Arrivederci, Third Rome
The idea that Russia is now being ruled by cost/benefit rationality could be a terminal mistake. In this podcast we elaborate upon messianic impetus behind Russian drive to expansion and why the Third Rome can be a great, empty space – a wasteland, even – without losing its appeal to Russians.
Also it seems that Alexander Dugin should’ve been taken more seriously. On KT we’ve written extensively about him but always with tongue in cheek. In this podcast we remedy that injustice.
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Welcome to the Kali Tribune podcast.
Transcript (please not that as podcast was not scripted, the transcript does not match it completely in some details, due to editing):
First of all, apologies. I’m quite aware that we are not as prompt in putting out new articles and podcasts as is usually the case.
There are two reasons for this. One is that I’m trying to steer this project back to its origins so as to keep working on more substantial essays and analyses that take quite a lot of time to prepare. The other reason is, unfortunately, quite prosaic – there is a lot of work that has to be done outside of this project.
Now, for a long time we avoided talking or writing about current affairs, focusing more on philosophy and perhaps a deeper cause – or what we see as the deeper causes – behind current events. But today we’ll make an exception because we have a looming third world war, and it would really be in bad taste not to say anything about it. I also want to announce that I’m preparing a more substantial written analysis on the situation in Ukraine, as well as the European and American reactions to it: yet not solely in the political sense.
At the outset I will say this: I support Ukranians. (And partly we’ll be talking about that in this podcast but from what, I would say, is quite an unusual angle: at least quite unusual for Western analysts.)
I’m not as Western as most because I come from the part of Europe where the situation happening in Ukraine right now is not as alien as it may be for an Englishman or an American. I think some understanding of it is an historical given: something we Eastern Europeans, fortunately or unfortunately, know to an extent – even intuitively so.
The analysis I’ll now try to provide will be a bit impromptu because this is how we do our podcasts: to fill the space between more substantial essays. I’ll talk about some possibilities that are at work in this situation and that could unfortunately become real, as well as something that I believe could be overlooked by Western analysts when it comes to Russia and its motivations to attack Ukraine.
First and foremost, let us clarify something before discussing this war. If you take into consideration what Putin has mentioned throughout the years in his speeches (especially from his first Munich speech that had international impact to this speech at the outset of the invasion of Ukraine), and if you really observe him with the intention of truly understanding what he is saying, I think that you must tone down your focus on pragmatic rationality. What I mean by this is that most people–myself included–are flabbergasted by the complete and utter unpreparedness of Russia for what they did (or what they are attempting to do). Furthermore, I am even more astonished that this doesn’t take away from their ultimate goals. And their ultimate goals extend far beyond Ukraine, for this is the moment wherein Russia “decided” [in quotes, of course, because Russia is not a person – even though for some Russians it seems to be something akin to a person], Russia went beyond the discrepancy in its culture and in its very national matrix, or as they like to say ‘civilization’ (although, unlike Putin and his cronies, I am not convinced that Russia is a separate civilization) and that it completely rejects the West. And I think that this war is Russia’s attempt to finally divorce itself from Europe.
But this divorce is the resolution of an old historical problem: therefore divorce is not simply a rejection of the European Union, or the collaboration with the European Union, or of accepting the so-called ‘values’ of the European Union – this war is a rejection of the Western civilization built on the bedrock of the Western Roman Empire and the Catholic Church. And these two, the Western Empire and the Western Church, are the real core of European civilization, no matter how European civilization is now detached from it and how negligent and rejecting it’s been towards it.
This is the legacy of the West, and the only true tradition that the man of the West–no matter where in the West– can reattach to.
Russia, at this point, I think in reality declared war on this legacy, which it considers to be a kind of competitor for global supremacy in both spiritual and material senses. The trouble–and why people don’t understand this in the West–is that there is nothing pragmatic about this. Additionally, the material and the spiritual are not really distinct in this outlook. What I’m talking about is the Russian national–or better said Russian quasi-civilizational–original idea: the idea that Moscow (or Muscovia, as it was when this idea that the the knyazstvo – the principality – that was Russia at the time when this idea came forth) is the Third Rome.
Now, for those who don’t know, the idea is based on an interpretation of Christian eschatological history in which the First Rome fell because of the Latin heresy of Catholicism: a fall that dragged along with it the right to rule the world in Christ’s name. The Second Rome was Constantinople, or Tsarigrad which fell under the Turks. And then the mantle of Rome was transferred to a third center – and this third center is Moscow. (And there won’t be a fourth one)
The implications of this idea are, as far as I can see, completely lost on people in the West: especially to younger intellectuals who encounter this idea, who encounters Russian Orthodoxy and the Russian political apparatus or Russian political theory in general. I was kind of keeping a distance towards this because it is abysmally difficult– if not well-nigh impossible–to explain this mentality to somebody who has never been in touch with it: to somebody who was never on the receiving end of the expansion of a country (or, again, quasi-civilization) that has this complete identification of the state and the church as is the case in Russia. Because there is no difference between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state apparatus.
To comprehend it you have to see it.
I comprehend it. And I can comprehend it very easily because, throughout my life and my people’s lives, Croatia since the XIXth Century has had to deal with Serbia, which is a miniature version of Russia, where this essential structure of church and state is unquestionable; this very peculiar ‘spirituality’ that exists there.
People in the West who never had anything to do with this, never been on the receiving end, cannot comprehend it.
Now, to try to explain what this is, I’ll give an example of what Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Church said in his Easter homily that touched on the problem of the war in Ukraine. He says, among other things, that Russia has a calling and a religious duty to protect Russian-speaking people in Donbas and Donetsk (all classical casus belli simply supporting Russian invasion of Ukraine). But there is more. He defines Russia as “standing to the right side of the Lord,” whereas the West–and this includes Ukraine, where there are “Nazi”s [and we will come back to that shortly, for there is more than meets the eye with this slur] “stands to the left side of the Lord.”
Anybody who knows Christian iconography also knows that to the left of Jesus Christ is where the damned are. So Patriarch Kirill damned us all with this homily, let us not forget. He damned us all…
My interpretation of it is: “The only way to get to the right side of the Lord is to submit to Russia.”
Now, how is this possible? Is he an ex-KGB officer role-playing as a Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church just doing dirty work for Putin?
I don’t think so. I think he is expressing the essential eschatological understanding of the Russian people, the Russian Church, and the Russian state – these three things being one indistinct entity.
The idea is this: There is one people, Narod Bogonosatz – that means “God-bearing people” “Christ-bearing people” – that have the eschatological calling of being the body of Christ. So theirs is not the idea of the Church as a universal church, as a universal union of people regardless of their ethnicity or origins as the body of Christ, but one people – and it’s the Russian people. And, from there, one civilization created by Russians. And in order to be incorporated into this body – this body must expand and suck you in. And this is the idea of Third Rome; this is what is behind Patriarch Kirill’s words.
Now, I’ll tell you something about Nazis.
When Serbia attacked Croatia and later Bosnia, they were also attacking Nazis. “They wouldn’t be doing this if those Nazis admitted that they are in fact Serbs!” was their reasoning. And it means the following:
The Serbian state’s idea denies the existence of Croats as being other than Serbs: they are Serbs that, for various reasons, lost their identity. For the most part, the conspiracy theory they used is that the Vatican or Jesuits manipulated Serbs out of the Serbian nation, people, and church (these three are one thing, remember). So any kind of division in this body or the Serbian church-state-people, created by so-called Croats (who, let’s remember, are in fact “wayward Serbs”), makes it incomplete and wounded and unwholesome. And the eschatological aim is to push westwards and absorb the wayward brothers.
But when those brothers decide that they are not what you say they are: that they are instead Croats and Catholics from VIIIth century onwards (since Croats converted to Catholicism very early on) – then the brothers are Nazis!
Therefore, the very same qualification that Russia is now using for Ukraine.
And, mind you, Ukrainians are predominantly Orthodox – but they are not Russians and they don’t belong to their Church and their religiosity is different from that radiated by the Russian Church.
They have to be named “Nazis” because they have to be amputated as a people. And the lands that they inhabit, the space –and this concept of ‘space’ is very important–has to be assimilated. Yet Russia has far grander aims than Serbia.
When you are on the receiving end of something like this–as I was and still am because this idea never dies: it can be defeated in individual instances but its constantly reappearing– you recognize it when it pops its ugly head up once again instantly. And this is what’s happening in Ukraine. Therefore I believe that in Ukraine, unfortunately, there’ll be a lot more civilian casualties that won’t be just a matter of collateral damage but victims of genocide – because Ukrainians reject being Russians. By rejecting being Russians, they rejected the Russian Christ. They are not part of that body.
And it will get extremely ugly – yet one doesn’t have to be very wise to understand how it will get ugly for Russians too, since now they’ll get bogged down and gloves will be taken off by defenders, be it in the siege or destruction of their cities, because they won’t give up defending them. Though I don’t even want to estimate the number of Ukrainian casualties, I believe Ukraine will eventually win this war: that is to say, I am sure that Russia will not only lose this war – I think Russia started a de facto global war and is completely ready to take on the world for reasons we will keep discussing. There is no cost/benefit analysis here. This is an eschatological war. It is how they understand it. It is how Putin understands it (if I am to believe his words). There is no stopping at anything: no amount of victims, no amount of damage. Nothing…
They cannot go back. They have crossed the Rubicon.
I’m not the only one saying this, but I’m trying to provide one dimension that is very easily missed by Western observers because they have no experience of it – and it can only be known from experience: i.e. you have to see it and only then you can rationally explain it to an extent. But because it is completely irrational it doesn’t have rational structure: its structure is contradictory because having the state and the church as the same thing is incomprehensible, in fact. It implies, for instance, that a high-ranking spetsnaz officer is a kind of “angel” or something like that.
I’m aware that it sounds idiotic and crazy, but it is idiotic and crazy. It’s the consequence of a kind of Christian heresy coming from a part of the once-whole Church that I’m not a member of, so I don’t claim to understand how it came to pass long ago, but it’s very deeply embedded and I don’t know how it can be resolved. But I do know that it is persistent. You cannot extinguish it. You can win battles against it, but you cannot win the war. The only way to win the war would be if it were removed by a deep reforming act–an act which would be, in my opinion, only possible as an act of God’s mercy– or if you get destroyed by it, because this is a completely either/or scenario.
This takes us to an old friend and companion of Kali Tribune: someone we said a lot of ugly things about and ridiculed – Aleksandr Dugin.
I apologize to those who read my articles and essays and criticisms of Dugin because they were always tongue-in-cheek. I never took him seriously. I know he is serious about what he’s saying, because this idea is what drives him and I know that very well. I did not explicitly mention this before because I kind of wanted to believe that it wasn’t true.
Dugin is, by the way, calling for nuclear war: i.e. warning the West that they are miscalculating things: that Western analysts think that Russia would only use atomic weapons, nuclear weapons as retaliation or self-defense but they are “miscalculating” because Russian intellect “cannot be calculated,” and that they are going for all or nothing because this is an existential threat to Russia, so they should not be so sure that Russia would not be capable of striking first.
Observing the current situation, I think Dugin is completely right (and by right I mean serious). I should’ve known better and owe him an apology because the first thing I noticed about Aleksandr Gyelevich is his profound love of fire. Fire as a metaphor is always present in him. He loves to burn things. He loves to burn himself, I think, so atomic nuclear fire would be only fitting and would be quite pleasurable for him.
The other thing is that Putin’s own plan as he laid it out–Russia’s war aims–are fairly neo-Euroasianist: Duginistic in all the craziness and megalomania Dugin can muster. And I’m not saying that he’s, indeed, Putin’s Rasputin, but perhaps simply used as a guy who is spreading the most radical forms of the ideas that Putin himself cannot say publicly. Every regime has somebody who is flying test balloons to see how the public will react, especially the public in a different part of the world – and Dugin was mostly popular in the West, not so much in Russia.
For what I see now, Dugin’s megalomaniacal eschatology, the Endkampf of the final war between “sea power” and “land power,” is to be taken extremely seriously because this seems to be the thing that they are enacting just now.
It’s very hard to predict the future. All I wanted to point out here is that no matter how crazy something seems to you, they are capable of doing it: precisely because the Third Rome is a space. Third Rome is a spatial term. They want space – and they want to expand because they have to expand. They are driven by this.
What is contained in this space is absolutely irrelevant, so you can have ruins as far as the eye can see. Kiev turned into nuclear dust? Doesn’t matter – it must be incorporated into the Russian church-state-people.
This is something we experienced in Croatia in cities like Vukovar, a city in east Croatia that was under siege and practically razed by the Serbian army and their irregulars. The thing is that, although the city is now rebuilt and reincorporated into Croatia, while it was in Serbian hands nothing was rebuilt, nothing was fixed. Vukovar was a ruin in which people lived. So the motives– or at least what we can call the “rational” motives– were neither to occupy nor to exploit. When nations go to war they have such motives. But this is something different. This is perverted spirituality. It has a very strong core that is completely directed in a crazy direction, and it is working in people even against their own better judgment. And there are periods in history when it is dormant and periods in which it explodes, and all kinds of calamities happen to those who are in contact with it.
Now, it’s very easy to ignore small-potatoes countries like Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia, and the Balkans in general. It’s even easy to ignore Ukraine. But it’s not easy to ignore Russia. And Russian potential for destruction is neither in its armament nor in its huge expanse of land – it is in its core idea because nothing in the modern and postmodern world can really match it.
This idea is very old and comes from a different world, surviving modernity, and I don’t think the modern/postmodern people ruling Europe can really comprehend it. Some people did comprehend it during the Cold War, hence this containment that Russia understands as its existential threat. Yet Russia has to be contained.
if you are in Lithuania, if you are in Poland, if you are in Romania, if you are in Ukraine, then above all you must contain Russia – because Russia will expand. It is not a matter of choice. While I wouldn’t say that it is “destined to expand,” as some Russians understand it, the inevitability of expansion comes from that same perversion.
Furthermore, its expansion (and this is a very important final determination of this political-spiritual drive) is hermetic. Russia is a hermetic society that is closed to the outside and to outsiders. And it is likewise difficult to comprehend the peculiarity of expats, who don’t really act in the same way as they do when they are in their country.
This is something I noticed right away when I saw Dugin and read his translated works while on the other hand (as I’m able to do with some effort) reading them in Russian – then I see a completely different author. It’s a different man writing. Dugin in Russian is not the same guy as he is in English.
But it is typical of this mentality. It always ends with closing oneself in – with hermetically sealing itself and staying isolated from others because it cannot comprehend the other. It cannot comprehend otherness. When faced with an otherness that neither accepts nor identifies with it (as is the case now with Ukraine) then it becomes extremely dangerous and driven towards a frenzy of destruction.
And I’m afraid that this is in the cards for the very near future.
As far as the rest of the world – look, the Eurasian empire is understood as a global empire. And its main enemy is gathering around America, but I think the real enemy is much older: it is the Rome they claimed fell under heresy – which I would very much dispute: not strictly in the sense of the Catholic Church but in the sense of the Western Roman civilization upon which the Catholic Church placed its spiritual roots. And the reason why Russia is terminally wrong is that it considers itself to be a civilization – but it is not.
Christian civilization is one in the same way as the church is one, and the split of East and West is in it without turning them into two separate civilizations: it makes one civilization split in two (that should unify but can’t because only God can unify something like that).
Further discussing this would lead me into places that are too deep and remote from the current discussion. I must, however, risk discussing them and being misunderstood because these things are very important. They must be said – and not many people are saying them.
So Russians, in this sense, are wrong. As you can see now, they are in conflict with people who are basically a core of their state and their church in its original form because Ukraine is the place where the Orthodox Church, or indeed the Eastern Slavic space, began. And, as I said, ‘space’ is extremely important for them.
The whole idea is in contradiction. This is a working, acting contradiction – and, as such, it is extremely destructive.
And, trust me – we have not seen anything yet. This I can say with some confidence. I hope, God-willing, that I’m absolutely wrong about this and will happily bow my head in shame if proven wrong… but I’m afraid that won’t be the case.
This is a very dangerous situation and there is no peaceful resolution to it. A peaceful resolution would mean either the death of Ukraine and their ethnic and spiritual uniqueness or the death of Russia: i.e. the death of what Russia means for Russia itself, its ability to expand, maybe some kind of dismemberment – who knows…
But Russia is going all the way. And I’m not talking about pragmatic politics. There is always the possibility that the people running things now will be overturned by more rational people, though I doubt it because this country has always had this drive as the strongest element pushing it forward. And, for you Westerners, this is a reason why everybody–universally–is afraid of Russia in Eastern Europe. It’s simply the way things are. It has nothing to do with communism. Bolshevism was just a form of this idea. Because if you identify church and state this state ideology can have different forms, but what’s important is that it is fulfilling the eschatological purpose of the state: their special Russian destiny.
If you don’t believe me, go read Dugin. (Foundations of Geopolitics is the best one for understanding what he thinks, even though the book is horrible.)
This is it. It seems that Russians believe they have reached this high point in their history wherein they must perform the final open bid to world power. As I said, I don’t know how it will end. But I believe it will be a sore sight. And we are all involved – especially those of us in Eastern Europe.
We cannot escape it.
(Transcript by Loic Zev)
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