Having recently caught the largest pike in the world, Russia’s “President” Vladimir Putin felt emboldened to write an New York Times op-ed. Either that or he ate Barack Obama for breakfast.
In that op-ed of his, Vlad the Shirtless insisted that American exceptionalism as “dangerous”. I’m sure the main reason Putin focused on American exceptionalism is because he was addressing America’s own wishy-washy elites. Still, lets not forget taht Russia has it’s own wanna-be exceptionalism issues. Check out this from The Primary Chronicles, the manuscript, compiled in 1113 in Kiev, widely recognized as the first attempt at Russian history:
Invitation to the Rus’
860-862 (6368-6370) [The four tribes who had been forced to pay tribute to the Varangians–Chuds, Slavs, Merians, and Krivichians] drove the Varangians back beyond the sea, refused to pay them further tribute, and set out to govern themselves. But there was no law among them, and tribe rose against tribe. Discord thus ensued among them, and they began to war one against the other. They said to themselves, “Let us seek a prince who may rule over us, and judge us according to custom [po nravu]”. Thus they went overseas to the Varangians, to the Rus. These particular Varangians were known as Rus’, just as some are called Swedes, and others Normans and Angles, and still others Gotlanders, for they were thus named. The Chuds, the Slavs, the Krivichians and the Ves then said to the Rus, “Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come reign as princes, rule over us”. Three brothers, with their kinfolk, were selected. They brought with them all the Rus’ and migrated. The oldest, Rurik, located himself in Novgorod; the second, Sineus, in Beloozero; and the third, Truvor, in Izborsk. From these Varangians, the Russian land received its name [prozvalas’ Russkaia zemlia]. Thus those who live in Novgorod are descended from the Varangian tribe, but earlier they were Slavs. Within two years, Sineus and his brother Truvor died. Rurik gathered sole authority into his own hands, parceling out cities to his own men, Polotsk to one, Rostov to another, and to another Beloozero. The Varangians in these cities are colonists, but the first settlers in Novgorod were Slavs; in Polotsk, Krivichians; in Beloozero, Ves; in Rostov, Merians; and in Murom, Muromians. Rurik had dominion over all these folk. Two of Rurik’s men [Askold and Dir] who were not of his tribe but were warriors [boyare] sought permission to go to Tsar’grad [Constantinople] with their tribe. They thus sailed down the Dnepr, and in the course of their journey they saw a small city on a hill. They asked, “Whose town is this? ” The inhabitants answered, “There were three brothers, Kii, Shchek and Khoriv, who built this burg, but they have since died. We who are their descendants dwell here and pay tribute to the Khazars [ID]“. Askold and Dir remained in this city, and after gathering together many Varangians, they established their dominion over the country of the Polianians. Rurik ruled in Novgorod. [Bold is mine, –ed.]
“Don’t thread on me” this isn’t.
I don’t think there is anything exceptional about this kind of history, and, to be fair, a republican government existed in Novgorod in the middle ages. Novgorod was eventually swallowed by Moscow, whose then Prince Ivan the Terrible went on to call himself a tzar, the name derived from Latin Cesar. After the fall of Constantinople into the hands of the Ottomans, Russians took to thinking of themselves as the third Rome. C. 1520 Russian monk Philotheus wrote: “Two Romes have fallen, but the third stands, and a fourth there will not be.” Not exactly a match for American exceptionalism, but, clearly, Russian rulers thought of themselves as very special people.
Having conquered the Republic of Novgorod in 1478, Moscovy went on to expend its empire which become the world’s largest a few centuries later, occupying half of Europe and stretching all the way to the Pacific. Russiana wasn’t exactly bringing civilization to Lithuanians or freedom to the cossacks of Zaporozhian Sich. The 19th century Russian populist socialist Alexander Herzen called his native land “prison of the peoples”.
The Bolsheviks toppled Romanovs and undermined Orthodox Christianity, but the dream of empire remained. Moscow became the sight of the Third International, a communist organization dedicated to fight:
by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State.
The 1943 Soviet national anthem proclaimed that “Great Russia had assembled the unshakable union of the free republics” (a reference to the 15 “republics” of the Soviet Union), while the Soviet coat of arms superimposed hammer and cycle over the globe. In a 1941 musical comedy “The Swineheard and the Shepard”, a young woman from Ukraine meets a young man from Georgia at an agricultural expo in Moscow. They fall in love and coyly serenade each other: “I will never forget a friend if I met him in Moscow”.
In 1939 Stalin and Hitler divided Central Europe, and after the end of World War II, Stalin created a “buffer zone” well into Germany. In 1979 The Politburo marched its troupes into Afghanistan, and a few years later Ronald Reagan referred to Russia as an “evil empire”. I remember my 90’s travel guide warning against attempting to communicate with Czechs in German. Well, just try Russian.
Anyhow, I can see how annoying it is, from Russia’s perspective, to watch the US, a reluctant Third Rome. I can see how frustrating, too, to observe Barack Obama, a bumbling fool fed on the ideology crafted somewhere in Lubyanka, and to think “We lost the Cold War — to THEM?” Putin wants to restore Russia to its former glory, which is quite a task. The US might be in decline, but so is Russia, and so is every other geo-political entity on this planet. In any event, we are in his way.