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CIAO DATE: 07/02

Human Rights and Foreign Policy Discourse in Today's Russia: Romantic Realism and Securitisation of Identity

Viatcheslav Morozov

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute
June 2002

Most people writing on the subject recognise that within the Russian discourse, the concept of human rights is used somewhat differently compared to Western Europe or the United States. However, the nature of these differences is yet to be properly studied. It is not enough just to say that 'the Western notions of human rights undergo certain transformations when transplanted to the Russian soil. At a superficial glance, the post-Soviet notions of human rights are identical [to the Western ones], but upon a more curious consideration their content turns out to be somewhat different' (Chugrov 2001:3). The essentialist concept of 'the Russian soil' as different from the Western one is of little help since it takes cultural differences as given, and thus all the researcher has to do is to register the differences in political practice, while the explanations are known in advance. More sophisticated essentialist approaches do no more than provide labels for the cultural features (e.g. 'nominalism' of the Western culture and 'collectivism' of the East - see Panarin 1999), but are unable to account for the interaction of these two fundamental principles in the Russian political process. As far as foreign policy studies are concerned, there is also the handy realist option of reducing the differences to an assumed national interest, which, of course, in itself is a social construct that is to be studied, and not a conceptual tool for research of other matters.

This paper employs discourse analysis to investigate the ways in which the notion of human rights is interpreted on the domestic political scene since the beginning of the NATO military campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999, and some consequences of these interpretations for Russia's self-definition vis-a-vis the outside world. The aim is not to provide a full account of the differences between the understanding of human rights in Russia and the 'classical' liberal doctrine, but rather to demonstrate how the concept is treated within the dominant foreign policy discourse, how it interacts with other fundamental concepts, and how new meanings and structures are produced in this process.

My argument is that the main paradigm of the dominant Russian foreign policy discourse today is romantic realism - a methodological position that claims to be able to find out 'real' motives for political action, but views international politics first and foremost against the romantic nationalist background. Consequently, human rights is almost universally interpreted as no more than a disguise for 'real' political goals of the Western leaders but, on the other hand, these presumed political goals are no less idealistic than the idea of universal human rights.

Secondly, the notion of human rights is involved in the process of constructing a border between 'us' and 'them' along the national lines, which in itself amounts to the construction of a community around the Russian state. A nation is understood here rather in political than in cultural or ethnic terms: the case is not always that simple in the Russian discourse (cf. Morozov 2001:18-21), but this assumption appears to be valid for the purpose of this paper. I then proceed to explore the philosophical background of the romantic realist paradigm as represented by Alexandr Panarin, one of the leading conservative political philosophers and geopolitical thinkers. The choice of Panarin's work as a main source is justified by his unique position in the Russian academic world - being the head of the Department of Political Science of the Moscow State University, he occupies a top position in the academic hierarchy of the discipline, which is also reflected in the number of books and especially textbooks on political theory and geopolitics he has published. His writings arguably represent the most coherent expression of this philosophical trend and, perhaps as a consequence of this, it seems to me that Panarin's works explicate many key assumptions that underlie the contemporary Russian foreign policy discourse.

The analysis of Panarin's writings makes it obvious that the discourse in general, and in particular the statements about human rights securitise the identity of the Russian society by making it a referential object of a security discourse. Hence, the border between 'us' and 'them' that is being constructed within the discourse is reinforced and allows for no in-between position. Securitisation of identity is not irreversible, yet, as will be shown by the analysis of the post-September 11 Russian debate, the discursive structures shaped during the previous high tide of securitisation are always there, ready to be employed if new tensions arise. Besides, the treatment of the notion of human rights in the paradigm of romantic realism has proven so effective that the patient is by now rather dead than alive, meaning that very few people would now subscribe to the idea that human rights protection may be a 'real' motive for international political action. The consequences in terms of discrediting human rights as a political platform have been enormous and hardly reversible.

The scope of the paper is limited to the dominant foreign policy discourse. This means, firstly, that the main focus will be on the statist thought, most powerful in today's Russia, and that all the marginal viewpoints - totalitarian as well as liberal ones - are almost entirely left out. Secondly, only the points relevant for understanding of the current Russian foreign policy are taken into consideration. While selecting the texts, I take as a starting point the position of authoritative speakers (Milliken 1999:233) of the dominant discourse, those possessing social power to define the foreign policy agenda (cf. Buzan et al. 1997:31-32), i.e. politicians and diplomats occupying top positions in the state hierarchy. Among countless other texts on foreign policy (mostly written by analysts and journalists) I select those which are compatible with the official position, share its basic assumptions and are arguably based on the same deeper discursive structures (see Weaver 2002:33-42). I recognise the danger of narrowing down the sample, excluding important viewpoints and thus misinterpreting the discourse, but it seems to me that my interpretation works for a vast majority of Russian texts in the field of international relations, and I tend to think therefore that my research is validated (cf. Milliken 1999:234) Accordingly, the paper is based on the analysis of the professional publications of the Russian diplomatic and international studies community, such as Mezhdunarodnaya zhizn' and Mirovaya ekonomika i mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya, on the official publications of the Foreign Ministry and the newspaper articles, primarily in the influential daily Nezavisimaya gazeta, very popular among the foreign policy analysts and decision-makers.

Finally, a reservation is to be made about the images of political space employed in this paper. I mainly use the term 'the West' to denote the Other as it appears within the Russian discourse. Although 'Europe' or 'the civilised world' may sometimes be used as synonyms in the texts to which I refer, these terms are not entirely interchangeable, each has a distinct meaning, sometimes overlapping with others, while at other junctures building a hierarchy. I deliberately abstain from analysing the content of those notions, having simply accepted them at their face value. Since this paper concentrates on other concepts and discursive practices to which a single and impregnable West is a given, I believe this methodological position to be legitimate.