Monday, April 8, 2019

Three Books on the History and Nature of Russophobia Help Explain Russiagate

What is Russophobia?

Russophobia is several things. Wikipedia says:
a diverse spectrum of negative feelings, dislikes, fears, aversion, derision and/or prejudice of Russia, Russians or Russian culture. A wide variety of mass culture clichés about Russia and Russians exists in the Western world. Many of these stereotypes were originally developed during the Cold War, and were primarily used as elements of political war against the Soviet Union. Some of these prejudices are still observed in the discussions of the relations with Russia. (wikipedia)
But as Guy Mettan explains in his historical study, Creating Russophobia: From the Great Religious Schism to Anti-Putin Hysteria, Russophobia is not just the manifestation of a feeling:
It is first of all the expression of a power balance, of a relation of power. It is not only a passive judgment. It is not just a mass of clichés and prejudices. It is also, and first of all, an active bias, adopted with the intention to harm or at least to reduce the other in relation to one’s self. In this sense Russophobia is also a racism: the purpose is to diminish the other with a view to better dominate.

And this is what makes Russophobia a phenomenon specific to the West. It proceeds with the same categories Edward Said identified for orientalism: exaggeration of the difference, affirmation of the superiority of the West and recourse to stereotyped analytical grids. The ultimate strategy of the Russophobic discourse is to provide a full-fledged, infinitely adjustable subject, sufficiently sophisticated for academics in charge of theorizing about Russia yet popular with journalists eager to put that within everyone’s reach.