Russian culture: Keys to Understanding

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Social Archetypes of Russian Culture

Three core values of Russian culture – those of a person, openness, freedom – demonstrate not only its Christian origins, but also its social archetypes. Social archetypes add more detail and precision to a generalised set of values within a culture.[1] To summarise the musings of Russian philosophers (including N.A. Berdyaev and D.S. Likhachev) and the results of research (including that carried out by N.M. Lebedeva; A. Vezhbitskaya) in this area, these are the main social archetypes of Russian people:

  • tendency for extremes – for reaching a certain limit in “living” through ideas and opinions and testing them on personal experience;
  • self-sacrifice, the ability to selflessly serve their ideas, people and homeland;
  • patience, tolerance (of a different opinion); trustfulness, openness; ability to develop dynamically, to adopt and assimilate something foreign;
  • dissatisfaction with the “monotony of life”; aspiration to find support of their existence in something that surpasses time, individuality and personal gain; the well-known piety of their mindset;
  • emotiveness, the need to live with their heart which is considered to be the “right way” of living a life;
  • correlation between the personal and the “common”, the social, the traditional and the ancestral; this is also connected with the idea of keeping up traditions and their continuity, the love for their homeland; the way the Russian intelligentsia became interested in the ideas of socialism and communism in the second half of the 19th

To find evidence of that, let us study the key moments in the history of Russia.

Social Archetypes and Key Moments in Russian History

The early history of Russia showed no accretion of beliefs, traditions and mental structures. The primary cultural layer of Russian history correlates with the East Slavic social and political organisation (6th–9th) and ancient Slavic mythology.

The peculiarities of the social and political organisation in Kievan Rus’ manifested in the way it combined the principles of hierarchy with those of democracy, or individualism and collectivity: the “common folk” was governed by the prince (whose main function was military-defense) and the “best men” – the “wisest” elders of families. However, important issues were settled at a popular assembly – the veche, which existed for the longest time in the Novgorod Republic amid the growing concentration of power in Kievan Rus and later in the Muscovy. Moreover, the prince conferred with his retinue (called druzhina) and boyars before making an important decision.

The gradual concentration of power in the hands of Russian princes and later – Russian tsars resulted from the influence of the North German model practised in the retinues where an emphasis was made on the personal will and strength.[2]

[1] Ref.: Lebedeva N.M. Arkhetip lichnosti v russkoi culture [Archetype of a Person in Russian Culture] // Tribuna russkoi mysli. 2002. № 2. P. 111 – 113.

[2] Likhachev D.S. Istoricheskoe samosoznanie i kultura Rossii [Historical Self-Awareness and the Culture of Russia] // Russkaia kultura [Russian Culture]. P. 21–33. P. 22–23.

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