10/26/2022, 10.10
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The European Garden and the Russian Jungle

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The comparison made by EU diplomacy chief Josep Borrell sparks criticism. Hermitage Director: 'Everyone cultivates their own garden'. According to the academic, the war in Ukraine responds to a problem of survival: better the Soviet "greenhouse" than the capitalist jungle.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - The director of Russia's Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Mikhail Piotrovsky (see photo), has responded to the European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, who called Russia (along with other countries) "a jungle" compared to the "garden" of Europe. The Spanish diplomat actually immediately apologised for his expression, but it is very revealing of the cultural and psychological dimensions of the conflict between Moscow and the West.

In Russia, they see European culture as 'suffering from the poison of colonialism'. From a Russian perspective, Borrell's phrase makes it clear that this dimension is not yet completely overcome and that from the depths of consciousness it can re-emerge, like a claim to impose one's own idea of civilisation on everyone: precisely the accusation that would drive Putin's Russia to the extreme consequences of 'defensive warfare'.

The image of the 'garden' is indeed very much rooted in European tradition, from the biblical evocations of Eden or the 'hortus clausus' of the Song of Songs, to the famous secular definitions of Voltaire's 'Candide'. "Everyone cultivates their own garden," Piotrovsky replied, revealing a mirroring and opposing consciousness on the part of Russia, belonging to Europe, but also its adversary.

"The garden is culture," according to the director, a strong supporter of Putin, but also one of the most brilliant exponents of contemporary Russian intelligentsija. "Its destiny, however, is one of sharing," the term 'culture' itself comes from agricultural work; "Cicero spoke of culture as the sharing of soul and intellect, the most important fruits of human nature". The garden is the symbol of the 'transformation of wild nature', and one should 'contrast it not to the jungle, but to the forest'.

Quoting a great Russian historian of literature, Dmitry Lichačev, Piotrovsky explains that 'both the garden and the forest have an equal right to exist'. For the academic, 'the forest is primordial and active nature, the garden is cultivated nature, natural and artificial together, and they are not to be confused with each other'. Using Borrell's metaphor to comment on the current situation, 'everyone must be left free to cultivate their own garden'.

After all, comments the director of the Hermitage, 'the jungle was formed in Russia when we started to live in capitalism and the market economy, after having got used to the comfortable greenhouse of socialism for so long'. The struggle between the ferocious beasts of markets and cut-throat competition confronted Russia with a problem of survival, right up to the reaction of war to free itself from these suffocating 'uncontrolled vegetations'.

Borrell's 'gaffe', in short, casts a light on the real reception and contradiction of cultural confrontation in Europe, leading to 'an unexpected result in the fight against homologising globalism' that forces multiculturalism, in which cultures are thrown into the jungle confusion without having their own living space. The claim of equal rights for cultures actually leads to their uprooting from their original soil, but 'the European garden is not prepared for the coexistence of the diverse', Piotrovsky insists, and leads to the total collapse of plural culture.

In museums, warns the director, successor and son of the greatest custodian of culture in Russian collections, 'the many cultures of the world are preserved and exhibited to inspire astonishment and admiration, not to cause confusion', it is not a matter of colonialism or prevarication, but 'salvation of the many gardens of the world'. This, even in the tragedy of war, is Russia's task, according to one of the greatest exponents of its culture.

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