Myth of Russia in German Culture

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The scientists exploring this ideology of hostility give examples from their childhood. Peter Brandt, born already after the war, recalled that the school headmaster in his talks about Russia mentioned only his captivity and Soviet oppressive regime. For Peter Brandt this was the key to understanding the attitudes in East Germany towards Eastern Europe. In geography classes the students were told about the subservience and servility of the Russians, who for centuries had to bow down before the Mongols. Books on history gave detailed descriptions of Lenin’s Mongoloid type of face and searched his family ties, personality and policy for Asian features [3:226].

Political ideology was not the only thing that shaped the image of Russia at that time. Russian culture that the Germans got to know after the war had a huge positive impact on the German image of Russia. The Don Cossack Choir, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, the state circus, Ye. Yevtushenko’s lyric poetry and his trip to the FRG became known.

Population surveys and public opinion polls indicate an ambivalent attitude towards the Russians in the post-war years. They are rather talking about the image of a stranger than about an isolated image of the enemy; the emphasis here is placed on the word Russia, not the Soviet communism.

And although, according to the results of the 1958 poll (Allensbacher Umfrage), the Russians were attributed many negative features at the time – such as arrogant, cruel (46 points) and unintelligent (41 points) – they do not dominate totally. According to the same survey, the most important features of the Russians are unpretentiousness and unpredictability (156 points each). In 1955, 36% of women and 37% of men considered Muscovites to be as happy as the people in other countries. Such features as unpretentiousness and unpredictability remain relevant in the contemporary image of the Russians in Germany.

It may be interesting to compare these characteristics with the traits that the Germans attribute to their national character. So, the Germans think that they are rational, that they like order, have recently become more humane, have respect for the right of another, like cleanliness, and sometimes lack sense of humor. The Germans are efficient, diligent, should be busy at all times, they are strong economically, and do well in sports, especially in football, they like to refer to the culture, even if they do not really know it, and experience a lack of feelings (the results of the 2018 survey).

Since 1949 the Germans have lived in two states and Germany meant not only the FRG. With the division of Germany, the image of the Russians was divided as well. In the West it was believed that the East German “minions of the USSR” flattered the landlords and demanded unequivocal worship of “the country of all working people” headed by the brilliant leader Stalin. Indeed, Pro-Soviet attitudes have become the subject of songs and poems even by talented authors from the German Democratic Republic. For a long time, there was a political slogan that goes as follows: “Learning from the Soviet Union is learning to win.” Indestructible friendship with the Soviet Union is a concept that was enshrined in the Constitution of East Germany. They glorified not only everything Soviet, but also everything pertaining to the Russian nation. As opposed to the West, they emphasized the traditional Russo-German military brotherhood at the time of the liberation wars against Napoleon. In East Berlin in the museum of German history there was a painting depicting the Russian troops entering Berlin in 1813 under the title of “Liberators are coming!”.

Official praise of Russia caused skepticism among a large group of East Germans. While earlier the influence of the occupation authorities was considered to be a violent invasion, now the Soviet Union was the guarantor of the establishment of their own state system which was not very popular. Even though Russophobia began to decline, there was still a feeling of some superiority of an average European over a Russian who was rough around the edges. There were opinions that the planned economy could function much better if there was not such a heavy burden of the Russian tradition and the Russian mentality. It is well known that Walter Ulbricht (General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany) during his last years as the leader of the country irritated the Soviet leadership with his lectures on a more accurate application of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine.

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