17 years ago winds of change blew above the reeking corpse of the Soviet Union. The tyranny that oppressed my family, dispossessed, killed and tortured millions in the past was no more. The period of its collapse was bloody and painful as if to remind ourselves about a price of freedom regained. Incredible reawakening preceded the demise of the state. I remember an almost spiritual feeling of elation amongst “democratic” forces protesting against this or that in Baku or in Moscow (there were protest marches almost every day), and soul searching and feeling of remorse for the past misdeeds, so uncharacteristic of the Russia of today. But most of all I remember that many Russians, and us on the periphery of the USSR, had an incredible outpouring of love for the West, sometimes bordering on cheesiness. The perceptions of the West, were shrouded by our own naivety, and included our belief in the West as a saviour and possessing a secret to everlasting happiness. The ideals that the West stood for – human rights, and human dignity, democracy and rule of man-made law appealed to everyone at least in theory, not because of the deep-seated belief but of desperation. Communism was morally discredited force, and Political Islam could not present any possible alternative to the way the society developed. I, with many others was a firm believer and defender of liberal democracy against its nasty opponents of rabid nationalism and authoritarism. These latter concepts were not in fact presented an alternatives goals for the society – they were camouflaged within an overall frame of reference. And that frame of reference was clearly European and Western. For our societies to be Muslim and European was not a problem, for this is what indeed we were since 19 century. Russia by similar token was both Russian and European and this did not created any schisms in the minds of people of the Soviet Union who longed for Europe.
1990s was period of doubts and ever diminishing hope that democracy and the rule of law in its Western sense will be established in the region any time soon. A lot of things have changed since then – 9/11 was followed by Afghanistan. Afghanistan was followed by distastrous campaign in Iraq, bombing was followed by another bombing. Islam was being maligned in the Western eyes and democracy was being given a bad name by American blunders and outright criminality. These developments proceeded slowly until it became obvious that we could not operate in the previous frame of reference. Now, after so many a disaster, Azerbaijan (and Turkey, and Russia too) feels slighted by the West, and rightly so. These trends of alienation will only continue.
But why would one abandon European ideas so easily and without fight. As we know, series of scholars of civilization, including Arnold J. Toynbee, Alfred Kroeber and Carroll Quigley have identified and analyzed "Western civilization" as one of the civilizations that have historically existed and still exist today; this civilization exists in much wider context as well. In particular, Toynbee referred to the intelligentsia formed among the educated elite of countries impacted by the European expansion of centuries past. While often pointedly nationalist, these cultural and political leaders interacted within the West to such an extent as to change both themselves and the West.
The societies of the defunct Soviet union and its elites, of which your humble self considers himself a part of, were pointedly nationalist (if urbane nationalists) rather than religious or otherwise totalitarian. However as things go on, these elites will feel alienated from their peoples, especially since their European ways, might identify them with the current idol of the day – the West. This has already happened in Russia, where the blend of nationalism and idea of Russia as a counterweight to the West has triumphed.
1 day ago