The Enigmatic 'Russian Soul'

What makes the Russian national character so special? Is it really true that they are different from the other people?

The answer is… yes, definitely.

Born In The USSR

Ranked at number 155 according to the Global Peace Index, Russia is one of the most dangerous countries in the whole world. It is notorious as the lawless land, where people are assassinated every 18 minutes, averaging 84 murders per day in a nation of 143 million.

The other side of the coin is a high level of suicide. The Serbsky State Research Center in Moscow announced that Russia had reached second place in the world in suicide rates, behind only Lithuania. In the years between 1993 and 2013, about a million Russians killed themselves. Furthermore, another million die each year from alcohol- and smoking-related causes.

Russian men have an average life expectancy of just 60 years -- one of the lowest in Europe. A full quarter of them die before their 55th birthday.

It seems like the whole nation, like a giant herd of lemmings, is moving in the direction of self-destruction, but that does not prevent them from being proud of themselves and their country. They believe they once lived in one of the greatest empires in the world.

A new poll, conducted by the independent Levada Center in Moscow, found that nearly 60 percent of Russians “deeply regret” the collapse of the Soviet Union. For Westerners, who grew up regarding the USSR as a menace to the civilization, it is akin to the notorious mystery of the “Russian soul” -- a myth which is still alive thanks to Russian literature.  

A number of similar myths exist. For example, the common legend of an ancient Slavic culture. There never was, and could not be, such a concept because the term “Slavs” in all Western European languages always referred simply to “slaves” -- the pagan people who survived under the oppressive regimes of one conqueror after another.

Easy Prey

Who are the Russians and where did they come from? As long as two millennia ago, their ancestors, often referred to as “the eastern Slavic tribes,” came from what is now present-day Poland and Ukraine. Those people were said to occupy the northeastern realms of the Eurasian continent. This vast territory of wild lands was considered valuable only for its forests, and with the exception of areas near its river boundaries, the forests were rather impenetrable, without trails or even little footpaths.

“There are no roads in Russia,” Napoleon once said bitterly, “only directions.”

The vegetation of the country was least abundant in the southern districts; the cold region was one vast thicket. While Europe’s first farmers were cutting down trees in the forest to plant fields, the Russian tribes preferred to hunt and fish. It was a less complex society -- people did not have to come together to work the land. As a result, they did not have a society, and without society, no fellow-feeling, no religion, no mental development, and without trade no industry, that real source of national welfare and strength.

Very soon warlike neighbors took the occasion to seize the land from the weak natives.

First came the Vikings. They moved up and down local rivers as if they owned the place. And well… eventually they did. One of the cities founded by them was Kiev. Grand Prince of Kiev, Oleg, actually was a leader of Vikings with the good Scandinavian name of Helg, just like Vladimir was Valdmar and Igor was Ingvar.

The land of Rus’ (derived from the Norse “rower”) is supposed to have been a part of Sweden because the ruling class there was made up entirely of Vikings -- that is Waringians, or Varangians, as they are referred to in The Primary Chronicle, Ukraine’s earliest native historical source.

By the way, the religion, art, architecture and language of Rus’ were therefore all early Ukrainian. More northerly, proto-Russian tribes played rather a marginal or downright hostile role in history. It was they who supported the so-called Tatar-Mongol invasion.

A Barbarous Torch Relay

For the Russians of the 13th century, both “Mongols” and “Tatars” were equivalent terms. All nations to the east of Russian borders for hundreds of years were called Tatars.  

The Mongols came from the east, too. On their way to Europe they conquered dozens of various Rus’ tribes, absorbing them into their forces. The bulk of the Golden Horde were Tatars who had been conquered previously by the Mongols. The Russian Princes were local collaborators, quite often sacrificing the well-being and security of their people to promote their own influence and power.

In fact, the favorite heroes of the Russian nation, Alexander Nevsky and Dmitry Donskoy, oppressed their compatriots, regarding them as brutes, as slaves of different race. Yaroslav the Wise of Kiev was one of these princes who later was named Tsar -- which was a distorted version of the Latin title for the Roman emperors, Caesar. Before Yaroslav, the title was applied strictly to the Mongol overlords of the Rus’ principalities.

The most famous Russian Tsar was Ivan IV, known as Ivan the Terrible, who rallied the Russian people around Moscow. Under him, the Muscovites conquered the Tatar khanates of Kazan’ and Astrakhan, establishing Moscow’s rule over a huge area of the Volga basin and the North Caucasus.

Thus was born the idea of Moscow Tsardom as “the Third Rome,” although  it could be better viewed as “the Second Golden Horde.”

Ivan the Terrible enjoyed watching as people were burned alive or drowned in ice-holes. Peter I used to kill his servants his bare hands, and taught executioners how to properly tear the nostrils of victims with pincers. Czar Paul I, known to history as the “Mad Czar,” was so sensitive about his homeliness that he made mentioning of the words “pug-nosed” a crime punishable by death. Czar Nicholas I compelled his recruits to practice the goosestep while bearing upon their tall headgear a glass full of water. If a soldier spilled as much as a single drop, he was obliged to serve an additional year for every drop he spilled.

The absolute power of Russian tsars has always been brutal, oppressive, inhuman. This power was built upon a principle similar to the infamous “vertical power” that President Vladimir Putin has created in the 21st century. The principle is extremely simple. It is called a one-person tyranny, when millions of lives are worth nothing.

Stalin was not the first and not the only Russian tyrant who was ready to turn the whole nation into “camp dust.” You may be interested to know that after the Crimean War of 1854–56, the government of Tsar Nicholas I sold at auction for fertilizer the bleached bones of 38,000 Russian soldiers who fell in the battle of Sevastopol.

Today the world is threatened with a second Crimean War. The troops under the command of the new tsar of Russia are on alert.

Stolen Soul

The entire history of modern Russia is nothing but a continuous cycle of tsars.

Tsar Khrushchev succeeded Tsar Stalin. Brezhnev deposed Khrushchev and became the tsar himself. Weak Tsar Gorbachev ceded the throne to mighty Tsar Yeltsin, who appointed his successor, Putin... who appointed his successor Medvedev... who proposed to elect President Putin again....

The Russian people do not believe that they can live differently, can live better than now. In the course of many centuries they were so pressured, so enslaved that faith was simply squeezed out of them. That is why today we see in Russia a maimed society, miserable people with an enormous potential that does not exist, perhaps, in any other nation of the world. It is a nation of intelligent, creative folk, and at the same time utterly humbled, robbed, deceived, and full of fear of the authorities.

These people do not know what freedom is. These people used to live in an atmosphere of constant violence against the person. “Russian talk of political evil is as natural as eating,” the poet Joseph Brodsky once said. They are destined to live and die in the historical Russia -- the land of imperial complacency, cruel despots, and groveling before the Power.

So what about the famous Russian soul? There is no need to find it in the crowd of people who fell prostrate before the throne. The crowd has no soul. Only a hole. One giant black hole.

What makes the Russian national character so special? Is it really true that they are different from the other people?

The answer is… yes, definitely.

Born In The USSR

Ranked at number 155 according to the Global Peace Index, Russia is one of the most dangerous countries in the whole world. It is notorious as the lawless land, where people are assassinated every 18 minutes, averaging 84 murders per day in a nation of 143 million.

The other side of the coin is a high level of suicide. The Serbsky State Research Center in Moscow announced that Russia had reached second place in the world in suicide rates, behind only Lithuania. In the years between 1993 and 2013, about a million Russians killed themselves. Furthermore, another million die each year from alcohol- and smoking-related causes.

Russian men have an average life expectancy of just 60 years -- one of the lowest in Europe. A full quarter of them die before their 55th birthday.

It seems like the whole nation, like a giant herd of lemmings, is moving in the direction of self-destruction, but that does not prevent them from being proud of themselves and their country. They believe they once lived in one of the greatest empires in the world.

A new poll, conducted by the independent Levada Center in Moscow, found that nearly 60 percent of Russians “deeply regret” the collapse of the Soviet Union. For Westerners, who grew up regarding the USSR as a menace to the civilization, it is akin to the notorious mystery of the “Russian soul” -- a myth which is still alive thanks to Russian literature.  

A number of similar myths exist. For example, the common legend of an ancient Slavic culture. There never was, and could not be, such a concept because the term “Slavs” in all Western European languages always referred simply to “slaves” -- the pagan people who survived under the oppressive regimes of one conqueror after another.

Easy Prey

Who are the Russians and where did they come from? As long as two millennia ago, their ancestors, often referred to as “the eastern Slavic tribes,” came from what is now present-day Poland and Ukraine. Those people were said to occupy the northeastern realms of the Eurasian continent. This vast territory of wild lands was considered valuable only for its forests, and with the exception of areas near its river boundaries, the forests were rather impenetrable, without trails or even little footpaths.

“There are no roads in Russia,” Napoleon once said bitterly, “only directions.”

The vegetation of the country was least abundant in the southern districts; the cold region was one vast thicket. While Europe’s first farmers were cutting down trees in the forest to plant fields, the Russian tribes preferred to hunt and fish. It was a less complex society -- people did not have to come together to work the land. As a result, they did not have a society, and without society, no fellow-feeling, no religion, no mental development, and without trade no industry, that real source of national welfare and strength.

Very soon warlike neighbors took the occasion to seize the land from the weak natives.

First came the Vikings. They moved up and down local rivers as if they owned the place. And well… eventually they did. One of the cities founded by them was Kiev. Grand Prince of Kiev, Oleg, actually was a leader of Vikings with the good Scandinavian name of Helg, just like Vladimir was Valdmar and Igor was Ingvar.

The land of Rus’ (derived from the Norse “rower”) is supposed to have been a part of Sweden because the ruling class there was made up entirely of Vikings -- that is Waringians, or Varangians, as they are referred to in The Primary Chronicle, Ukraine’s earliest native historical source.

By the way, the religion, art, architecture and language of Rus’ were therefore all early Ukrainian. More northerly, proto-Russian tribes played rather a marginal or downright hostile role in history. It was they who supported the so-called Tatar-Mongol invasion.

A Barbarous Torch Relay

For the Russians of the 13th century, both “Mongols” and “Tatars” were equivalent terms. All nations to the east of Russian borders for hundreds of years were called Tatars.  

The Mongols came from the east, too. On their way to Europe they conquered dozens of various Rus’ tribes, absorbing them into their forces. The bulk of the Golden Horde were Tatars who had been conquered previously by the Mongols. The Russian Princes were local collaborators, quite often sacrificing the well-being and security of their people to promote their own influence and power.

In fact, the favorite heroes of the Russian nation, Alexander Nevsky and Dmitry Donskoy, oppressed their compatriots, regarding them as brutes, as slaves of different race. Yaroslav the Wise of Kiev was one of these princes who later was named Tsar -- which was a distorted version of the Latin title for the Roman emperors, Caesar. Before Yaroslav, the title was applied strictly to the Mongol overlords of the Rus’ principalities.

The most famous Russian Tsar was Ivan IV, known as Ivan the Terrible, who rallied the Russian people around Moscow. Under him, the Muscovites conquered the Tatar khanates of Kazan’ and Astrakhan, establishing Moscow’s rule over a huge area of the Volga basin and the North Caucasus.

Thus was born the idea of Moscow Tsardom as “the Third Rome,” although  it could be better viewed as “the Second Golden Horde.”

Ivan the Terrible enjoyed watching as people were burned alive or drowned in ice-holes. Peter I used to kill his servants his bare hands, and taught executioners how to properly tear the nostrils of victims with pincers. Czar Paul I, known to history as the “Mad Czar,” was so sensitive about his homeliness that he made mentioning of the words “pug-nosed” a crime punishable by death. Czar Nicholas I compelled his recruits to practice the goosestep while bearing upon their tall headgear a glass full of water. If a soldier spilled as much as a single drop, he was obliged to serve an additional year for every drop he spilled.

The absolute power of Russian tsars has always been brutal, oppressive, inhuman. This power was built upon a principle similar to the infamous “vertical power” that President Vladimir Putin has created in the 21st century. The principle is extremely simple. It is called a one-person tyranny, when millions of lives are worth nothing.

Stalin was not the first and not the only Russian tyrant who was ready to turn the whole nation into “camp dust.” You may be interested to know that after the Crimean War of 1854–56, the government of Tsar Nicholas I sold at auction for fertilizer the bleached bones of 38,000 Russian soldiers who fell in the battle of Sevastopol.

Today the world is threatened with a second Crimean War. The troops under the command of the new tsar of Russia are on alert.

Stolen Soul

The entire history of modern Russia is nothing but a continuous cycle of tsars.

Tsar Khrushchev succeeded Tsar Stalin. Brezhnev deposed Khrushchev and became the tsar himself. Weak Tsar Gorbachev ceded the throne to mighty Tsar Yeltsin, who appointed his successor, Putin... who appointed his successor Medvedev... who proposed to elect President Putin again....

The Russian people do not believe that they can live differently, can live better than now. In the course of many centuries they were so pressured, so enslaved that faith was simply squeezed out of them. That is why today we see in Russia a maimed society, miserable people with an enormous potential that does not exist, perhaps, in any other nation of the world. It is a nation of intelligent, creative folk, and at the same time utterly humbled, robbed, deceived, and full of fear of the authorities.

These people do not know what freedom is. These people used to live in an atmosphere of constant violence against the person. “Russian talk of political evil is as natural as eating,” the poet Joseph Brodsky once said. They are destined to live and die in the historical Russia -- the land of imperial complacency, cruel despots, and groveling before the Power.

So what about the famous Russian soul? There is no need to find it in the crowd of people who fell prostrate before the throne. The crowd has no soul. Only a hole. One giant black hole.