Monthly Archives: February 2011

Russian Culture

Russian culture started from that of East Slavs with their pagan beliefs and specific way of life in the wooden areas of Eastern Europe. Early on, the culture of Russian ancestors was much influenced by neighboring Finno-Ugric tribes and by nomadic,  mainly Turkic, peoples of the Pontic steppe. The Scandinavian Vikings, or Varangians, also took part in the forming of Russian identity and state in the early Kievan Rus’ period of the late 1st millennium AD. Rus’ had accepted Orthodox Christianity from the East Roman Empire in 988, and this largely defined the Russian culture of next millennium as the synthesis of Slavic and Byzantine cultures.  After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Russia remained the largest Orthodox nation in the world and claimed succession to the Byzantine legacy in the form of the Third Rome idea. At different points of its history, the country also was strongly influenced by the European Culture, and since Peter the Great reforms, Russian culture largely developed in the context of the Western culture. For most of the 20th century, the Communist ideology shaped the culture of the Soviet Union, where Russia, or Russian SFSR, was the largest and leading part.














Russian culture is extremely various and unique in many aspects. It has a rich history and can boast a long tradition of excellence in every aspect of arts, especially when it comes to literature, and philosophy, classical music and ballet,  architecture and painting, cinema and animation, which all had considerable influence on the world culture.

Russian literature is known for such notable writers as Aleksandr Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova, Joseph Brodsky, Maxim Gorky, Vladimir Nabokov, Mikhail Sholokhov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Andrei Platonov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Varlam Shalamov. Russians also gave the classical music world some very famous composers, including Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and his contemporaries, the Mighty Handful, including Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. In the 20th century Russian music was credited with such influential composers as Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Igor Stravinsky, Georgy Sviridov, and Alfred Schnittke. Many more famous Russian people are associated with different aspects of culture.

The book that made me decide to have a closer look into Russian literature was “Anna Karenina,” which I first read a long time back. The thing that appealed to me and constituted its Russianness for me was that it was simultaneously funny and sad. The English also had funny novels, but they weren’t exactly sad, except in the Dickensian, melodramatic sense, with, say, orphans being mistreated. They didn’t have Anna Karenina being run over by a train. French novels had genuine pathos, but their humor lay in a kind of cynicism. They didn’t make you laugh out loud, like in the scene when Oblonsky has to consult Karenin’s medium to find out whether Anna can get her divorce. German novels were all about romanticism and romantic compatibility and questions of how to live correctly – but they wouldn’t have a fatally important scene set among aristocrats at a ball or the opera. And I loved those scenes in “Anna Karenina” – partly because I liked to read about the way people lived at that time, but also because you sense, with Tolstoy, that he sees through all those empty forms as clearly as a French person, but he’s carried away by them all the same.

I don’t know whether it’s good or bad that I am a slow reader. Sometimes I think it’s good because it gives me time to understand better what I read but then again, there is a vast land of literature out there so how much could I cover as a slow reader..!