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Russian Culture as a Special Type of Culture
December 16, 2013 11:15

It is customary in the Russian philosophical and culturological tradition to particularize Russia in all the well-known typologies. Such approach is based on recognizing its exclusiveness, impossibility to trace its culture neither to the western, nor to the eastern type. Hence is the conclusion about its peculiar way of development and its special mission in the history and culture of mankind. 

Mostly those were Russian philosophers to write about it, starting from P. Ya. Chaadayev, the Slavophiles, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The subject of “the Russian idea” was very important for the philosophers V. S. Solovyov and Nikolai Berdyaev. The result of these reflections upon the destiny of Russia was summed up in philosophical-historical concepts of eurasianism.
Background of the Russian National Character
Usually Eurasians proceed from the median position of Russia between Europe and Asia. That is considered as a reason for the features of the eastern and western civilizations brought together in the Russian culture. The same idea was stated in due time by the outstanding historian Prof. Vasili Klyuchevsky (1841-1911). In his book Course on Russian History he proved that the character of the Russian people was built up by the location of Russian lands at the boundaries of the wood and the steppe — the elements opposite to each other in all respects. This bifurcation between the wood and the steppe was overcome by Russian people’s love of the river, which was both a foster nurse, and a road, and a teacher of order and community spirit. It was on the river where the spirit of entrepreneurship and the habit for cooperation were cultivated, the scattered parts of the population were brought closer and individuals got accustomed to feel themselves an integral part of the society.
The boundless East European Plain characterized with vast space of solitude and monotony had an opposite effect. A person on the plain was often overcome with the feeling of unperturbable quietude, loneliness and melancholic contemplation. According to many researchers, this is the reason for such qualities of the Russian spirituality as sincere softness and modesty, semantic uncertainty and shyness, unperturbable tranquility and burdensome despondency, lack of clear thought and predisposition to spiritual slumber, asceticism of a hermitage and non-figurative creativity.
The Russian landscape was indirectly reflected in the domestic and household setup of the Russian population. Professor Klyuchevsky pointed out that Russian villages with their primitiveness and lack of elementary conveniences create an impression of temporary, incidental settlements of nomads. It is related to both a long period of nomadic life in ancient times, and numerous fires that often consumed Russian villages and towns. This led to non-rootedness of the Russian person: it manifests as comparative indifference to housing improvements and living facilities. The same very thing resulted in negligent and careless attitude to nature and its riches.
Nikolai Berdyaev developed Klyuchevsky's ideas and outlined that the landscape of the Russian soul corresponded to the landscape of the Russian land. Therefore, in spite of all difficulties regarding the relationship of Russian people with the nature its cult was so important that found a very peculiar reflection in the self-name of the Russian ethnos. Representatives of various countries and peoples are called in Russian as nouns — the Frenchman, the German, the Englishman, etc., and it’s only themselves that Russians name with an adjective (‘russkiy’ (i.e. Russian) as attributed to Rus’ (old name of Russia). It can be interpreted as an expression of belonging to something higher and more valuable than an ethnic group. That is Rus’, the Russian land, where every person is part of the whole. Rus’ as land is primary and people are secondary.
The adoption of Christianity in its eastern (Byzantine) version had a great impact on formation of the Russian mentality and culture. The Christianization of Kievan Rus' resulted not only in its entry into the civilized world of that time, growth of its international authority, strengthening of diplomatic, commercial, political and cultural links with other Christian countries, and not only in creation of art culture of the Kievan Rus'. From this point Russia’s geopolitical position between the West and the East was established, its enemies and allies determined. It lead to Russia’s orientation to the East and thus to its further expansion in the eastern direction.
Orthodoxy is associated with the strong state power, which provoked interaction and fusion of the secular and the clerical. The situation started changing only after reforms of Peter I
However this choice had a downside as well: adoption of the Byzantine Christianity promoted the alienation of Russia from the Western Europe. The collapse of Constantinople in 1453 fixed in the Russian collective consciousness the idea of its peculiarity, the Russian people as a God-bearer, the only messenger of truly Orthodox Christian faith, the fact predetermining the historical way of Russia. In many respects it was related to the ideal of Orthodoxy that combines unity and freedom as embodied in the conciliar unification of people. Thus everybody is a personality, though not self-sufficient, but manifested only in communion the interests of which are above the interests of an individual.
Such combination of contrasts gave rise to instability, and could burst up with a conflict at any time. In particular, at heart of the Russian culture there lie a number of unsoluble contradictions: collectivity and authoritativeness, consensus and despotic arbitrariness, self-government of country communities and rigid centralization of the power, the latter related to the Asian way of production.
Discrepancy of the Russian culture was also generated by the mobilization type of development, which was also specific of Russia. It is when material and human resources are used with their overconcentration and overloading, under deficiency of necessary resources (financial, intellectual, timing, etc.) and often in the state of immature internal factors. It brought about the idea of priority of political factors of development over all other factors and set up a contradiction between the state objectives and the ability of the population to reach them, when safety and development of the state were provided by all means, at the expense of individuals’ interests and aims. Noneconomic, power coercion used for that eventually turned the state into an authoritative, even a totalitarian one. In many respects it accounts for the Russian person’s dislike of the state and at the same time the awareness of the need to protect it. Hence are the Russian people’s infinite patience and its nearly uncomplaining subordination to the power.
Another consequence of the mobilization type of development in Russia was the supremacy of the public, communal interests and the tradition of subduing personal interest for the aims of society. The slavery was dictated by a new national task of creating an empire on poor economic basis.
All these patterns moulded such features of the Russian culture as lack of a strong kernel, ambiguity, binarity, duality, and constant aspiration to combine the conflicting: European and Asian, pagan and Christian, nomadic and settled, freedom and despotism. Therefore inversion — changing as a pendular swing from one pole of cultural value to another - became the major type of dynamics of the Russian culture.
Thanks to our constant striving to keep pace with neighbors, old and new elements coexisted all the time in Russian culture, the future came when conditions were not yet ripe for it, and the past lingered, clinging to traditions and customs. Thus, the new quite often appeared as a result of an outleap, or an explosion. 
At the same time the dichotomy and binarity of the Russian culture became the reason for its exclusive flexibility, ability to adapt to extremely difficult conditions of survival in the times of national disasters and socio-historical turmoil. 



Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Russian Culture Russian History    

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