Eurasian dream

Erevan, Armenia

Could it be otherwise ? Eurasia, a land continuum, cradle of so many civilisations, field of uncountable interactions and cultural, religious, ethnical, philosophical and political fault lines can only ignite a deep fascination.

In our times, we are faced with many questions and riddles. We try – if we try at all – to answer within a framework that is inherently limited by our origins and personal journeys. The Eurasian space, exceptional in many aspects, allows us to free ourselves from these boundaries.

In The Dawn of Eurasia – a book that radically changed the course of my life – Bruno Macaes quotes the Russian Poet Joseph Brodsky :

In a world bereft of the power of the revealed religion, we have to face up to the fact that no one knows how to live. Some will settle on some routine or the other and never ask the the question of how they should spend their limited years on the planet.

The dawn of Eurasia, Bruno Macaes

These questions confront everyone, in all latitudes, at some point in life. At another scale, nations and states are confronted to the dilemma of their positioning in the global game. So why choose Eurasia as a path to the answers ?

First and foremost because Eurasia is at the center of a global reconfiguration of economical and geopolitical power relations in two antagonistic movements : rise on the east, decline in the west. Eurasia is also rich with a unique human and spiritual diversity.

The prosperous or less prosperous globalisation, the end of history according to Fukuyama and the uniformity of men in the form of homo economicus did not dissolve the patterns and details of the rich Eurasian mosaic.

In this mosaic of civilisational spaces from Vladivostok to Lisbon, the search for a synthesis is an illusory endeavour, even in many lifetimes. One does not want to sketch a model that would be universally valid either, for it would be deadly and paradoxical to the human diversity in general and the Eurasian one in particular.

The aim of this endeavour is to understand how one can navigate his way in the complexity of the Eurasian continent, and by extension in the complexity of the world.

So, where should I begin ? At the beginning, as Gogol taught us in Dead souls. In my case, I chose to start with the country whose eurasian substance is obvious : Russia.

Some say that the Russian mind is as impenetrable as the high wall of China. Getting the semblance of grasp on the Russian culture is no less ambitious and illusory than understanding the Eurasian continent, but I have to accept to start with an enterprise that is no less challenging than the final purpose itself, or in Gogol’s words :

Each kopeck was stuck in the ground with a nail worth three kopecks… and I had to use an iron will to break the nail and earn the kopeck

Dead souls, Nikolai Gogol

This choice for the Russian culture – or Russian soul – is in essence a perilous and a reductionist one.

Reductionist. Russia is a formidable multiethnical and multiconfessional mosaic : Slavic, Finno-Ugrian, Turco-Mongol, etc. Its borders set Russia in contact with the greatest civilisational spaces of the Eurasian continent : Western world, Muslim world and China. Its history is made of conflicts, struggle for survival and historic continuity against the dominating powers of every era : Mongols, Swedes, Turks, Napoleon and the German third Reich.

Though Russia cannot pretend to encompass all the diversity of the Eurasian continent, it bears within itself elements of multiple cultures and can therefore pretend to a universal reach, or a least to a Eurasian reach.

As I visited the Dostoevsky Museum in Saint-Petersburg back in 2017, the guide quoted Dostoevsky’s answer to an insult from a french man – you’re a pig-headed Russian – in these terms :

You cannot understand us Russians, but we can understand the entire world because we have the soul of the entire world


The dream of the universal soul. But a universal soul confronts one with the dilemma of choice. As Bruno Macaes puts it, this dilemma is particularly acute, but equally advantageous for Russia :

Russian doubts and hesitations – its excess of alternatives – anticipate the new Eurasian age of competitive integration between different political models, and thus Russia may yet prove especially suited for it

The dawn of Eurasia, Bruno Macaes.

Choosing the Russian soul as a starting point is perilous for it is complex : a misunderstood country of contrasts, contradictions and myths.

the world’s most misunderstood nation, master of reinvention…a country with no natural borders, no single ethos, no true central identity. At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, it is everyone’s ‘other’.

A Short History of Russia : From the Pagans to Putin, Mark Galeotti

Nevertheless, it would not have been realistic to expect easiness when grasping this soul, the soul of people living in a land…

...made for unity, for the most uniform geographic area, and the heterogeneity of men

L’empire d’Eurasie, une histoire de l’empire russe de 1552 à nos jours, Hélène Carrère d’Encausse

A perilous choice, since, according to some of the greatest Russian authors, the Russian culture borders on metaphysical nihilism and offers no hope. The Russian man has a psyche forged in prisons and the Russian sky is empty of stars according to victor Pelevin in his fantastic novel “The sacred book of the werewolf”

the substance of human life changes very little from culture to culture, but human beings require a beautiful wrapper to cover it. Russian culture, uniquely, fails to provide one, and it calls this state of affairs spirituality

The sacred book of the werewolf, Victor Pelevin

But this is a much excessive satire. Excessive because it confuses the realism of the Russian culture in its vision of inter-human and international relations with the absence of hope.

This realism of the Russian culture has been forged by history, tragedies, hardships and the failure of utopias of the USSR and the liberalisation of the nineties. This realism shall not be reduced in some sort of utter despair and fatality. Or as the Kazakh saying :

Only an evil spirit nurtures no hope, and a living person must never lose hope

Surviving the silent steppe, Mukhamet Shayakhmetov

This enterprise does not aim at finding a beautiful wrapper for the reality I try to navigate my way into. This enterprise aims at finding a way to nurture hope, and the Russian civilisation, with its thousand years richness, its contrast, is not poor in beauty and hope. And it is the stepping stone to the great Eurasia.