Saturday, August 16, 2008

From Russia, With Love (or Lisa's Propaganda Part I)

I think many Europeans see American's as fast food eating, diet coke drinking, television watching, arrogant people, who don't know geography, care very little for world affairs, and think they know and do everything better than other countries (the very countries that they know so little about). I used to really resent these stereotypes, until I started realizing that, actually, many of those things are true.

The thing that still kind of gets me though, is the allegations of arrogance and ignorance. I think the reason for this is that I know that I have at least a tinge of both of those things (and probably lots of tinges). However, my husband is European and also very globally aware, and I live in Europe, and these two things have combined to help me be just a bit less ignorant than I might be, were I left to figure stuff out on my own. I'd like to share some thoughts with you, although I realize that my ideas are almost certainly tinted, and maybe even colored, by the place I live and the people who live here--but I still think they're at least mostly correct (I guess it would be pretty stupid to hold an opinion that you didn't think was correct...).

I am sure Russian people are nice. I've known some, and I've known a number of people who have lived in Russia, and I have nothing (or very little, barring their ignorance--okay, I'm the pot, they're the kettle-but I'm talking about a specific kind of ignorance) against Russian people. It's "The Russians" I have a bit of a problem with. I suppose "The Russians" would refer to the government/system. I'm neither educated (on this subject) nor eloquent enough to say just what I mean, but let's just place all the blame on Putin. Kidding! Sort of.

So the Russians have always been pretty powerful. They've always liked to be powerful (unlike all those other countries who prefer to have zero influence). They've also always been different. The West has headed in one direction (westward?) while they. . . haven't. I'm speaking generally here. I know there are all kinds of advances there and that their major cities are as large and modern as any the world has to offer. I also know that there are very few such major cities, and that outside of those cities, life is . . . not nearly so "westernized."

The Russian Empire (according to Wikipedia) was the second largest contiguous (whatever that means) empire in the History Of Empires. People who live in areas that were trampled on during the war can tell you that if they had to choose to have their town overrun by German soldiers or Russian, they would take German for sure, because of the ruthlessness and brutality of the Russian soldiers to civilians. From a broader perspective, I found a very interesting article that I think paints a portrait of Soviet wrongdoing really well. It also describes the very "ignorance" (and what it can lead to) that I referred to previously when I was being a hypocrite. It's not very long and you can see by the list of "Crimes of Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union" that a great deal of their crimes were committed against Poles.

I don't think Russia wanted to be seen as the parent of the countries it "adopted," so let's just call it a sibling. Unfortunately they weren't a very kind Big Brother, if you catch my meaning. One evidence of this is that virtually no former communist block country is on friendly terms with Russia. For example, if you speak Russian in this country, while many people will understand you (Russian was taught in schools during communism) they are highly unlikely to let on that they do, and quite a bit more likely to show varying degrees of annoyance.

So Russia was a rather selfish, domineering, and abusive brother. It was also a big liar. I love some of the propaganda videos the Soviet Communists entertained their younger siblings with. I'll sum them up by saying that anything bad that happened in those countries (right down to a plague of potato bugs) was obviously the fault of the mean, evil Americans (or at least the West in general). Of course conversely, all the good and beauty found in those countries could be traced directly back to that affectionate elder brother.

We all know that communism fell. That's great and it has meant wonderful things for former Eastern Block countries. However, changes in Russia have come much more slowly, and it has continued it's mean-older-brotherly ways.

**I never cease to amaze myself. Here's a subject I don't actually know a lot about, and yet, I can ramble on about it for long enough that I feel I should break it up into two posts. So for those of you who come here seeking Pictures of Pawlik Progeny etc., you can skip the next post, with my apologies. . .**

1 comment:

Susan said...

This is JUST my speed of history, thanks. I actually know so little of the region. On Karen's blog she had some geography games and I chose Europe first thinking I'd be better at it than most. I got ALL of the eastern Europe countries wrong. I would've gotten huge old Poland wrong if it weren't for you!

Anyway, thanks for this background, as I've found myself quite interested since it seemed just amazing that right during the opening ceremony in Beijing they were actually entering Georgia, for crying out loud!