Running Out of People
What Russians have shared with the Europeans for the past 150 years is the fear that their culture might die. In the recent decades, both Russia and Europe have connected this fear to the anxiety over running out of people. Russians were led to the idea of human scarcity that imperils the very existence of their culture because of their stably shrinking population. Europeans arrived at this idea as a result of the “graying population” trends.
To what extent the worry over a shortage of people who will carry the shared culture forward is justified is absolutely irrelevant. Whatever people fear is real enough for them. And they will act in response to this fear, trying to conjure up more people.
For Russians, “more people” can be squeezed out of the [quite correct] idea that culture stems from language. They declare that whoever is a native speaker of Russian is Russian irrespective of where they live or whether they call themselves Russian. The next step in this line of reasoning is that national borders mean nothing, and the Russian jurisdiction should reach wherever real Russians live.
For Europeans, the idea of “us” doesn’t come from shared language or shared blood. It comes from the concept of soil. This is why there is all the drama around who gets to plant a foot on European soil. That’s why African migrants hang from the barbed fences in Ceuta and Melilla, hoping to touch European ground at least with the tip of their toes and become European the moment that happens. Civil Guards treat them like dogs, like animals, until migrants touch the “European” soil of African Melilla and become Europeans who suddenly deserve due process, rights, and public assistance.
It’s a very magical concept of soil that is hard for me to comprehend because it’s very alien to me. I have no idea how culture is supposed to be transmitted through the soil. For me, culture is, first and foremost, language. But that’s probably because I’m a Russian-speaker.