of conservatism. Just as in the 19th century when it was the stronghold of conservative forces in Europe, so too today it is the nation that opposes the dominant ideology in the West. It is even seen as the driving force behind European right-wing movements and those current governments in Eastern Europe, which are also generally considered right-wing. On what does this depend? Does it imply a real, historically based ideological and spiritual affinity?

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