_Leonid Blyakher, Professor, Head of the Department of Philosophy and Culturology of the Pacific State University, Doctor of Philosophy. Vladivostok, 11 September 2018.
Russia’s turn to the East, announced already a decade ago, is now approaching the psychologically most difficult stage, reminiscent of the state of house repair, when the inability to continue the usual way of life is already evident, and the benefits that will arise after the completion of repairs are not seen so far. In these conditions it is especially important to clearly imagine what should happen in the end. Otherwise, there is a great temptation to “curtail” the project, to recognize it as a “failure”, having conserved the unsettledness that has arisen. Below I will try not so much to describe (for this column is not a particularly suitable volume), how much to outline the future for which the project “Turn to the East” is aimed, the actions that must be taken to make it real.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it seemed that Russia’s “western” orientation prevailed. The Greater Europe project from Lisbon to Vladivostok, the entry of Russian representatives into the main political clubs in Europe, confirmed the “European choice of Russia”. At the same time, it is indicative that the subject of the discussion was not the Russian version of the future, but the opportunity to “fit” Russia into an already existing project. It was about integrating into a global project led by the United States, represented in the minds of experts – and not just experts – as a return to the path of “all civilized countries.” However, already in the first decade of the 21st century, cooling begins in relations with “Western partners”. Today this “cooling” has reached a state similar to the period of the “cold war”.
In these conditions, the Russian “turn to the East” is perceived by a significant part of the international community, and the expert community as a forced measure, a political move caused by the current world situation. Unequivocal considerations on the priority of the eastern direction for Russia, expressed by the first persons of the state, are treated not so much as a sign of a long-term direction of Russian policy, but rather as a regular company that is not today or tomorrow will end. Of course, there is a reason for such a perception. Perhaps the most intensive prospect of a turn to the East was discussed in recent years, when the increasing pressure on Russia from the West literally pushes it in the opposite direction.
But there are much more fundamental processes, which by no means in 2013-14 caused the distance of Russia from the “West”. These reasons seem to be rooted in the Eurasian nature of our country, where thanks to the peculiarities of spatial organization and resettlement in Northern Eurasia, traditions that go from nomadic empires, from Byzantium, remain extremely significant. And the European substratum remains one of them, far from being the most significant. The Eurasian essence of Russia, its inevitable stay in two, not always coinciding and not always closely connected economic, political and ideological spaces, throughout the history of Russian statehood has been both its curse and its chance. A curse because the gigantic, different and discordant Russia could never fully fit itself into either the East or the West. Some, sometimes not insignificant, part of it has always remained “another”, not included in the general movement. But this, in the new conditions and a huge chance for Russia to constitute itself in the New World.
One of the objectively existing trends of modernity is the movement of the World Organism Center from the Atlantic to East Asia. It was East Asia, which had recently become the world periphery, the place of export of technology and capital, transformed into a new “workshop of peace”, leaving the former leaders the role of rentiers who lived the wealth accumulated by previous generations. In Asia, not only production centers, technological development, but own consumption centers are being formed before our eyes, turning “Asia for Europe” into “Asia for Asia”. The question is, in what capacity will Russia be able to join this movement: as a supplier of raw materials, alien to the region, or as one of the key players.
Today, the project of “Greater Eurasia” is becoming more and more actual, with its goal to institutionalize the transformation of the geographic concept that has been going on for more than one decade into an economic and political phenomenon. Due to the spatial location, the existence of the basis for the formation of the Eurasian transport infrastructure, the vast experience of multicultural life, Russia is able to act as a space for the “assembly” of Eurasia. With relatively small modernization efforts, it is Russia that can become the most convenient meeting place for the East and the South, the South and the West. Not only a place of trade and the cheapest route of delivery of the product to the consumer, but the place of formation of a new multicultural entity. At the same time, we are not talking about hegemony, but about a special unbiased unity in the sphere of politics, economy, and culture.
The basis of this project is laid in the Far East of Russia. The “entrance spaces” with the countries of East Asia are being built, the Transsib is being reconstructed, the geography itself is called to become the bearing structure of Greater Eurasia, conditions are created for the convenience of trade and investment, new conditions for the production and extraction of minerals.
But only this is categorically small. The project of Russia’s return to its Eurasian essence is perceived by both the population and a significant part of the elite as a regional project that deals exclusively and exclusively with the Russian Far East. This strange understanding and causes the greatest number of questions, including among the residents of the Far East. Today there comes a period when connection to the process of turning to the East of the whole country is extremely important. “Input spaces” are needed not only “to the East”, but also “to the South”, “to the West”. The objective conditions for their formation are the most favorable. Cultural circumstances are unfavorable. Asia for the vast majority of the population of Russia is perceived as alien and dangerous. For rational perception of Asian partners without “black” or “pink” glasses, it is necessary to know Asia, to know the way of Russia in Asia.
The All-Russian project is inconceivable, not only without efforts in the sphere of economy, transport development, but without giant educational activity. The bright and rich history of Russia in Asia remains the lot of narrow specialists. For mass consciousness, this is the “history of the development of empty space.” Her battles and her heroes continue to remain half-forgotten. Like the complex relationship of Russia with the most powerful countries of Asia from the Dzungarian Khanate to the Manchurian Empire. The history and culture of Asia continues to remain in the sphere of myths and conjectures. It is difficult to imagine an educated person in Russia who does not know who Shakespeare is. But it is possible to imagine him, not suspecting the existence of Hafiz or Qu Yuan. Outside the mass consciousness in Russia, there are also features of the organization of communication in this world.
Asia is a space where a much greater role than in Europe is played not by formal arrangements, but by interpersonal trust and social networks. “Being in Asia” – for Russia means having powerful and constantly operating loyalty networks. To create such networks from natives of Russia living in these countries, from foreign partners with whom a high level of interpersonal trust has been achieved, is possible and necessary. Only by relying on such loyalty networks as on conductors in the world of Asia, our country can become a space for the formation of a new global center of power – the “Greater Eurasia”.