Is there something special about the “Russian soul”?

Mysterious, wide, strong… Oh, really? Who invented the notion of “Russian soul” and how is it different from others?

The remarks on “the mysterious Russian soul” are perhaps one of the most frequent in articles and guides on Russia. To experience this soul, the authors usually offer a walk through an ancient Russian town with kremlins and bulb churches, where nationally dressed hosts feed you pancakes with caviar.

But what if we removed these idyllic images? Is there a “Russian soul” or is this just another stereotype about Russia?

Who created the “Russian soul”?

The term itself became known abroad thanks to classical Russian literature. Perhaps the leading Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was the first to introduce it (the main character of his poem “Eugene Onegin” was Tatiana with a “Russian soul”), while the writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky as well. mentioned (“the Russian soul is a dark place”, “The Idiot”) and the philosopher Nikolai Berdiaev developed it (“There is so much immensity, without limits, an aspiration to infinity in the soul of the Russian people, as in the Russian plain ”,“ The Russian Idea ”). You can also read reflections on the Russian soul from the best Russian writers, such as Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov – in fact, by almost all the writers of the “golden age” of the Russian literature.

But the real wave of interest in “the Russian soul” began in the Soviet years, when a new country appeared on the world map and other people tried to figure out what kind of people were living there now. . The post-war Iron Curtain and the country’s isolation from the “capitalist West” gave rise to a large number of myths that were absolutely astounding in their claim: everyone in Russia would have drunk vodka, played balalaika, while wild bears walked the streets. (Although bears sometimes do). It seems that the Soviet tour operators themselves were content to “Russify” as much as possible the movement of foreigners across the vast country. Tourists were shown the ancient architecture of the Golden Ring, the luxurious palaces of St. Petersburg and the Orthodox bulb churches of Moscow. They were fed borscht and pancakes in restaurants and entertained by Russian folk artists. This is partly why those in the USSR remembered only what they were allowed to see and what they were told – including about the “Russian soul”. This phrase has become something of a mark of Russia. Which isn’t bad, actually.

What do our readers think?

We asked our readers if they believed in the peculiarities of the Russian soul.

It turned out that most of them still believe in it – and they cite the Russian classics as arguments for its existence … Plus, it’s really great to see that our readers can quote our favorite writers!

“Anyone who knows Dostoyevsky knows the mysterious Russian soul. I think The Brothers Karamazov is the best introduction to Russian soul for foreigners, ”writes Kunal Ganguly. “To me, this represents the connection a Russian feels to another, the shared history, stories, mythology and literature that connect every Russian soul. It’s something akin to the sweetness of Sonya and Levin, but with the innocence of Prince Myshkin and also a bit of a mystery like Father Zossima.

“The Russian soul shrouded in mystery has the following characteristics: loving, caring, human, respectful, gentle, picturesque, slightly superstitious, well-educated, chivalrous, enigmatic, a little dark, generous and with a knack for thrills and a penchant for experimentation, explains Mohamed Rafi.

Peti Stefanov calls the Russians maximalists. “You do things extremely well, better, perfectly or extremely badly, but they balance out and I love that,” he writes. “It’s the Russian spirit to me.”

Sandra Vasić describes the Russian soul as “warmth and kindness towards other human beings, without asking for anything in return – no longer an inexplicable mystery”.

Of course, among the responses were different opinions, including those saying that “the Russian soul does not exist” and “The mysterious soul is everywhere”.

Is the Russian soul only… Russian?

Interestingly, today there are more foreigners debunking the stereotype of the “mysterious Russian soul”. And their arguments are serious: first, everyone is different. And secondly, there are over 200 ethnicities living in Russia, not just Russians.

One of them is the German writer Jens Siegert, who has lived in Moscow for almost 30 years and sincerely loves Russia. “Everyone talks about the ‘mysterious Russian soul’, but it doesn’t exist! We could just as easily speak of the soul of Germany, France, etc. People in any country have their own national traits and different mindsets. The term “Russian soul” softens and softens the complexity and diversity of the Russian people. It’s like giving the average temperature over the year without mentioning the extremes. he says.

British journalist Oliphant Roland also agrees with him and notes that Russia is an “incomprehensibly huge country” where a variety of people live in a variety of geographic, cultural and social conditions.

“The main problem with the concept of the Russian soul is that it is impossible to say to whom exactly it applies,” he writes. In general, he thinks that, in a few decades, this term will become obsolete and will be forgotten.

What do you think?

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About Norma Wade

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