A country or region can be defined in many ways: flora and fauna, animal kingdom, weather, geography, culture, ethnicity, etc. An endless amount of categories can be made up for a country to be part of. What category a country falls in will be judged differently by different people, however the majority of people do have a certain image of a country. The image someone has in their head is build up of several things, for example: a past interaction, an article red, a movie seen. The movies seen, the articles red, they contain information about the country. This information will take us to the area of interest: stereotypes. In this article I will challenge a common stance on stereotypes, focused on Russia. Before I will mention this, it is necessary to mention that by Russia I mean not only the country Russia, but a much wider region. The region is much closer to the geographical borders of the former Soviet Union, again this also should not be taken as an absolute.
A stereotype is often seen in a negative sphere and anyone challenging them, a.k.a confirming them is seen as ignorant and/or insensitive. However I will challenge them by making the following statement: The stereotypes of Russia mirror the country more accurate than most countries.
Some stereotypes of Russia: grey, cubist architecture, matryoshka dolls, communism, alcoholism, models, vodka, police state, dancing bears and anarchy. This is a list of the first things that come to mind when I freely brainstorm with the word Russia in mind. When asking to people close to me the stereotypes that showed up most are: vodka, alcoholism and anarchy. There is a general sense that Russia has no rule of law and its citizen behave accordingly. Where do these assumptions come from, what are they based on? This is very much a question defined by the current development of technology. It is easy to find accurate and well balanced information on the internet, however this does require some effort. An easy source is youtube, as before it was television. For example (1):
If this can be considered as an accurate source for stereotypes is very debatable. To give the statement made prior some more weight I think of my own experiences with Russia. Having travelled to Russia more than 10 times in the last 7 years, first visiting in September 2007, I have developed an abandoned many stereotypes. Travelling there at the age of 20, Russia was a big adventure. Looking through my old photos, the following photo is the first I took inside Russia:
This is picture is taken at the border from Narva, Estonia to Ivangorod, Russia. There is clearly not much to see, however remembering how excited I was just at the thought of physically being in Russia says something about my view at the time.
I went to Russia looking for adventure and found much of it there. Most adventure was found in the people and all the encounters experienced. After being there for 2 months I saw many cases of severe alcoholism. Russia`s love alcohol has been around for a long time. Legend is that in the 11th century AD the grand prince of Kiev Vladimir the Great rejected Islam as a new state religion, because muslims cannot drink wine. “Drinking is a joy of the Russian people, without this pleasure we cannot exist!” (2) Alcoholism has been a more common problem since the glasnost period (3) and the average life expectancy for a man is still only 60 years. (4)
I started writing this article with idea that Russia was different to many other countries. Somehow more like its stereotypes than other countries. Further inspecting the subject one comes to a conclusion it is impossible to prove a statement like this. However a recurring theme has been the rule of law and the above average alcohol consumption of a typical Russian. These are just 2 of many stereotypes. To conclude: are Russia and/or Russians more stereotypical than other other countries? Inconclusive.
1. We Love Russia Compilation, August 2012 (TNL), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WD2Dhnu3tP0
2. Portret van Rusland, 2013, pag. 10.
3. The Cambridge Companion To Modern Russian Culture, 2012, pag. 343.
4. A brief history of Russian and Vodka, Time, 2005, http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1951620,00.html