What the Russians Say About Us

Here are excerpts from  a very interesting article; you can read the entire piece here, at The New York Times:

What do Americans not understand about Russia? On the eve of President Obama’s arrival in Moscow, The New York Times asked readers of its Russian-language blog at community.livejournal.com/nytimesinmoscow.

Here are excerpts from their responses, as translated by The Times’s Moscow bureau, each introduced by the user’s Web nickname. Some readers gave details about themselves, which were not independently confirmed.

SKABLYAN: The Russian character is founded on contradictions.

Inwardly, we understand that in the contemporary world we have not much to be proud of. Therefore, we seek moments of greatness in our history and protect them reverently. The very same can be said of the Soviet Union.

The facts show that during the U.S.S.R., the standard of living of the average citizen was, to put it lightly, low.

However, paradoxically, the same U.S.S.R. was one of the poles of international politics, and therefore we can’t throw out that heritage and call that era a black spot in our nation’s history. Denis, 27, Moscow.

TIKI2TAVI: In Russia, familial and friendly connections are stronger, mistrust of authority is stronger and we value work less.

In practice, this means that we take loans from our friends and relatives more often than from the bank, we go to them instead of the psychoanalyst, we deal with a drunk neighbor without calling the police, and many go on livejournal.com while at work.

DEPECHE: It seems to me that Americans don’t know where to put Russia now. Under Brezhnev, we were the evil empire; under Gorbachev, we became friends, and then a failed state, a Burkina Faso with nuclear weapons. Under Yeltsin, at first we were a young democracy to pat on the shoulder; under Putin, we again became the empire of evil, although a toothless one.

Where is Russia now? What is she planning to do? Are we a run-of-the-mill corrupt oil-state like Nigeria, or does the presence of nuclear weaponry complicate things? If I were an American, I wouldn’t bother to think about the curious Russian soul but would look at the naked facts.

Russia isn’t planning to invade anyone, and the conflict with Georgia was just to preserve the status quo. Therefore, from the military point of view, Russia is harmless. As far as economics is concerned, Russia doesn’t present any interest to the U.S.A., with the exception of a couple of rare earth metals. Although Russia is one of the primary exporters of oil, its behavior in this regard is at least predictable.

In conclusion: there’s no need to classify Russia and place it in some group of countries. We, like China, are a separate planet.

When it comes to predicting the future, not even Russians can do that. For now, the situation is better than 30 years ago, and the appearance of private capital in the country allows one to hope that Russia will be part of the global community. Peter, IT specialist, 30.

. . . . .

I_KASSIA: It’s very simple: an American needs success and a Russian needs truth. And the Russian word “truth” (righteousness, honesty, justice and everything that is higher than justice – love, open-heartedness, care for the weak ones) cannot be fully translated into English. Therefore, an American cannot understand what do Russians want.

What does this mean “to live by truth”? In practice, we, almost without exception, are not capable of “living by truth” ourselves. But we don’t accept anything below this as a norm. Such is the Russian paradox.

And we want Americans to understand this? Funny.

Or, do we believe that Americans sincerely want to understand this? Even funnier.

. . . . .

DEER00HUNTER: “What kind of a country do we have? We have everything but cannot live.” Viktor Chernomyrdin, former prime minister.

The situation is very simple. In order to understand a person one needs to know what he wants. In order to understand what he wants, it is necessary that his actions be logical and the logic of his actions not change in the course of time.

Our country and our people don’t know what they want themselves.

In the very beginning of the 18th century, Peter the Great issued a command to “cut a window to Europe” and everybody began to cut, strived for the European values, achieved European levels in science, culture, education.

The trend continued in the 19th century and reached its culmination in the beginning of the 20th century, when capitalism, though later than in other countries, began to emerge in Russia.

And suddenly, an abrupt turn back. 1917. October. The revolution brings the country about 100-120 years back, leads to a national catastrophe – the civil war begins. For more than 70 years after it, the country is developing on its own, absolutely unique “special path” (as they say now).

There are two camps. Finally, the U.S.S.R. gets the name of an “evil empire.”

Then another abrupt turn. 1985. Gorbachev. Perestroika and glasnost. People understand that “one shouldn’t live like this.” The system is destroyed instantly. Everything that had been created by several generations collapsed.

1991. the U.S.S.R. ceases to exist. Russia turns to the West again. The country gets a Constitution, normal relations with its neighbors and with the majority of the world’s countries. Some democracy emerges.

200X. At best, we are ignored by the West. Practically no relations with the neighbors. Quite a strange situation in the country. And I won’t say a word about democracy.

So, where are we going? What do we want? It’s absolutely not clear. West-East. Left-right.

There is a great phrase in Orwell’s “1984”: “The one who owns the past, owns the future.” This is where the roots of most of our problems are, we don’t own our past. We don’t understand our past.

. . . . .

DETIARBATA: Americans seem not to understand a lot.

In short: Americans likely do not understand that it’s difficult for Russian society to get rid of multi-layer traditions of lies, very often lies with good intentions, and it’s difficult for the Russians to get rid of the most impossible symbols of lies, like Lenin’s mausoleum.

Also, Americans likely don’t understand that it’s difficult for Russians to somehow separate their private life from the state (the state did not always allow such a luxury!), including to somehow separate the real life from the abstract system of rules and values in the state.

As a whole, Americans likely don’t fully understand how archaic (traditional) may be the Russian concept of the state.

Also, Americans likely don’t understand how much the role of the allies in the victory over Nazi Germany and its allies is played down in the conscience of Russians. And Americans likely don’t properly understand the concept of “The Great Patriotic War” in which there is practically no space for Americans themselves.

Also, Americans likely don’t understand the gap between the elite and the rest of Russian society, the degree of completeness and incompleteness of the process of Europeanization of Russia.

And the most important – Americans likely don’t understand why Russia is afraid of NATO so much, but the Russians likely don’t understand it. Well, they were told they have to be afraid and that’s it.

Mykhailo, Odessa, Ukraine. Blogger in free time.

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