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Brussels’ Post-modern Norms and Values : for Ordinary Russians ?

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The Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ is the leading Dutch think tank and diplomatic academy on international affairs.

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Peter Van Ham

The EU, Russia and the Quest for a new European Security Bargain. 2015/11






For the EU, the main prize is to reach the Russian populace and to counter President Putin’s narrative of an unfriendly, aggressive EU that is engaged in a “civilization war” against traditional Russian values and interests.

The OPEN Neighbourhood programme specifically aims to support independent Russian-language media, ensuring that Moscow’s dominant voice in the region does not go unchallenged.

The EU also aims to increase people-to-people contacts (involving journalists, scientists, human rights groups and artists) – based on the assumption that “these circles still foster critical minds”, and that “many in these fields finds themselves at loggerheads with increasingly repressive government authorities”.

Opening the EU’s doors to students, scientists and artists is a useful and timely, but also customary and unimaginative, course of action. Little can be expected from exchange programmes and academic cooperation, beyond showing the EU’s obligatory good will.

Moreover, by intensifying strategic communication, the EU takes a big gamble. Brussels (and most EU member states) assume that ordinary Russians (not belonging to the cultural elite) can be encouraged to embrace Europe’s post-modern norms and values.

For the moment, the EU-Russia values’ gap is widening : Whereas the EU pushes LGBT rights and the European Parliament has nominated the three (at that time jailed) members of the Russian feminist performance-art group Pussy Riot for the Sakharov human rights prize, Russian society is embracing traditional family values as well as a newly found patriotism.

Given current Russian distrust of EU policy (based on what is widely seen as the EU’s support for a political coup in Kiev in 2014), and the traditional and nationalist streak of Russian society, such a move towards the EU’s post-modern outlook will simply not happen.

Moreover, the EU’s communication strategy vis-à-vis Russia is eerily similar to US President Bush’s neo-conservative policies to change the mindset of the “Arab Street” after 9/11, which had very modest results.