Last Update: 09 April, 2003


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Over the years I have faced such questions as: Are you a Communist? Why Russia?  If you love it so much why don't you go and live there?  

Well, I am not a communist and my interest does not stem from a dislike of my own country or a wish to belong to another culture.  On the contrary, I am very patriotic, I am proud of our history and institutions and I certainly wouldn't want to live anywhere else.  However, none of this precludes me from taking an interest in the language, culture, history and politics of another country.

"Patriotism is the love of one's own country, nationalism is the hatred of others" Dimitri Sergeyevich Likhachev - Russian literary historian who died in 1999.

But why Russia?  I don't know.. . what started out as a mild curiosity fifteen years ago has turned into quite an obsession today.  All I can say is that it began at school when I was studying political philosophy and we covered Marxism, communism and the history of the Russian Revolution.   I caught a glimpse of a nation that was far removed from the `evil empire' that was portrayed in our media.

Whilst Reagan's evil empire' tag wasn't entirely incorrect - the Soviet Union was a brutal regime -  Soviet society was not the disciplined nor regimented place portrayed in the media.  It was often (and Russia still is) a place of chaos, haphazard organisation, and lackadaisical pace.  There was the stifling bureaucracy, of course, but there existed a general and healthy disregard for rules and regulations.  

    "In a country where so much is forbidden, almost everything seems possible"  Michael Binyon, Life in Russia

This was clearly demonstrated to me when I first climbed aboard a scheduled Aeroflot flight.  After being allocated our seats at the check-in desk, the frosty Russian stewardess who grudgingly welcomed us on board the Ilyushin 76 told us to sit where we liked.  I was slightly unnerved by an unattended bag that lay under the seat in front.  I was convinced it was a bomb so I promptly told the stewardess.  She scowled at me but didn't look unduly concerned, however, she did locate the bag's owner.   The bag, as it turned out, belonged to a Muslim who was elsewhere on the plane praying in the aisle.

Initially, I may have been attracted to the propaganda portraying the working class heroically marching towards their glorious future, building a worker's state, but I was also curious as to what the reality of life was like living in such a system.

Beyond the dehumanized and politicised facade of the monolithic Soviet state I was able to discern something distinctly Russian amongst the human responses to a totalitarian system.  This can best be summed up as follows:

"There is something about Russia which makes most of us foreigners who live here spend most of our idle hours discussing the country's ills, proposing remedies and speculating about prospects for recovery. In a sense this is patronising.  However it also demonstrated Russia's unique ability to stimulate foreigner's interest, even love.  Perhaps because of the universality of its great literature and art, perhaps because of its size, strength and a particular kind of purity, Russia represents the human condition and struggle of the human spirit more vividly than our own countries.  We are fascinated by what we see here, we want to be part of the struggle.  We personally - often involuntarily - identify with this people's difficulties and fate.  This is not patronising, but a testimony to Russia's greatness."

George Feifer, Message from Moscow


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