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Time overdue for Russia to enter the EU



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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June 23, 2011

Can the spirit of the growing meeting of the minds of presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev, clearly on view yesterday when Medvedev said he wanted Obama to be re-elected, now be carried over into Russia's relationship with Europe? In many ways it is easier for the U.S. to make a big peace with Russia than it is for Europe. There has never been any territorial issue between the two whereas Russia has fought major wars with France, Britain, Sweden, Finland and Germany.

Is it at last possible, twenty years after the fall of communism, for contemporary Europe to finally respond to Mikhail Gorbachev's plea to build a “common European house”?

This is the European Union’s call. America will want to be privy to the content of the discussions, but Washington knows that in this case what Europe decides it wants it cannot obstruct. Nor does it have any real reason to interfere.

Is Russia a European or Asiatic nation? It is a question that has been debated for 500 years at least. The nineteenth century Slavophil, Nikolay Danilevskiy argued that Russia possesses an instinctive Slavic civilisation of its own - midway between Europe and Asia. Yet Dostoevsky, speaking at a meeting at the unveiling of a statute to the poet Pushkin, said, “Peoples of Europe, they don't know how dear to us they are.” If this is the predominant mood among Russian intellectuals today they still have to contend with the nationalism - and Slavism - of the rump Communist party and those powerful voices in the army, and even the foreign ministry, who fear a loss of independence if Russia is swallowed up in a greater Europe.

Seventy years of totalitarian communism, following on the autocracy of the tsars, as Norman Davies writes in his monumental history of Europe “has built huge mental as well as physical curtains across Europe.” It was Churchill who called the Bolsheviks “a baboonery”, steeped in the deadly traditions of Attila and Genghis Khan. Yet Lenin and his circle assumed that one day they would join up with revolutionaries in the advanced capitalist countries. The Comintern in the early 1920s discussed the idea of a United States of Europe. It wasn't the Bolsheviks but Stalin who pointed Russia eastwards.

In today's liberated Russia the European heart beats fast. The roots go deep. Muscovy has been an integral part of Christendom since the tenth century. In the late imperial era it was not just Dostoevsky and Pushkin who wrote in the European tradition, but Lermontov, Tolstoy and Chekhov, giants then whom the passage of time has not demoted. Russian music, so eminently of European pedigree, with Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov rivalled anything that came out of nineteenth century Germany, Austria and Italy. The Ballet Russes and the Stanislavsky Theatre School were the leaders in Europe. Even Stalin chose not to squash this inheritance, although he sought to control its legacy and energy in his own ruthless manner.

Russia has now found with America that it has been able to fashion a common alliance - against terrorism, for nuclear disarmament, against nuclear proliferation to unstable countries and perhaps even a quiet, unprovocative, containment of the growing might of China. The agenda with Europe is more demanding, but its rewards will be much more long-lasting.

If discussions on the future membership of Russia in the EU began now it would take at least ten years and probably twenty to bring to the point of consummation. Russia still has too much corruption, misadministration, and lack of widespread democratisation, not to mention seriously inadequate legal institutions for it to be a quick process. But, as with Turkey today, the carrot of future entry can prove to be a good stick for beating the system into shape.

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Europe itself has to decide how much it wants this. It has within its power the opportunity to anchor Russia firmly within Europe, to cut off for all time the Russian temptation to look inward and to downplay its respect for democracy and human rights. Without Russia welcome in Europe it leaves the Russian psyche dangerously exposed- insecure, exiled from its natural centre of gravity and horribly free to roll around the deck like the proverbial loose cannon.

Yet for some Europeans there will be a price that goes beyond the usual debate on Airbus subsidies, agricultural policy and Greek debt. It is to give up the vision of a united federal Europe, under one parliament and one president. With Russia a member, clearly it could not work- Russia is just too big. Yet Europe would still gain more than it ever dared aspire to – a continent-wide union of its member states and the stabilization of this great centre of civilization that has spent too much of its history at war with itself, much more than any other part of the world.

Copyright © 2011 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
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Jonathan Power's 2001 book

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Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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