Valery Kostrov, a resident of the capital, a humanities graduate. Guest Post.
A few weeks have passed since February 24th and the start of a large-scale war in Europe, and living and staying in the country, you begin to feel the outside world again. The first weeks are a keen understanding that everything has changed so dramatically and radically that both for oneself and for the country, for decades, the time has come “before” and “after”. And this “after” will be bad, but no one understands how bad it is – since it is just beginning. Next, I offer my very chaotic notes that I made in correspondence with friends or on the basis of some feverish observations of my condition, news and situation. There is no system here, no analytics here, only impressions. If something seems to be analytics, then all the same, these are impressions.
February 25-27 “Birth of the Winter World”
Researchers working with the geography and temporality of Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall have used a variety of concepts to designate this space at a certain point in historical time. In different periods – this was called the countries of transition (“transit”), and what is happening in them is “transformation” – “transitivity” and “transformation” described the laminar stage of the reassembly of the collapsed socialist bloc, but not only it. Throughout the 1990s. Germany has been sewing itself into a single economic, political and cultural space, and it seems only in recent years that these seams have become less noticeable. The former Yugoslavia has always been not quite part of the socialist bloc, retaining much political independence from Moscow and the Warsaw bloc, but also not fully become a Western social democracy, playing its own version of frontier socialism. Its decay was long, bloody, and everyone seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when peace was established there. The conflicts in Tajikistan and the Chechen war were no less difficult, but distant for many Eurocentric researchers. They were going at the moment of reformation, that very “transit” and “transformation” that turned the former space of socialism into a boundless “field of experiments” in the economy, business, crime, mass culture, methods of government and in everyday life. It seems that all this continued until the early 2000s or began to end after the financial crisis of 1998, which for the main territory of this field, Russia, became a tough test, but rejuvenated its economy. Other countries of former socialism also found their way in the new state – from the chosen path of the Scandinavian democracies, as happened in Estonia, to the maximum autarky of the North Korean type, as happened in Turkmenistan. The rest were somewhere between these two extreme points, but not on a straight line, since all acquired their own unique features of political, social, economic life.
It seems that since the beginning of the 2000s, the words “transit” and “transformation” have become less and less common in official documents and scientific articles on the space of former socialism. Now they began to talk more and more about the “post-Soviet space”, stating the self-sufficient influence of the historical legacy of the Soviet infrastructure, traces of institutions and thinking in the structure of most countries that were part of the orbit of socialism. Also, the concept of “countries of Central and Eastern Europe” was often used, which only remotely correlated with the intricate history of this space, more than once divided between different empires and more than once united, and then again which became a place of national and state building. True, in this case, the countries of the former USSR, which included states in the Asian part of the world of socialism and the Caucasus, fell out of the conversation. Yes, indeed – all this is complicated and ambiguous for any observer …
And now we see that since the Maidan of 2014, the concept of “post-Soviet” has become more and more archaic, becoming an analytical anachronism. Firstly, it was this second Maidan (“revolution of dignity”) that drew a new ideological divide between the (post)Soviet and something else – the new ideologies of national identity that began to prevail in Ukraine. This is no longer “post-Soviet” and not “transit”, it is something that, on the one hand, has become “anti-Soviet” in relation to the legacy of that period, and on the other hand, “out-of-Soviet” – outside the logic of the legacy of socialism. Of course, in this regard, Turkmenistan and other countries have chosen completely different paths. It can be said that the reality of the territories of the former socialist countries has ceased to be described by something general, by some kind of unified logic. In this regard, the departure from the “post-Soviet” as a general way of describing the life of this world is becoming increasingly relevant.
Those who started hostilities on the morning of February 24 are redefining not only the historical position of the countries of the former socialist world, but, it seems, the world as a whole. We are probably in the stage of accelerated crystallization of a new bipolar (it is not clear how many repulsive poles it will have) world, where Russia and territories close to it remain on one side of this world, and the countries of the West, Central and Eastern Europe go to the other. When these lines are written (February 26, 2022), a large-scale military operation is underway on the territory of Ukraine, a kind of cosplay of the entry of American troops into Iraq in 2003, and on the other hand, Russia and Belarus are disconnected from the Western world. The sanctions war can be viewed as a phased civilizational split – the restriction of the issuance of visas, the rupture of diplomatic relations, economic, financial, cultural relations and ties. It seems that we are talking about a new Great Wall, which will be even stricter and tougher than the Iron Curtain of the Cold War – which began to actively rust already in the mid-1970s and finally collapsed along with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Now the “post-Soviet” is over. It is necessary to look for new definitions and new concepts. Probably, one should not focus on returning to the old patterns of opposition of the generalized “democratic world” to some new empires, which Russia and China can become. Probably it is necessary to understand, realize and describe how this new reality will look like and how it can be characterized by researchers – anthropologists, sociologists, historians, political theorists. Maybe this is already a “post-global world” or just a “(post) world”, or we are entering a situation of new Dark Ages, as novelists working in the fantasy genre would pathetically describe it. Winter is coming. And it would be naive to believe. that this Great Winter and this Winter world will remain only in “terrible” Russia. By disconnecting from a huge part of its East, Europe is disconnecting important parts of its history, its past and present, and possibly its future… Something is coming…
to be continued….