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Origins of Russian cultural identity problems.


In Europe and America there’s a growing hysteria

… to respond to all the threats

In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets

Mister Krushchev said, “We will bury you”

I … to this point of view

It’d be such an … thing to do

If the Russians love their children too

How can I save my little boy

From Oppenheimer’s … toy?

There is no monopoly on common sense

On either side of the …

We share the same biology

Regardless of …

Believe me when I say to you

I hope the Russians love their children too

There is no … precedent to put

Words in the mouth of the president

There’s no such thing as a winnable war

It’s a lie we do’t believe anymore

Mister Reagan says “We will protect you”

I don’t subscribe to this point of view

Believe me when I say to you

I hope the Russians love their children too

We share the same …

Regardless of ideology

What might save us, me and you

Is if the Russians love their children too

When was the song written?

Do you think the attitude to Russians has changed now? Why (not)?

Section Five.

The Mysterious Russian Soul.

Lesson 1.


We’re starting to discuss the topic of the mysterious Russian character. Russia is a country of a rich heritage and a glorious history. There are many things this country has done wrong, but if we learn from these then we come out better. Keeping the history, the heritage, and the name, allows us to do better for our community, our country, ourselves.

1. Every nation has a reputation of some kind. Think and say what the Russians are regarded to be.

It’s a stereotype that the Russians are regarded to be … I personally share/don’t share this view point because it gives an adequate(true, false, biased, askew) portrayal of the Russian nation. I regard Russians as …

2. A. Study the topics under discussion and say what other issues you would like to discuss on the subject of the Russian character.

Topics under discussion:

· How does history and geography modify the life of this country?

· The influence of the West – to succumb or to fight ?

· Russians are born survivors in their own habitat.

· You can solve the riddle of the surprising Russian character after visiting ancient towns – the reflections of the Russian soul.

· Russia- the richest and the poorest country.

· The new ideals and virtues of Russia –what are they?

· Russia has no present being always concerned with the idea of some happy future.

· ?

B. Fill in the table and say, ”What is the Russian identity based on?”

Russian Identity



3. Read the story and say what other proverbs about the surprising Russian soul you know.

The Russians were a moving nation. Historically the huge territory of Russia was occupied by the people who were settling down. Therefore every new generation was moving forward to new lands. Western peoples lived where they’d been born so they had to cultivate their patch of land, which engendered steadiness and thoroughness. A Russian man could always take his knapsack and went away from his land. There is a proverb “Skatertyu doroga”. This isn’t just a metaphor, such tradition did exist. When the Russians ate their meal they threw a table-cloth on the floor and a person who was going away stepped on the table-cloth leaving his footprints on it. Then they would tear the table-cloth to pieces and would wave it to the person who had just left.


Lesson 2.

Origins of Russian cultural identity problems.

When a man is writing about a foreign culture, he is always in danger of misleading both the reader and himself: any attempt to understand people from different cultures rests upon considering them alike in some respects, and thus connecting the culture of the reader (and author) with that of the subject. Perhaps, if a Westerner understands Russians this can only be because he is like them.

Read the article and say: “What’s the author’s view on Russian philosophy?”

I. Pre-reading task: find some information about Phoenicians, orthodox religion, Peter the Great, Karl Marx.

History and geography provide the clue to the origin of identity discussions: most of Russia is geographically isolated as a result of extremely long distances and lack of good transport possibilities, such as navigable rivers and roads, resulting in high transport cost and time consuming trade routes open to robbers and local taxation authorities. Isolated local Russian agrarian nobility, extorting local peasants, thus had little incentive to enrich itself by means of foreign trade or conquest, because the geographical circumstances did not provide the means to prevent travelling traders to fall victim to extortion themselves. It is in precisely this aspect that Russians traditionally differed from Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Venetians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Dutch and English in their respective hey days, with a radiation of wealth to a hinterland much closer and easier to reach than Moscow, Kiev and Petersburg to each other. This problem of isolation resulted in Russia in a large degree of local autarky, low degree of division of labour and specialization. For local Russian agricultural nobility, it was wise to avoid problems and be content with the exploitation of the local peasantry. Autarky, the isolation of the manor, even from the rest of Russia, was a rational strategy.

You realize that locally nothing is gained by adopting the Western values of individual freedom that you've encountered in Europe or heard talking about. For an isolated agrarian elite, life is far easier if the peasants are raised, not as free citizens keen on respect of their private property, but in fearful obedience backed by Russian orthodox religion. But what to do as an intelligent member of the local isolated Russian elite with such an easy life, and no work at hand. It naturally led to navel staring, religious fanaticism, alternated with a periodic attack of pseudo Western messianism, the latter claiming that Russia should be moulded according to the "Western model, where there usually was, without realising, an astonishingly Russian misunderstanding of what is "Western". Such Western thoughts were interesting for pastime conversations, but impractical in the fields where the peasants toiled at the crops.

Around 1700, though, the West was visited by Russians who wanted not merely to interpret Russia, but change it too: tsar Peter the Great tried to break the Russian economic isolation. He even moved the Russian capital to the shores of the Baltic Sea. A site for an entirely new trade capital, Petersburg, was selected and designed by a team of architects from all over Europe, the government under the leadership of the tsar himself went for schooling in commerce and transport to Holland. He drastically cut the power of the Russian Greek orthodox church and liberated the town's tradesmen from their local suppressers and extortioners. Gradually the Baltic region of Russia developed into a Western type of capitalism. The rest of Russia did hardly share in the development.

In 1917 the Russian capitalist baby tree was cut by Lenin. The Russian people had not been unable to deal with the capitalist movers of Russia. It longed for the Russian orthodox religious community values that it found back in Lenin's carefully Russified pirate edition ("Marxism-Leninism") of the Western economic thought of a modern European scholar named Karl Marx. According to Marx, mature capitalism would by itself collapse. And the results of mature capitalism would be essential and badly needed in the social developments that would follow after that collapse. Russia has no capitalist past to capitalize upon. In Russia, capitalism never matured. In the Russian revolution, society went straight back into a crypto Greek religious orthodoxy called "socialism", before capitalism got a real chance. The Russian revolution was not a revolution in the Marxian sense: Russian capitalism was immature, only just beginning to unfold. If one would claim it to be a revolution in the Marxian sense, it showed Marx wrong: mature capitalism is avoidable. The Russian revolution was a Russian revolution. "Marxist"-Leninism is not primarily Marxism, but first of all a culturally and ethnically Russian, a Slavic social and political philosophy. We should now get deeper into the question of what is Russian, or generally, Slavic.

The 21st century. Once again there is a brand new Russian philosophy. "Lenin is not anymore a popular philosopher", I hear say. "But isn't now the time to read Lenin and really learn from the past?" 1 ask. Not in Russia. No interest in what really made all those Russians line up behind that red flag.

Russian philosophers do not risk the dangers involved in self-reflection as an historical continuity, not 1917, but 993, the beginnings of religious Russian orthodoxy. The philosophy of orthodox Christian psychological self-repression, the philosophy depriving itself of its self memory, because it does not allow itself to real self-reflection. The philosophy of fear. The philosophy that, always feels someone's knife on its throat, in the name of God, or something like that: the tsar, the metropolitan, or, worst of all: the self. Little has changed since 993, but the Russians forgot and, even now in the 21st century, frantically keep forgetting, whether queuing for the mausoleum of Lenin or burning candles in churches newly built with money earned while standing on top of a new generation of suffering and dead bodies.

There is a good metaphor: ice and water. When you break a large chunk of ice and you collect the pieces, you could put the chunk together again. But there is only one correct way to do so, because every piece fits in only one place of the chunk. No so with water! Water assumes the form of whatever it is being poured in. But water too has a highly stable structure that is highly capable to, survive extreme conditions, albeit a microstructure! It is the same microstructure as ice. What matters is whether or not it freezes. It is thawing, the Russian is the water, the power structure of his society is the riverbed.

II. Vocabulary.

1. Transcribe and translate the words: navigable, incentive, navel, pseudo, drastically, gradually, movers, frantically, mausoleum, microstructure.

2.Look for the definitions to the following words: taxation authorities, hinterland, autarky, manor, messianism, to toil, schooling, to liberate, crypto, metropolite.

3. Find in the article the equivalents to the following:

a. something which encourages one to greater activity (noun);

b. the production by a country of everything that it needs (noun);

c. concerning land or somebody who owns it (adjective);

d. to think deeply, esp. when someone is not doing anything very much (noun, noun);

e. to make out of a material by changing its shape (verb);

f. to work for a long time and with great effort (verb);

g. to understand the likely meaning of (a statement, action, etc) (verb);

h. a person or thing that destroys or brings to an end by force (noun);

i. happening or developing slowly by degrees, not suddenly (adverb);

j. in an uncontrolled state of feeling (adverb);

k. to begin to have (a quality or appearance) (verb).

4. Paraphrase the underlined sentences.

III. Reading –comprehension.

1. How did the geographical position of Russia modify its economics?

2. What was the rational strategy for the Russian elite to enrich itself?

3. Did the way of raising the peasants influence the life of Russian agrarian elite?

4. How did Peter the Great try to break the Russian economic isolation?

5. Why would mature capitalism collapse in Russia according to Marx?

6. What showed Marx wrong?

7. What philosophy is typical for Russians? Why?

IV. Discussion.

1. Comment on the sentences in bold type.

2. You are at the conference devoted to the problems of the Russian geographical and historical position. Make up a speech (in writing and orally) on the topic suggested. Think of the issues which could be also discussed at the conference.


Lesson Three.

Russia Of The Tsars.


The mysterious Russian soul and Russian character have long ago become “the talk of the town” among those who have ever encountered Russia and the Russians. Therefore, if you really want to get to know better and to understand what the Russian people are like, then be sure to continue your amazing journey through space and time together with “Master Rallye” through ancient Russian towns.





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