No dialogue with the ’empty place’

(Speech at the Conference “How to strengthen the relations of European Union with Ukraine? What about the renewal of the dialogue with Russia?”, organized by “Confrontations Europe” in Brussels, 24 April 2014)

The key word in the title of our conference is dialogue. Are we talking about dialogue as a cultural value, or the technological negotiations with terrorists? Leave the last to the police. Considering that after the occupation of Crimea by Russian troops in 2014, the return to atmosphere, and rhetoric of the Cold War is often discussed; I would like to underline what we should not return to. We should not return to attempting to arrange dialogue with the Devil.

The regime of Viktor Yanukovych, which was supported and encouraged by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, deepened the system of corruption, forced political pressure on the media and attempted to eliminate civil society and freedom in Ukraine. The economy was brought to the brink of collapse. However, the people of Ukraine overthrew this regime.

Following the EuroMaidan Revolution, the new Ukrainian government implemented a series of policies designed to fight corruption and create favorable conditions for doing business in Ukraine and to attract foreign investment.

In education, we share the government’s same planned goals of democratization, accountability, transparency, and other important changes. Reforms in higher education include: the destruction of authoritarian state control over universities; the establishment of university autonomy; the program of interdisciplinary integration; and the integration of Ukraine’s higher education system with the European High Education Area.

Firstly, it is necessary to restore public confidence in the Ministry of Education and Science, that had become extensively corrupted. Secondly, we have to push through parliament a new law entitled “On Higher Education”, which has been under development by the Ukrainian educational community during the last few years, together with additional laws “On Education” and “On Science and Research.” Thirdly, we will simplify the licensing and accreditation system, whose procedures were unduly complicated and corrupt. We are focused on the task of improving the quality of education and research.

Following this path, we will separate Ukraine from Russia’s authoritarian practices of governance. To the current Russian regime, this is the greatest threat to their own autocracy.

Many intellectuals in the West used to call for dialogue with the Soviet Union in the context of the necessity to respect the choice of Soviet people, which first had a “revolution” in 1917, and later were trying hard to build communism.

But that is not true.

First, the Bolshevik takeover in 1917 was a project of renovation and reestablishment of the Russian Empire, which has nothing in common with ideas of rightfulness.

Second, the faceless masses of so-called Soviet people were a result of awful repressions, brainwashing and russification held on the territory of the USSR. They had neither their own will nor the ability to choose between different methods of social, political and economic development.

The West often identified the USSR with Russia, which ignored the right of self-determination of other nations included to the Soviet Union through interventions and occupations. Finally, the dialogue was arranged with a clique of international terrorists who seized power and established a single-party communist dictatorship.

To understand current events better, I offer the diaries of Zinaida Gippius, who was a Russian intellectual with democratic thinking. There is a proverb in Ukraine saying that Russian democracy ceases as soon as it reaches the issue of Ukraine. Nevertheless, the emigrant diaries of Zinaida Gippius convince us that she was a real democrat, and trace, at the same time, the tragedy of her political marginality. People like her never had real political power in Russia.

Today we should carry on the dialogue with only people who are sincere in their intention to find a way out of the political deadlock of the cold war. Then, what should we mean by saying «dialog with Russia»? If we communicate with responsible intellectuals, they are not the people who can influence Vladimir Putin and his clique. Dialog with Putin is impossible not only from the point of ethics and morality, but also due to the total senselessness of such an attempt. Just listen: «Putin and dialog». Come on, no time for kidding.

Basing on my people’s hundreds-of-years-long experience of relations with the Russian political system, I will try to explain it in visual terms. It is important for many benign western intellectuals who live in the countries not bordering Russia.

The Russian tradition of a strong state means Russians respect the hierarchy of the state bureaucracy. Such kinds of hierarchic consciousness tend to respect any leader who gets to the top of the pyramid of power. The leader, be Tsar, President, or Secretary General of the CPSU Central Committee, it doesn’t matter, must be «strong», which means he must be able to keep this pyramid solid, as it is associated with the country, with the people, and, at the same time, with the «happiness» of the people.

Outrages on humanity or the negation of human rights and freedoms are not considered to be crimes, but the ability to preserve the idol of unlimited power, this is heritage from the times of Mongol rule, would be called so. The one who holds the power is beyond good and evil, anything he does will be tolerated, including such a «minor» fault as corruption.

In Putin’s terms, we are dealing with the «sovereign democracy» of Russia, very close in some aspects to the ideological principles of German Nazism. We can observe now a phenomenon of collective psychosis, resembling the one described by Carl Gustav Jung who provided an explanation for this phenomenon. In terms of the tsarist period of Russian history, the phenomenon was characterized as «Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality».

Therefore, it does not really matter who is on the top of Russian pyramid of power, only the position which it holds. This pyramid has an independent ability to translate «unchallenged» ideas of the top person to the entire society. So, Russian society, hypnotized by information wars and totalitarian media, respects not the person, but the seat of power occupied by this person. Correspondingly, hopes for a dialog with Russia are hopes for a dialog with this «empty place».

It must be mentioned that there is no principal difference between totalitarianism and the abovementioned pyramidal Russian authoritarianism. They both are based on the old principle of «the stronger one is always right». The reasons that made Russian government return to the political practices of the Dark Ages are the following:

First, the regime of “sovereign democracy” has demonstrated its total ineffectiveness. Therefore, Putin has to demonstrate «achievements» on the international arena pretending to be an «integrator» and «retriever of the lands» of the Russian Empire in the eyes of its exalted chauvinistic majority.

Second, Putin’s anti-Ukrainian politics have a hysterical character. During the three years of Yanukovych’s rule, Ukraine was totally infiltrated by Russian operatives; Russian agents or venal bureaucrats were appointed to key positions. Major parts of the Ukrainian political elite were amenable to psychological addiction to Soviet / Russian imperial heritage. Russia used to spend huge amounts of funds to enervate Ukrainian military forces and to keep it in the fairway of Russian politics. But, as a result of Euromaidan’s victory, the whole geopolitical project of the Anschluss of Ukraine slipped out of the hands.

Third, Euromaidan became the most visible threat of the Ukrainian “virus” of freedom to Russian autocracy. This is historical battle of different types of political cultures and mentalities. 106 members of the “heavenly hundred” gave their lives for the fundamental human values and justice of Europe. The number of victims of the Russian-Ukrainian war is growing.

Fourth, projects of this kind can only be based on a specific political culture of the major part of Russian society, hung up on a primitive mythological vision of the reality. Lack of elementary political freedoms together with a general tolerance of authoritarianism is being compensated for through an aggressive search for an enemy.

Fifth, Putinism is characterized by the authorities’ ignorance of a conscientious and thinking part of Russian society. The personality of Putin himself is significant: he is a KGB agent with a primitive Soviet education convinced of his almightiness. He sees society as a faceless vulgar thing, which can be told lies to, and manipulated again and again.

Under such conditions, returning to the idea of a resumption of dialog with Russia, we should recognize the impossibility of a dialog with Devil. Would Europe be able to have a dialog with Russia, if Russia had annexed Brussels, where we stand today?

In the context of diplomatic dialogue Ukraine can agree to a referendum on a unitary or federal structure of the state. It is our position that any democratic choice may be appropriate. The problem is that Russia is ignoring the content of democratic procedures, remembering the main principle of Joseph Stalin: it’s not who votes that counts, it’s who counts the votes. In other words, if the referendum results deny Russia’s position, its government will not recognize it. They understand only language of force.

So, is the dialog needed? Of course it is, but that must be a dialog between people who sincerely hope it will have results. I would like to remember the great European tradition of philosophical hermeneutics from St. Augustine to Gadamer and Ricoeur, where we speak about the personal involvement and responsibility of all participants. This is such fruitful conversation that gives us the opportunity to find something new, which did not exist at the beginning of the dialog and is both a solution and the truth.

That is why I suggest looking at the task of such conversation wider than the professional work of diplomats or the police. This dialogue has to become an intellectual bridge between nations, cultures, and civilizations.

Speaking about the Russian side, it must be represented not by the spokespersons of Putinism, but by critically thinking intellectuals having a natural rejection of the sacral power of the “empty place”, they would be decent representatives for their people. We should speak about a lot of different dialogs between academics, students, responsible politicians, and others, who are interested in the process and positive result of mutual understanding. The Ukrainian side will be represented by the generation of the victorious Euromaidan, grounded on the idea of diversity. For the Europeans, such a conversation would be an important option for self-reconsideration from a position of ideology of common understanding as the most important value of Europe.

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