Towards a Social and Humanitarian Eurasian Union

Author: Leonid Savin

Translator: Jafe Arnold 

Any form of cooperation is governed by regulations, laws, and agreements between the involved parties. Therefore, in order to determine the criteria and official levels which regulate Eurasian cooperation in the social and humanitarian spheres, it is first and foremost necessary to analyze the foundational documents of the Eurasian Economic Union.

The Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union entered into force on January 1st, 2015. This founding document proclaims the continuity of Eurasian economic integration (from the Declaration of November 18th, 2011), and practically all of the treaty’s articles are dedicated to trade, customs regulations, integration, tariffs, and other economic mechanisms. Adherence to the principles of the WTO and UN is also highlighted.

Article 61 on Consumer Protection Policy, which consists of two points and two proposals, can to some extent be related to the social sphere insofar as it concerns policy agreements between member-states in the sphere of protecting consumer rights. The administrative cooperation defined in Article 68 concerns only issues of an economic nature and management, including the exchange of information and cooperation between competent authorities. Only Articles 97 and 98 on employment are social and humanitarian in nature, insofar as they indicate mechanisms for social protection, health care, procedures for workers in member-countries, as well as the mutual recognition of documents pertaining to education and employment opportunities, etc. However, these issues are integral to any economic and business operation, since labor relations imply social responsibility on the part of employers, certain state guarantees, and appropriate qualification necessary for employing labor.

The treaty contains no other articles or points related to social and humanitarian activities.

Moreover, according to the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Commission, there is no authority proscribed for the latter organ in the social and humanitarian spheres. Point 18 merely provides for the commission’s operations in the sphere of labor migration, while Point 20 mentions “other spheres determined by the Treaty [on the Eurasian Economic Union] and international treaties within the union.” According to the EEU’s legal portal, social and humanitarian issues were not considered in the acts adopted by the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in 2015-2016.[1]

A similar situation can be observed with the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council.[2] No memoranda or joint statements with international organizations engaged in humanitarian issues have been issued.

Before the Treaty on the EEU, on October 30th, 2014 a joint statement was issued on cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union and the United Nations on industrial development. Even earlier, in 2013, the Memorandum of Understanding between the Eurasian Economic Commission and Economic Union and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the Memorandum of Understanding between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, and the Memorandum of Cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), were all signed. Yet these UN commissions have nothing to do with social and humanitarian cooperation, although the United Nations does have corresponding bodies for these spheres.

Out of all the draft documents presented on the EEU legal portal that have either passed or are in the process of passing through public discussion (535 in total as of March 1st, 2017), in two years there has not been a single document which directly or indirectly relates to the social and humanitarian spheres.[3]

This situation is rather paradoxical since the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union was preceded by many years of significant intellectual work which implicitly related to the humanitarian sphere. Even if we consider exclusively economic factors or technical aspects, then they in one way or another have scientific foundations and are implemented in politics, and this is also pertains to the sphere of ideology and theories of the social and political sciences.

What’s more, it bears emphasis that the classical school of Eurasianists which arose among Russian emigres in the 1920’s, attached priority to questions of culture and society. The core of the Eurasian movement then was represented by the geographer Petr Savitsky, the philologist Nikolay Trubetzkoy, the lawyer Nikolay Alekseev, the historian and literary critic Petr Bitsilli, the philosopher and medievalist Lev Karsavin, the art historian Petr Suvchinsky, the historian George Vernadsky, the theologian George Florovsky, and the literary critic Dmitry Svyatopolk-Mirsky. Tellingly enough, there were no economists in this group, although state systems did receive significant attention in Savitsky and Alekseev’s works.

The end of the era of classical Eurasianism is associated with the works of Lev Gumilev, after which it is commonly accepted to recognize the beginning of neo-Eurasianism, whose founder in Russia in the early 1990’s was Alexander Dugin. Dugin not only directly popularized the ideas of classical Eurasianism in intellectual and political science circles, but also complemented its main provisions with geopolitical and economic aspects in accordance with the challenges of the day. This was marked by the need to pay more attention to heterodox economic models that go beyond classical liberal or Marxist doctrines. The President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, also actively supported Eurasianist ideas. It was he who proposed at the highest political level to create a new type of Eurasian association after the collapse of the USSR. A significant difference at the time was that Dugin worked in the intellectual sphere under adverse conditions, since the period of Boris Yeltsin’s reign was overall associated with an orientation towards the West, not searching for a way out of the crisis of identity or a unique, independent path of development, whereas Nazarabyev used administrative resources in parallel to the development of a national ideology of Kazakhstan. These remarks should be considered in analyzing the work of the EEU, particularly in the humanitarian sphere.

Imbalances in the trade-economic sphere have also been acknowledged in the comments of senior officials who have considerable experience in the humanitarian field. The groundwork of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) might be useful in this regard, since the EEU has a number of direct agreements with the CIS. To some extent, both of these inter-state projects are interrelated, since all EEU members are also CIS members.

For example, on July 2nd, 2015, during the Forum for Young Leaders of Eurasian Economic Union Member-Countries held in the State Duma of the Russian Federation, the head of the Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation, Lyubov Glebova, remarked: “The development of cultural ties in the Eurasian space is important due to the fact that the entire history of our states exists within a common cultural space. Repression has never been at the heart of these relationships. Experience in mutual cultural enrichment helps us build relations today and allows us to avoid what we see in other parts of the world, such as the development of inter-ethnic conflicts sometimes artificially instigated from the outside.” [4]

In saying such, Glebova essentially confirmed Lev Gumilev’s famous theory of the complementarity of the various peoples inhabiting the Eurasian space and their influence on one another over the course of history. A similar opinion has been expressed by the former Executive Director of the International Foundation for Humanitarian Cooperation of the CIS and acting advisor to the President of Armenia on international cultural-humanitarian cooperation. In an interview in July 2016, he said regarding the EEU that the union has been established “in which economic relations play a key role. Without an economy, nothing can develop, and this is understandable. But at the same time, one cannot ignore the fact that without education, science, and without the inclusion of cultural and national questions, it is extremely difficult to build relations between peoples and states. For people to understand each other, and for an atmosphere of complete mutual confidence to be achieved, we direly need those contacts that are established only through humanitarian cooperation – through culture, art, and education. It is impossible to imagine the formation of a Eurasian alliance without cooperation in these spheres. Sooner or later, we will necessarily arrive at this. Why not get ahead of ourselves and in the near future start building these bridges that will surely help economic relations?” [5]

The General Secretary of the Eurasian Economic Community, Tair Mansurov, also suggested: “The Eurasian Union should become a union of states with a common economic, customs, humanitarian, and cultural space.” [6] As things stand, the first two of these areas have been realized and enshrined in the association’s governing documents, while the last two are still in their infancy.

Today, humanitarian-cultural cooperation exists only out of the inertia of the traditions laid down in the Soviet Union and Russian Empire. As a process of historical continuity, there are more positive than negative sides in this, but it nevertheless bears recognition that the 21st century requires a comprehensive and consolidated approach.

First of all, there is competition between countries. The states of Central Asia and the Caucasus are the objects of the geopolitical interests of many other countries with their own projects. The People’s Republic of China, for instance, is actively pursuing the expansion of its One Belt One Road project in the region, which is regarded not only as political-economic penetration, but also an instrument of China’s “soft power.” Although the SCO-BRICS summit in Ufa in 2015 declared that the Eurasian Union and New Silk Road projects would merge, to this day no clear plan of action has been deliberated on this matter.

Secondly, there can be several interrelated factors present that function as instruments of external “soft power.” For example, Turkey takes advantage of two factors at once – the Turkic and Muslim factors – to spread its cultural-religious influence in the countries of Central Asia (two Eurasian Union participants, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, have majority Muslim populations). Islamic ideas are also employed by Arab monarchies, in particular Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as the basis for their economic and spiritual penetration of the region.

In addition to those countries that have throughout history been of direct relevance to the states of the Eurasian Economic Union in terms of trade, influence, or conflicts, foreign actors are also attempting to influence integration and decision-making. The USA and the UK in particular present their own variety of programs in the context of liberal-democratic, Western ideology, which is not only unsuitable for the peoples and states of this part of the world, but is in many ways purely destructive in nature. In particular, such asserts the superiority of the individual over the collective and rejects the importance of historical and religious traditions, which liberalism presents as relics that must be overcome for the sake of progress (without mentioning any concrete goals). Meanwhile, “many of the Eurasianists’ social projects speak of the sobornost’ and collectivism of the people, i.e., those principles which have allowed them to not only survive in unique climactic conditions, but also build a powerful state. Cooperative interaction appears as an integral feature of social life in Russian sociology.” [7]

Overall, drawing a dichotomy between political-economic and political-cultural approaches might have long-term consequences. Other countries’ experiences show that cultural factors cannot be ignored or downplayed while preference is given exclusively to economic ties. The crisis in the EU, besides economic, political, and social factors, also has a cultural-humanitarian dimension.

As the famous French philosopher and New Right ideologue, Alain de Benoist, pointed out: “Since the very beginning, European construction has been carried out contrary to common sense. It started with industry and trade, rather than giving priority to politics and culture. What was built instead of this base and turned into a superstructure was represented by the Brussels Commission which, while devoid of any democratic legitimacy, still continues to be considered omnipotent. Construction should have been based on countries and regions with strict observance of the principle of subsidiarity, and with sufficient competence…European construction was done without the consent of the population (surveys were conducted only a few times, and people mostly negatively responded, but this was not taken into account and the surveys were repeated until they replied ‘yes’). Finally, the ultimate goals of European integration were not clearly defined, because there was never any consensus on this. But the key question is: are they building a powerful Europe with clearly defined geopolitical borders, one capable of governing all forces in synergy in order to forge an autonomous structure which might play a regulatory role in contemporary globalization? Or are they working on a market-Europe, a free trade zone with blurred borders which is supposed to be integrated into the zone of dominance of the American superpower? Unfortunately, we are closer to the second one. I am against such a Europe; I stand for the idea of the first Europe.” [8]

Sharply dividing the economic, political, social, and other aspects should be avoided. Rather, they should organically complement each other. “There are four common approaches to studying human affairs in which emphasis is on the social, cultural, economic, or political aspects respectively…To some extent, all of these categories include the other three insofar as social, cultural, economic, and political life are naturally interdependent. When we choose one of these names, we choose only an emphasis.” [9]

The experience of the Russian Federation in the 1990’s shows that emphasis must not be exclusively placed on the economic side of state policy, since a quantitative approach and focus on numbers can produce a profound gap with socio-political reality. This was clearly demonstrated by the liberal reforms implemented in Russia and the economic defaults that hit wide swathes of the population. The examples of other countries that have at one time found themselves in difficult economic situations (such as the Republic of Cuba and Islamic Republic of Iran) show that the ideological component, with emphasis placed on cultural and historical aspects, helped these countries’ leaderships to mobilize society and overcome numerous problems. Conversely, neglect for cultural-historical traditions has led to numerous tensions within societies (such as the escalation of sectarian conflicts in Iraq, progressive liberalization in Serbia leading to large-scale emigration in recent years, and the critical situation in Ukraine) which in turn also undermined these states’ economic systems.

Recently, a large number of events dedicated to questions of the EEU’s establishment and development have been held. Some of them have been systemic in nature and took place before the EEU project came to life. Others have begun to attempt to directly reflect on the EEU’s work in order to identify gaps and smooth over possible contradictions. A number of “Eurasian events” have been organized by social organizations and movements with funding from the state (usually one-time grants), and some educational institutions have systematically engaged in holding courses and educational and scholarly events. For example, the Ural State University of Economics in Ekaterinburg held the 7th Eurasian Economic Youth Forum in 2016.[10] This forum was the continuation of a cycle of events focused on harmonizing international relations alongside the International Youth Business Game’s “Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit – 2039” which was held at the Ural State University of Economics in 2009, as well as the first BRICS summit held in Ekaterinburg in the same year. The Eurasian Youth Herald is even published by the Ural State University of Economics. [11]

The Federation Council of the Russian Federation has also launched similar projects, such as the Eurasian Women’s Forum. Nine permanent discussion platforms have been established, each of which is a separate work group forming the basis for active cooperation between women’s leaders and women’s organizations. These forums’ activities are influencing the work on the program of the Second Eurasian Women’s Forum to be held in 2018. The Deputy Chairwoman of the Federation Council, Galina Karelova, has devoted particularly active work to such discussion forums as Women in Industry, Women in Agriculture, Women in the Shaping of Global Public Health Strategy, Women in Entrepreneurship, Women in Sport: Playing by One Set of Rules, and Charity without Borders, all of which have created a number of projects, including some featuring international participation.[12] These events have a pronounced gender character which is of no small importance in the modern international situation, in which serious attention is devoted to this factor. On the other hand, some of this forum’s initiatives have been criticized for having a pronounced liberal character. In particular, the National Strategy in Women’s Interests project published on the forum’s site has been severely criticized. It has been noted that many of the strategy’s provisions have been copied from Western feminist programs, such as “the outright destruction of traditional family values, basic models of behavior and social structure…many of the provisions approved by the Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation, D.A. Medvedev, in the National Strategy in Women’s Interests for 2017-2012 go against the National Security Strategy approved by the President of Russia, V. V. Putin, and grossly violate the constitutional rights of tens of millions of citizens of Russia.”[13]

Thus, it is necessary to adjust such initiatives in accordance with the value systems of the EEU’s societies.

Another important event is Eurasian Week, an annual exhibition forum held by the countries of the Economic Union and the Eurasian Economic Commission. The decision to organize this event was taken by the prime ministers of EEU countries in 2015. The forum has been called on to become an effective platform for dialogue where business and expert circles, union countries’ authorities, and third countries can discuss current, practical issues of economic development in the context of global challenges and work together to develop strategic solutions. The Eurasian Week forum was held for the first time in 2016, and this year’s forum’s theme is “The EEU on the Global Innovation Agenda.” This platform could be used to promote ideas of humanitarian cooperation as part of the common agenda of economic development and innovation (such as tourism).

Overall, the EEU itself represents a platform for generating new ideas, trends, and solutions for developing not only economic cooperation, but also improving humanitarian cooperation between the countries of the Eurasian economic space.

However, even among the various NGO’s and groups which have enthusiastically greeted the EEU project, there misunderstanding prevails as to the importance of the humanitarian field of Eurasian integration. For example, on the website of the Eurasian Commonwealth organization established in 2013, the “Humanitarian cooperation” section consisting of seven sub-sections is blank [14]. If in three years this sphere remains in a vacuum, then this suggests a shortage of ideas and proposals from civic non-profit initiatives dealing with questions of Eurasian integration.

The International Eurasian Movement can be considered to be an exception. Functioning since 2003 and working in a number of areas of humanitarian cooperation (science and education, youth, culture and art, interfaith relations, information policy), this organization’s operations are not even limited to EEU members. In several cases, the organization is working on Eurasian-oriented projects with other states, such as Iran, Turkey, Serbia, and Thailand.

Among the many expert communities and various NGO’s directly or indirectly related to the Eurasian Economic Union, one often hears wishes that humanitarian cooperation vectors will be strengthened, especially the youth, touristic, educational, and cultural-information spheres since, after all, “at the heart of integration, as any mutually beneficial process, always lies humanitarian cooperation.” [15]

As has been noted, strengthening humanitarian cooperation in inter-state educational ties between EEU countries would serve to popularize national and common human cultural and spiritual values, promote a healthy lifestyle among youth, support the activities of social associations and organizations in the interests of preserving ethnic identity, support national-religious uniqueness, preserve the spiritual and cultural heritage of indigenous peoples, and consolidation them within the civil society of this significant space – Eurasia. [16]

The Eurasian Union must produce its own meta-identity, otherwise it will not develop to be a sustainable formation and will remain at the level of a customs union. “This would be an unstable construct. In the modern world, as it turns out, economic reorientation occurs quickly, but in order to form a meta-identity it is necessary to change discourse and move on from inspecting the debris of the Past to building a common Future.” [17]

Footnotes:

[1] goo.gl/XOHukH

[2] goo.gl/yRXXwG

[3] https://docs.eaeunion.org/ru-ru/Pages/regulation.aspx#pagenumber=%220%22

[4] Подавление никогда не лежало в основе сотрудничества стран ЕАЭС — Глебова
https://regnum.ru/news/1939096.html

[5] Армен Смбатян: Невозможно представить становление Евразийского союза без гуманитарного сотрудничества, Московский экспресс, 20 июля 2016
http://moscowexpress.info/m/item/1660-15616354.html

[6] Т. Мансуров. Евразийский проект Нурсултана Назарбаева, воплощенный в жизнь. К 20-летию евразийского проекта 1994 – 2014. М., 2014. С. 330

[7] Попкова Т.В. Кооперативные теории и евразийство: единство базовых оснований// Народы Евразии: культура и общество. Третий Международный Евразийский научный форум. Астана, 2004. 47.

[8] Ален де Бенуа, Леонид Савин. Либерализм, кризис и будущее Европы, Геополитика, 07.06.2013 http://www.geopolitica.ru/article/liberalizm-krizis-i-budushchee-evropy#.WJHe2tKLTIU

[9] Карел ван Волферен. Загадка японской силы. М.: Серебряные нити, 2016. С. 26.

[10] http://eurasia-forum.ru/forum/o-forume/

[11] http://www.usue.ru/vestnik/

[12] В Совете Федерации обсудили подготовку ко Второму Евразийскому женскому форуму, 31 января 2017 http://www.council.gov.ru/events/news/76424/

[13] Людмила Рябиченко. А как же традиционные ценности? 15.03.2017 http://www.stoletie.ru/obschestvo/a_kak_zhe_tradicionnyje_cennosti_956.htm

[14] http://www.eurasianspace.com/gumanitarnoe-sotrudnichestvo

[15] Молодежь и неденежные отношения Кыргызстана и России, 28-01-2017 http://www.enw-fond.ru/proekty/4837-nedenezhnye-otnosheniya-kyrgyzstana-i-rossii-vzglyad-glazami-molodezhi.html

[16] Шкарлупина Г.Д. МЕЖГОСУДАРСТВЕННЫЕ ОБРАЗОВАТЕЛЬНЫЕ СВЯЗИ КАК ФАКТОР УКРЕПЛЕНИЯ ГУМАНИТАРНОГО СОТРУДНИЧЕСТВА СТРАН ЕАЭС. http://izron.ru/articles/aktualnye-voprosy-yurisprudentsii-sbornik-nauchnykh-trudov-po-itogam-mezhdunarodnoy-nauchno-praktich/sektsiya-8-mezhdunarodnoe-pravo-evropeyskoe-pravo-spetsialnost-12-00-10/mezhgosudarstvennye-obrazovatelnye-svyazi-kak-faktor-ukrepleniya-gumanitarnogo-sotrudnichestva-stran/

[17] Игорь Задорин: «Евразийского союза не будет без общей идентичности», Евразия. Эксперт, 15 Июня 2016 г.http://eurasia.expert/zadorin-evraziyskiy-soyuz-identichnost/

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