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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: July 2012

5 - The West



And all this, all this life abroad, and all this Europe of yours is just a delusion, and all of us abroad are a delusion.

dostoevsky,The Idiot


As opposed to countries easily demarcated by geographical boundaries such as mountain ranges, seas, and oceans, Russia coalesced and developed in the liminal geography of the Eurasian plains. Without natural borders for protection and definition, Russia throughout its history has been caught between East and West, mediating between the two, belonging to neither, yet implicated in both. The underlying and fundamental duality of Russia's position in the world has naturally led to recurrent alternations in its attitude toward the outside world and toward the West in particular.

These alternations tend to follow recognizable cultural patterns: firstly, change in attitudes toward the West, like all other cultural change in Russia, is maximalist. That is to say, when change occurs, the new is experienced as absolute acceptance or rejection. As Lotman and Uspensky have argued, “Duality and the absence of a neutral axiological sphere led to a conception of the new not as a continuation, but as a total eschatological change.” Secondly, when change comes, it comes from the top down. Time and again throughout Russian history, it is the Tsar's edict that enforces or rejects Western cultural norms. Thirdly, this enforcement from the top down almost always leads to a bifurcation in social response, particularly in the upper classes.

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