Europe and “negation”: realism against Baudelaire

Europe and “negation”: realism against Baudelaire

UCMC publishes translated piece from ZN,UA by Vladimir Gorbulin.

Today we are really confronted with global migration processes. But not physical (as large masses of people), what concerns European capitals today. Migration of ideologies, the emergence of new ideological “rifts” in those places that seemed to be reliably “closed.” Conservatism in the form of arrant populism goes on the “warpath” and, as it moves forward, it is gaining more and more supporters.

Every present has its future that illuminates and disappears with it, that becomes past-future.

Jean-Paul Sartre

In one of his last articles F. Fukuyama, speaking of Trump’s victory, said, “As a political scientist, I am looking ahead to his presidency with great interest, since it will be a fascinating test of how strong American institutions are… That system in many ways has never been challenged by a leader who sets out to undermine its existing norms and rules. So we are embarked in a great natural experiment that will show whether the United States is a nation of laws or a nation of men. “

This statement is true not only for the United States – the whole world enters into such local confrontations. However, in each specific case it has its own unique accent.

But in terms of political culture it would be a serious simplification to say that it is only a matter of who is stronger: the political system (with a hundred years of history and practices) or the will of an individual person? In fact, the question should be put wider: it is a crisis of the classical model of relations between power and society (or, perhaps, even on the contrary, society and power) in a modern democratic society.

The riot of “ordinary people” against the “political system”

Again a manifestation, banners, posters, music – and all at sixes and sevens, at the top of lungs: – Get up, rise, working people! The voices are ventral, primitive … Romans put stigma on the faces of their convicts: Cave furem. You do not have to put anything on these faces, – you can see everything without any stigma.

Ivan Bunin. “Cursed days”

It seems that we are entering a period when the so-called “ordinary citizens” (that is, usually conservative, mostly without higher education) have decided that the liberal democratic political system formed over the last 20-30 years (together with the political class formed around it) explicitly ignores their interests and that their countries go “wrong”. That the leaders focus on “wrong issues” and “do it wrongly.” That the economic benefits produced by “ordinary people” are redistributed in favor of those who do not deserve it.

Trump’s victory was ensured by this class: living in small settlements, often not finding themselves in dynamic modern economic processes. It is precisely these “ordinary Americans” (those who have a simplified perception of complex realities and therefore became entangled with politics, society, and themselves) who demonstrated an unusually high turnout in the last election, which led to the victory of Trump, who impressed them with rhetoric based on simplicity and frankness. Rhetoric, which is familiar and attractive to “average” American men and women, who are traditional addressees of the Republicans’ campaigns.

This contradiction between the classic “blue collars” in the postclassical world, on the one hand, and the creative “white collars” of the high-tech era – on the other, seems to have reached a certain “point of no return”. This, if you will, is a new edition of class struggle.

“Unlike a murder committed once, to hate means to kill incessantly, erasing the one we hate from the face of the earth,” warned Jose Ortega y Gasset. In the article on this hot in a new way topic, modern Western analyst Joan Williams talks a lot about how the democrats could not (or did not want to) hear the voice of “ordinary people”. However, such words of the article as “anger”, “hatred” and “contempt” – all to all, are more important. It was these emotions that guaranteed Tramp’s victory. Not the deterioration of the economic situation, but hatred and a sense of injustice. They ultimately led to a crisis in the relations between liberals and conservatives, and at a purely domestic level. And it seemed that such a problem (internal ideological rivalry) did not exist any longer, but no sooner had the Russian Federation stirred it up a little than it turned out that instead of burned-out ashes there were hot coals, only a little dusted with ashes.

And yet the problem is much wider than the US election results. This is just one of the fronts of the problem faced by the whole Western world: contradiction between the challenges faced by the West (large-scale migration processes, decline in economic growth, the growth of external actors in international relations), and the way political elites responded to these challenges – the “quality” of the answer creates a “persistent feeling ” amongst “ordinary people” that “wrong persons” are at the helm.

Hence the rapid growth of populists who play on these feelings and offer “simple” solutions: “evict” migrants, build roads, take an active position towards developing countries. The fact that these “solutions” will be ineffective is of little interest to “ordinary people”. What they need is hope – hope that everything will return to the state of a reasonably “happy period”, and for them it was the period of 1970-80s.

Marin Le Pen in France, Petry Frauke in Germany, Geert Wilders in Holland, Beppe Grillo in Italy and many other forces around the world – all of them are united by the understanding of this trend and the willingness to use it. Russia, who also understands this trend and in many ways sets significant tones to it, is ready, in its turn, to play out / use those who use / play it out.

And the only thing that restrains the rapid march of these “new leaders” today (as F. Fukuyama rightly noted) is “the law”. It is the law (in the broadest sense of the word) that appears under the greatest pressure in this confrontation. Will it endure the voluntarism of individuals? Or will it be put to their service? Can one person change the course of the state completely or will “tradition” and “rationalism” (together with the inability to consolidate all power) prove to be a reliable barrier to such desires?

By the way, we passed a similar way to the political and legal dead end from 2010 to 2013. And we know what happens when a “law” is suppressed by the force of an “individual” if he wants to change course to the opposite. The problem is different: how far are citizens of democratic states ready to go in defending their values? Will they go as far as the Ukrainians have?

The European strategy of the Kremlin: “Fathers Gapons” of international scale

We did not do a scandal,

we lacked a leader!

There are few really wild,

so there are no leaders!

V.Vysotsky. “Letter from a madhouse”

However, the listed European populist politicians are united not only by the desire to take advantage of the global riot. They are all connected by another link that cannot be ignored – the Kremlin. The Kremlin, which also understood “where the wind blows”. The Kremlin, which realized that this cautious protest can be turned into an effusion by relatively inexpensive jolts through the media space, and began doing this from 2008-2009. And political forces that had been on the sidelines of political processes not for years but decades, being what is commonly called “unsystematic political movements,” whose popularity was measured by hundreds of followers, unexpectedly began to gain political weight, which is already leading to the defeat of elites that have been in power for 30-40 years.

And today’s Russia, as before, is increasingly parasitizing on such ideas / concepts of inequality – opposing the “decaying capitalist West” to the “wonderful new world” that is tuned to itself and developing a new version of the “Communist International”. The slogans and clichés are all the same, in the style of the eternal “struggle for peace”, “defending the oppressed” (in Syria), “compatriots” (in Ukraine) and “international assistance” to them (ibid). “To the grief of all bourgeois we’ll fan a worldwide conflagration”. (A. Blok, Twelve)

This work with “ordinary people”, these “simple” interpretations imposed on them, these “alternative facts” in “alternative information environment” work effectively with the western common man. A typical example in this sense is Holland, where “activists” connected with Russian structures played out an issue, which is seemingly far from being a key one for the Dutch public, without a hitch. It was easy to ingrain the Dutch, who are quite far from Ukrainian realities and Ukrainian problems, with a few simple thoughts. That there is too much corruption in Ukraine, that the signing of the Association Agreement will be a stage for Ukraine’s accession to the EU, that the Agreement will damage the relations between the Netherlands and Russia, etc. A whole set of Russian clichés about Ukraine was effectively and quickly implemented in the information space of the Netherlands. And we know the result. Populist, conspirological, disinformation calls of pro-Russian activists and media unexpectedly found the widest support from the “simple Dutchman”. After all, these calls did not have to be carefully analyzed, it was not necessary to think much about them – they “played” on the attitudes that are maturing in Europe, maturing in the Western countries).

And Holland is just one example. But there are more and more of them. And every subsequent “stove-piping”, every new Kremlin support of various anti-European, “alternative”, “Eurosceptic” political parties, movements, groups – all this corrects (or rather specifies) the European political landscape, changes the electorate’s wishes and aspirations.

So Moscow does interfere in the policy of Western countries. Interferes actively. On a grand scale. And actively uses these trends in its operations of influence. In its attempts to impose a hybrid war on the West by its rules. One can even say that Moscow’s role in this case is focused on two aspects: to fuel the above-mentioned hatred of “ordinary people” and to give this hatred the opportunity to “pour” through the focus point – the leaders of these movements. This is what Moscow is busy with – it gives the inner protest of the Western world the focus point, leaders capable of becoming bigger populists than the most radical populists.

Why are these interferences successful? First of all, because the West cannot believe yet that the world, which seemed to have resolutely departed from the horrors of the Cold War over 20 years ago, unexpectedly made a circle and returned to the world of “post-truth, post-West, post-order” (as Wolfgang Ischinger quite accurately described it at the annual Munich Security Conference). However, even here we see an attempt to “camouflage” the reality unpleasant for our Western partners. Talks about “post-truth” or “alternative facts” are possible only in one case – if you are afraid to pronounce more understandable and familiar words: lie, propaganda, and disinformation. Similarly, the “post-West world” is what can be described as “a world in which the West and all its democratic practices are challenged – externally and internally”. The world of “post-order” is not some kind of incomprehensible essence; this is a world in which states violate international laws again and are going to do it in the future.

The reaction of Europe to the new-old challenge strongly resembles the first stage of the classical experience of changes (most often – stressful). Europe seems to be stuck in the first stage – shock accompanied by negation. Negation that it is even possible. Negation that the situation has dramatically changed and will no longer be the same. To pass this stage, you must be honest to yourself, and politically correct Europe has obvious problems here. But without adopting this, Europe will not move on to other stages, including a real change in behavior. In the meantime, this “negation” only plays into Russia’s hands, which additionally feeds it, using all possible ways to promote the idea that there is no interference, nothing has changed, and even if it has, everything can be quickly put back on its former tracks. The classic of French and world literature Charles Baudelaire (“the king of poets”, as another French classic Arthur Rimbaud called him), accurately noted that “the finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.” Here we have a very similar situation. But here the price of confidence in the “devil’s absence” is the very survival of the West, since it is obviously challenged.

The threat of ISIS, the threat of migration flows and dozens of other “threats” are only derivatives or accompanying processes of such a challenge. Although ISIS sets itself the goal of a “world caliphate”, built on cruelty and violence, but the number of those who support this idea is not so great even in the Muslim world. Migrants, no matter how large their movements, do not aim (the aim is conscious, clearly understood) to destroy the West as such. But Moscow is capable of setting such a goal,   and even trying to achieve its fulfillment. Including, by getting ISIS and migrants do the job. Though, this can only be achieved through neo blitzkrieg and only if the West (like Ukraine until 2014) will diligently pretend that such a problem does not really exist.

And although the world constantly declares its “concern” with the way Moscow interferes in political and electoral processes around the world (including with the help of operations in cyberspace), it should also be acknowledged: these fears still do not go beyond idle conversations. We see that a variety of research centers devoted to this problem are being created, texts are being written, resolutions are being adopted … But there is no feeling that the West is really ready to recognize a simple but quite disturbing fact (which, incidentally, was understandable in the similar situation of the mid-1980s ): Moscow will never abandon destabilization programs, since the basis of this activity are two resources – money and a command system in which the main role is played by representatives of special services (moreover, the number of these representatives is constantly increasing). You can speak continuously that the “agents of Moscow’s influence” are rushing to power in Europe, that all kinds of “friendship societies” and “peace movements” are being used again, that propaganda and disinformation (as well as forgery of documents) have returned to the agenda (and returned with a new force, armed with modern technologies and techniques) – all this is clear. The problem is different – that the West is not ready to admit that the answer to such aggression lies in two planes, which are to some extent competing with each other.

The first way is to become “dragons” and fight against the aggressor not only in a head-to-head battle, but also using their much greater economic potential. This is exactly what democratic countries fear most (however, they have begun to move in this direction), because they do not want to become feeble semblances of Russia. And without this, it is almost impossible to fight specific methods of hybrid aggression, because this is a process of permanent restrictions with no less permanent activities of the Kremlin in inventing new “relatively honest” ways to use the advantage of a democratic model in its own interests.

The second way is the economic annihilation of the aggressor. And this is exactly what they managed to do with the Soviet Union in their time. The West somehow quickly forgot that although the collapse of the Union was caused by many various complex processes, the key one was the economy. The USSR simply could not stand the race with the Western world. Obviously, it “overstrained itself”. Indeed, the factor of “greatness” seemed to the citizens of the USSR more significant than the absence of goods on the shelves, but only to a certain limit. To think that an empty refrigerator is a charge for regularly broadcasted greatness is much more difficult when you see that other countries for some reason have both. Today, Moscow faces a similar problem: they managed to return to the discourse of greatness, but this is told to people who have not encountered neo-deficiency yet (although there is a tendency toward this).

Therefore, the issue of “lifting” or “not lifting” sanctions is, in fact, not a question of their effectiveness or the need to “restore relations” with Russia. It is not a question of Ukraine either, if you want. In fact, this is a very simple and understandable question, which can be answered only by the West itself: does it want to become an authoritarian participant of international processes (as an option – to surrender quietly and without any fuss to much weaker but politically active Russia) or to defeat the aggressor. The question is very simple. However, the answer to it will be of great geopolitical significance.

Undoubtedly, choosing the second way (economic) does not mean that we need to forget about the strengthening of national security systems and expand the intelligence and counterintelligence systems again.

In this context, a discussion that arose at the annual Munich Security Conference whether NATO members ought to allocate 2% or 3% of GDP to national security is not a matter of figures. This is a matter of the lack of real (I would like to emphasize this — real rather than declared) understanding of the threats facing the democratic world today.

If today, first of all, European countries do not start increasing their spending on the security and defense sector and investing in counterintelligence activities, as well as in their strategic communications tools, tomorrow the military component of the hybrid war will come to the European home as easily as it came to Ukraine. One can laugh or wonder at the ideas of erecting the Reichstag mock-up in the Patriot park in Kubinka (Moscow suburb), but thus the Kremlin is giving a clear signal to the West what it might use in case of their further “search for understanding” policy. Do the Europeans fail to understand the Kremlin’s key message – an ideal world is the world of the Cold War (and in the new terminology – the world hybrid war)?

Ukraine: political recollection of democratic future

Untruth oppresses and opposes us, but it also makes us want to do away with it.

Hryhorii Skovoroda

Ukraine in this broad context is in a strange situation. What we are doing now is not just a struggle for our survival and independence. This is the very protection of modern values, in which the West should also be engaged, but for the above reasons it is not.

However, we should not make a cult of our “special mission in the world” and the basis of the story. Actually, we can and should talk about the need to form (on the basis of the existing reality) a fairly simple but understandable and rational strategy for the state’s foreign and domestic policy. Our main task remains simple and concrete – to survive in this war. The second task is to become stronger than we were at the beginning of the war. The third task is to teach those our partners who want to learn how to fight against the aggressor, and the fourth – to unite with those who are ready to resist as we do.

The latter is really important, because we are going different ways with those who “do not want” rather than “cannot” resist a geopolitical hooligan for the sake of illusory hope that if they “yield” to him, then the dust will settle. We understand the danger of this fictitious “solution,” because we have been applying it for the past 20 years. And we know – it is not a solution at all.

It should be clearly understood (although this has already been repeatedly mentioned) – the enemy will not accept this. Never. It is just the other way round. The enemy will become more active. A striking example is the invasion of international relations amateurs, who decided to immediately do Ukraine much good with a whole series of peace plans. All these “agents of influence” of different levels of involvement and preparedness like herds of Trojan horses began to prance on our political platform, hoping that at least one of them will manage to “enter the gates” of the Ukrainian “fortress”. We are offered to “forget about Crimea”, then “to hold elections under the supervision of Russian troops,” then “to become friends again and not to disturb the public.” These plans will appear in increasing numbers, and they are aimed at convincing the Western partners that such solutions exist, but “intractable” Ukraine does not want to look for them.

However, the level of Kremlin’s agents makes me feel depressed. One of them is a former financial fraud with such a motley political career that Ostap Bender could envy him. The other is an ex-oligarch who wants to rejoin the “big game.” American “peacekeepers” are no better either. They have come to light in their noble work of “bringing peace to Ukraine” at the cost of Ukrainian Crimea, and upon closer view appear to be the same “sun spots” as another well-known “lawyer” and “friend of Ukraine” – Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

However, the real result of the implementation of any of these “plans” will be the loss of not only part of Ukraine or “separate regions”, but also the whole country. Whole. Because any attempt to “come to an agreement” with the aggressor (even indirectly) will lead to a large-scale political crisis. In addition, the processes we talked about at the beginning of the article (the movement of “ordinary people”) were always topical for Ukraine. It was no mere chance that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian parties (even such large-capital parties as the Party of Regions) were always left-wing rather than right-wing. Today we also see the need for simple and obvious solutions. The “blockades” of the roads, the “Maidan-3”, the demands “to call the war a war”, “to introduce martial law” – all these examples of “magic thinking” are not removed from the agenda. And they are used by the aggressor. They are used in large scale, with apparent pleasure, with skill. They are undermining our unity, our willingness to resist in the “long war” without clearly defined framework and rules.

And Moscow is taking action to this end. After it failed to establish “Novorossia” by force, the Kremlin tried another track – “self-liquidation of Ukraine as a state,” the first stage of which is the total chaotization of Ukrainian life. In all major areas. One of them is the international aspect described above (through the abundance of “plans to end the war”), the second is economic (including the complication of economic relations within the country), the third is political (agitation for the re-election of everyone and everything). And there are many of such directions. We manage to cope with a lot of these challenges, but not with all. And this is precisely the problematic moment that has not been solved yet in the framework of the security and defense sector reform. Although our Western partners have been actively helping us in this area all these years, it is a gross exaggeration to say that there are no problematic places left.

Nevertheless, we all must clearly realize: we are donors rather than contributors to both regional and international security. Quite a different matter is that we have become security donors against our own free will, for the sake of our main task – to win the war for the survival of Ukraine. However, this does not mean that we should avoid using this in our foreign policy. The Munich Conference showed that Ukraine is no longer in the focus of international attention, that there are other problems and interests that quickly push our problems to the sidelines. And those are right, who say that we should look for new forms, if we want to continue drawing the West’s attention to our issues. We should show that we are the solution to the problem rather than the problem itself.

However, (and I mention this almost every time) – we cannot and should not only look for ways of making ourselves agreeable to the West. We need our own proactive position based on the new reality, and we have the necessary prerequisites for this.

Today we have advanced much further than our Western partners to solve the above problems. Our context, in fact, is somewhat different from the average one in the West (by the level of economic development, self-awareness, challenges for the labor market), and we have not gone all the way. But our example clearly shows what happens, if Russia is not timely and decisively repulsed. What happens, if you give it the opportunity to “grow roots,” i.e. to sponsor politicians, to form your information space at their discretion, to nominate their agents of influence to public positions (who start disorganizing the state administration system from within). We all passed through this and paid a too high price for our gullibility and unwillingness to see the world without rose-colored spectacles. We are ready to do our best so that first Europe and then the whole world do not have to pay the same price.

Our unique experience of confronting the hybrid aggression guarantees against this. We can continuously repeat that “all these methods have once been used against someone,” but taken together they have never been applied. And even if we consider historical precedents, we cannot find everything we face – cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, the use of energy weapons, etc. Moreover, the “hybrid war” differs from the simple “use of a set of methods” by a fine but very important point: the presence of the aggressor’s clear military and political decision, and therefore the methods used by him are not chaotic; they are integrated into a single and logical chain. Now we have learned to resist this integrity. And we have something to share with our partners in this area. That is why we can and ought to build our new alliances (or strengthen the old ones) with those who want to learn how to resist the aggressor.

Besides, in conditions when the game is not at the regional, but the global level, we can no longer think of, for example, the Asian area as a secondary one. Our real and not declarative attention should be focused on economic relations with China, India, South Korea and other countries. However, we need joint projects. It is impossible to fight the enemy only in our wheelhouse. We need to expand the space and “drain” of his strength. Although our main hope is, of course, our army and our security sector, the second task is the creation of prerequisites for the enemy to “knock himself out.”

Today we really face global migration processes. But not a physical migration of large masses of people, with which European capitals are faced. It is migration of ideologies, the emergence of new ideological “rifts” in those places that seemed to be reliably “closed.” Conservatism in the form of arrant populism goes on the warpath and, as it moves forward, it is gaining more and more supporters. It crushes all usual democratic procedures and state organization forms. It turned out that they can be used with no less effectiveness against the states themselves and their stability. Although José Ortega y Gasset concluded that “the health of any democracy depends on a small detail: the conduct of elections. Everything else is secondary,” now we see that sometimes people who want to destroy this very democracy are voted into power. They want to destroy it completely. No other than Europe knows it…

However, I would not disregard prematurely the “law”. An example of a rather serious transformation of D. Trump’s rhetoric after the elections and under pressure first from the public and then from his companions-in-arms, the need to reckon with certain procedural moments, as well as the special services‘ capacity for carrying out their activities and distancing themselves from the political preferences of the current leadership, all suggest that the “law” can play its part. However, this does not negate the most important thing: “vigilance” (displayed by society, scientists, experts, security and defense sector), which moves from the category of background concepts into a topical element of everyday life.