Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Russia is a vast country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your Russian language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, Russians have a great deal of pride in their country and an ingrained feeling of unity to other Russians.
The love of “Родина” (the Motherland) has always given Russians inspiration and strength. The national idea has become a uniting ideology in the absence of a common goal after the collapse of communism.
60 percent of the population welcomed the return of the music of the national anthem of the USSR as the Russian national anthem and the double-headed eagle (symbol of tsarist Russia before the revolution) as the national emblem.
Russian military history has always been a source of national pride. An inherent sense of justice, self-sacrifice, courage and discipline are traditional Russian military values. Patriotic films about Russian military bravery and discipline in bygone and in present times are shown almost weekly on national television. This is a vivid testimony of the resurgence of this spirit today.
Yet Russia’s massive territory needed protection from its neighbors. In many postwar years the Soviet population lived by the slogan, “We’ll survive any hardships as long as there is no war.” Russian military strength provided additional security and an all-important boost for morale and productivity.
However, there is also a tendency to worry in the present surge of Russian patriotism. In 2003, the slogan “Россиядлярусских”(“Russia for the Russians”) was supported by about 15 percent of the population. In 2006, this figure was more than 50 percent. Sociologists see this as a response to poverty and discontent with the steady flow of working migrants from the former Soviet republics.
Russia is known for teaching the value of equality through stories and fairytales.
Here are a few Russian favorites:
The first story is about a Russian student who is sharing a room with two English students in a hostel in St. Petersburg. He becomes horrified when one of the English girls brings herself a glass of milk and a bun from the downstairs cafeteria.
“How could she do that?” asks the Russian student indignantly.
“But you didn’t ask her to bring you a bun,” comments the other English student.
“I am not at all hungry, but that’s not the point! She should have thought about you and me and not just about herself!” he replies.
The second story is a fairytale every child in Russia learns written by a famous writer named Pushkin. It is about a fisherman, his wicked wife and a goldfish.
A goldfish that was caught by a fisherman grants him and his wife three wishes.
The fisherman’s wife begins reciting her wishes. She wishes for higher status and a bigger home with each wish. The goldfish fulfills most of her desires, but it stops when she aims too high. She is sent back to her hut after her wishes become too greedy.
This tale sparkles with Pushkin’s wonderful gift of storytelling. It also reminds a Russian, “Don’t try to rise above your peers. Don’t aim too high, or you will lose everything.”
Nowadays, the principle of social justice manifests itself in nostalgia. These stories show open disapproval of those who are richer and more successful. The Party of Social Justice (which recently merged with another influential party, the Party of Pensioners) has a significant number of supporters.
In the 1930s, around 80 percent of Russians were still working on the land even though the industrialization plan of the communist government in the 1920s led to the migration of millions of peasants into urban areas.
Those new city dwellers brought with them the agrarian values of the “коммуна” or the village commune “колхоз.” This was historically the core of Russian peasant life.
The head of the “коммуна” symbolized the patriarchal power of the family. He controlled the communal purse and was the ultimate authority. Members of the “коммуна” had to be prepared to help each other survive. They would harvest together and fulfill their social roles dutifully.
Cooperation and reciprocity were the key values of the commune. Everything in the “коммуна” was divided between the members on the principles of social equality and established order. Members of the commune disapproved of anybody who wanted to break out of his allocated role, have his own way or earn more money.
The principles of social justice and equality have been ingrained in the Russian public consciousness as a result. The traditional Russian communal spirit is alive and well thanks to 70 years of classless societies under communism.
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