Tuesday, 16 August 2016

In defence of Russia

The Hermitage in the Winter Palace
Baron von Trotta came back from London baffled.

On one hand, the Russian presence in that Babylon keeps growing. The Baron went to a small but notable exhibit in the National Portrait Gallery with wonderful portraits of Mussorgsky, Chekhov, and Gumilyov. 

On the other hand, the British media has made it a national sport to discredit the nation.

Walking back home, he reflected about how undervalued Russian painters were by the grand public, even if things have improved much over the last 20 years

The Baron still remembers with deep fondness from his childhood a big-format book a maternal aunt brought from her travels beyond the Iron Curtain, with paintings from the Hrmitage. It was his initiation to Russian painting.

The Baron's interest in all things Russian did not start there, but it certainly became a constant throughout his life, and something that has made the Baron' soul much richer. 

Besides the sciences, Russia has given us key masterpieces of Western Culture, from literature to painting, music, ballet, cinema, to name just a few; works that the Baron believes are as part of the soul of any cultivated European as those from the Renaissance or the Enlightenment.

Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Chekhov, Gontcharov, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, Eisenstein, Tarkovsky, Diaghilev, Nureyev, Repin ... the list would be too long, even if just sticking to the major names.

Ilya Repin, Unexpected Visitors, 1888

Our sensitivity has been marked by them all, whether we realize it or not. Whether we are born in Petrozavodsk or Palermo.

Why then, this omnipresent negative depiction of Russia in the Western media, particularly the British one?  

Russian's history is turbulent, complex and different. Its climate, harsh. Its size, that of a continent, not a nation. Its diversity, unrivaled anywhere.

Yet, the current Russian haters often behave like bad losers still stuck  in the 1970s. 

Which country has brought Western Culture to far places such as Vladivostok? We forget that if, today, we meet someone from Yakutsk in a classical music concert, we owe that to the Russians.

Like every nation, Russia has skeletons in its closet. The UK also does. Only Russia does not preach. 

Oblomov, the character by Gontcharov
It is Russia who has taken Western Culture to Siberia, a gigantic feat that has cost so many lives and sacrifices to the Russian people, which share that trait of true aristocrats of not complaining about them.

Russia, thought Baron von Trotta as he arrived to Hyde Park, is an integral part of Europe, one of its most significant cultures. Let us for once and for all end the Cold War, and see Russian's isolation after 1945 as an exception, an accident in its history, and not the rule.

There is nothing wrong with diversity in Europe. Russia cannot be England because its history, soil, geographical position and climate are different. Its politics can be different as well. Uniformity is never a good thing and Europe is diverse by nature, it is in fact being made better by the diversity of cultures that make it. 

If the EU is a yoke to English liberties, or so Brexit seems to show, why the lack of understanding about Russia's distinct character?

Anyone can disagree about specific Russian's politics, but discrediting a whole nation does not speak well neither of the British media, nor of those responsible for such sadly widespread public opinion in the West.

Europe has been made richer by Russian Culture. Maybe Russia just does not hide its dirt under the carpet, like so many Western nations. And that is to her credit.

And so Baron von Trotta had become hungry, and decided to offer himself a borscht in nearby Mari Vanna, his favourite Russian restaurant. Because his fondness for Russia includes as well its kitchen. More Russian restaurants, that is what is needed everywhere!, he thought as the prospect of the delicious crimson soup made him walk even faster. 

Anton-Chekhov with his family in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

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