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Analysis of Recent Culture as a Possible Way to Look for a Right Course for the Future

František Ábel

 

Response to the lecture of Alexandra Delemenchuk – titled “The long-termed consequences of the USSR collapse

 

My response to the lecture of Alexandra Delemenchuk offers principally theological perspective of the issue. It has two points of departure: the first one continues in the line of political perspective; the second one is based mainly on theological perspective. There are two reasons why I have decided to include both perspectives. First of all, I am a theologian. The second reason is grounded in the attitude of Paul Tillich, a well known philosopher and theologian of the 20th century, who expressed very aptly that religion is substance of culture and culture itself is a form of religion. In other words, speaking about any kind of human society or political system in the history, we also speak about culture in the main – it means about the lives of people from different cultures.

The Political Perspective

It is very interesting to compare the view of Alexandra Delemenchuk's paper (“The long-termed consequences of the USSR collapse”) with results of the research project which is titled “Integration and Disintegration in the Former Soviet Union: Implications for Regional and Global Security.” This project began in 1994 and was completed in early 1998.[1] It was coordinated by a research team from the Program on Global Security, based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies in the United States, and research partners in five post-Soviet countries: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and Kazakhstan. The final study of the project presents an assessment of the perceptions and beliefs about regional security held by specialists representing a wide range of political views in five post-Soviet countries. One of the main goals in this research was to let specialists to explore the possible development of relations among the countries of the former Soviet Union up to the year 2006. This time frame was selected because it encouraged the experts to consider fairly long-term trends and not just imminent developments, while discouraging them from engaging in abstract speculations about the distant future. Security analysts from government, research institutes, universities, political formations, and the mass media in each of the five countries were asked to react to four scenarios in terms of their relative likelihood of materializing, their relative desirability or undesirability as well as policies that might alter current trends and lead toward more favorable outcomes.

As it is mentioned above, the project presents four possible scenarios which represent combinations of trends on two dimensions: 1) integration and disintegration, and 2) cooperation and coercion. When these two dimensions are depicted as intersecting with one another, they form four cells of a box reflecting combinations of the two continua: 1) coercive integration (specifically under Russian domination), 2) cooperative integration, 3) conflictual (or unregulated) disintegration, and 4) cooperative disintegration (or independence). Thus each scenario reflects the combined influence of two classic dimensions of interstate relations.

 

Here are the four scenarios depicted schematically:[2]

 

Scenario 1:

Integration Under Russian

Domination

 

Scenario 2:

Cooperative Integration

 

 

The prevailing tendency is integration.

 

The process of integration is dominated by Russia, which uses pressure to secure the compliance of other states.

 

Russia preserves full sovereignty, but other states partly or wholly lose the substance of real sovereignty.

 

Multilateral institutions either are unimportant or are dominated by Russia.

 

 

The prevailing tendency is integration.

 

The process of integration is jointly controlled by all participating states, acting in voluntary cooperation.

 

Participating states partly preserve and partly “share” their sovereignty (as in the European Union).

 

Multilateral institutions are important and are not dominated by any single state.

 

Scenario 3:

Unregulated Disintegration

 

Scenario 4:

Cooperative Independence

 

 

The prevailing tendency is disintegration.

 

Disintegration is unregulated and disorderly, and may give rise to conflicts.

 

Post-Soviet states may be able to preserve full sovereignty or may break apart themselves.

 

Multilateral institutions are ineffective or non-existent.

 

 

The prevailing tendency is disintegration.

 

Disintegration is regulated, orderly and peaceful, with mutual accommodation.

 

Post-Soviet states preserve full sovereignty, but regions may become autonomous or separate by mutual consent.

 

Multilateral institutions are unimportant or nonexistent; bilateral diplomacy predominates.

 


 

Conferences were held in each of the five countries – the security specialists from the public and private sector were invited to participate. These meetings took place in Moscow, Kiev, and Almaty in June 1996; in Tbilisi in October 1996; and in Minsk in June 1997. Participants were given a description of the four scenarios as presented above in advance. The security experts from all of the participating countries were asked the five questions:

1) What in general do you believe to be the most serious threats to the security of your country between now and the year 2006?

2) Which of the four scenarios do you believe to be most likely in the light of current trends within the post-Soviet region?

3) Among the scenarios you consider to be possible, which one do you prefer?

4) How might developments be influenced in the direction of the scenario you prefer? What kinds of policies might make your preferred future more likely?

5) Who might be in the best position to influence these trends? Your own government? Governments of other states within the post-Soviet region? Outside governments, such as those in Western Europe or the United States? Regional or global multilateral institutions?

The answers of all participants of the research are accessible in the final study of this project which is available in the Internet. Now we will turn our attention only to the first from the five questions – particularly in the most dominate and prominent post-Soviet country, Russia. What threats (both internal and external) to the security until the year 2006 did presuppose and outline the participants of the research in the following development in Russia? And what is reality now?

 

Threat Perceptions Outlined by the Participants of the Research[3]

Among the Russian experts, there was a consensus that the country did not face major external threats to its security at the moment. However, some of the experts worried that such threats could have emerged from the South as well as from China. The viability of several of the CIS[4] states was a widely shared concern. A combination of economic stress, ethnic nationalism, and also Islamic fundamentalism could have worsened the disintegrative process within these states, to the point of breaking them apart. The general instability that could ensue and that is causing the flow of both refugees and unfettered arms as well as drugs trafficking would compel Russia to intervene. In light of the preceding events in Tajikistan and Chechnya, experts worry that Russia may exaggerate these threats and resort to inappropriate military means in an attempt to assert control. This would have the counter effect and thus would worsen the chaotic situation. Russian experts fear both the potentially growing instability at their borders and the inability of their political and military leaders to deal with it adequately.

In the “far abroad,”[5] China is generally seen as the greatest long-term threat in the eyes of Russian experts. This threat could take the form of increasing political and possibly military pressure on Kazakhstan. Alternatively, it could take the form of serious demographic pressure on the Far Eastern regions of Russia: many Russians believe that there are already millions of illegal Chinese immigrants in border Russian provinces. Islamic fundamentalism is also cited as a long term threat in Central Asia, the Northern Caucasus, and the Volga region of the Russian Federation. Some experts, however, note that Islamic fundamentalism is compatible only with Iranian culture and not with Turkic culture, thereby limiting the terrain on which it might take root. It could spread to Tajikistan and some parts of Uzbekistan, but hardly anywhere else. Nonetheless, Islamic fundamentalism could break up states, and this disintegrative potential could spread to neighboring states. This would spell trouble for the Russian security. Both the long-running war in Tajikistan and a possible victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan are most often cited in that respect. The Russian experts see few immediate threats stemming from the West. Although the majority of the Russian specialists disapprove of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion, most do not foresee that this change in the European security architecture constitutes a threat to Russian security, as long as three conditions are met: 1) nuclear weapons should not be deployed in former Warsaw Pact countries; 2) Russia should remain genuinely involved in bilateral consultative bodies with the Western alliance; and 3) former Soviet republics, including the Baltic states, must not be invited to join NATO separately. Moreover, many experts concur that any dominance exercised by an external power over a former Soviet Republic (e.g., Iran over Turkmenistan, Romania over Moldova, Turkey over Azerbaijan, or the European Union or NATO over Ukraine), would be viewed as a direct threat to Russian security, even if it were not effected by military means. The most serious and immediate internal threat that preoccupies the Russian security specialists is that Russia will fail to achieve economic growth. This could endanger its status as a great power and its ability to achieve its interests in the “near abroad.” It also could contribute to chaos and further disintegration within the Russian Federation. Another threat, of a mixed internal-external nature, has been pointed out by Belarusians and appears to be shared by some Russian experts as well: the danger of “political infection” that could be produced by a hasty unification with Belarus. The neo-Soviet model of one-man rule in an unreformed command-administrative economic system, conceived by President Lukashenko in Belarus, could be exported to Russia. The addition of Lukashenko cronies in executive bodies in Russia and of a more conservative Belarusian electorate could tip the balance of domestic political forces in Russia against reforms. In the long run, this might further weaken Russia on the world stage.

 

Present Situation in the Light of the Former Outlined Threat Perceptions

Evidently, these threat perceptions characterize relatively accurately the development of societal climate in Russia. They are not so far from reality. The worst perceptions was not accomplished but the danger continues especially in regard to Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism as well as local political and economical crises among some of the post-Soviet union states that could lead to hard restrictions from Russia towards these states. The political situation among Russia, the European Union and the USA has worsened, too. Democracy and parliamentarianism in Russia is formal in many specific areas. Despite many imperfections, however, it seems that the recent presidential government offers the stablest situation within the limits. In any case, it is also the matter of all other countries, particularly the western democracies, to help the Russian government in the process of stabilization of the economic and social system in the country as it is possible in this situation.

Besides the economical and political steps, there are also the Christian Churches all around the world that play a relevant part in the process of stabilization. The Christians can help the Russian to find their Christian awareness again. In my opinion, it is a basic step in the process of healing the society itself. In the same time, it must be said that it is not easy because there is a very strong bond between the Orthodox Church and the Russian government. Therefore, any attempts of cooperation and help under the terms of ecumenical movement are perceived suspiciously. Despite this fact, it is very important to help the Russian to find a new perspective of their future lives. This is the basis of the second perspective – the introduction to the theological approach of this matter. In my opinion, this approach is to be the most important since it is a starting point of particular steps toward the complex healing of society.

The theological perspective

In the history, it is noticeable that all empires, kingdoms, countries, world powers and movements of the world importance were established due to the conviction and faith, and come to the end due to the loss of this conviction and faith in ideas that laid their foundations. People have faith in the ideas. People have to believe that their ideals are meaningful and that they can be fulfilled. Otherwise, all their efforts to make something new – something which would have both its meaning and goal and which could be important for all people of a certain community, nation, country or other social system – will necessarily break down and fail. This very fact is the theological fact. It is a matter of analysis of modern human society and its people. In other words, it is a matter of analysis of our culture. People have to live for the dimension of depth, as Paul Tillich, using a spatial metaphor, has termed the most important dimension of human life. According to Paul Tillich, it is religious dimension which expresses an elementary ability of a man to ask and answer a question of the meaning of life; a question of where he is coming from and where he is going to; and a question of what he has to do within the span of his life.[6] These thoughts of Paul Tillich are very inspirational and they can also be applied to the matter of development of the situation in the post-Soviet countries as well as in the other countries. All of us form a common basis for the long-term sustainable development of the future life.

After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, a lot of people from the post-Soviet countries have lost their ideals and a meaningful vision of the life. Persuasiveness of statements about progress and final win of the Communism in the world that the Soviet governments had put forth has showed to be only an empty illusion. For the other mainly convinced Communists, the time of relative good settlement of power within the bipolar world of the Cold war ended. Now the future is very uncertain. There are more and more problems in the field of internal security, economy, and social life, including problems with corruption, drugs and total loss of reason for living. Moreover, the situation is very dangerous also for other people of Europe who are not free of consequences that have caused the collapse of the world Communist block. We all should look into our hearts more deeply and do a very serious analysis of our own situation. Can we answer the question of the dimension of depth in our own daily lives and in our culture? What is it about?

It seems that people of our generation does not have courage to ask and answer the question of the meaning of life; of where they are coming from and where they are going to; of what they have to do with their lives. It seems that they have lost the dimension of depth. Without this dimension, however, people remain only slavers of the industrial society in which they are living today. According to Paul Tillich, this kind of life is only about conforming to the laws of production and consumption. In other words, it means to worship idols but the Only God. A man becomes just a thing alongside the other things in the process of production in which he participates.

This kind of life is a new form of paganism. Paganism has gods which are bound by a particular place besides of other places. By this reason the paganism is necessarily polytheistic. And this is not only a matter of religious cult. People have a basic desire to posses their own place, their own systems, authorities and myths which are becoming an object of their worship and adoration. This offers them reality, presence and life energy that nourishes their body and soul. It is the reason for adoration of race, fellowship, country, land and everything that has a character of space or in other words that is only temporal. Here are reflected the very roots of human culture and also a modern form of nationalism with all of its signs and consequences. Here begin problems and tragedies which have caused suffering to people during the 20th Century. A form of "existence besides the other" changes necessarily to a form of "existence against the other" when particular places, things and myths are given divine honor from a specific group of people.

Apparently, this all constitutes a partial win of polytheism over monotheism (as it is obvious neither polytheism nor monotheism are not to be understood in traditional interpretation). It is not a question of believing in one or more gods. It is not a question of quantity but quality. We can speak about monotheism only if God is sole God – unconditional and unlimited by nothing else. Only in this case, there is broken dominion of idols over us. It is the only way to overcome a modern form of paganism and polytheism. It is a way of searching the dimension of depth within our lives. It means to have an ability to answer basic existential questions as well as to listen to their answers, even though it can be such answers that shake us very strongly. This kind of understanding makes religion universally human, even though it is not so much about its traditional understanding anymore. Religion as the dimension of depth is not the faith in existence of gods, nor faith in only One God. Religion in its very essence is being of a man as long as he is concerned the meaning of his life and being. It is just Christianity and the Christian Church which could play a very important role in this process because they have an ability to answer a question of the meaning of existence. The Church has to lead people to the only God which is God of time and God of history. Especially, it means that the only God acts in the history towards the final goal. History has its purpose; something new will be created within history and through history. The Church has to announce and spread the message about this final goal of the history that is salvation – which means both healing and recovery.

Healing in any form is an effect of the Spirit of God. This is also characterized by a Latin word for salvation – SALVATIO – which means, „healing.“ The act of healing is closely connected to salvation.[7] It is a power of being which overcomes non-being. It is eternity which overcomes the temporal world. It is mercy which overcomes the sin. People by their very essence are lead to overcome non-being in all dimensions of life. They realize their connection to the other creatures and the whole creation. The effort to overcome non-being is possible only when it embraces efforts for preservation of life in the earth. These efforts can be called “healing.“ This process is not without problems, failures, and times of regress or stagnation. However, it leads to the final goal. Therefore, it is also a process of forming the temporal world in the image of eternity. Consequently, it is analogy between the kingdom of God and the earth. It is based on manifestation of the New Being in history. The New being has become a source of an expression of necessity of forming analogy between the kingdom of God and the earth. It has also become a source of courage for people to choose being instead of doubts, worries and despair.

Finally, we can say that Christianity has to take a responsible attitude towards recent industrial society and culture as well as towards recent secularism. Naturally, Christianity and the Christian Church can’t try to replace recent social reality with the other one. It can put forward neither ideal and perfect social structures nor concrete social reforms. Changes of culture happen due to inner dynamic of culture itself. However, the Church is the guard and it has a prophetic role to expose evil power of recent paganism. It should recognize and admit prophetic voices in all social and political systems around the world, even if they sometimes are hostile towards the Church. The Church has to remain always vigilant and very careful – if it is not so, the tragedies and failures of the history will happen again and again. The same happened to the Communist movement in the world. The Church was not aware enough of its guard function in the time when this movement stood in front of important decisions about its future development. The Church did not hear the prophetic voice within this movement. Therefore, it did not recognize its evil potential. Therefore, the Church and Christianity as a whole must pay attention to detail analysis of recent culture and offer the meaningful perspective to the world in general but especially to people of all post-communist countries. The ways in which the Church can offer these meaningful perspectives were already mentioned – first of all, it is to lead society into the process of healing and then it is to follow the course of the final goal of the history. In other words, the Church nowadays is to show people that their lives are about “to be” not “to have.”[8]

It should be us, Christians, who are able to understand relevance of this situation and decide for the change. It is necessary to decide for such a way of existence which is to be and not to have. Especially, it is important to do so in the age which offers a magnitude of possibilities to make our lives better, easier and more comfortable. However, this is just a short-term illusion which has been reached to the detriment of rapid aggravation of milieu of a much bigger group of people. For instance, we can mention an increasing gab between the so called West and the East, the North and the South of the earth. It is inevitable to start to solve these problems practically not only theoretically. It does not have to be a great project which requires much money. However, we can and are supposed to start from ourselves. It is good enough to restrain oneself, be frugal and learn to live in frugality. It is essential to think of our neighbors, listen to their opinions and be interested in their lives, feelings, worries as well as joy. Let us be courageous and live according a principle “to give“ and not “to have.“ The words of our Lord himself: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well“(Mt 6:33, NIV)[9] are a challenge to a change of our lives. These words should be in both our hearts and minds. We should intensively think about them to make them relevant especially in our daily lives. Therefore, let us think about them – we who believe that our lives have the real value and meaning because they are gifts from God who has entrusted with guardianship of our neighbors and the earth. It is the right time!


 

[1] The following (p. 1-4) is coming out from the study: P. Terrence Hopmann, Stephen D. Shenfield, and Dominique Arel. INTEGRATION AND DISINTEGRATIONIN THE FORMER SOVIET UNION: IMPLICATIONS FOR REGIONAL AND GLOBAL SECURITY. Final Report of a Research Project Coordinated by the Program on Global Security Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies Brown University. Occasional Papers is a series published by The Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies Brown University, Box 1970 2 Stimson Avenue Providence, RI 02912. Available to the Internet: http://www.watsoninstitute.org/pub/OP30.pdf 

[2] Ibid. p. 6.

[3] The following information is cited from the study: P. Terrence Hopmann, Stephen D. Shenfield, and Dominique Arel. INTEGRATION AND DISINTEGRATIONIN THE FORMER SOVIET UNION: IMPLICATIONS FOR REGIONAL AND GLOBAL SECURITY. Final Report of a Research Project Coordinated by the Program on Global Security Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies Brown University, p. 13-15. Available to the Internet: http://www.watsoninstitute.org/pub/OP30.pdf .

[4] CSI = Commonwealth of Independent States.

[5] Referring to territories outside of the perimeter of the former Soviet Union; i.e., the rest of the world minus the former Soviet republics (“near abroad”).

 

[6] TILLICH P. Die verlorene Dimension. Not und Hoffnung unserer Zeit. Hamburg, 1962, p. 7-9; 12-15.

[7] TILLICH P. Systematic Theology. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1967; Volume III, Life and Spirit, History and the Kingdom of God, p. 277.

[8] There is a fundamental difference between “to have“ and “to be“. This matter is analyzed by an important psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm (1900-1980) in his famous book To Have Or To Be (FROMM E. To Have Or To Be? The continuum Publishing Company, New York, 1997. By force of detail analysis of all fields of human life Fromm proves that it is being, not possessing that leads to real humaneness.

[9] Quotations designated (NIV) are from THE HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. (From: Bushell, Michael -- Aletti, Jean-Noel -- Gieniusz, Andrzej. BibleWorks Greek New Testament Morphology. Norfolk: 1991-2001, BibleWorks LLC. [Greek morphological databases used in program BibleWorks 5]).