Russian Correspondent – On a Quest in Russia

Let’s imagine, that you, kind reader have met me somewhere, let’s say at a gig in Glasgow and we ended up talking. I ask you about your studies and you do the same in return. You’ll learn that I study Russian and that I’m about to go to Russia for two semesters. Believe me, most of the people have the same expression on their face, disbelief. You might be an exception, but I want to tell you about the ones, who all stare me in the face and ask me in honest bewilderment – Why?. Some of them simply explain it to me – It’s really not good to go there now! Yet others only refer to me as the ‘crazy girl’ later on. I have actually met a few older Hungarian people who thought it was important to spell it out for me, that Russian is not compulsory in schools any more.

I must admit here, I am not a responsible civilian in a way that I am not trying to change anyone’s mind. I usually just smile and say something along the lines – True, but I have to go, you know, I want to take Russian to honours. What I really think is quite different though. It always gets me dumbfounded that people cannot separate Russia as a country and Russia as a nation, just people. People who do not necessarily agree with their government’s decisions. I know what I’m saying, I’m Hungarian. (There, now you know it!) I don’t want anyone to link me with Orban’s amok and I am sure I will find people in Russia who thinks the same way.

After a summer spent in Hungary explaining why I am so crazy, now all is settled and I am ready to go. Visa – done, flight – done, winter jacket, boots and thick socks – done, done, done. The only thing I couldn’t find yet is a travel guide. I am one of those clueless tourists who feel naked in a foreign country without a travel guide that I can always have in my hands. The lack of guides is the most discouraging thing of all, it’s like the universe telling me not to go. Nevertheless, I am still going. I’m leaving on the 1st of September, such a symbolic date. It has always felt like a New Year’s Day, a new beginning. I don’t know what to expect, I can only trust my gut, that people are the same everywhere; they’ll help me.

I’ve been going to Sziget festival for four years now and this year I was lucky enough to run into some Russians on the first night. They were two Russians and two Hungarians together, one of them wrapped in a Russian flag like a cape, (that’s how I spotted them). I ran up to them with a scary enthusiasm, but they handled my overwhelming excitement quite well. I asked them what their advice would be to me, someone going to Russia for the first time. The Russian girl answered quite simply, just be friendly and they’ll be your friends. She went on explaining that it would be really different, but I shouldn’t be afraid at all. Her smile and readiness in helping me assured me that I am right about going to Russia.

I don’t want these reports from Russia to be political, I just want to give a picture of a Russian city and its people as as a foreign student sees it. What I aim to do is to show you the similarities rather than the differences. Everyone has a pretty good idea what the Scottish and the Russians would disagree on. I’ll show you what you might agree on. I want to see if we read the same books, listen to the same music and watch the same shows. I want to know and tell you, what the Ivans and Anastasias think instead of what we think they think.

You might want to know now why I picked Russian to study at uni. Well, this is the most dreamy and romantic thing that I have ever done. The reason is really simple and baffling: I love Russian literature, I adore Dostoevsky. I am in love with Myshkin. Have you read The Idiot? No? Please, put this magazine aside, it can wait, and just go straight to the library and borrow The Idiot! You’ll see how tenderly Dostoevsky tells us that we all are rotten and truly beautiful at the same time on the inside.

[Anna Molnar]

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