A view from outside
It’s an endeavour that I return to repeatedly; an ongoing attempt to know a culture and mindset from the outside, as a stranger. I suppose that I must be getting “warmer”, in the parlance of an old party game, but whilst climbing today’s mountain, tomorrow’s is revealed in the distance. The journey itself exists to be experienced and enjoyed, of course, not just some decisive end-point (here’s a clue: there isn’t one). So, in the spirit of mutual understanding, I’ll present a view of the Russian nation, directly (almost) from the mind of one of its inhabitants.
First, though: Russia is big enough for all things to be found true, should you look hard enough. There’s enough room for everyone’s opinion, with plenty of space left over. So much for lazy stereotypes then, but even as I write this I know that some elements of them at least, remain stubbornly and irritatingly true. The following is an insight into a way of thinking; part of a mindset that many Russians share. Agree or disagree by all means, but at least: understand. The text is from a project that a Russian friend and colleague has produced. It has been translated into English and further modified/adapted by myself. Yes, I’ll probably interject here and there too.
“Russia is rich in a variety of biological, mineral, fossil and water-based resources. Throughout it’s 1100 year history the Russian people have had to defend their lands against repeated, invasive attempts to seize territory and destroy infrastructure. Throughout its difficult and dramatic history, a single decade has not passed without war or other conflict. There have been over 100 wars in the country’s history, although 90% of them were defensive in nature. Russians are peaceful and inclined to look for allies and friends, seeking equitable collaboration and mutually beneficial relationships with all countries and nations. Due to their own experience of war, repression and disaster; Russians are very sensitive to injustice and are capable of compassion and understanding when dealing with the needs of other nations. They are inherently very receptive and inventive, endowed with many talents and some special folk wisdom of their own. Russians have always tried to share the best of all things with others, even sometimes to their own detriment.”
My 2 Pence
Here’s a timely quote from Russian Blogger Me:-
“Name a couple of things that Russia is known for and there’s a good chance that you’ll say – vodka, bears, and communism. I mean, we see it a lot in movies and TV shows even these days. Those dang Russian communists and KGB agents, right?! Russia is popular and known for being a communist country. After all, communists ruled Russia (Soviet Union) for over 70 years. The questions you might be asking – is Russia still a communist country? Is Vladimir Putin a communist as well?”
At this point some of the more stereotypical, even cartoon-like views about Russians will no doubt have surfaced in the minds of some readers; with typical reference to the communist government and the cold war era (or to some antics of the new super-rich class). It’s worth reminding ourselves that a government is not necessarily a population in it’s outlook or character, and very often isn’t. That excludes members of all nations who have “drunk the Kool Aid” (as the Americans say) when it comes to the official line, of course. Let’s continue:-
Matters of faith
“Russian culture is based upon Orthodox values in many respects, and in spite of having lived under an atheistic Soviet ideology for 70 years, most Russians haven’t lost their moral guidelines and Christian principles. Also, in its essence; socialism is arguably closer to themes of humanism and Christianity than capitalism. Whilst in many European and North-American countries: traditional religion is relegated to formal or secondary societal roles, orthodoxy provides the basis for the Russian mentality and national identity. During the last decade, Russia has experienced a revival of traditional orthodox culture, with ancient churches restored and new temples built. Other religions such as Islam, Judaism and Buddhism are also practiced across Russia and are increasing in popularity.
Knowledge and judgement
Don’t be surprised when your Russian friends appear more informed about events, facts, or personalities within your own country than yourself. You may of course ask: “How do you know this?”, “How can you know more than me?”, or: “How can you be so certain?!”. The fact is that many Russians rely upon strong intuitive and analytical abilities. It is enough for them to glimpse at a stranger once, to say whether they are “good or bad”, or whether they can be trusted! Russians feel that they don’t have to research further or read resumes, they draw conclusions based upon available information combined with their own intuition.
The constant searching for truth, meaning, and justice in all things is one of the distinguishing features of the Russian character. This is why they are predisposed to argument and the definitive ‘solving’ of relationship issues! Russians are also disposed to reflection, rethinking and remorse for mistakes they have made. Most are very emotional and capable of unpredictable decisions or impulsive acts based upon intuition more than rationality. At the same time, many of them are disposed to extremes of judgement and behaviour.”
More extremes of judgement and behaviour next time.
I have adapted this work from it’s English translation. Many thanks to the original author who prefers to remain nameless, however you can find the original (translated) work and a lot more on Live Journal.