From Minsk to Vladivostok - Is It an East Slavic Civilization?

By Haggman, Bertil | Comparative Civilizations Review, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

From Minsk to Vladivostok - Is It an East Slavic Civilization?


Haggman, Bertil, Comparative Civilizations Review


Introduction

Civilizationalists have never agreed on how to categorize "civilizations." They even have difficulty with defining the word. In the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (ISCSC), the primary scholarly society for ongoing studies of civilizations (past, present, and future), roundtable discussions are held at annual meetings debating which cultures to include in the list of civilizations. For example, the issue was raised about where Persia/Iran falls: within "Islamic Civilization" or uniquely a civilization itself. A case was made by our Persian specialist that rather than being part of Islamic Civilization, Persia, a much older culture, is much more than Islamic and can be said to have been the shaper of Islamic Civilization, not the reverse.

Another of our members made a case for seeing Ethiopia, that most ancient culture in East Africa, as a civilization unique in the world. He convinced us.

What can one do with Jewish Civilization? Arnold Toynbee dismissed it as a fossil, but with the creation of the state of Israel, the fossil designation is patently wrong.

I am a member of this society who has made a case for American Civilization with roots in Europe, but with an increasingly independent identity. I am not alone in this; other scholars have noted this too - but the issue is not permanently resolved yet. It is still a designation in transition.

When Max Lerner in his book America as a Civilization (1957) proposed that America had created its own civilization distinct from the European, he met with resistance from macro-historian Arnold Toynbee and others. In 2007 it was 50 years since Lerner's book was first published (it was republished in 1987 with an appendix covering the period from 1957 to 1987). I follow his lead.

How people see themselves is also part of the identification of a civilization. The thesis of this article is that there is an East Slavic Civilization that includes Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. This paper will make a case for recognizing an East Slavic civilization - which can be validated by events on the ground. The choice of the designation East Slavic is based on linguistic and cultural criteria, including religion. The West Slavic Civilization (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia) has characteristics far more in line with the Western European Civilization. Slavic is too broad a designation; I believe that it needs to be subdivided - just as America is separate in major respects from Europe.

Russia has long been a major concern of the West - and with the collapse of the USSR, the big question geopolitically is: will Russia turn West or East? Although Russia has had a long history of wanting to be among Western powers, there are signs that it is looking to China, once an enemy but now a potential ally. Currently the West's attention is focused on Russia and on America's need for Russia to help in the war against radical Islam (an internal Russian problem, too). Yet, the question is: are we paying enough attention to another problem - Russia's relationship with the other East Slavic states such as Ukraine, with attendant consequences for the United States and the rest of Europe?

Since 1991, there have been extensive changes in the borderlands of Western civilization. In this paper, Western civilization will be regarded as two civilizations with the same roots but somewhat different characteristics: American and European.

With the Soviet Union collapsing, the United States remained as the hegemon, the only superpower in the world. America has finally earned the right to be characterized as a civilization of its own. It is no longer, as Toynbee said in 1958, in an exchange with Lerner, a "tag-end" of Western civilization.

America's vitality, ingenuity, and freedom from the constraints of hereditary rule (aristocracy) have sent it into a trajectory that differs a great deal from its ancestral roots as a British offspring. …

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