Encyclopaedia of the Russian Monarchy

Many years ago, when Boris Yeltsin was still the President, I visited Moscow and in some bookstore I bought a book that had a tempting title “Encyclopaedia of the Russian Monarchy”. It cost not much, thus I did not think much…

Many years ago, when Boris Yeltsin was still the President, I visited Moscow and in some bookstore I bought a book that had a tempting title “Encyclopaedia of the Russian Monarchy”. It cost not much, thus I did not think much and grabbed it, thinking I would read some lamentations about the ‘shot’ past of the monarchy during my trip and maybe I would find some references to Gediminids…
However, later when I started to have a closer look, I realized that I purchased an unusually interesting unrevealing book. It turns out the mentioned encyclopaedia was a copy of the encyclopaedia written at the end of the nineteenth century – only the text was constructed into forms of the contemporary grammar and writing. The most interesting fact is that the history of Russia was written having no clue what would happen not only to this monarchy but also to all Russia in the twentieth century. In the minds of intellectuals of that time (as it was emphasized in the preface) there was not the slightest idea that something similar to wars, revolutions or geopolitical catastrophes can happen to this country. It seems that Russia is a decent country in part of the world that belongs to it, that is creating its future according to a fair geostrategy; a country that is developing and creating not only sustainable economy, but also a harmonious society. The monarchy of Nicholas II (the latest data about it dates back to 1898) is the standard of a logical flow of history, exemplary ruling of the state and knowledge of the global politics. It seems that one or several decades will be necessary and … it would become the happiest country in the world.      
There was some political conjuncture and absence of understanding that a country cannot be happy at the account of neighbours or oppressed nations, but this encyclopaedia is probably the only vision of happy Russia. However, this vision did not come true and all that century after the monarchy was more a chaos of visions, mistakes and ventures. Russia still was some way ‘unfinished’, disadvantaged, misunderstood, too aggressive and dangerous… full of all kinds of negative epithets.  
An American political scientist John J. Mearsheimer in his educative book  “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics” noted that for countries such as Russia (or China) the status of the great and responsible is not a political joy, but rather a trouble that brings no happiness first of all to neighbours, then to ordinary residents of the country and finally to the whole world. In other words, Russia wishing to be the great state, undertakes more responsibilities than is actually ready to be held liable for the undertaken obligations.  
We can see forecasts that there will be less Russia in the world. If we look at it from ‘far away’ we can see that geopolitical losses of the country are catastrophic. During the last decades it was lost everything that was conquered during three centuries. This is not the only and probably not the most important trouble. Russia does not know how to have allies – only vassals or enemies around it. Energy resources have a declining strategic demand – each wind turbine or solar cell is a sign that the world can easily live without Russia. Already now we can ‘afford’ to impose sanctions on Russia, although mild ones and nobody suffers from them… Thus, Russia needs to look for  real friends and this is unusual to Russia, this is not so easy: for several centuries Russia was growing and got stronger by way of fighting and winning but not looking for friends.
To tell the truth, a victorious war often saved this state. We have to beware Russia and be ready, however now not many people believe that the state of Moscow can do more than geopolitical kleptomania – small less protected bites. Not many want to have Russia as its ally. Syria showed that it is safer not to trust it rather than trust.   
Russia has its internal problems. So-called state security apparatus does not need to protect the country from external enemies – nobody is going to attack Russia. Security structures are necessary to protect integrity of the state. At a certain time the USSR seemed indefeasible and it fell apart very easily, thus nobody thinks that Russia now is not totally indefeasible. Now people even hope that it can fall easily. It shall not be easy. Finally Russia – republic or empire – will have to go back to the status not only of a geographic but also of a political province.
Thus, there were various projects of development; however people say that none of them was finished. And nobody was happy. As we already know, the success of the monarchy and empire became a disaster to Russia, because this “encyclopaedic” state did not withstand World War I and social movements that followed after the war.
An unhappy empire had to become a happy proletarian state. I have no doubts that among Marxism theoreticians there were those, who believed sincerely in success created by proletarian reforms; however the biggest trouble of this success was not Lenin and Stalin, but the imperfection of the theory itself. The pure fact that the theory could be implemented only through repressive mechanisms, proved its social disaster.  
Size of Russia was another disaster for several recent centuries. The Grand Duchy of Moscow was not only expanding by way of conquering geographical or economic benefit, but rather was simply getting bigger, taking the territory the maintenance of which sometimes cost more that the benefit. A prominent Polish traveller Ryszard Kapuściński once compared Russia with a giant that is holding a lot of treasures in its hands. There are so many of them that the giant’s hands are just holding the treasures, because it is not able to do anything else with it. If you want to do something, you have to let something go. It feels sorry to let it go, however if you do not let it go… you just hold. Here he meant that Russia knows that it is the richest country in the world in sense of natural resources; however the benefit from natural resources is the lowest – just selling of resources. In order to be happy Russia has to become smaller, however if it gets smaller it starts feeling… not Russia any longer.     
Alongside disastrous Marxism and unhealthy geographical expansion the issue of its identity has become another obstacle to the strategy of happiness, although namely it could become the strategy of happiness.
Already in the fifteenth century, especially after collapse of the Byzantine Empire, the idea of the so-called Third Rome emerged; this had to make Russia the Christian centre of the whole world. The fact that the First Rome did not fall and the Second Rome was not rushing to give up to the Third one was the dead end of this idea. Thus, the ‘third’ had to fight against the ‘first’ one and this war was neither easy nor successful. In other words, ‘East’ of Russia resist ‘West’ of Europe. The idea of the Third Rome that was born at the same time as the idea of Russia as Eurasian and totally unique civilization has not been a successful ticket, either. Russia is not so unique and is not so particularly valued. The ‘West’ seems to be more attractive…     
Russia, being the greatest Slavic state, representing the biggest Slavic nation, is trying to pursue the mission of ‘defence and protection’ of all Slavic nations. The essential way of realization of the doctrine is to provide the “right” (ethnographic) borders to the nations in the Central and Eastern Europe. In most cases this means moving the geographic borders towards the West. The problem is that Slavic states are not ready to ‘turn to the East”.
A particular problem of the Russian happiness is modernization of the country. This process finally means Westernization of Russia, thus the war with ‘West” means a particular civilization lag. The European project of Peter I was also stopped at the half-way, the capital from Petersburg moved back to Moscow and modernization after the Cold War also stopped…due to a lot of reasons that we should discuss in other texts separately.
Vladimir Putin’s regime did not create the strategy of happiness during two decades. It seems that he is implementing not its own but rather the politics of the already non-existing USSR still hoping that internationalism described in books and everlasting zones of influence still exist. However, demography and biology do not work in favour of Russia – majority of inhabitants of the Central Asia were born or became adults already not during the USSR times, to them Russia is not a political nostalgia. Majority of Slavic ‘sisters’ of Russia got convinced that there are far better alternatives to the government of Moscow thanks to freedom of information.     
One more geographical curiosity. Geopolitical authorities constructed that a not seen climatic ‘wall’ separates Eurasia from Europe, which stretched in the atmosphere approximately where the border between the former Great Duchy of Lithuania and Great Duchy of Moscow in 1771 was. That’s why Lithuania would never be Russia and Russia would never feel comfortably in Lithuania. There is nothing unusual here that the longest war in the history of Lithuania was going on somewhere close to that line.  
However, as a result of the same unsuccessful thinking in geographical categories since the times of Peter Russia has to admit that the Central Europe is the obstacle to the West.
What would be the epilogue of this encyclopaedia that the creators of the happy Russia did not understand at the end of the nineteenth century? At first, there is a dream. Then it turned into a mesianistic idea, later into the “national interest” and finally it became politics. Dreams, ideas and politics of Russia … do not coincide. This has been always starting with the year when Moscow started to become the centre of Russia and did not give these rights to Petersburg. 
Egidijus Vareikis

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