Who is Eurasia? The Advent of Politics into Geography

LocationEurasiaEXT(CIAfactbook)One of the very first things I have learned after starting the school was “Turkey is a bridge between Europe and Asia.” This metaphor of “bridge” has been one of the basic official mottos of the Turkish Republic to help its citizens feel closer or even part Europe -so the Western world. This motto did not also led them sacrifice their Asiatic roots in tandem with the official history of designating their ancestors to have left the Central Asian steppes due to drought but transferring civilization to the frontiers of Asia called Anatolia. Of course, I had also learnt that Turkey, even before the establishment of the Republic, was trying to be a part of Europe and the West much or less in its path toward modernization, or read it as Europeanization/Westernization. However following the Republic, Turkey has tried its best to alienate itself from the East, so the Iron Curtain after the World War II that meant the Soviet Union or the Communist Russia in popular saying. As a child what I understood from the Iron Curtain was that it was not easy to go to the Soviets, including the lands of the ancestors and the Turkic brethren, or any other socialist country of the era.

Even if you get to these countries you would be easily labeled as “communist” due the hegemony of the nationalist slogan sending “Communists to Moscow.” As a child I could not differentiate between the communist and the socialist as most of the country. Moreover, Turkey had been practicing “officially” mixed economy, which was neither liberal nor socialist despite the heavy hand of the state in economy through not just regulation but also by production and distribution via state economic enterprises (SEEs), which could be called state capitalism. As a result, Turkey was also a bridge economically between the West and the East.

However this bridge metaphor either politically or economically has not made sense to me at least in three respects even the Turkish foreign policymakers have taken it too much serious for a long time, more than a motto or lip service. First, at least as a child, I was aware enough to know that any bridge does not belong to any of the territories it binds though its elephant feet are located on both sides. Thus, I have always found the notion of being a bridge humiliating and surprisingly its adoption by the Turkish political and bureaucratic elite was remarkable. Thus, Eurasia in George Orwell’s famous Nineteen Eighty-Four has been less fictional for me. Second, being such a bridge was quite artificial as we all were made to observe the Bosphorus Bridges connecting two continents concretely in the news or in popular artistic pieces including kitsch postcards. In this context, as some may remember the last Istanbul marathon, labeled as “the only run between two continents” and held for the thirty fifth time on November 17, 2013 has received much attention at least in the national news since the bridge has shaken enough to terrify some due to running of thousands simultaneously enough to challenge its engineering. Thus, either allegorically or concretely bridges are not that much strong enough to last forever why Turkey has left leaning on being a “bridge country” but started to talk about being “central country” (merkez ülke) or “wise country” (akil ülke) more than a decade.  Third, as a child checking the globe or atlas I have not been able to notice two separate continents of Europe and Asia even as in the examples of Americas and still I keep seeing a single continent.[1] Thus, it has never made sense to me that Turkey is binding the two continents including the ones underlined at the official inauguration ceremony of Marmaray connecting both sides of Istanbul in transportation underneath the Marmara sea on October 23, 2013 at the ninetieth anniversary of the Turkish Republic. That is why; I have to admit that I felt quite happy when I simply learnt that Eurasia is a single continent in physical geography though Europe and Asia conceptually date back to ancient times with reference to Greek mythology. Moreover, delineating their borders has always been quite arbitrary to the extent that eurocentrism so the orientalism has made sense for the European/Western hegemony. While keeping in mind that naming continents has not been always relevant to their physical connotations but also to the cultural traits of its dwellers so the political effects have always been on the stage in any conceptualization process.[2]

Historically the once famous Silk Road has been on the stage for sometime to signify the unity of the continent while the already considered distinct cultures of Europe and Asia has started to be a topic of research of the Eurasian conceptualization with further reference to their similarities. This has been more possible following the end of the Soviets. However Eurasia has gained a concrete seat while mentioning Eurasia the post-Soviet world comes to mind rather than the amalgam of two continents in one. Thus, Hegelian “…owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering”[3] as new meaning of Eurasia has started to capture minds following the New World Order succeeding the end of the Soviets. This is how Eurasianism as an ideology has also found found room in the political discourses and intellectual debates not just in the continent but also globally. Moreover, while Eurasianism has started to attract attention the cons have labeled it as a new trick of Russia to redevise the Soviets in such new attire and some even called it as “Eurussianism”.

In fact, this is the politics of not only naming, de-naming, or re-naming of the territories but also how the meaning is re/produced endlessly within history.  Thus, one may easily think that the best question probing Eurasia could be “where“ while trying to comprehend the ages old conflicting borders of the largest continent. In fact, politics starts with naming anything since it shows the essence of power relations as the powerful chooses the names for the things and the weaker ones. The advent and merger of geography into politics or as we call it with a more ornamental term “geopolitics” is not something new especially when it is related with Eurasia with its long history of more than a century. However, my concern is not to ask where Eurasia is as a geographical factor of politics but subjectificate the region as the actor of the politics any further in Napoleon’s terms equating the geography with destiny. Such a perspective also endows us with the ability to conceptualize the return of Eurasia into the world politics with the rise of the East but not the death of West yet or in Gramscian terminology “the old is dying and the new cannot be born”.

As Edward Hallett Carr puts simply “History means interpretation” in his perennial piece of What is History?[4] Thus, neither historians nor students of other social sciences can interpret in an empty fishbowl -with reference to his metaphor of fishing the facts. All our interpretations are connected with the time and space matrix of what we are as well as our interpretation. As Eurasia gets a better space in the stage of world politics our interpretations attracts more light on them. Thus, I do not want to be misunderstood that my subjectification is sublimation of geography but putting it into its very right place.

I borrow the philosophical term subjectification[5] (French: subjectivation) created by Michel Foucault and used in critical theory to denote the construction of the individual subject. Foucault deliberated the process of subjectification with an ontological superiority despite the conventional notion of a subject reflecting itself as a term. According to Foucault, clear relations of subject to object are shaped or tailored as much as subject-object relations form a possible knowledge [savoir]. The matter is to conclude what the subject or object is and what it should be including its condition/s, status and the position in reality or in fiction to become a legitimate subject of knowledge [connaissance]. Thus subjectification and objectification are simply dependent on each other through associating a definite type of object to certain modalities of the subject within a priori time and space. As Foucault aimed to explore the formation of the subject he acquainted with the reality that it could turn into the object of knowledge on the other side of a normative division through the examples of a patient or clinical medicine as in the Birth of the ClinicDiscipline and Punish.

Foucault was after the formation of the subject as an object for itself through procedures by which the subject is orientated to perceive and probe itself as a terrain of possible knowledge where the subject and the object are both constructed and modified in relation to each other simultaneously within a determined framework. The capacities and practices of analyzing and altering the reality eventually endow the subject with the intelligence as a key for the correlative construction of the subject and the object. Then different modes of objectification of the subject appear through these practices enabling us to analyze power relations through which the subject is objectified. This process is also evident in the construction of the ego in psychological terminology or identity even in daily issues as well as constructive theory. Foucault has taken sexuality “as a historically singular mode of experience in which the subject is objectified” via determined specific procedures of power for oneself and for others. In the same vein, I employ Eurasia as the analyzing unit of subjectification that has already been objectified in social sciences. What I do different in comparison to both Foucault and students of geopolitics is that I reverse the object situation of Eurasia into subject and that is why I called it subjectification. This is also relevant with Foucault’s conceptualization of ethics to express the intentional individual actions on oneself to subject through “self-forming activity” meaning subjectification to construct its own moral ontology.[6]

Briefly, what I put simply is that any geography is an actor of politics rather than a factor. While mentioning this, I am quite aware that I subjectificate geography which had been objectified for a long time. Moreover, I am also aware that geography as an actor has such a major setback of being constant almost absolutely since rulers change much more easier than the geographies themselves. But this does not change the fact that geography could be conceptualized as an actor though quite limited in power as humanity has taken way to overcome nature.

While I benefit this theoretical background of Foucaltian subjectification on Eurasia I also come up with another setback or Achille’s heel of energy-corruption for realization of its own ontology of ethics in the same line. However, as everyone would realize Eurasian energy rich geography has nothing to do with corruption if would no one blame God for favoring the continent with more resources so enabling more than half of the world population living in this continent? Thus, geographic subjectification in general of its use, as I did for Eurasia specifically as an actor of politics, is also quite relevant with the rise of green politics and green economy hand in hand with regionalization and globalization. This endows us with a new version of understanding that human is not the only actor of its actions but an actor with his/her habitat. Last but not least, Eurasia –home to humanity for ages- is the best point to start to observe geography as the actor so the subject but not the factor of politics. Then it is time to ask, “Who is Eurasia?” rather than “Where is Eurasia?” to differentiate the advent of politics into geography rather than evaluating geopolitics as a branch of politics or citing geography among the factors of politics.

[1] “…it is clear that there is no geologic boundary between Europe and Asia – they are combined as Eurasia…. The Ural Mountains have long been the unofficial dividing line between Europe and Asia. This 1500-mile-long chain is hardly a barrier geologically or geographically. The highest peak of the Ural Mountains is 6,217 feet (1,895 meters), far shorter than the peaks of the Alps in Europe or the Caucasus Mountains in southern Russia. The Urals have served as a marker between Europe and Asia for generations but it is not a natural division between landmasses. Additionally, the Ural Mountains do not extend very far south at all, they stop well short of the Caspian Sea and throw the Caucasus region into question as to whether they are “European” or “Asian” countries. (For example, see the hundreds of heated comments on my post…Ultimately, if one is going to insist on dividing the planet into continents, Eurasia should be considered as a continent instead of Asia and Europe.” Matt Rosenberg, “What is Eurasia? Defining the World’s Largest Continent” http://geography.about.com/od/learnabouttheearth/a/What-Is-Eurasia.htm

[2] “While a few professionals may regard Europe as a mere peninsula of Asia (or Eurasia), most geographers -and almost all nongeographers- continue to treat it not only as a full-fledged continent, but as the archetypal continent.” Martin W. Lewis and Kären Wigen, The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography,Berkeley, University of California Press, pp. 31-32. Moreover Anita Sengupta prefers to divide Eurasia through west and east axis “Anthropologically, historically and linguistically Eurasia is more appropriately, though vaguely subdivided into West Eurasia (often including North Africa) and East Eurasia”, Anita Sengupta, Heartlands of Eurasia: The Geopolitics of Political Space, Lanham, etc. Lexington Books, 2009, p.25

[3] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Philosophy of Right, translated S. W. Dyde, Batoche Books, Kitchener, Ontario, 2001, p. 20. https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fsocserv.mcmaster.ca%2Fecon%2Fugcm%2F3ll3%2Fhegel%2Fright.pdf

[4] London, Penguin Books, 1987, p. 23.

[5] I benefited from the text “first written by Foucault as a retrospective view about his work for the introduction to his book History of Sexuality, it was then given by Foucault, under the pseudonym ‘Maurice Florence’ as the article for the entry ‘Foucault’ in ‘Dictionnaire des philosophes’” 1984, pp. 942-944. For further information, see  (http://foucault.info/foucault/biography.html)

[6] Also read “Michel Foucault” http://www.iep.utm.edu/fouc-eth/


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