- Дружба. Очерки по теории практик: сб
In Russia, friends are all around us. They gossip in the kitchen, stroll through parks, sip coffee at cafés, relax at their dachas, and toast to good health at birthday parties. According to the 2001 Sino-Russian Treaty of Friendship, Russia and China will be friends until at least 2021, and Dmitry Medvedev always begins his annual New Year's speech by addressing his apparently many "dear friends." In recent months, friends gathered together on Bolotnaia and Prospekt Sakharova to protest a regime that itself seems organized according to personal connections and networks of friends. Even as iPhones, Facebook, and Twitter threaten to radically restructure the way ordinary Russians relate to one another, friendship continues to play a role in the country's life and politics.
So it is quite astonishing that Oleg Kharkhordin's Druzhba: ocherki po teorii praktik is the first major work on friendship in Russia since the early 1980s, when two of the most prominent Soviet sociologists, [End Page 462] Vladimir Shlapentokh and Igor Kon, published their own studies of the phenomenon. As Kharkhordin hints in his foreword to Druzhba, the topic's sprawling nature might explain this otherwise surprising scholarly neglect (P. 6). Friendship can at once describe a geopolitical relationship between two states just as it can two individuals, and to make matters even more difficult, it turns out that we rarely use the word "friend" to address our friends in face-to-face interactions. In 2005, with the support of the Carnegie Foundation, Kharkhordin assembled a group of researchers at the European University in St. Petersburg to tackle this expansive and immense subject. The result is a magnificent collection of chapters that weaves together multiple disciplinary and theoretical perspectives into a single remarkably unified volume. Although it contains no single overarching argument, Druzhba reveals a curious and complex relationship between theories of "political friendship" drawn from classical philosophy and early Russian history, and the everyday practice of friendship in Russia today.
At first glance, the problematics of friendship appear entirely unrelated to the major questions currently facing Russian politics (P. 11). Power emanates from above, cries for clean elections come from below, and friendship seems stuck in the private sphere while violence and a selective application of the law take its place. However, friendship was not always cordoned off from public life. Ancient Greece and Rome famously produced tracts on the ethics of friendship and its role in political life, and Kharkhordin argues that we would do well to return to these foundational philosophical texts for guidance on Russia's current situation. Friendship shows real promise, he suggests, for Russian society's transformation from a violent and indeed "uncivil" obshchestvo to one that draws on principles of nonviolence and mutual aid inherent in friendship to become "civil" and just (Pp. 15–18). The search for a solution to the ills of post-Soviet society, for a means to articulate a politics outside of both the state and the quasi-public corporations and groups responsible for much of the violence and disorder in Russia today, is precisely what allows a wide range of disciplinary approaches to cohere into one singular volume on friendship.
Rather than extracting his own conclusions from the writings of Aristotle and Cicero, Kharkhordin provides the reader with a tour through twentieth-century reflections on the classical version of "political friendship." One neo-Aristotelian recommendation demands that each citizen share a common concern for the moral and political character of [End Page 463] every other citizen. In other words, a society is just only when people feel a general form of friendship, or philia, for each other. This "caring (cura) for the soul" is an idea long familiar in Russian history, traceable at least as far back as Feofan Prokopovich's 1706 De Arte Rhetorica (P. 249). Indeed, that idea also had its day in the Soviet Union, reaching its horrifying but logical conclusion with the bloody chistki, in which the moral character of each Soviet citizen was placed under the lights for all to see and judge (P. 27). Interestingly, although Kharkhordin has elsewhere devoted...