maandag 31 augustus 2015

america is russia.

Seen as the ultimate antagonists, I more and more think that America is Russia, or, for that matter, Russia is America. I mean, think about it: these countries share so much! Not only were they the opposing and sole superpowers in between the Second World War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, but far more than that. Characteristics that makes them more alike, but differ from the rest.

Edes Harrison's depiction of the USSR. 

Their sheer size. The Russian Federation is the biggest country in the world (17 million square kilometres) and the United States are the fourth (9,5m km2). The US is third population-wise (326 million), whilst Russia is ninth (144m). However, in regard of population density, they rank respectively 224th and 182nd. It's enormous, empty space.

The Nearctic biogeographic region. 

Their geography. Yes, I admit, Canada is more similar to than, but both the US and Russia occupy a vast belt of the Northern hemisphere. As a result their countries are a composite of plains, evergreen forests, mountain ranges - and the occasional desert. As the Russia Federation lies even further Northwards than its mirror image, it consists of a lot of tundra as well, and nearly half of the Arctic circle. This creates challenges in logistics, accessibility, with water, roads, long winters, time-zones, and what not.

The Palearctic biogeographical region. 

Their politics. It is fairly popular to attribute the emergence of tsarism, stalinism and putinism to geographical factors such as a harsh climate, awkward logistics and a troubled history (think 'Asian despotism'). But aren't the USA composed of fifty states with an all-powerful President presiding as well? Since the fifteen republics of the USSR gained independence in 1991, the sixteen constituent republics of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic live on in a still federal Russia, now counting 22 republics (among a plethora of other bureaucratic divisions) - and with a President at its head.

The natives. The founders of the United States, and until today its most influential inhabitants, are 'white, Anglo-Saxon protestants' originating in Western Europe (of whom actually a plurality were German, so forget about the 'Anglo'). The original American inhabitants, Amerindians and Inuit, and Latino settlers as well, were pushed aside - expelled, assimilated, battled, killed. The Russians, originating in the Eastern Slav principalities or Kiev Rus in contemporary Ukraine, Belarus and South-western Russia, only moved Eastwards after being subjugated for hundreds of years by Mongols and Turkic Tatars - the so-called 'Tatar yoke.' As the native Americans, the Tatars are still around, but confined in their very own reserve (although Tatarstan indeed enjoys a high degree of autonomy and a lot of oil moreover).

Native populations. 

Colonialism. Even though never explicit, both Russia and the US might in fact be two of the last remaining colonial empires. During the Cold War and before, the USSR and the USA presented themselves as anti-colonial powers, trying to attract the support of newly independent former colonies - and probably believing in their idealistic selves as well. However, Dominic Lieven defines the imperial idea in Empire (2003) as large, multinational, hegemonic entities (China, India, and Indonesia - and possibly Iran, Brazil, etc. - are likely other candidates).

Today, both states still consist of multinational populations with a dominant people. In the USA, about sixty percent of the people identify as white, descending from immigrants from Europe, North Africa or the Middle East. About twenty percent identifies as Hispanic, and is from Iberian, Catholic descent. However, the dominant culture continues to be a Protestant one, and that's how about 45% of the Americans identify (70% as Christian in general). The population of Russia consists of about 80% ethnic Russians (in the Soviet Union, their majority was only just over half). The dominant religion in the Russian Federation is Orthodox Christianity, with which at least a plurality of 40%, but probably as much as three-quarters of the population identifies. As for the Russian colonialism, Alexander Etkind explains the concept of 'internal colonization' in the similarly titled book from 2013. Indeed, it was often the Russian nation itself that had to bear the heaviest burden of Russia's imperial ambitions, in both tax and human toll.

Ethnic composition of the former USSR. Pink is Great Russian. 

The frontier. As mentioned, the nations and states currently dominating the Northern confines of the Americas and Eurasia, didn't originate there. Their current hegemony started with small and insignificant settlements (such as Moscow) on the outskirts of far more powerful entities (the British Empire and Kiev Rus). The inhospitable environment of dense forests, wilderness and cold was pioneered by fur trappers and lumberjacks, only to be claimed afterwards by authorities in far away capital cities. These states kept growing, almost organically, before they became empires.

Russian expansion. 

The mentality, maybe? A vast country, abundant of natural riches, space and opportunities might create a people of pioneers, programmed to set their own rules, and - if not allowed to - who might as well move forward.

The world according to Reagan.