The Cyprus-Crisis Culture Clash

The Cyprus-Crisis Culture Clash

The bank fight was influenced by European-Cypriot-Russian worldviews as much as by money.

Between Europe and Russia, the Cyprus mess has exposed mutual mistrust and prejudices that were present all along but covered over by years of patient European ostpolitik and by Russian efforts to maneuver Europe away from its transatlantic ally. The tangible foundations of European-Russian cooperation remain in their economic interdependence and shared historic need for reconciliation. Nonetheless, March 2013 may represent something of a watershed between Moscow and its major European neighbors. True, the illusion of a “common European house” had wilted well before the Cyprus crisis. Still, the crisis was marked by blatant stereotyping of the “other” on both sides, by mutual assumptions of financial malfeasance, and by a stubborn adherence to a self-referential interpretation of events. These European and Russian attitudes, brought to the surface by the Cyprus crisis, will likely endure and hamper the ability of the two sides to deal with other issues. German-Russian ties especially will suffer from the pervasive tendency in Germany to treat the saga of the Eurozone in moralistic terms and the permanent tendency in Russia to see internal European Union policies as conspiracies aimed at Russia.

A striking feature of the post–Cold War world has been the extent to which Russians have become everyday participants on the European landscape and more or less accepted as “normal Europeans” after decades of self-exclusion. This was always somewhat tentative on the European side. After Cyprus—and as the Russian state turns increasingly inward and away from engagement with modern, foreign political cultures—Russians may again become the European “other,” even in their own eyes.

Wayne Merry is Senior Fellow for Europe and Eurasia at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/NicosiaEurope. CC BY-SA 3.0.