Ideas for Europe: Continental Union from Lisbon to Vladivostok

Ideas for Europe:
Continental Union from Lisbon to Vladivostok

'Untying the Ukrainian Knot: The Continental Union Project'[1] - this text by Yuri Alexandrovich Kovalev was published in mid-September on the Russian International Affairs Council platform. As a philosopher, the author is interested in the civilisational contrast between Russia and the West within the Russian Academy of Sciences[2]. Taking into account the basic mission of the Russian International Affairs Council[3] and the fact that this text was published in English and is therefore aimed at an international readership, it deserves a second look.

The rise and fall of "The Red Project"

Kovalev begins by making clear that the 'Ukrainian knot' can be resolved either through the use of force or without. He also clarifies that in his text he will only discuss the path without the use of violence. The author then quickly gets to the heart of the matter:

Russia must propose a new agenda: a project to establish a union of states stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok. To paraphrase Karl Haushofer, I called it the "Continental Union" project. This way, the people living there, still belonging to their own (different) ethnic groups, will at the same time share a common supra-ethnic identity. This will be one of the main factors in the gradual end to all conflicts.

Once this pawn has been planted, Kovalev unfolds his thoughts, making numerous references - quite interesting - to Russian history and political philosophy. His introductory thesis is that the Enlightenment and communism were the first ideologies, not derived from a religion, of a society oriented towards the common good. This orientation towards the common good, 'service to one's neighbour', is - according to him - the basic condition for the peaceful functioning of prosperous societies.

Allow me to emphasize, that it is possible to put an end to hatred, social injustice, etc. in a country only if the majority of its population acquires a shared psychological tendency to 'serve others". 'In other words, simply having 'traditional values' is enough here.

According to Kovalev, the idea of the Enlightenment, by exalting the individual, human rights and democracy, has pushed societies into the hands of consumerism and self-interest. As a result, Western society gradually became 'post-Christian' and left the 'corridor' of Christian values, which (with all their caveats) constituted the third level of morality (the orientation towards the common good) among individuals.

The philosopher then goes into much greater depth (and with many historical references) on communism and the question of why this idea was able to take root precisely in Russia. And he examines with at least as much passion the reasons for the failure of the 'red project', which paved the way for the establishment of Soviet socialism.

Kovalev comes to the conclusion:

To summarize what has been said, in the words of the famous Yugoslav dissident Milovan Djilas: In bourgeois revolutions, he emphasizes, the social forces that were to form a new society already existed BEFORE the revolution broke out. The revolution in Russia was the first in history that HAD TO CREATE a new society and new social forces. Therefore, in the West, bourgeois revolutions, after all the "deviations" and "retreats", inevitably led to democracy, while in Russia they inevitably led to despotism.

Nevertheless, the author is convinced that these Russian experiences of social transformation are valuable. He maintains his thesis that there is an extra-religious mechanism for the emergence of a society oriented towards the common good.

In this case, it is up to Russia to start the project. However, we must avoid 'stepping on the same rake'. Thus, the full realization of the communist ideal, as is known, is impossible without the abolition of private ownership of the means of production. However, the degree of maturity of objective conditions and readiness of mass consciousness must be taken into account. That is why the 'social market economy”'model worked out in Western Europe should become the beginning.

The way to continental union is therefore through a synthesis of the social market economy model (developed in Western Europe) and the socio-political experiences and lessons learned in Russia.

A continental union rather than a great Russian empire

One gets the impression that Kovalev is a strong supporter of communism, but that his thinking is less revolutionary than evolutionary. He believes that the 'communist ideal' is at least strong and convincing enough to stir up the spirit of community in the societies between Lisbon and Vladivostok and to peacefully begin the project of a 'continental union'.

This is why it is a question of going beyond the idea of the free market economy in its form of liberal capitalism. This is where things get interesting, as Kovalev joins critical thinkers like Thomas Piketty, Mariana Mazzucato or Joseph Vogl.

However, the article stops precisely there and leaves open questions that one would like to discuss:

Is the author addressing a majority opinion (or at least an opinion likely to become a majority) in Russian society, or is it simply an individual opinion?

Should the reference to the social market economy developed in Europe be understood as a commitment to the social systems developed in Europe, and thus as a rejection of the Anglo-American social systems?

Can the idea of a continental union be understood as a rejection of the model of sovereign nation-states, and if so, how can it work in international law?

Kovalev's approach is in total contradiction with the idea of the rebirth of a great Russian empire. Imperialism has been reproached to the Russian leadership by Emmanuel Macron [4] and Olaf Scholz [5] , including recently in the UN General Assembly.

This text deserves to be read by all those interested in the recent history of Russia, the political philosophy of communism and the current academic debate in Russia on this topic. At least as interesting is the fact that this text is being published right now on the platform of the Russian International Affairs Council. As we know, Russians are excellent diplomats. So it is worth reading the little signs that often reveal themselves only between the lines.

This article was first published in Courrier des Stratèges on October 4th, 2022.