Russian Correspondent – What Year Is This Again?

What I really envy in Russians is their self-assured ways. They are sure about themselves and they are sure about their country. The admirable pride they take in Russia still leaves me speechless after six months. There are flags everywhere, people wear tracksuits in the national colours and I once saw – while on a long train journey – a knife with a handle coloured white, blue and red.

They are proud of their past. And the past is everywhere. Enough to say that, if you get lost in any Russian city, one place that you will easily find is the square where they have their Lenin statue. Usually bigger than life-size, just in the middle of a dynamic step and staring straight ahead, stern and determined. For example, in Sochi you might want to aim for the red mosaic Lenin which sparkles in the sun, and with an authoritarian air guards the Riviera Park. The epitome of kitsch. The number of red stars you can find around the cities comes a close second to the number of flags. Russians are also truly talented at naming streets, such as the Constitution of the USSR or the 50 years of the USSR streets in Sochi. The funny thing is that they are not translating them, only transliterating them. So for someone not speaking Russian or reading Cyrillic, the street name 50 let SSSR won’t be quite the same.

Russia still vividly remembers World War II and their victory over Nazi Germany. But they tend to think of it differently than the rest of the world. The emphasis is on the years between 1941 and 1945 and what they call the Velikaya Otechestvennaya voyna, the Great Patriotic War. This is the time during the war when Russia was attacked by the Nazi Germany. Of course, the tables soon turned and Russia finished off the war by saving the world. And now they celebrate that. There are clocks in various cities counting down the days until Victory Day. You can easily get used to the huge banners around the city making sure you won’t forget the anniversary and it is just a mild surprise to see a calendar for 2015 in the theme of their victory 70 years ago.

But it is not just their history they are proud of – they also believe in a certain Russian prototy pe, containing all of the mighty characteristics one could wish for. In one of my classes we watched Solnechnyy udar (Sunstroke – I do not recommend it). The class of six people and our teacher – a young woman – ended up having quite the opposite impression of one scene in the film. It must be said that we had one major disadvantage in properly analysing the film, namely that our Russian wasn’t good enough to catch every word, but sometimes the pictures are so strong that you don’t need words to understand what is going on. So, according to our understanding the scene in question showed a woman in a ship cabin after an adulterous night, drinking something from a tiny bottle and then lying on her bed motionless. We do not see her in the film again. Occam’s razor comes in handy this time (is there any time when it doesn’t?) so, if it looks like a suicide, and it’s a passionate and romantic Russian film, then it is a suicide. Our teacher – a young woman – disagreed with us on the other hand, ‘defending’ the young woman. She said, the woman only drank something, and went to sleep, she had no intention in committing suicide, because she is a Russian woman, she’s got character and she was about to go back to her husband and son.

Levada, Russia’s independent pollster conducted a survey in October last year exploring Russians’ pride in their country. They asked questions like  ‘are you proud to be living in Russia?’ and ‘do you feel proud of Russia today?’ The majority of responders answered with either ‘definitely yes’ or ‘mostly yes’. Most of the responders completely or mostly agreed with the statements ‘generally speaking, Russia is better than the majority of other countries’ and ‘I would rather be a citizen of Russia than a citizen of any other country in the world’.

I am not the best one to judge patriotic feelings since I’ve got none, but in cases such as the downright outraging video ‘I am a Russian Occupier’ (which could be brilliant self-mocker but, let’s be serious, probably isn’t) some Russians went way too far. It takes a lot of time for whole generations to change. For long years Russians were told, that they are the best, now they will need some time to realise, that they are just as good as anyone else. As long as Russia considers itself better than any other country, it is impossible to co-operate. Once they focus more on their future than their past, on development and improvement within their borders than an on imaginary triumph over the rest of the world, it will be easier to live together with Russia.

[Anna Molnar]

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