Article by: Yulia Latynina
Bad news for Russian officials, TV preachers, and fascist ideologists: Russian culture became great when Russia became Europe.
It’s been half a year since the Maidan revolution in Ukraine won [and Russian officials, lawmakers and TV presenters discovered a special “Russian culture” that stands against European “soullessness.”
They didn’t discover anything new. Back in the 1920’s Hitler in his “Mein Kampf” opposed the stern Nordic culture to the current European debauchery and soullessness. This is a common fascist technique: under the pretext of freeing the nation from an “alien culture” you free it of any culture at all and plunge it into barbaric times and ways. – text inside brackets is censored – EP]
So let’s see: what is this special “Russian culture”?
Russian culture, definitely, does exist, and it did give the world great examples of music, poetry, and literature.
The problem is that Russian culture became great when Russia became Europe.
Tchaikovsky’s music was not born from folk balalaikas, and Pushkin was brought up in the Imperial Lyceum, not on his nanny’s folk tales. If all Pushkin’s cultural background consisted of his nanny’s tales, there would be no Pushkin. He actually wouldn’t exist at all, since his black ancestor wouldn’t become close to Peter the Great.
Russian culture became great when all of it – science, literature, music, and painting – became a part of Western culture.
More than that: If Peter I would not have westernized Russia, making it a part of the European world, not only there wouldn’t be a Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. There wouldn’t be a Russian Empire that our patriots love so much. It wouldn’t even exist.
The xenophobic and backward Muscovy (where ubiquitous homosexuality actually shocked Western observers) would have the same geopolitical position, as the ancient yet backward Persia.
Our patriots wouldn’t have to cry over losing Ukraine: Ukraine would have become a part of Greater Poland or Lithuania. Our patriots wouldn’t have to worry over Crimea: Crimea would be inhabited by Tatars, Smolensk would belong to the Poles, the Arctic gas would be extracted by Great Sweden, and the border with the industrial superpower of Japan, which in the early XXth century had gone on a colonization spree in search of natural resources, would run somewhere along the Urals.
It was Peter the Great who planted European culture on Russian soil, or rather replanted, since it were the Vikings who did it first, but then the Mongols cut down the tree almost to the root. That’s how it would grow after the Tatars – drunkenly kissing the tsar’s soles while he chops off heads, all with an arrogant and self-righteous belief in own superiority, if not for Peter.
It’s after him that we started wearing European clothes, women were allowed out of their quarters, poets started composing “odes” and “epitaphs,” salons started talking of “Venus” and “Bacchus,” scientists went to study in Western universities, and the Russian nobility adopted the previously unknown, but ubiquitous in Europe, concept of Honor. That honor was why the modern tyrants – Peter III and Pavel I – did not get to reign in oppression, but were murdered in a coup-d’etat instead.
There is much I don’t like in the modern West, and I often write about it, but I do this because I experience myself being part of the West. Pushkin and Lermontov wrote odes to German and French poets and translated their verses because they felt being part of that culture. Heine and Goethe were less exotic for them than the Muslim Caucasus being conquered by Russia. And, just like Pushkin and Lermontov, millions of our fellow Russians feel it when they move to the West and easily integrate there. Let me stress that: Russians aren’t like Africans or Arabs, they are a nation that easily integrates into US and European societies, you don’t hear stories of Russians who get welfare for decades and regard it as a due allowance.
I like modern China a lot, yet I’m not going to emigrate to China, and millions of Russian emigrants don’t go to China as well.
Of course it’s cool to say that we aren’t the “rotten West”, but if we aren’t the West, then who are we?
- Who does the Russian reader know more: Helen of Troy or Yang Guifei?
- Who is a great general for us: Hannibalus or Zhuge Liang?
- Who is an empire founder for us: Julius Caesar or Qin Shi Huang?
- Does classical Russian literature allude to Herodotus or Sima Qian? The Iliad or Ramayana?
- Does it quote the Bible or the Qur’an more often?
- What did Pushkin compare the moon to: a Viking shield and Dutch cheese or the Chinese Moon Hare?
- How many expressions in the Russian language are calqued from French, and how many – from Chinese or Arabic?
- Did the Empire’s gymnasiums teach Greek and Latin or the language of the Qur’an? , Did the curriculum include “Commentaries on the Gallic War” or “Shih Ching”?
Forget the gymnasiums: go to Tverskaya street, in the center of Moscow, and start reading the signs. “Bar 02 Lounge, The Ritz-Carlton Moscow, Bosco, Evalar, Incom, Calzedonia, Balkan-Express, BM-estate, Lonsdale, Orthobest. Transmegapolis, Universal Tour, Massimo Dutti, TJ collection, Braccialini, Adamas, Rendezvous, Rosbank” Wow! Not a single Shiva, Barakata, Guanging and, even more curiously, not a single reference to the ancient Russian epic figures of Ilya Muromets or Sadko.
Look at our billboards (made by people who know which symbols touch the subconscious) and count the references to the West, the East and “Good Old Russia.” I’ve been doing this for a long time, and the results are astonishing. Even elite cottage projects are called Greenfield, Richmond and Helvetia. By the way, how Russian are the words “elite” and “cottage”?
No doubt, we did have an own Russian culture with Perun, the god of thunder, Dazhdbog, the father god, and Veles, the god of cattle. but, frankly, have you ever seen a beauty parlor named “Mokosh” after the goddess of womanhood, and who among the readers remember that the Frog Princess appears in Russian tales because a frog was a goddess announcing a childbirth for the ancient Slavs? The myths and legends of Perun could have developed into its own, original worldview no less elaborate than Greek or Chinese, but didn’t, and now it’s too late.
A frustrated Russian reader might now sigh and say: how unlucky we are that everyone has a culture and we have nothing but hand-me-downs?
I have to reassure the reader: this is not an exception, but a rule.
[Only three modern developed nations – the Jews, the Chinese and the Indians – may claim a thousand-year-old autonomous culture. Everything else is adopted, mixed and mudblooded. – text inside brackets is censored – EP]
Japanese and Korean cultures were derived from China. Roman culture was derived from Greece, and don’t get me started on European culture. It’s borrowed left and right. England is a part of Europe, but what is the “indigenous English culture”? The culture of Norman conquerors? The culture of the Saxons they conquered, who, in turn, conquered England from the Celts? Celtic culture that by the time of the Saxon conquest was an adopted Roman culture? Prussia is Europe, but what is the “indigenous Prussian culture”? The Old Prussians were a pagan people who spoke a Baltic language (just like the Lithuanians), not German, and their culture and language were destroyed by the Livonian order starting in the XIII th century. Should we restore it… or maybe we shouldn’t?
Once again: there is no “indigenous Russian” culture, just like there is no “indigenous Prussian,” “indigenous British,” and even “indigenous European” culture. Just like most cultivated plants that don’t exist in the wild (which is why they are called “cultivated”), most cultures aren’t “indigenous,” which is why they are cultures.
Any modern dynamically developing civilization has layers of age-old cultural borrowings, and, starting from the XIXth century, “indigenous cultures” are a subject of ethnography and anthropology. They exist. Polynesian tribes have those, for one. Thank god, we aren’t tribes, although we are being remade into ones.
Under the slogan of “returning to great Russian culture” in a society rapidly descending into fascism, they offer us to consider rudeness, drunkenness, and culturelessness indigenous Russian features. We are told that drinking, chopping heads and taking bribes are indigenously Russian. Everything else, they say, is the rotten West.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing “indigenously Russian” in cruelty and blood. It’s just barbarism that lies at the roots of any civilization. Henry VIII chopped off his wives’ heads, but David Cameron would hardly do the same, citing “indigenous British traditions”. All successful civilizations passed through a stage of brutishness and barbarism. But no successful civilization would idolize barbarism. Only fascism does that.