The Loneliness of the Half-Blood
by Vladislav Surkov
translation by Bill Bowler
The original appears in Russia in Global Politics, April 9, 2018
Vladislav Yuryevich Surkov (born 21 September 1964) is a Russian businessman and politician of Chechen descent. He was First Deputy Chief of the Russian Presidential Administration from 1999 to 2011, during which time he was widely seen as the main ideologist of the Kremlin. He proposed and implemented the concept of sovereign democracy in Russia.
From December 2011 until May 2013 Surkov served as the Russian Federation’s Deputy Prime Minister. After his resignation, Surkov returned to the Presidential Executive Office and became a personal adviser of Vladimir Putin. He writes science fiction under the pseudonym Natan Dubovitsky.
There are various kinds of work. Some kinds can be undertaken only in a condition somewhat distinct from normal. Thus, the proletariat of the information industry, the ordinary supplier of news, is, as a rule, a feverish person with a disheveled brain. It’s not surprising. The news business requires haste: find out quicker than everyone, communicate earlier than everyone, interpret sooner than everyone.
The agitation of those informing is transmitted to those being informed. This arousal of agitation often resembles a thought process and replaces it. Concepts long in use, such as “convictions” and “principles”, are squeezed out by one-time “opinions.” This results in the complete bankruptcy of interpretation which, however, embarrasses no one. Such is the price of fast, fresh news.
Few can hear the mocking silence of fate drowned out by background media noise. Few are interested that there is also slow, mass news, emerging not from the surface of life, but from its depths, from where geopolitical structures and historical epochs move and clash. The meaning of this news is late in reaching us, but it is never too late to learn from it.
The 14th year of our century is memorable for important and very significant events, about which we all know and much has been said. But the greatest of those events is only know being revealed to us, and the slow, deep-depth news of it only now reaches our ears. This event was the conclusion of the epic journey of Russia to the West, the cessation of numerous and fruitless attempts to become part of Western civilization, to become a relation of the “good family” of European peoples.
Starting from 2014, a new epoch stretches before us indefinitely, call it Epoch 14+, in which we are faced with one-hundred (two-hundred? three-hundred?) years of geopolitical isolation.
Westernization, frivolously started by the False Dmitry and decisively continued by Peter the Great, has been tried every which way for the last four-hundred years. What has Russia not done in order to become now Holland, now France, now America, now Portugal? From what sideways angle has Russia not sought to squeeze into the West? All the ideas originating there and all the earth-shattering developments happening there were embraced by our elites with enormous and perhaps partly superfluous enthusiasm.
Autocrats assiduously married German princesses. The Imperial nobility and bureaucracy were actively replenished with “itinerant foreigners.” But Europeans in Russia became “Russified” quickly and completely, while Russians were in no way “Europeanized.”
The Russian army victoriously and with enormous sacrifice fought in all the great wars of Europe which, from accumulated experience, can be considered the most inclined to mass violence and the most bloodthirsty of all continents. The great victories and great sacrifices brought our country much European territory, but not friends.
For the sake of European values (at that time religious-monarchical), Saint Petersburg emerged as the initiator and guarantor of the Holy Alliance of three monarchies, and conscientiously fulfilled its duty as ally when it became necessary to rescue the Hapsburgs from the Hungarian uprising. But when Russia found herself in a complex position, “rescued” Austria not only did not help, but turned against her.
Then European values were replaced by their opposite. In Paris and Berlin, Marx became fashionable. Certain residents of Simbirsk and Yanovka wanted things in Russia to be like Paris. They were afraid of falling behind the West, which at that time had gone wild about Socialism. They were afraid that world revolution, supposedly led by European and American workers, would bypass their “backwater.” They strove. When the storm of class warfare had subsided, the USSR, created by means of immense and heavy labors, discovered that no world revolution had occurred. The Western world had by no means become a workers’ paradise, but quite the opposite, had gone Capitalistic and made it necessary for the USSR to carefully hide its growing symptoms of autistic Socialism behind an Iron Curtain.
At the end of the last century, our country grew bored with being “taken separately.” Again she beseeched the West. In this regard, apparently, it seemed to someone that scale was significant. We wouldn’t fit into Europe because we’re too big, of too frightening a magnitude. That meant we needed to shrink territory, population, economy, army, and ambition to the parameters of some kind of middle European country. Only then would they accept us as one of their own. We shrank. We began to believe in Hayek as ferociously as we once had in Marx. We halved our demographic, industrial and military potential. We parted with our allied republics, and began to part with the autonomous ones... But even as such, diminished and degraded, Russia was not suited to turn to the West.
Finally, it was decided to cease the diminution and degradation and, moreover, to stand up for our rights. What was to happen in 2014 became inevitable.
Although Russian and European cultural models are externally similar, they have incompatible software and ports. It is not possible to assemble them into a single system. Today, when that long held suspicion has been transformed into an obvious fact, proposals are heard, shouldn’t we maybe dash off to the other side, to Asia, to the East?
We don’t need to. And here’s why: been there, done that.
The Muscovite proto-empire was created in a complex military-political interaction with the Golden Horde, an interaction that some are inclined to call a yoke, others, a union. Whether yoke or union, freely or by force, the eastern vector of development was chosen and tested.
Even after the stand on the Ugra River, the Russian tsardom continued to be, in essence, part of Asia. It willingly annexed eastern lands. It claimed descent from Byzantium, the Asian Rome. It came under the enormous influence of distinguished families descended from the Golden Horde.
The peak of Muscovite Asian orientation came with the naming of Qasim Khan Simeon Bekbulatovich as Grand Prince of all Russia. Historians, accustomed to thinking of Ivan the Terrible as something like an absurdist artist in the cap of Monomakh, attribute this “trick” exclusively to his sense of humor. The reality was more serious. After Ivan the Terrible, a solid party formed at court backing Simeon Bekbulatovich for a completely real reign. Boris Godunov had to require boyars, when swearing fealty to him, to promise “not to want Tsar Simeon Bekbulatovich and his children as sovereigns.” That is, the kingdom was a half-step away from transfer of power to a dynasty of baptized descendants of Genghis Khan, and from the reinforcement of the “Eastern” paradigm of development.
However, there was no future for Bekbulatovich nor for the Godunov descendants of the Golden Horde emirs. The Polish-Cossack invasion began, bringing to Moscow new tsars from the West. The reigns of the False Dmitrys (long before Peter the Great upset the boyars with his European manners) and of the Polish Prince Wladyslaw IV, for all their transitoriness, were deeply symbolic. In their light, the Time of Troubles can be seen not so much a dynastic crisis, as a crisis of civilization. Rus’ broke off from Asia and began its movement towards Europe.
And so, for four centuries, Russia went towards the East, and for another four centuries, towards the West, but put down roots in neither. Both roads have been taken. What’s needed now are ideologies of a third path, a third type of civilization, a third world, a third Rome.
And yet, we are hardly a third civilization. More likely, we are a duplicate, a double, encompassing East and West, simultaneously European and Asian, and therefore not completely Eastern nor Western.
Our cultural and geopolitical sense of self resembles the wandering identity of a person born of a mixed marriage. He’s everyone’s relative but no one’s own. One’s own among others, an other among his own. Understanding all, understood by none. A half-blood, Métis, a bit strange somehow.
Russia is an East-West half-blood-country. With her double-headed eagle, hybrid mentality, intercontinental territory, and bi-polar history, she fits the half-blood stereotype: charismatic, talented, beautiful and isolated.
The remarkable words, never actually spoken by Alexander III — “Russia has only two allies, her army and her navy” — are, if you please, the most lucid metaphor for the geopolitical isolation that we should long ago have accepted as fate. The list of our allies can, of course, be lengthened according to taste: workers and teachers, oil and gas, the creative class and patriotically inclined bots, General Frost and arch-strategist Michael... None of this changes the meaning: we are our own allies.
What kind of isolation will it be that awaits us? The freezing of a poor lad on the outskirts? Or the happy solitude of a leader who has entered the space between the alpha-nations, and before whom “other peoples and kingdoms make way and allow to pass”? It depends upon us.
Loneliness does not mean complete isolation. Unlimited openness is also impossible. The one or the other would repeat the mistakes of the past. And the future has its own mistakes. The future can’t bother with the mistakes of the past.
Russia, without doubt, will engage in commerce, will attract investment, will exchange knowledge, will wage war (for war is also a means of communication), participate in collaborations, join organizations, compete and collaborate, inspire fear and hate, curiosity, sympathy, delight -- only without false goals and self-negation.
It will be difficult. The words of the classic poem of the Fatherland come to mind: “Around only thorns, thorns, thorns... Where the f**k are the stars?!”
It will be interesting. And we will see the stars.
Translation copyright © 2018 by Bill Bowler