Foreigners say that anarchy rules in Russia, and ballet is the only thing that is really striking there.
This is what foreigners thought of Russia five centuries ago and what they believe it to be now.
Guests from abroad vainly attempted to understand Russia in the previous centuries. Five centuries ago, ambassadors and seafarers from the West made their records about ‘the mysterious Russians’. And today, much is being published about Russia abroad as well. This is astonishing that hundreds of years later foreigners still have a similar perception of Russia. It is a general belief abroad that Russia is the home of never-ending cold where people swill vodka, believe neither in God nor in devil; that Russians squander their fabulous riches and that Russian women are wonderfully beautiful and come-at-able.
English seafarer and missionary at court of Ivan the Terrible, Richard Chanceler wrote in 1553 that Russian priests read prayers so indistinctly that people could not understand them and so parishioners whiled away the time talking during services. Later, Andreas Meyer-Landrut, Germany ’s Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1980-1983 and 1986-1989 also wrote about the role of the church in the life of Soviet people. “Although the Orthodox church regained the status of a state institution in the post-Communist epoch it still failed to win the hearts of majority of Soviet people. Parishioners are still basically elderly women only. Official registration of baptized citizens was strongly prohibited under the Communist regime, so many people today are absolutely unaware if they are baptized or not.”
Deputy head of the exterior church relations at the Moscow Patriarchate Vsevolod Chaplin disagrees with the latter comment. He states that elderly ladies make up the minority of Russia’s parishioners within the last five years. And he also adds that probably the West is currently experiencing the crisis of faith. Vsevolod Chaplin is sure that the Russian culture is highly appreciated abroad. Many of Catholic temples in Belgium, France and Italy have reproductions of Russian icons.
Foreigners also have their specific opinion of Russia’s wealth and money. Bavaria’s ambassador to Russia in 1808-1812 Francis Gabriel de Bre wrote: “There is no country in the world with the exception of China that holds such a huge amount of natural riches for commerce that Russia does. But Russia exports almost all of its raw products to get them back processed by other nations.” These days, International Herald Tribune correspondent Judy Dempsey wrote in a publication ‘And what now, Mr.Putin?’ "Russia is sitting on a huge money pot filled to overflowing in recent years from exports of the country's key natural resources, oil and gas. The recent surge in energy prices has accelerated a buildup of national reserves that is making the former Communist country economically comfortable - even wealthy.”
Director of Russia’s Globalization Institute Mikhail Delyagin says that it is not argued that Russia is making its money by selling oil and gas abroad, and this will continue until the store of natural materials is not exhausted. However, the expert says, not all publications of foreigners about Russia should be trusted.
The Russian army is another aspect of the life in this country that particularly interests foreigners. Sardinia Envoy to Russia Baron De la Turbia wrote in 1794: “Allowances to soldiers are terribly delayed, officers often pocket part of soldiers’ allowances. Soldiers have bad nutrition as a result of which many of them die. But still, Russian soldiers follow their commanders everywhere.”
Britain’s Ambassador to the USSR in 1988-1992 Roderick Braithwaite wrote about a show of a mass fighting performed by young paratroopers to the accompaniment of bravura music. He stated it resembled an open air staging of the Spartak ballet but not the real situation in the Soviet army.
But Russian Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov says the prestige of the Russian army is higher and cited Napoleonwhosaid:“Giveme a Russian soldier and I will conquer the whole of the world.”
The Russian love for vodka sometimes shocked foreigners in the old time and is still shocking today. Jacob Reutenfels from Kurlandia wrote in 1676 that Russians were drinking vodka at day and at night and even made some attempts to excuse their hard drinking. “That was their years-long habit and good protection from cold.”
In the Soviet epoch, German Ambassador to the USSR Andreas Meyer-Landrut wrote that hard drinking was a nation-wide evil that involved even high-ranking officials. He was amazed to watch Communist party leaders swill down glasses of vodka after parades dedicated to the anniversary of the Great October Revolution.
Narcology expert Leonid Kominsky states that the situation with hard drinking has become even worse in the recent years in Russia. In previous years, patients suffering from alcoholism were over 40 while today the average age of an alcohol addict makes up 25-27 years.
It is recognized worldwide that Russian women are the most beautiful. In the 16th century, Venice senate envoy at court of Ivan the Terrible Marco Foscarino wrote that Russian men did not respect their women the way that other nations did. They treated them slightly better than slaves. “Russian men strongly object to their women’s visiting parties or balls and insist they must spend all of their time at home. Other women can be easily seduced for little money and are easy with foreigners.”
British designer Robert Cary Williams confessed in an interview to the Russian mass media after a fashion show in Moscow in 2004 that Russian women have incredibly beautiful eyes; they are smart, energetic and too easy. “Just caress her hands and she is ready to be yours,” he added.
Bureaucracy is the problem that terrifies not only people in this country but also foreigners, and it seems that the situation was like that even centuries ago. English Ambassador to Russia in 1588-1589 Gils Fletcher emphasized that Russians were subject to awful dues, confiscations and other public collections imposed by the tsar, the noblemen and other authorities. “Some villages and small towns stand abandoned as the people escaped because of bad treatment and violence.”
These days, the foreign opinion of Russian bureaucracy is the same. Editor-in-chief of a Moscow-based English-language alternative newspaper The eXile Mark Ames said in an interview to Russian journalists in 2005 that “Russian officials make up a particular ethnic group. Within the ten years that I have been living in Russia, the number of bureaucrats in Moscow has doubled or even tripled, I think.”
Political scientist and TV host Mikhail Leontyev is sure that the above opinion about Russia’s bureaucracy is an eternal stereotype in the opinions about this country. He says that the English are professional Russophobes and treat Russians as rivals. “Indeed, corruption actually exists in Russia. But it was even 400 years ago that the West chose to notice corruption in Russia only and not in other countries,” the expert adds.
Cyprus Ambassador to Russia Leonidas Pantelides states that some of his colleagues have a negative impression of Russia. He says that often foreign ambassadors make no attempts to understand Russia. “As for me, I three time visited Siberia and even spent one vacation travelling along the Trans-Siberian main line together with my son. But I know some diplomats who never left Moscow even for St.Petersburg when working in Russia for several years,” the ambassador said. He adds that it was basically ‘the cold war’ that made foreigners find faults with Russia. Even though it is over, many in the West are still suspicious of Russia. “What is more, Russia is a particular country with its unusual culture. It is European culture that shaped under the Orthodox influence.”
Translated by Maria Gousseva