Putin as a useful idiot from the West. Interview with philosopher Boris Buden

How do you think the conflict in Ukraine fits into the general situation in Europe after the end of the Cold War? Could some concepts from your famous book, The End of Post-Communism, help us understand what is happening today?

First of all, I must say that, although I am deeply shaken by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict today, it is not the first war in Europe since 1989. I come from the former Yugoslavia and , unfortunately, I have personal experience of both the tragedy of war and the failure of politics to end it – which is more important in today’s context. Right now, one level is the very reality of war, which we all want to end as soon as possible. The second level, however, is the search for a political path to peace. And that’s where I don’t see a real good option.

Going back to my book, one of the concepts I developed there is the so-called democratic revolution. I used Saint-Just’s famous phrase that he who makes a revolution in two is only digging a grave. The years 1989 and 1990 were such a half-revolution, where only one part of the world changed, but not the other. At that time, change was expected only from the East. This meant introducing democracy, capitalism, “Western values”, etc. The victor of the cold war did not understand that he too had to change. And that is exactly what I consider to be the root of today’s problems.

The moment of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact could be used to radically change the world, to introduce a new world policy of peace, a policy of radical disarmament. What is now called NATO enlargement and which everyone is talking about is only the result of a missed opportunity and the failure of the West to understand the historic moment of change. The result is the current chaos.

How do you see the ideological level of the current conflict between Russia on the one hand and Ukraine and the West on the other?

The West today is not a West of the old order, but a bloc of a certain normative identity. Rich and powerful identities linked to NATO. It is an identity with the colonial heritage which implies what is called the difference of civilization; after colonialism, we find ourselves with the attitude that we Westerners are the measure of civilization, we are civilization – and others must be civilized. It defines others. This is a problem that has carried over with the West and its perceived universality throughout its existence, not only in politics and knowledge, but also in how we treat our own planet.

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a speech at Luzhniki Stadium

Western politicians say we are a community of values. So what is outside of this community? What are the values ​​there? Not European? However, this is very stupid essentialism. Western values ​​are democracy, the rule of law, but also Auschwitz, the fact of the two world wars, colonialism, etc. In other words, the essence of Western identity itself is highly problematic.

For some time we have been witnessing the creation of a kind of border; it recalls the old colonial border or the culmination of the European project. Who belongs to us and who does not belong to us? Today, this new border is drawn with the blood shed during the Russian-Ukrainian war. Thanks to her, we know that Russia does not belong to the West. Russia and Putin perfectly play the role of those who are supposed to stay on the outside.

Look at Ukraine before the war, the process of forming the Ukrainian nation was far from over. And it is precisely the Russian intervention that concludes this process, unites the nation, raises it above its disparity. Putin is acting like the best Ukrainian nationalist possible, because the blood of Ukrainians becomes an amalgam that heals all the cracks in their entire nation.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has also changed the climate within the European Union, which has recently gone through a series of crises. What does the war in Ukraine mean for Europe?

Until a few months ago, we thought that Brexit was like a cancer, that we were witnessing the decline of the process of European unification. But suddenly everything is different. In twenty-four hours, Germany simply got rid of the legacy of the Second World War, which had been alive for many decades. Today he speaks of new arms races. As a Christian bastion, Poland is now ready to defend the borders of a common Europe. No one in Britain remembers Boris Johnson’s covid party.

I argue that there was no strategic or moral reason for NATO’s eastward expansion after the fall of communism. On the contrary, we had many moral reasons for dissolving the alliance as a military institution. And today? NATO suddenly discovered the moral and strategic reasons for its existence and expansion; this is an excellent example of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine is to blame. Yet Vladimir Putin has thus become a useful idiot of the West. Not to mention what it will mean for the Western military-industrial complex, that there will be a new accumulation of capital through huge investments in the production of armaments and in the fields of science and technology that serve rearmament.

If anyone really needed this war, it was the West, and if anyone really didn’t need this war, it was Putin, but that only increases the uncertainty of any the situation. We don’t know how it will end, and of course we fear the worst.

The attack on Ukraine came just after the coronavirus pandemic. If we have transferred anything from it, it is the words of crisis and state of emergency that have become entrenched in public discourse and have practical implications for the management of our businesses.

In capitalism, crisis is not the exception to the rule, that’s how capitalism works. And that also applies to crises in which people die. The coronavirus – without our realizing it – has become a perfect introduction to the state of emergency. We lived in suspended normalcy for almost two years and got used to it. And then, as we came to the end of the pandemic, maintaining a state of emergency took precedence over war. Now, the coronavirus appears to have been just a warm-up for what’s to come.

Giorgio Agamben

Photo: Profimedia.cz

Yet philosopher Giorgio Agamben argues that the state of emergency has been in place for a long time and has been part of our experience for thirty years. And we come back to the former Yugoslavia: Bosnia-Herzegovina has really been in a state of emergency for thirty years. Since the end of the war in Bosnia, no political solution has yet been found: it is such a state not one state or maybe three states, two states, nobody knows. In any case, it is an exception to the rules of the concept of a sovereign nation-state. The same goes for Kosovo. By the way, Ukraine has not recognized Kosovo. If that were the case, he would lose his arguments against recognizing Russian sovereignty over Crimea. Which, in turn, only documents the current chaos and disintegration of the old order.

What is the current state of emergency affecting solutions to issues other than coronavirus and war, such as climate change?

Of course, the country won’t stop getting hotter, the deadline is still running, even if we don’t pay attention to it now. In a few years, if we lose this period, there will be irreversible changes. In addition to looking elsewhere, this new state of emergency is also destroying our chances of fighting climate change on a global scale; however, it cannot be resolved otherwise.

Can we learn lessons from the violent division of Yugoslavia and especially from what happened afterwards?

The former Yugoslavia was not part of the blocs that divided Europe before 1989. It was neither a member of the Warsaw Pact nor of NATO. As a young man, I was trained to defend myself against the Warsaw Pact invasion. But there is more: Yugoslavia was a leading member of a group of non-Alliance and colonial countries, then called the Third World, now the Global South.

Thus, the greatest tragedy of the disintegration of Yugoslavia was the loss of a Europe capable of taking charge of the Third World, of creating concepts of political solidarity with anti-colonialism and also of economic justice, and of transcending the binarism “West and others” – you criticize the United States, so you are for anything. This binarism is also at the origin of the current Russian-Ukrainian war.

How do you think this war will end?

We are at a time when Western elites dream that certain oligarchs or high officials will stage a coup and overthrow Putin. And everything is personalized: the West against Putin. The goal is to eliminate a person or part of the elite. But nobody talks about the system. There is a parliamentary oligarchy in Russia. Ukraine is fundamentally no different from Russia. Nearly ten years ago, economist Thomas Piketty wrote that the United States was on the road to oligarchy.

The parliamentary oligarchy is the perfect system for the functioning of neoliberal capitalism; this is why Putin has so many followers on the right wing of European and international politics, from Bolsonar to Le Pen.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro

Photo: Adriano Machado, Reuters

There is unfortunately only one unrealistic way to end this war in a positive way: not only to eliminate Putin, but to destroy the whole system. In Russia, predatory capitalism is governed by the means of so-called primitive accumulation, the privatization of land, natural resources. But the West wants to put an end to this war without questioning this system. Russia and its predatory knowledge-based system is an integral part of global neoliberal capitalism, it does not exist outside of it.

Everything that is good in the West, the rule of law, civil egalitarianism, etc., were all created by the revolutions – American and French. But the democratic revolution of 1989 and 1990 was experienced by the West as a simple “Westernization”, the extension of Western values ​​to the East. The result is, among other things, the complete semantic emptying of the notion of revolution as the idea of ​​radical change.

And that is why there is no one today who would say that we should not only want to eliminate Putin, but also the destruction of the Russian capitalist loot system and also the very logical logic of world capitalism. So far, it seems that we will rather choose a fascist response to this war: armaments and the associated new capital accumulation.

Leave a Comment