Аннотация: The article discusses some specific features characteristic of Russian people.
Specific Features of Russian National Character
1. Who are Russians?
The aim of this essay is to assess some beliefs about Russian national character widespread among Western audience and supported by Western mass media. While doing it I will use three operators: "true", "false", and "doubtful" substantiated by appropriate argumentation.
First of all I would like to define the term "Russian" because it is often used conventionally, to denote all inhabitants of Russia. Russia is a multi-national country, and not all its peoples share common socio-psychological features that can be interpreted as traits of Russian national character. According to my observations it takes about 250 years for a nation, who lives together with Russians, to assimilate traits of Russian national character. Actually assimilation rates are different for different nations and 250 years is an average figure deduced by me after studying a number of historical sources. Factors that influence assimilation rates haven"t yet been clearly formulated and present an emerging research field within the scope of socio-anthropology that I call YAVA-matrix research (YAVA stands for my initials because it was I who introduced this notion and founded this research field). YAVA matrix defines correlation between socio-economic and socio-psychological characteristics of two nations on the one hand, and time needed for traits of one nation to be assimilated by the other nation. YAVA matrix can be represented by the formula T = (log P (N1, N2)) / 2* (log r), where T is time needed for one nation (N1) to assimilate another nation (N2); P - a quotient derived from comparison of socio-economic and socio-psychological characteristics of two nations; r is a constant=0,25. Unfortunately, I cannot enlarge upon this topic since this research has been done on the assignment from Federal Government and hasn"t been finished yet.
From this viewpoint the Tatars, the Bashkirs, are Russians; the Byelorussians, the Ukrainians living in the East regions of their countries are Russians; peoples living in the Caucasus are not Russians, to say nothing of Central Asian nations. The Byelorussians and the Ukrainians living in Western regions of their countries are not Russians. This viewpoint provides convincing explanation for recent events in the Ukraine: they were determined by essential differences between two ethnical groups. One group is the Ukrainians living in Eastern regions, who are Russians by their nature, and the other group are the Ukrainians living in Western regions of the Ukraine, who are non-Russians.
That is why the overwhelming majority of Russians, living in Russia, supports the leader of East Ukraine and holds a strong negative attitude to the leader of West Ukraine. And East Ukrainians will be always longing for Russia.
Western politicians, who organize the so called "velvet revolutions," must be aware of such socio-psychological nuances not to make bad mistakes, not to inspire serious inter-ethnic conflicts.
There is one exception from this classification. This exception is the Jews. They are a specific nation; they don"t assimilate no matter how long they live in a foreign country. That is why, perhaps, they had often been persecuted, exterminated, tormented.
Beliefs about Russian National Character
1. Russians are aggressive
During the Cold War Russians were represented as aggressive people threatening the existence of Western civilization. "Boris" and "Natasha" became common nouns to denote blood-thirsty, stupid, uncivilized people, and this belief still holds among Western audience. No wonder: evil empire (in President Reagan"s terms) must be inhabited by evil people and Western media did its best to create fantastic Russian characters.
I can assess this belief as false. On the contrary, Russians are by their nature peaceful people. To support this statement I will take the liberty to cite A. Solzhenitsyn, an eminent author, whose name is sure to be familiar to the audience.
"By the end of the19th Russian Empire reached its ..."natural size" .... But it was a strange empire. In all other existing at that time empires parent states got exorbitant profits by exploiting their colonies... And in Russia it was the other way round. .... Asian national outskirts got enormous financial support from the center... People who created Russia and were its backbone became poorer and poorer."
To put it simpler in Russian Empire nations lived at the expense of Russian people. And such situation took place not only at the end of the 19th century but in other epochs as well. When Russians invaded Siberia in the 17th century they didn"t destroy native population, they didn"t banish them from their lands. They baptized them so that aborigines could have all rights of regular Russian citizens, could live peacefully on their land. Such policy was further strengthened under the Soviet Power when, according to Lenin"s plan, all smaller nations formed their own administrative units (republics) with their own legislative powers. Under N. Khrushov hundreds of thousands of Russians were sent to national republics to build factories, to organize collective farms.
In this respect Russians differ essentially from Anglo-Saxons who used to destroy the Indians, banish them from their lands, and settle them in reservations.
By the way, I am not sure that Russian policy was good; perhaps it would have been better for Russians to act in the same way as Anglo-Saxons did. As a result we wouldn"t have inter-ethnic conflicts that still threaten Russia"s unity.
Another substantiation of my thesis is simple arithmetic. During World War I (1914-1917) Russia lost 2 000 000 people; during the Civil War (1917-1921) Russia lost 8 000 000 people; during World War II (1941-1945) Russia lost 50 000 000 people; during Stalin"s repressions (1934-1947)
1, 736 000 people were either executed or died in prisons; during Eltsin"s genocidal reforms (1992-1999) Russia lost about 2 000 000 people who were killed in inter-ethnic conflicts, murdered by gangsters, died of diseases, or simply were not born because birth rate decreased enormously being lower than during the World War and for the first time in Russian history death rate exceeded birth rate.
It"s interesting to notice that Eltsin"s reforms turned out more disastrous that Stalin"s tyranny. There is, of course essential difference between Eltsin and Stalin: Eltsin"s genocide was actively supported by Western "civilized" powers (the USA in the first turn), while Stalin acted on his own. Another difference is that Stalin added to Russia Sakhalin, The Kurils, and Koenigsberg, whereas Eltsin made a major contribution to the disintegration of Russia.
It isn"t difficult to calculate that total losses of Russia in the 20th century amount to more than 63 mln people (without taking into account Russian-Japanese war at the beginning of the century). More than enough to develop a strong disgust for wars, revolutions, and reforms.
Peaceful nature of Russians is accompanied by another similar feature - patience.
On May 24, 1945 J. Stalin gave dinner in honor of the victory in World War II at which he said:
"...I drink to the health of Russian nation not only because it is the leading nation but also because it has clear mind, steady character, and patience.
Our government made many mistakes; there were desperate situations in 1941-1942 when our army retreated... Some other nation could have said to its government: "Get out! You haven"t justified our hopes..." But Russian people didn"t do that because they trusted the policy of our government....Thank you, Russian people, for this trust!"
Stalin referred to the enormous losses of Russian army at the beginning of World War II when about 2 000 000 soldiers were either killed or captured and almost all aviation was destroyed. Stalin had always been bewildered by the fact that in spite of all humiliation, harassment, persecution Russians supported him.
A more recent example is 1990s when Federal Government didn"t pay salaries for its employees for months referring to the lack of money. In a civilized country the employees would have brought an action against the government, go on strikes etc. In Russia everything was quite. Zadornov, a famous Russian humorist, used to say: "Russia is a unique country. Nobody gets his salary and everybody is full and fat".
2. Russians are thieves.
I assess this belief as true.
This national trait originates from customs and traditions of Russian peasant commune described by me earlier (http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue121/russian_history.html). In the commune all property was common, private property didn"t exist. The Soviet power abolished private property and brought up deep disrespect for it. Currently to steal everything that is not taken good care of is a kind national sport.
When I was a child I with my boy friends used to filch tomatoes and cucumbers in kitchen gardens. We did it just for sport, not because we were hungry. When I was a schoolboy my bicycle was stolen. When I studied in Moscow I was attacked and robbed. My garage was robbed last summer. The police didn't stir a finger in all these cases. All my acquaintances and relatives were either robbed or their property was stolen. Though all buildings of my firm are guarded by robust fellows and all laboratories are equipped by alarm systems, computers, hard disc drives are regularly stolen. Fir caps and fir coats disappear from cloak rooms.
If stealing is a sport then it must have certain rules. I personally stick to the following rules.
1. Never buy expensive jewelry, clothes, cars, etc. I remember one of my neighbors boasting of buying expensive jewelry. Her flat was robbed almost the next day. During the investigation it turned out that all her jewelry was just an imitation, nevertheless it was a serious mishap for the woman and for me. At that time I studied in Moscow and rented a room in the same house, and when the woman was asked if she suspected anybody she pointed to me since I was a stranger, not a Muscovite. Fortunately the investigator was a clever enough man to understand that was in no way involved in the crime.
2. Never walk alone in the street at nighttime. All my wives were attacked and their fir caps stolen when they were alone in the dark street. A rare exception was my second wife who was courageous enough to resist the criminal. She was going home after a party when suddenly a car stopped beside her; a robust fellow jumped out of the car, and grabbed her fir hat. But he couldn"t pull it off because the woman managed to seize the brims of the hat and gave a frenzied scream.
3. Never travel alone. I was attacked and robbed in Moscow when I traveled alone in the carriage of a local train late at night. A group of men rushed into the carriage; they pulled on my head a kind of large handkerchief and one of them placed a knife against my throat. The others began examining my belongings packed in the suitcase (I was traveling to a railway station to leave from Moscow to my native city). Fortunately all my clothes in the suitcase were old; the thieves were disappointed not to find any money. They took only a small sum of money they found in my pockets and my cheap watch. They didn"t find a bigger sum of money that I farsightedly hid in my socks that were on me at the moment (and I didn"t wash feet for a number of days). In the suitcase was only one precious thing - a massive gold ring, and I was sure the robbers had taken it. On the next day on the train I found it in the suitcase: it was wrapped in dirty toilet paper and the thieves were too fastidious to unwrap it. So I had a lucky escape though the experience was unpleasant.
4. Take good care of your personal belongings, don"t leave them neglected. My garage was robbed because I prefer to keep the car (a cheep Lada car) on a guarded parking and visit the garage very seldom. Flats of my acquaintances were robbed when they went vacationing.
Stealing is accompanied by another national trait - bribe taking and bribe giving. The roots of this national feature go back to the ancient Russian history perhaps to Mongol-Tatar yoke when Russian princes had to pay heavy levies to Mongol-Tatar invaders. There is much documented evidence that bribe-taking flourished under the first Romanov Tsars in the 17the century. At that time government officials were not punished for bribe-taking; bribes being considered a part of their salary. At the beginning of the 18th century Peter the Great created a strong centralized bureaucratic system and issued edicts promising sever punishments for bribe-takers. All his efforts were in vain: even his stalwarts took bribes, and Peter the Great used to beat with his own hands his closest friend, prince Menshikov for bribe taking.
After Peter the Great all Russian Tsars took efforts to struggle with bribe taking - with no result. When at the beginning of the 19th century Gogol wrote his famous play "The Inspector" making fun of bribe-taking, and corruption among government officials, Tsar Nicolas I allowed the play to be performed since he was well aware of those vices. After seeing the play Nicolas I visited one of Russian provincial cities. The governor introduced to him local officials and the Tsar said:
- I have already seen all of you.
- Where could you have seen us, your majesty?? - asked the baffled governor.
- In Gogol"s play "The Inspector," - replied the Tsar.
The situation changed radically after the communist revolution in 1917. Revolutionists inspired by communist ideas didn"t take bribes; later total control over all spheres of life introduced by Stalin effectively prevented bribe-taking and corruption.
The epoch after Stalin witnessed the next stage of flowering of bribe-taking; its golden age were the 70s. Because at that time almost all goods were in short supply it was impossible to get good trousers, perfume, sausage or butter without greasing shop manager"s palm. (In this section of the essay I am using materials from my unpublished monograph "The History of Bribe Taking in Russia").
Nowadays bribe-taking and bribe-giving are indispensable features of Russian mode of life. Administrative reforms undertaken by Eltsin increased significantly the number of government officials. Currently their number is three times as much as it was under the Soviet Union, though Russia"s population is 150 million people compared with 250 million in the Soviet Union. President Putin, as Eltsin's faithful follower, at the beginning of this year started a new reform almost doubling the number of federal ministries.
Increase of bureaucratic apparatus is inevitably accompanied by the increase of corruption. A few examples from contemporary Russian life.
This year in Summer FSB (Federal Security Bureau) undertook an action, during which a FSB officer came to a restaurant in Moscow, introduced himself as a Chechen terrorist and asked the waitress to provide him with a Russian foreign passport (for 300$) explaining that he wanted to move to Azerbaijan. In a couple of days he was provided with a foreign passport and was given advice how to cross the border.
Later in August two passenger planes were blown up by two Chechen women terrorists. During the investigation of the terror attacks it turned out that one of the women terrorists managed to board the plane because she gave a bribe of 2000 Russian rubles (approximately 65$) to a staff member of the air terminal who accompanied her to the plane. After those terror attacks Federal Government announced reinforcement of security measures at all airports. With all these measures terrorists will have to pay 2000$ (instead of 2000 rubles) as a bribe to get on board the plane, I guess.
I am giving some extreme examples described in Russian media (NTV programs), but bribe giving is also the usual way of solving small everyday problems. Recently all Russia laughed at the trial, at which the defendant was a driver, who tried to bribe a traffic police officer. About two years ago Federal Government adopted rules according to which the driver who broke traffic regulations must: 1) get a paper from the traffic policeman, 2) go to a bank, fill in a receipt (a very time-consuming procedure), pay the fine money indicated by the traffic policeman, 3) go to the central traffic police station and submit the receipt. Of course, it is much simpler to pay the bribe to the traffic policeman than to pay the fine to the bank. And most people do it. My impression is that federal government deliberately introduces complex bureaucratic procedures to facilitate bribe giving.
If you meet a Russian don"t ask him if he has ever taken bribes, because he will have to lie; if you meet a Russian who will boast that he has never given or taken bribes, don"t believe him.
4. Russians are hospitable
Many visitors come from Russia impressed by Russian hospitality. I can assess this belief as doubtful. Of course if you visit a friend in Russia he will invite you to his place and treat to a delicious dinner he can even take a leave at his work to have enough time to show you places of interest, to go fishing together, etc. You will never be treated in this way in West European countries. But all this refers to visitors from highly developed countries. I have never heard about visitors from China, Vietnam or African countries being treated in this way. Moreover many Russians hold a contemptuous attitude to representatives of these countries. No wonder: Russia is flooded with immigrants, with cheap low quality Chinese goods. Chinese people move to Russia in thousands, live here without any visas and passports, seize lands. In the Far East there are regions where the Chinese outnumber Russians. Corrupted local authorities shut their eyes to such facts and the same goes to Federal Government. First Eltsin and then Putin ceded to China several islands in the Amur River.
5. Russians are lazy.;
This belief is wide spread not only abroad but also in Russia. Russians themselves think that they are lazy.
I assess this belief as doubtful. To tell the truth, I myself thought that Russians were lazy until I visited a highly developed European country whose inhabitants boast of being hard working and disciplined. There I spent several months at a university to find out that the staff members spent much time drinking beer during the intervals and the intervals were much longer than they are in Russia. After that I changed my mind. I can"t say that Russians are very hard working; they are enthusiastic about their work if they are interested in it. In this case they can work all day round, without any intervals and days off. If Russians are hard working, then why are they so poor? I can answer: this is because they are careless. The label "made in Russia" became a synonym of low quality goods (except primitive Kalashnikov machine-guns). A good example of careless work is Russian Lada cars. Since the outset in early 1970s and till nowadays the quality of the cars hasn"t changed, they constantly go bust, even new ones. I can be an expert because I have had several such cars and wasted lots of money fixing them.
The experienced reader can ask me: "And what about Russian scientists, Noble Prize winners?" I answer: "There are exceptions, and almost all of Russian Noble Prize winners were Jews". Abrikosov and Ginsburg, who got Noble Prize last year are Jews; academician A. Sakharov was a Jew, his wife, Mrs.Bonner, is a Jew. I remember seeing an American film about A.Sakharov, in which the actor, who played Sakharov, used to exclaim adressing his wife: "We are Russians! We must live in Russia!" It was rather funny to listen to the lines.
Another example of careless job is this essay you are reading at the moment. You have already noticed numerous misprints, and, perhaps, grammar mistakes. I am not going to correct them because I am a Russian.
6. Russians are drunkards
This is a widespread belief and there is much evidence of its being true. It"s worth remembering President Eltsin"s visit to Ireland. Eltsin flew from the USA and stopped in Ireland where his official visit was scheduled. So his plane landed in Ireland. The prime-minister, officials and orchestra waited for him on the airfield. Nobody appeared for a long time. At last Yeltsin"s press secretary turned up and explained that Russian President "couldn"t leave the plane". In half an hour the plane took off and flew to Russia. Press secretary"s vague explanation provided fruitful basis for a rumor that Eltsin was dead drunk. Taking into account Eltsin's reputation the rumor was very plausible.
In a country high school where I worked long ago was a teacher of physics who during the lesson used to go to the adjoining laboratory, drink there a glass of vodka, go back to class and continue conducting the lesson. The pupils, who were well aware of the routine, would begin giggling.
At the university some lecturers would read their lectures being drunk. During the final term test such a lecturer would ask the monitor of the group to fetch beer and/or vodka and then would give credit to all the students of the group.
Nevertheless I assess this belief as doubtful. Drinking habit is distributed unevenly among different social groups. It is wide spread in countryside, in rural districts where there are lots of unemployed. It is less typical of people in cities. One of the results of Eltsin"s reforms was appearance of new social group - homeless people. Russian cities are flooded by beggars, waifs and strays who are always drunk. Putin's government doesn't care a hug for this problem. No wonder: government officials' children study at foreign universities, live abroad, rest at foreign resorts. But I am surprised at the behavior of international organizations, whose representatives are constantly crying about violation of human rights in Chechnia and shut their eyes to the problem of millions of homeless children all over Russia. It would be good if President Bush asked his "friend" Putin about this problem instead of making absurd statements about "threat" for Russian democracy from Putin"s political reforms. It is common knowledge that there has never been any democracy in Russia. If President Bush thinks that the rule of a dozen magnates (or oligarchs) is democracy he is badly mistaken. As for the political reform undertaken by Putin (specifically, appointing governors by President instead of electing them by public vote) it just legalizes the "de facto" situation. During the last years all elected governors were Kremlin creatures. If the population voted "incorrectly" Kremlin had to take efforts to "correct" people"s choice. Good examples are elections in Yakutia and Krasnoyarsk. Krasnoyarsk Election Board was promptly dismissed and the chairman of the Board was taken to court after it refused to acknowledge the victory of Kremlin"s protege (Khlaponin, one of the oligarchs) because of numerous breaches of law on his part. President Bush should dismiss his Russian advisors if he was not informed of these facts.
Another reason to classify this belief as doubtful is the fact that there are nations who outdo Russians in drinking. I remember working as an interpreter with Scandinavian fishermen. When they arrived at the airport their fist words were: "Women, vodka, beer". They spent six days here drinking heavily all days long and entertaining themselves with call girls. They outdid Russian guides who were also good at drinking.
To summarize: Russians are peaceful, patient; they are thieves and bribe takers; they are semi-hospitable, semi-industrious, semi-drunkards.
Who is Russian?
The analysis would be incomplete if I didn"t apply its conclusions to a specific person. The most eligible candidate to be analyzed is President Putin, who is currently the most famous Russian. There are some black spots in his official biography. According to it 14 years he worked as a KGB officer and then suddenly became Sobchak"s counselor (Sobchak was the leader of St.Petersburg). Reasons for Putin to leave KGB haven"t been yet revealed. Even now to leave FSB isn"t so simple, to say nothing of Soviet times. I can only conjecture that there were two opportunities: either Putin"s work together with Sobchak was his new KGB mission, or he turned out incapable to fulfill his duties in KGB, and his work was a kind of honorable retirement that was equal to his modest lieutenant-colonel rank in KGB. Of course I don"t have any documented evidence that Putin stole something or took bribes, but we have lots of evidence that he is in no sense an aggressive person, that he shares peaceful traits of Russian national character. Peacefulness of his character is confirmed by the fact that he has never formulated any territorial claims to other countries; on the contrary, he is always prepared to cede Russian territories to other states. Several weeks ago when he visited China he ceded to his Chinese "friends" several islands in the Amur River. The islands were inhabited by Russians who were rather surprised when Chinese soldiers came and banished them from their houses without any warning. Last month when Putin"s visit to Japan was prepared he declared his wish to cede two of the Kuril Islands to Japan. The Japanese were so ungrateful as to reject the generous proposal. I can point to some other territories that can be successfully ceded to foreign states. Kaliningrad (Koenigsberg) region can be ceded to Germany; Karelia can be ceded to Finland; Tuva can be ceded to Mongolia; Chiukotka can be ceded to the USA (if G. Bush is clever enough to take advantage of Russian President"s peaceful-mindness).