During the Christmas break of my first year at university, I was tasked with a piece of coursework for an extra-curricular Russian course that I was taking at the time. The question, ‘To what extent can Russia be considered European or Asian?’, was one that resonated with me. With Brexit taking my own country out of the European Union, the future of a bloc that has come to define a European identity was (and still is) an uncertain one.
A couple of years have passed, and I recently sat down to read Bruno Maçães’s The Dawn of Eurasia. Discussing Russia, Maçães references Fyodor Dostoevsky’s ‘What is Asia to Us?’, an essay penned in 1881 which addresses that country’s difficulties of asserting themselves as either Asian or European politically, culturally or geographically. ‘In Europe we are Tatars’, Dostoevsky wrote, ‘while in Asia we are the Europeans’. It was a familiar conclusion, one that I had drawn in my coursework.
But in his book Maçães draws a different conclusion. Rather than defining themselves as European or Asian Russia- and indeed any of the two billion people that live across the two continents- might consider themselves Eurasian. And not just in the limited way of the Eurasian Economic Union. Instead, this identity is one that would see Europe address globalised cooperation and look eastwards not just at China, but at a continent that represents the future of global trade and development.
From Kazakhstan’s dry ports at the traditional boundary between Europe and Asia, to Europe’s standard settings on GDPR and emissions, Maçães identifies within Eurasia two continents inextricably bound together in a political and economic present and future. No longer can we judge the world by Francis Fukuyama’s model of political convergence upon a Western framework, he argues; instead we must appreciate different iterations of ‘modernity’ around the world as Europeans reconcile themselves to the fact that they have just as much to learn from Asia as Asian countries do from them.
With the centre of gravity of global geopolitics shifting away from the Atlantic Ocean and creeping ever Eastwards, Maçães suggests a novel opportunity to explore those relationships. 2020 has in large part turned countries in on themselves: lockdowns have prevented global travel, political blame games have increasingly embraced populist nationalism, and governments have been forced to focus primarily on the health and economic needs of their own populations.
But amidst the gloom of the pandemic, we have seen many East Asian economies adapt to its pressures better than almost anywhere else in the world. On top of this, cooperation within the European Union has been stronger and more efficient than ever.
Emerging into a post-pandemic world, we believe that the future lies in greater cooperation between Europe and Asia. The Student Think Tank for Europe-Asia Relations aims to serve as the first and leading policy institute for students and young people in Asia and Europe, providing a bridge between the two continents that strengthens multilateral cooperation and international prosperity across Eurasia. We seek to ensure that the boundaries of the Urals and across the Aegean exist in geography only - to inspire young people to understand and cooperate with each other in a way that the future has already begun to demand.