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SPIEF-2016: Summer Solstice

15.06.2016
In recent months I have participated in several meetings with colleagues from the European countries: in London, Rome, Brussels, Paris, Moscow. And the topic of relations between Russia and the EU was actively discussed at all these meetings. And it seemed to me, none of the participants of these discussions did not say that he was satisfied with the state of affairs in this area. Several times during the conversations we even used the phrase "new normality". This expression is, of course, a kind of intellectual trick: so to say, let's consider the current situation "normal", natural. Let it be far from ideal, but it is what it is. And let's think about how to improve the situation or at least prevent its further deterioration.

In fact the situation is a little bit more dramatic. And the matter is not only in the mutual mistrust between Russia and the EU, in the impasse the sanctions approach, which only heightens the tension. The problem is wider - the EU itself is going through hard times. I do not know whether it is possible to call it a crisis, but there are many problems within the EU and all of them must be solved simultaneously. These problems taken together are able to cause a cumulative effect. I would not say that the problem of relations with Russia is the most acute. Maybe the British referendum on secession from the EU is much more serious and can cause very significant consequences, especially economic ones. No less difficult is the situation with migrants. Of course, this is not the first migration wave, but it is imposed on the differences between European countries in this issue, on the arrogant behavior of Turkey, on the growth of the right-wing radicalization and many other problems.

In some ways it's even affected the European Football Championship, which was marred by clashes of football fans. Honestly speaking, the world media not only wrote about the football games, but about who fought with whom and how was the intent of all these events. By the way, it demonstrates the level of mutual distrust and suspicion. Incidentally, when this text is written, the discussion about specially trained fighting fans groups continues.

Problems within the EU are complemented by horrific terrorist challenges, which not only destroy the population of the Middle East, but also seem to infect Muslims, supposedly integrated into the Western European culture. And these people, suddenly fallen into a terrorist amuck, rush to the neighbors, or go to the familiar club and kill 50 people at a time, as it happened in the United Stated.

I do not particularly like the word "spirituality", but it seems to me that here is a problem, and a big problem. There are not the so-called "traditional" values. The matter is simply in values themselves.

For many years, until, probably the collapse of the Soviet Union, Western European countries lived in the approved understanding of the European humanist values. I have said many times that the Fukuyama-style idea of the "end of history" was, and remains extremely widespread. And this idea is very relaxing: nothing to worry about after the dangerous Soviet Union disappeared, and terrorism can be defeated by a combination of humanism, education and police measures. But, alas, the reality appeared much more complex and dangerous. In a sense, we all are not so far from some kind of global civil war between more or less peaceful and civilized people and those, for whom values are not empty words and who are ready to lay down their heads. To oppose them it is necessary to have a proper scale of values, for which one can fight to the end - or his, or the enemy's.

But are there such values and such confidence in them?

And this is not only the EU problem, but also Russia's one. As I wrote, many researchers believe that Russia is experiencing a period of political (or civic) nation formation, that is, gaining a system of values, acceptable to the majority. And this process, apparently, is complicated and painful.

By the way, another illustration is the failed Universal Orthodox Assembly. There are many differences and, accordingly, the reasons for the postponement for the indefinite time. One of the reasons is the necessity to say something to the congregation, and to answer real questions: about refugees, terrorists, inequality, about what really alarms people. And to answer using the known axiological position.

In general, many have the impression that the EU is drawn into some vortex of events, and it is not clear, in what kind the EU will come up. Moreover, on the most important political issues there are very serious differences between the western and eastern parts of the EU.

Again, the issue of relations between Russia and the EU is not the only important question of the world. There are many others. But if it is resolved, if we find a reasonable coexistence modus vivendi, and even better, some kind of cooperation and partnership between Russia and the European Union, many other questions will be easier to solve. After all, no matter who would say, Russia's participation in solving the Middle East problems benefits the cause, rather than harms it.

And SPIEF is good platform for conversation. The days are long, the sun almost never sets – here is the summer solstice. Of course, in a couple of days in St. Petersburg one can not decide everything or even discuss everything. But constant dropping wears away a stone. Moreover, it seems to me, that the majority of politicians and businessmen in Russia and the EU really want a real and decisive improvement of relations between Russia and the EU.

Andrey Bystritsky is Chairman of the Board of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, Professor, Dean of the Faculty of Communications, Media and Design at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics, member of the Union of Writers.