Myth of Russia in German Culture

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THE 18th AND THE 19th CENTURIES IN SHAPING THE GERMAN MYTH ABOUT RUSSIA

The German scholars believe that the political perception of Russia from the late 17th century to date is defined by the vastness of the territory, geographical location and the political unity of Russia, even in revolutionary times in 1917 and 1991. There were periods of liking for Russia connected with political interaction of the two States. German researchers note that Brandenburg-Prussia could become a kingdom, a north German hegemonic power and a big European power only under the aegis of the Russian tsar. Only with Russia’s support was Bismarck able to unite Germany in 1870 under Prussia’s command. In one of the decrees of January 31, 1868 to a Prussian Envoy to St. Petersburg Bismarck named Russia as Germany’s natural historic ally.

At the same time, in the 18th century the images of Russian “barbarism” and “changing Russia”, which leans toward Eurocentrism, take shape in German books. An infamous “pamphlet war” between Russian and Swedish propaganda during the Great Northern War as well as contrasting Peter the Great and his stagnant nation also contributed to it.

During and after the anti-Napoleonic liberation wars Russia and the Russians were held in high regard in Middle Europe and Prussia. Tsar Alexander I was given honors for being the redeemer while the Cossacks were received enthusiastically by Berliners in spring 1813. Boys in the streets were singing: “Yes, the Russian managed to show us the way to act” (Ja, der Russ` – hat uns gezeigt, – wie man`s machen muss…) [3:214].

In the late 18th – early 19th centuries the attitude towards Russia was the topic of discussion among German intellectuals. Calls “for” and “against” Russia which were far from sober assessment were linked to the societal development and Constitution issues in Germany. In the 19th century Tsarist Russia was often perceived as semi-Asiatic despotism striving in its constant expansionist policy to conquer civilized Europe. Russian people were considered flawed due to centuries-long foreign dominion, state slavery and dependence on church. The image of Russian people was somber: the Russians were thought to know no limits, to follow their instincts, to abuse alcohol, and to be cruel. Such characteristics of the Russians had been circling the German society since the late 18th century. By this time the ideas of their own superiority had combined with the fear of Russia.

In 1848 young communists Marx and Engels opposed to Russia being the guarantor of reactionary forces in Europe as well as to the revolutionary war. Later they attributed “mongolism” and pursuance of world supremacy to Russia. Besides, their correspondence contains chauvinist statements against Russia.

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