cc. In March 2016, the historian and publicist Hannes Hofbauer from Vienna published his new book “Enemy Image Russia. A History of Demonisation” with Promedia Press. The following interview was held on the occasion of his presentation of his book with Current Concerns. A detailed book review will follow in a future issue of Current Concerns.
Current Concerns: What prompted you to write your book “Enemy Image Russia”?
Hannes Hofbauer: I have been concerned with Eastern Europe for some time, especially with the situation in the Eastern Ukraine since the establishment of independent Ukraine in 1991. To my mind, the decisive turning point was in November 2013, when the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement should have been signed at the European Union summit in Vilnius. Rather unexpectedly, Kiev did not sign, probably for reasons of economic rationality, and Brussels ignored this attitude. I thought at the time: this is now no longer just about Ukraine, but the aggressive Western policy is aimed at Russia. Brussels did not accept Yanukovych’s “Nyet”. That was the point at which I thought to myself: Now is the time to look beyond Ukraine, now it is time to reflect about relations between the West – particularly the EU, and later also the United States – and Russia.
How did you work it out that this reaction was directed against Russia?
The association agreements were aimed at the Customs union between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine as an associated member. This Western instrument of enlargement, of certain countries’ accession to the economic and military structures of the EU was diametrically opposed to the project of integration under Russian leadership. This regarded not only Ukraine, but also five other former Soviet republics. Yanukovych himself said he wanted to consider Ukraine as a bridge between East and West and not only lean towards one direction. Brussels did not appreciate this.
What is your book “Enemy Image Russia” about?
I looked at the last 20 years in particular, so as to explain why in 2000 and then again later there was this enemy-perception, although during the nineties an entirely different, positive perception of Russia had been prevalent. It is of special interest here that Yeltsin’s policy for the Russian Federation had a destructive function, which meant that privatizations were carried out in a wild fashion. Russia was also fragmented territorially; republics and autonomous regions fought each other. The state was in dissolution. Almost everyone in Russia would share this opinion today, and by now very many people in the West also see things that way. Between 1991 and 1999 Russia was shown in a favourable light in Western Europe and the USA precisely because of this disastrous policy of Yeltsin’s. That changed with Putin’s accession to power, in my opinion, because Putin made it clear at the very beginning of his term of office that he wanted to consolidate the country, both administratively and in regard to the economy. He brought the state back on the scene and tried to tackle the totally wild privatization. So far, however, he has not met with adequate success in this. In the West, Putin’s consolidation was from the outset met with skepticism and later on with resistance up to what we have today – an enemy image history.
What made you decide to set out the whole history of this enemy image? After all, you begin your book in the 15th century, the time of the Russian Empire, and continue to the present time.
This is due to my training as a historian. I am convinced that current situations can be better understood if the history of the respective developments is explained. Insofar it is quite logical to go to the roots of this enemy image Russia to where this has its origins. So in the course of my research I came to the period of the late 15th century, the years 1470 to 1480, when Ivan III established the Russian tsardom and cast off Tatar domination. On his way to the Baltic Sea, the Czar met with the Teutonic Order and the Polish-Livonian Union. And to accompany this quite geopolitically confrontational situation, Polish and German philosophers were immediately ready to attribute an emeny image to Russia. The Krakow philosopher Johann von Glogau then coined the term of the half-Asian, barbaric, dirty Russians, which has kept up as a stereotype over the centuries.
You said that the privatization of the Yeltsin era in Russia has only been poorly controlled. Does that mean that it has not yet been completed or that the circles that expedite privatization still have a strong impact?
There is really only one major sector of great importance for Russia, namely the energy sector, in which this wild privatization has been contained, amongst other things, by the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in October 2003, when the Kremlin made it clear that no American capital was to penetrate into this industry. For it was Khodorkovsky’s intention to sell his Yukos concern to Exxon Mobil. This was prevented by his arrest, and today the entire industry is more under state control again. Otherwise Russia is still in much of an oligarchic economy, and you can by no means say that privatization is being driven back. In some areas there are government efforts, for example in infrastructure, but on the whole, the oligarchs continue to have free scope for their activities.
Khodorkovsky’s arrest was indeed followed by a clearly perceptible change in sentiment towards Russia in the West.
Yes, quite so. This was inacceptible for America, as it was about the American Exxon Mobil group. The US Vice President at the time, Dick Cheney, was himself involved in the negotiations, and Putin personally flew to Washington to signal that a deal of that kind could not be completed without consent on a high political level. The Americans responded in an extremely aggressive way to Khodorkovsky’s arrest, and they said that there was no more relying on Russia, as private capital was not protected. Although of course it must be said that foreign capital in strategic sectors is met with suspicion and hostility in any and every country.
One chapter of your book is about the policy of sanctions against Russia.
The sanctions were imposed in March 2014 – parallel to the collapse of Ukraine and the ouster of Yanukovych as president, the anticonstitutional takeover of power in Kiev and the inclusion of Crimea in the Russian Federation. The European Union and the US were marching in step. On 6 March 2014, sanctions were adopted against leading personalities who were said to undermine the democratic process in Ukraine – a very arbitrary way of describing what was happening there at the beginning of the Civil War. Shortly after this, in April, the sanctions were extended. Now they no longer affected only people on whom entry bans, account lockouts, and other restrictions were imposed. Now companies and entire industries were affected. Three industries in particular are faced with Western sanctions: Military goods, products that have a connection with oil and gas production – but not the gas supply itself – and the banking sector. In August of the same year, 2014, Russia responded with counter-sanctions in the agricultural sector. This affects almost exclusively the countries of EU Europe because the Americans have hardly relevant business contacts with Russia.
Another question concerning the basic principles of your book, about enemy images: In your book you always depict the events as taking place in the geostrategic context of relations between EU and Russia. Must enemy images always be seen as pursuing political goals, as political instruments for geopolitical, strategic objectives?
Enmities precede enemy images, accompany them in their historical context and prepare the home front for a possible larger confrontation, to express it in a somewhat exaggerated way. That is precisely what is so dangerous in all this, notably also because the dividing line cuts across Europe. The one force which particularly pursues all this, which has become violent, at least since the Kiev Maidan in February/March 2014, is the United States. The following must be made clear: However economically expansionary these EU Association Agreements were, it is the US policy which is currently playing a game that is very dangerous geopolitically, dangerous also because Washington has little to lose from the sanctions. In the time before the embargo, the volume of trade between Russia and the EU was in the range of 30–40 percent of total exports and imports, while with the USA it is in the range of 2–3 percent. This means that the US-Americans are hardly affected by anything that happens on this level of economic war, and that is why they can be much more aggressive. From this I also conclude that on the US-American side all this is not only directed against Russia, but also against the EU.
How to counteract this enemy image?
By means of information and enlightenment, and that will not be in vain, because the media, which carry the enemy image into the households, have been suffering an extreme loss of credibility in recent years. I am speaking of the opinion-forming media here. People are keeping informed in other ways using alternative media. So we see, for example, that the sanctions policy has no positive mass reception in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Anyway not in Switzerland, because it does not participate in the sanctions, and for a start, that is a good sign. The stereotyped enemy image of Russia is less anchored in the populace than in the elites. And even the elites are divided. For example, in Germany there are business circles which see exactly how they are shooting themselves in the foot with the sanctions and therefore reject them.
How is this stereotype of Russia perceived by the people in Russia itself? Is it known there, do they know what and in which way the Western media write about Russia?
Absolutely, that is very widely reflected on. In the beginning, that is immediately after the Crimea’s joining the Russian Federation, this process was received with a certain amount of incomprehension, because people could not imagine that this could develop into such a crisis. We must not forget that Russia-bashing had started long before, namely in 1999 with the NATO war against Yugoslavia. At that time the relationship between the West and Russia was already aggravated. But at the same time the majority of people in Russia also witnessed how Kosovo was separated from Yugoslavia, and they were against this. Many states have recognized Kosovo as an independent country, but others have not; even in the EU there are five countries that do not recognize the statehood of Kosovo. Today the situation is reversed. Russia has incorporated some of the Ukraine, the Crimea – the history of the Crimea would still have to be treated separately – into its own territory, and suddenly we are faced with a major military confrontation. That was almost impossible to understand for the people of Russia why there was such huge internationally excitement because of this. Interestingly enough, the think tanks in Moscow are very well prepared for this scenario and are openly discussing the consequences of the sanctions. There are some who are more of the opinion that Russia should approach a Eurasian project, and change the idea of an economic area that goes from Lisbon to Vladivostok to an integration area that ranges from Brest Litovsk up to Shanghai. Then there are other institutions which say that Russia could not survive economically without the EU. However, they are – not without justification – afraid the EU may possibly neglect to fulfil their promise of integration, regardless of the sanctions, because the EU has itself reached a crossroads, and it is not clear whether it will exist in its present form any longer.
Thank you, Mr Hofbauer, for this interview. We hope that your book will be widely read.
I thank you. •
(Interview Eva-Maria Föllmer-Müller, Erika Vögeli)
* Hannes Hofbauer was born in 1955 in Vienna. He is an economic and social historian and works as a journalist and publisher. Numerous publications of his were edited by the Promedia publishing house, among others: “Verordnete Wahrheit, Bestrafte Gesinnung. Rechtsprechung als politisches Instrument” (decreed truth, punished basic convictions, administration of justice as a political instrument) (2011) Slovakia. “Der mühsame Weg nach Westen” (the burdensome way west) together with David Noack, 2012. “Die Diktatur des Kapitals. Souveränitätsverlust im postdemokratischen Zeitalter“ (The dictatorship of capital. Loss of sovereignty in the post-democratic era) (2014)
Around 10,000 representatives of the agricultural industry protested in the Italian city of Verona yesterday against the controversial extension of the EU sanctions against Russia. Agriculture and Forestry Minister Maurizio Martina, the president of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, and Roberto Moncalvo, President of Coldiretti association of farmers, were also present.
Source: RT-Deutsch from 1 July 2016
cc. Since 1 July, the new book by Willy Wimmer is available. The back cover states: “A quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War, peace in Europe has begun to crumble again. The NATO – and with it the concurring media – never misses an opportunity to impute an aggressive expansion policy to Vladimir Putin and in the same breath to set up its own forces and to perform delicate manoeuvres on the borders with the Russian Federation. In the latest version of its White Paper, the German government classifies Russia even as ‘rival’ and in terms of threat puts it on the same level as IS.
Willy Wimmer calls for another, namely a partner-like relationship with our Eastern neighbours, and this for many good reasons. Between 1988 and 1992 – at a time in which the events came thick and fast and government action was almost suspended – in a top position of the Defence Ministry he experienced a form of cooperation with the disintegrating Soviet Union, which can hardly be surpassed in sincerity and constructive character shaping a common ‘house of Europe’.
This book bears witness to many voyages and conversations on the eve of the German Reunification, especially regarding the integration of the National People’s Army into the German armed forces and also in recent times. However, it also reports the way they tried to ignore or even thwart hopeful developments. ‘The Moscow file’ also reveals how then stage directions for today’s tensions have been commanded.” (ISBN 978-3-943007-12-1)
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