Today, the role of Eurasianism lies in its practical applicability, but without a synthesis of common values basis this concept is extremely weak, according to the participants of the Valdai Club expert discussion, titled “Eurasianism in the 21st Century: An Intellectual Tradition Serving Modern Development”, which was held within the framework of the 11th Russian International Studies Association Convention. Representatives of the Eurasian Movement of Russia took part in the event.
The discussion of Eurasianism inevitably runs into a dispute about the borders of this space, said Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Valdai Discussion Club. According to him, there is still no clear understanding of where this space begins, and where it ends. Different groups of Eurasianists have their own ideas on this subject, sometimes quite paradoxical. Even in Russian philosophical thought, where the idea of Eurasia means a turn to the East, many see this concept as more comprehensive and recognize Europe as part of this space. Nevertheless, Fyodor Lukyanov believes that in today’s political reality the issue of borders assumes the utmost importance, as indicates, for example, the region’s painful reception of the recent referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Timofei Bordachev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, discussed the issue of the formation of Eurasian identity as a basis for the idea of Eurasia. He noted that the curse of the Eurasian region was always its inability to identify itself as a single entity. This search is still going on, the speakers noted. In particular, in the absence of a single basis of values, the ideologists of Eurasianism tend to focus on single institutions, therefore trying to repeat the path of the European unification. Such institutions are the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Eurasian Economic Union or the EAEU’s confluence with the Chinese Belt and Road initiative.
Despite the search for a basis for a modern Eurasianism, we observe the value uncertainty of this concept. In particular, it seems difficult to find points of common values from Lisbon to Singapore. Tony van der Togt, Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations, noted that the issue of values still poses Russia itself at a dead end, since it has not yet fully identified itself in the Eurasian space. The expert said that Russia has historically positioned itself as the Third Rome and a conductor of Christian values, more associated with Europe than with Eurasia. According to Tony van der Togt, any integration process most often takes as a basis the unification in the face of an external antagonist, and the Eurasian space is too large for this.
Participants highlighted the evolution of China’s role in the discussion about Eurasianism. Fyodor Lukyanov stated, that although a hundred years ago, the adherents of this theory considered China as a secondary factor, with the increasing role of geopolitics in the modern Eurasian idea the importance of China has also increased. Developing upon this idea, Boris Mezhuyev, Assistant Professor at the Department of Philosophy of Moscow State University, drew attention to the fact that in the early 20th century, China was considered to be outside the Eurasian idea. According to him, there was a separate philosophical direction, Asianism, which was regarded as conflicting with Eurasianism.
The question of how Russia and China can live together in one political and cultural space of the continent became one of the key points of the discussion. For a long time, the idea of Eurasianism remained an exclusively metaphysical concept, which often did not have a pragmatic beginning, Timofei Bordachev said. Now, under the pressure of the prevailing political factors, Russia in many respects was forced to seek practical application of this idea, which moved it to seek points of contact with China.
According to Vasily Kashin, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, the revival of Eurasianism in present political realities is logical and not accidental because this concept acquires concrete and practical application. This idea largely determined the fact, that today Russia is approaching to the formation of relations of high dependence with China. While in the early 2000s, the Russian economy was focused exclusively on Europe, to the detriment of Russia itself, today the trend has changed radically as the share of the APEC market increased significantly and continues to grow by 1-2 percentage points per year.
A turn to Asia or an attempt to introduce Asia into the Russian understanding of Eurasianism, which is expressed in close economic cooperation, also entailed the second important component of a single Eurasian identity formation, the cultural aspect. Vasily Kashin noted, that currently, 56,000 people in Russia are studying Chinese, three times more than just ten years ago. Drawing parallels with the European integration experience, Timofei Bordachev said that the cultural component of Eurasianism should emerge some time later and become the result of political and economic integration, rather than precede it.
Flag of the Eurasian movement.