Russia, Georgia, and “The West”

This is really neither here nor there as far as any public policy issue is concerned, but as a Russophile since my teen years it’s been a bit strange for me to see a conflict between Russia and Georgia described as somehow implicating a larger issue of a clash between “the West” and an alien Other. For one thing, the classification of Russia as non-western is a bit problematic on its own terms. There are some clear differences between Russia and the west proper. But at the same time, figures like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Tchaikovsky are part of the western cultural tradition. Russia, meanwhile, was a key participant in many of the major historical events of “the West.” Unlike, say, China or Brazil or Nigeria — important countries, but peripheral ones to the western experience — you can’t write the history of World War I or the French Revolution without talking about Russia.

Then on the other side of the equation, you have Georgia. Georgia, like Russia, has a reasonable amount in common with the West. But insofar as Russia has non-western characteristics, Georgia shares all of those characteristics. Like Russia, Georgia was ruled by Mongols, lacks a tradition of liberalism or democracy, practices Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and doesn’t use the Roman alphabet. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but it means there’s no gaping cultural void between Georgia and Russia that puts Georgia on the side of “the West.” Georgians have often conceived of themselves as a far-flung outpost of European civilization, but the relevant contrast there was that Georgians are Christians just like Russians but unlike the Muslims who live nearby. It happens to be the case that the current constellation of power politics in the Caucasus has Georgia (and Muslim Azerbaijan) aligned against Russia while (orthodox Christian) Armenia is aligned with Russia but I don’t think any of that reflects some extraordinarily deep cultural divide or deep affinity between Georgia and the West.