Russia’s Byzantine Heritage: The Anatomy of Myth

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Abstract. The article explores the process of conceptualization of historical bonds between Byzantium and Russia and their transformations to the political myth of Modernity. The author shows that the myth of “Byzantine heritage” was used both in apologetic, and in incriminating sense: contradictory political forces applied the same verbal formulas (Byzantism, the Third Rome) giving them polar sense and turning the myth into the counter-myth. The article focuses on the circumstances of the emergence of the essay “Russia’s Byzantine heritage” by A.J. Toynbee as the pivotal moment in reduction of historical myth into political cliché. Toynbee receipted Berdyaev’s interpretation of the Russian communism as inverted Third Rome messianism and transformed it to a postulate of Cold War, which later became ingrained in the Western political discourse. In 1990s this concept also spread out in Russia. It was apprehended not only by pro-Western circles, but also – paradoxically – by their opponents who looked at “the Byzantine heritage” as the proof of civilizational incompatibility of Russia and the West. In turn, it acted as a catalyst to reanimation of the Cold War dogmata in the West where again “the Byzantine heritage” is treated as a key to understanding of the Russian history, culture and policy.

Keywords: Russia, Byzantine heritage, Byzantism, the Third Rome, messianism, Toynbee, myth, the West, civilization.

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