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Russia and Europe: Peter Chaadayev

A.J. Halpern queries the source of Russia's disputed status as a European state.

Russia’s attitude to Europe will decide the fate of our generation, declared a recent critic. Is Russia part of Europe? Does she belong to Asia? Lastly, is she something between the two, only classifiable as Eurasian? Such questions have dominated Russian historical thought during the last 150 years. For long periods of the last century Slavophils and Westernizers kept up a constant warfare. According to Slavophils, the special quality of the Russian soul, together with the precious heritage of Byzantium and the effect of separation from Rome, had made Russia what it was—the repository of pure Christendom. Russia must abandon the destructive legacy of the reforms of Peter the Great, and, turning her back on the West, seek strength in the true understanding of Christendom as taught by the Orthodox Church. The Westemizers, on the other hand, believed that the way of civilization has been exemplified by the West, and particularly by France—France of the enlightenment and the Great Revolution. Russia was not Europe, the Slavophils said. That Russia must become Europe was the burden of their opponents’ teachings.

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