It was the Russian country community that played the major role in the history of this country and development of the Russian culture. Thus, the values of the Russian culture are to a big extent the values of the Russian community.
The community itself, being the basis and prerequisite of existence of any individual is the most ancient and major value. Sometimes a person has to sacrifice everything, even one’s life, for the sake of the community. This stems from the fact that for long periods in its history Russia had to live in conditions of a besieged military camp, when it was only submission of individual interests to the good of the community that allowed Russian people to remain as independent ethnos.
Interests of community in the Russian culture always stand above personal interests, and therefore personal plans, purposes and interests are so easily suppressed. In return the Russian person counts on “the world” to support him/her when one has to face adversities, the rubs and worries of life. So it comes to a sort of joint responsibility. As a result the Russian person can comply with putting aside one’s private matters for the sake of a common goal, which may not be even giving one immediate benefit. It is based on an almost subconscious belief that conditions of the social unity are more important than personal things and thus should be worked on and treated first, and then this common wellbeing will start working to the advantage of the person. Russian people are conciliar-minded and can exist along with society only. A person arranges it and sets the society up, and is rewarded by its warmth, attention and support. To become a personality, the Russian individual is to become a conciliar personality.
Justice is another important value of Russian culture that is crucial for life in society. Initially it was understood as social equality of people and was based on economic equality of men regarding the land. This value is instrumental, but it became a target in the Russian community. Members of a community had the right to an equal share of land and all its riches that the “world” owned. Such justice was also the Truth, for the sake of which Russian people lived and aspired for. In the famous dispute of the Truth and Justice it is the latter that wins. The Russian person cares not so much about how it was or is in actual practice, but how it ought to be. Thoughts and acts of people were assessed and interpreted from the point of view of eternal truths, which were truths of justice for Russia. They are what matters; otherwise no results and no advantages will be able to absolve them. At the same time, it is not a big problem if a project did not work out; after all the purpose was virtuous.
Absence of individual freedom was determined by the fact that in the Russian community with its equal land plots, which were periodically repartitioned it was just impossible for individualism to show up. A person was not the land owner, had no right to sell it, and was not free even in terms of crops and harvests, or the choice of what to plant on this land. In such conditions one could not possibly manifest individual skills.
The habit of emergent mass activity (like in harvesting campaign) was brought up by the same absence of individual freedom. Hard work and festive spirit were oddly combined here. Probably, the festive atmosphere was a peculiar compensation that made it easier to handle hard work and give up personal freedom in economic activity.
The wealth could not become a value under the condition of domineering of the idea of equality and justice. No wonder that the well-known Russian proverb says: honour and profit lie not in one sack. Striving for capitalizing was considered as a sin. Thus, in the Russian northern village they respected the dealers who were artificially putting brakes on trading volume.
Labour as such was neither a value of crucial importance in Russia (as compared to Protestant countries, for example). Certainly, work was never rejected and its usefulness just could not be overlooked, but it was not considered the means that automatically provided implementation of a person’s mission. Therefore work takes a subordinated place in the system of Russian values: "The work will still be there".
Way of life not geared to work gave the freedom of spirit (partly illusory, though) to the Russian person. It always stimulated human creativity. It could not be expressed in constant laborious work aimed at wealth accumulation, but was easily transformed to eccentricity or surprising inventions (such as wings, a wooden bicycle, a perpetual motion machine and so forth), i.e. the actions which did not make much sense for economy. On the contrary, economy was often subordinated to this inventive idea.
The respect of the community could not be deserved by simply becoming rich. It was only a feat, sacrificing oneself for the sake of common good that could bring glory.
Patience and suffering for the sake of community (but not personal heroism) is another value of the Russian culture. In other words, the purpose of a feat could not be personal: it always had to be beyond the person. Well-known is the Russian proverb: “God suffered and to us ordered”. It is not a coincidence that the first canonized Russians princes Boris and Gleb became saints; they became martyrs but did not resist their brother, prince Svyatopolk who wanted to kill them. Dying for the Homeland brought undying glory to the hero. Interestingly, medals in imperial Russia bore inscriptions: “Not to us, not to us, but to Thy name”.
Patience and suffering are the major basic values for the Russian person. They stand along with consecutive abstention, self-restriction, and continuous sacrifice in favor of other people. Without it there is no person, and there is neither status nor respect of people around. Hence is the Russian persons’ age long inclination to suffer — that comes from the desire of self-actualization, attaining inner freedom necessary for bonifying and cultivating kindness. After all, the world exists and moves on with the help of sacrificing, patience, and self-restriction. Here lies the secret of forbearance peculiar to the Russian person, who can bear a lot (especially material challenges) if one knows, why it is needed.
Values of the Russian culture constantly indicate its tendency to some higher, transcendental sense. There is nothing more exciting for the Russian person than search of this higher meaning. For the sake of it some individuals can even leave home and family and become hermits or God’s fools, who were esteemed in Russia.
Russian culture as a whole finds such sense in the Russian idea, to implementation of which the Russian person directs one’s way of life. Therefore researchers speak about traits of religious fundamentalism inherent in consciousness of the Russians. The idea could be changing (the idea of Moscow as the third Rome, the imperial, communistic, Euroasian ideas, etc.), but its place in the value-belief structure remained invariable. The crisis Russia is enduring nowadays is in many respects related to the fact that the people have lost the idea uniting them, and it is not clear for the sake of which we have to suffer and be patient. Thus, finding a new fundamental idea would be an efficient way for Russia to overcome the crisis.
The values listed above are inconsistent. Therefore the Russian person could be a man of courage in the battlefield and at the same time a coward in civil life, could be personally devoted to the sovereign and at the same time plunder imperial treasury (like Prince Menshikov did during the reign of Peter the First), or could even leave the house behind and go to war to release the Balkan Slavs. High patriotism and mercy were manifested as sacrifice or benefaction (but it quite could as well turn into positive harm). So these peculiarities, obviously, made all researchers speak about the “mysterious Russian soul”, greatheartedness, broadness of the Russian character, and that “it is impossible to grasp Russia with the reasoning mind”.
Author: Vera Ivanova