Russian Eurasianism or Why they don’t like the West

Ivan Štern


Although Valery Vilinsky, a native of Odessa and a lifelong exile, categorically rejected Eurasianism and was convinced that Russia belonged to the West, his study Eurasianism, which he wrote for Peroutka’s Presence on August 15, 1929, can now be used to show how wrong he was in good faith. For he described the essence of today’s Russia in an almost exhaustive manner, with a lead of almost a hundred years.


Eurasianism as a manifestation of disgust with the decadent West

According to Vilinsky, the idea of Eurasianism, no longer new, only erupted with new force among emigrants fleeing the horrors of civil war and Bolshevik terror. Left to their own devices by the Europeans, they watched “post-war Europe enjoying itself and resting”. It “seemed to the emigration degenerate, bourgeois and futile”. The Europeans unwittingly agreed with their judgment. It was good taste to mutter about how Europe was undergoing a “cultural crisis” and that the “demise of the West” was imminent. For Russian emigrants “it was easy to believe at the time that the West had already used up all its life force”.


This is a misunderstanding. One of the signs of the West is the tendency to doubt itself. The nature of its doubt is determined by two inventions: capitalism and democracy. They are dynamic, ever-changing phenomena. Their ambition is to repeatedly achieve economic and social equilibrium within a living society, while preventing the risk of stagnation and the emergence of ancien régime regimes that derive their power from unquestionable dogmas and an immutable and inviolable order.


The West does not believe in a fatal salvation

It relies on the responsibility of each individual. People are supposed to be equal. They are inviolable in their dignity. Each individual is inimitable. Therefore, it rejects the idea that development should be directed towards some kind of self-saving utopia. He feels it is uniformity. His goal, on the contrary, is a free and responsible individual.


Eurasianism, and this probably suits the Russians, is “a kind of (mysterious) doctrine, explaining the hidden meaning of Russian history and showing a beautiful future, achievable once new leaders are followed”. The meaning of history is fateful and depends little on the individual. If he does not submit to the predestined and revealed fatality and pin his hopes on the leader who reveals this fatality, he is lost and rejected. For it was “in the expression of Eurasianism that salvation was felt; it contained the expectation of the promised land.”


Whenever the West succumbed to the seductive notion of the predestination of history, the idea that there was some inner meaning and lawfulness embedded in it, leading to some desired culmination (salvation), whether the interpretation of history was ecclesiastical, Marxist, fascist, or Nazi, each of these fatalities eventually materialized in the form of tyranny.


The Tatarization of the Russians

Adherents of the Eurasian idea claim that the invasion of the Tatars not only broke “the tradition of Kievan Russia, but outright destroyed it.” It has not recovered. ‘Russia became … part of the great empire of Genghis Khan and adopted his customs … which forever gave Russia a direction towards Asia’. Yet there is a link to Europe, namely “Orthodoxy, the main essence of (Russian) life”. It has not only not upset the existing uniformity of life, it has even reinforced it.


“Every Russian, regardless of his social status (belonged) to one and the same culture, had the same religious convictions, had the same worldview, the same code of ethics, the same habits of life.” While the West projected the changes in its vision of the world into alternating artistic styles, into epochs marked by a spiritual idiosyncrasy, while it repeatedly rethought what had already been thought out, only to come up with something new again in defiance, Thus the boyar all this time “wore a richer suit, his food was more palatable, his dwelling more comfortable than that of the common man, but the costume of his suit, his food and the style of his house were the same as those of the peasant”.


Although Russian emigrants were fleeing to the West to escape the Bolshevik terror, it was not surprising to many observers that at a time when ‘the Soviets were closing in on Germany and threatening to sabre’, ‘a proud sense of belonging to that, even Bolshevik, but always strong Russia’ was asserting itself among the emigrants. They then enthusiastically quoted Alexander Blok’s lines, “Yes, we Asiatics, we Scythians with slanting and eager eyes!”


The difference between Western Christianity and Orthodoxy

The Russian concept of faith is antithetical to the Western concept. It was the so-called “two faiths”. It combined “the official profession of Christianity with the secret worship of pagan gods.” Its power is illustrated by a story from the second half of the 18th century, when “in the gubernial town of Voronezh, Perun was worshipped and the government had to use force of arms to prevent a festival held in his honour”.


In the West, the content of faith was reflected in the particulars of the worship service “as an expression of religious feeling.” Ceremony became “the form into which this feeling spilled over.” Not so in Russia. Here ritual preceded “its understanding”. This explains why “Russian religiosity” worshipped “holy objects not as symbols of the divine but as its incarnation”. To the Russian, the icon is the lord-god himself. So it is not surprising when in many Russian households, alongside icons of the Mother of God or the Saviour, there are also depictions of Lenin or Putin.


Euroasiat “hates Catholicism passionately and fanatically”

He rejects it for its “dynamism and restless vivacity”. He contrasts it with the “immobility” of Orthodoxy, which he regards as “the highest and only pure and full form of Christianity”. He therefore rejects anything to do with democracy. He regards freedom and equality and the belief that ‘thought should rule’ as a sign of decline. Instead of the ‘rule of thought’, he advocates the rule of dogma. He does not mind that dogma is a contentless spiritual entity. On the contrary, “the idea of Eurasianism … is to be mindful of tradition, … to seize hegemony over the peoples of Asia and to form a synthesis of the spiritual culture of the East”. All this is to take place “on the lasting basis of the only salvific Orthodoxy”. If the term “theocracy” springs to the reader’s mind, he has not missed the mark. Vilinsky even goes further, to find “on closer analysis” that “this whole theocratic mixture (behaves) like sleek fascism.” Well, well, well…


The end of untouchable property

“On the question of private ownership of land and property, the Eurasists bring a new doctrine, … it is the theory of functional property.” This is supposedly neither capitalism nor socialism, but a “system of state-private property”. While the owner is granted certain rights, the state imposes obligations on his shoulders, and not only of a general nature. It often goes so far as to tell him what to produce if he wants to preserve himself. Thus, the durability of property depends “on the relation of (the owner) to the state” and on his relation to the possible “interference of (the state) in the life of civil society”.


“Any owner who fails to perform his duties to society and the state may be judicially deprived of his property (with or without compensation) according to the degree of wrongdoing.” What those duties are is often not deliberately defined. Duties are fluid, deriving from the current political situation. The owner often has no idea whether or not he has complied with them. As a rule, he will only know when the state proceeds to expropriate him. The Khodorkovsky case is literally a textbook case. What is particularly striking here is that even with such a concept of ownership, capitalism can cope with and settle into it.


On one point, the author was too optimistic. He concludes by writing that “Eurasianism is a shapeless mass of sonorous words with no core”. He means to make it clear that hardly anyone can ever cope with such a mass. And lo and behold, Vladimir Putin is, to our misfortune, chatting with the ‘shapeless mass of sonorous words’.

This article was translated from the original version published at Přítomnost.

published: 3. 10. 2022

Datum publikace:
3. 10. 2022
Autor článku:
Ivan Štern