Myth of Russia in German Culture

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Ershova and E. Schenkel overcome the rejection of Russia. For M. Ershova, this “alien” culture becomes familiar, she sympathizes with “unofficial” Russia, sympathizes with people close to her. E.Shenkel wants to understand another culture “from within” (for example, through the etymology of some words), to see in it something familiar, to introduce its peculiarities to his compatriots. The authors’ interpretation of the topic reveals a number of non-standard approaches to and ideas about the Russian character and the so-called “Russian soul”.

More distant and critical attitude is expressed by German-speaking journalists Dirk Sager and Suzanne Scholl. The image of Russia, created in their books The Gunpowder Russia (Sager, 2008) and Russia with and without a soul (Scholl, 2009), is anything but fabulous or mysterious. Here we see the rejection of the stereotype of the “mysterious Russian soul”. S. Scholl insists, that it is Russia herself that creates and cultivates such stereotypes as “you will not grasp her [Russia] with your mind “, “believe in her, if you are able”. However, like M. Ershova, both authors distinguish between official and unofficial Russia, being hostile to the authorities and sympathizing with the people. Dirk Sager, analyzing the existing leadership style in the state, describes Russia as explosive. His concept of Russia includes such semantic elements as superpower, terror, corruption, secret service, dissidents, energy consortia, Chechnya, Anna Politkovskaya, the tragic fate of journalists, controlled democracy, Khodorkovsky, Putin, Yeltsin, World War II, people’s suffering [15: 215].

Suzanne Scholl wonders how people live in a “country that knows no bounds”. Among important elements of the image of Russia created by the Austrian writer are the struggle for survival, dissidents, the tragic fate of journalists, Anna Politkovskaya, Chechnya, people’s poverty, fatherlessness, the contrast between women bearing the burden of responsibility and men engaged in politics, Rublyovka, Caucasian, the country where “nothing is done for people”, the statement of N. Karamzin, a historian of the XVIII century, about Russia’s two major problems – fools and bad roads, V. Chernomyrdin’s famous line “We wanted the best, but it turned out as always” that later became an anecdote,  and, of course, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, literature and art [16: 81]. Dirk Sager poses a question: “How dangerous is Russia?” In Suzanne Scholl’s works, Russia, in the end, becomes less intimidating and more understandable to the Western reader.

The modern demonization of the Russian image in the Western media runs deep. For instance, German professor Carsten Goehrke in a study on Russia (C. Goehrke, Russland. Eine Strukturgeschichte, 2010), which is considered to be a brilliant analysis of Russian history in the West, states that it was the Soviet Union that, having a pact with Hitler, helped to unleash the Second World War [17:97]. Goehrke refers to the secret additional protocol to the pact but does not cite the text. He even appears to be disappointed that Hitler’s army was defeated in Stalingrad. Goehrke also talks about the Cold War: in 1946 Churchill cited Goebbels’ expression “the Iron Curtain” and the Cold War began. Europe was divided into East and West. First the Soviet Union was blamed, then the West. Now, according to the historian, considering the real situation, we can state that the cause for the Cold War was the incompatibility of two notions about the world order: American universalism, with the notion of a single world built through the cooperation within the UN framework, and Soviet thinking, determined by unilateralism in decision-making and taking actions [17:99].

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