Russian Stereotypes: Western perception of Russia as seen through Russian’s eyes. Part I.

Viktor Vasnetsov – Flying Carpet, 1880.


First of all it should be mentioned that speaking about ‘the West’ and ‘Russia’ as monolithic entities is itself a stereotyping practice. It is appropriate here because using these general concepts one can perfectly show/see the genesis and evolution of these stereotypes without going too deep into interesting but distracting details. The author doesn’t claim ‘objectivity’: the post represents my own views which were formed as a result of my continuing study of the so-called ‘Western discourse of Russia’.  The latter itself is not a homogeneous entity but rather a mixture of various Western concepts and political narratives applied to the complex discursive construct called  ‘Russia’.

As it was stated in a post titled “How We See Russia” quoting Daniel Treisman, a scholar on Russia, there are two main methods of writing about Russia in the West: Continue reading “Russian Stereotypes: Western perception of Russia as seen through Russian’s eyes. Part I.”

The Monument to the Conquerors of Space

If you ask people what symbol comes to their mind when they think of Moscow most of them (including both foreigners and Russians) would name Saint Basil’s Cathedral or the Kremlin, some would recall the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture or the Peoples Friendship Fountain. It is impossible to disagree that all of these magnificent constructions, especially the first two, are symbols of the city (or even of Russia itself) which are accompanied by such stereotypical cultural brands like ‘matryoshka‘, ‘balalaika‘, ‘samovar‘, ‘banya‘, ‘ushanka‘, ‘vodka‘ (sic!), etc. Many of these ‘brands’ are sold near the heart of the city, Red Square, thus, strengthening the association. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing bad about these products but the combination and the positioning of them gives me the right to call it ‘klyukva‘ (cranberry). This word is often used in Russia in a non-literal meaning to describe foreign (negative) stereotypes concerning Russia and Russians or some specific Russian cultural products (films, books, music videos, etc.) which are ‘klyukved‘ on purpose by their creators in order to be appreciated by the Western media and public.

I’ve chosen the Monument to the Conquerors of Space as an iconic symbol of Moscow (and not only Moscow), an embodiment of the cultural and historical heritage of the Soviet space program. Until the middle of 2006 very close to the monument there used to be Zvezdny Ryad which started from the VDNKh metro station first entrance and ended near the main entrance to the All-Russia Exhibition Centre. As poetic was its name (‘Zvezdny Ryad’ literally means ‘Star Row’) as miserable was it in reality: a bunch of casinos, one-armed bandits, sex-shops and bars with loud ‘popsa‘ (how we call tasteless low-quality pop-music in Russia), filled with zhuliki (crooks) of all kinds: gamblers, sellers of the stolen mobile phones and watches, thieves, etc. This whole scene could be perfectly described by one specific Russian word – poshlost’ which Vladimir Nabokov introduced to the Western public in the form of ‘poshlust‘, i.e. “the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive”.

As for me this monument is a representation of people’s will and human capabilities, the-sky-is-not-the-limit approach and per-aspera-ad-astra attitude. One can also view the monument as a Soviet pyramid: the kingdom and the dynasty are gone, the people who built it and who it was devoted to are dead but the monument remains as a reminder of the past victories of a mortal man over time and space. It stands against the klyukva & poshlost’ of nowadays.

Yuri Gagarin and the Monument to the Conquerors of Space behind him
Yuri Gagarin and the Monument to the Conquerors of Space behind him