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"Too Asiatic for the Europeans"

"Gorbachev Factor"

Historians note a number of geopolitical characteristics peculiar to Russia that have been instrumental in shaping its historical development and the national mentality of its population. One feature of the countrys geography, in particular, seems to have had a fundamental influence: Russias location in the center of the Eurasian landmass. Russias position between Europe and Asia has had a profound effect on the emergence of a distinctive civilization. It was Asiatic in the eyes of the Europeans and too European for the Asians.  

Coat-of-arms of Muscovite Russia

Coat-of-arms of Imperial Russia

Coat of arms of the Russian Federation

The Russian state found its fitting symbol in the double-headed eagle of Byzantium. One of its crowned heads is turned to the East and the other, to the West. It was adopted as the coat of arms of the Muscovite tsars, then of the Russian Empire, and now resurrected as a state symbol of post-Communist Russia. The double-headed eagle symbolizes the dual nature of a great state that extends for thousands of miles across two continents. This state accommodated the traditions and ways of life of its extraordinarily diverse mix of peoples with their distinct mentalities and political cultures that clashed and interacted within the confines of a great empire.

The dual nature of this Eurasian empire and its unique geopolitical location have given rise to unending efforts by the Russian political and cultural elites to define Russias place in the surrounding world. What is the nature of Russias mutual relations with the great civilizations of the West and the East? What should be the orientation for Russia to follow in its political, socioeconomic, and cultural development? These questions have aroused public debates over the last two hundred years. They loomed particularly large at critical periods in the life of Russian society, when a radical transformation of social and political structures looked unavoidable and the country confronted the problem of choosing the path for its further development.

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