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Russophobia Still Rampant

Published: April 26, 2002 (Issue # 765)


EVERY country has two histories: one written by the country itself, the other by its neighbors. The amount that has been written about Russia by Western authors is quite astounding. Such literary luminaries as Diderot, Stendhal, Balzac, Merimee, Casanova, Alexandre Dumas pere, H.G. Wells, James Joyce and Leon Feuchtwangler have helped to shape the Western image of Russia.

However, both in the recent past and today, it seems that the Western elite has too often been indoctrinated by the literary legacy of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon" - works which most graphically portray the totalitarian chapter in Russia's history. And all this despite the enormous changes in the lives and mentality of Russian people over the past 10 to 15 years.

There exists a dangerous tendency to attribute to Russians such allegedly hereditary characteristics as cruelty, laziness, anti-democratism, irresponsibility etc. Pronounced negative stereotypes - such as official corruption, mafia dominance, pervasive poverty and alcoholism - continue to prevail in many Western mass media that cover Russia. Until recently, one got the impression that reports on Russia of a disrespectful and derogatory tone were more frequent than even during the Cold War. Although, in all fairness, we should recognize that many stereotypes about the West are still very much alive in Russia.

It is important to understand what is behind all the stories about vodka, the mafia and uncivilized Russians. Professor Johan Janssen of Basel University provides an instructive answer, arguing that a feeling of indignation at Russia's "ingratitude" as well as at the fact that "the defeated enemy has begun to stir again," underlies this information policy toward Russia.

Unfortunately, Janssen does not specify what Russians and the new Russia should be grateful to the West for. Could it be for the write-off of at least part of the huge Soviet debt to the West, as Poland got, for example? Or maybe for admission to the WTO, as was the case with China recently? Perhaps for easing the visa regime, as has been done with the Baltic countries? Or possibly even for the major direct investment in the Russian economy, comparable to investment in China or Brazil?

Russia itself broke the vice-like grip of the totalitarian system; opted for democratic and market institutions of its own volition; overcame colossal difficulties to achieve stability and, over the past three years, sustainable economic growth largely by itself; and was the first to support the United States after Sept. 11.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Aug. 22


Get ready to pledge allegiance to the flag during National Flag Day, paying tribute to when, 23 years ago today, the iconic hammer-and-sickle was replaced with the tricolor that now flutters in the wind. Petersburgers will be treated to a free concert on Palace Square, a military parade and a culminating air show featuring Russias Russian Knights stunt pilots.



Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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