This Post Could Be SOOO Much Longer
My mother tells me that her biggest fear was Russia. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, the ‘constant threat’ of Russian invasion or bombing literally plagued her dreams. She thought Communists hid in her closet and under the bed, not Freddie Kruger, the Boogeyman or vampires. Communists.
My father was 3 years old when Stalin died. My mother was 3 years old when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. They were 18 and 10, respectively at the end of the Prague Spring. They lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. And, I was almost 5 months old when the disaster at Chernobyl happened and maybe 6 by the time the USSR was dissolved in 1991.
The Russia of my parents’ youth, is still somehow, the same Russia I grew up knowing. A country to be feared and avoided. Yet, I managed to end up with a strange interest in it. Maybe it was because of Disney’s Anastasia (which I don’t even like so that’s unlikely) and the interest in princesses that every little girl harbors. Whatever the reason, here I am…loving Russia.
I do remember a friend of mine reading a book about the Romanovs, in high school, and casually telling me about it. I was sold. There was intrigue, mystery, royalty and a ton of history. But, my real love for Russian literature didn’t start until college. I read Lolita and I was hooked, convinced to this day that Nabokov is one of the best writers I will ever read. Then I took a Russian lit class focusing on 19th Century writers. Followed later by a class entirely devoted to Nabokov. Love, so much love.
Aside from getting a start on a Russian literature section of, what I like to call, my personal library, I also have some anthologies of literature and history type books. Thanks to those college classes, my appreciation for the historical context of literature grew immensely and made me want to fully understand the world in which these writers were living.
My first attempt at getting a full picture of Russian history failed because the book was dry and hard to read. History is, after all, lots of facts and figures which isn’t exactly good reading. But I found Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East, by Martin Sixsmith, recently and am breezing through it!
What I’ve realized is:
Russia is just as awesome as I thought it was!
Yet, we’re taught to hate just the same as our parents.
The Russia I was told about by my family was a terror, yet a force to be reckoned with. It was a threat and always would be.
Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler would all use similar rhetoric to fuel their reigns of power. They instilled real fear in their citizens that someone, and it could be anyone, was the enemy and they were, at all costs, to be stopped dead in their tracks. Literally. Purges and executions were rampant in Russia—merely look at the leader wrong and you could find yourself on trial. Enemies were everywhere. No one was to be trusted. Yet, these fears stemmed from legitimate concerns, within the country(ies) of origin, sort of.
In a nation that had been ruled and ravished by the Mongols for decades, they sought to keep their homeland to themselves. After the implementation of tsarist rule, citizens learned that revolution didn’t always solve the problem(s). Tsars didn’t always follow through on promises made, more often than not they were merely used as ways to garner support. Likewise, allies couldn’t be trusted—which was proven doubly when Nazi Germany attempted to seize Moscow in WWII.
America may not be a Socialist, Communist, or Fascist nation…but we still propagate hate the same way.
My generation wasn’t plagued with the Red Terror, but instead we’ve been conditioned to hate all the same—with good reason, just like the threat of nuclear war in the Cold War was a legitimate concern, so was terrorism from the Middle East. However, assuming that every person from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran or any other predominantly Muslim country is associated with the Taliban is absolutely absurd.
Are there potential threats? Yes. I’m fairly sure there are people who still believe in Communism, too. Terrorist, revolutionary, fundamentalist, whatever you want to push into the margins…they exist and will continue to exist.
Media and politics persistently breed hate. Not just for those threatening national security, but for each other.
Politicians campaign every year and all the while journalists try to dig up as much dirt as possible on each candidate in order to sway public opinion. Because of media’s portrayal of men and women we hold ourselves, and each other, to standards that are not only unrealistic, but unhealthy. We plant seeds, slowly morphing and changing them ever so slightly over time to create a sense of righteousness in those who manage to succeed, at whatever cost.
This can apply to anything and everything. From gay marriage to little kids with eating disorders, women’s rights to gun control, immigration to mental health. Every single thing has a stigma, a lot like Russia’s. Complicated, negative, generally misunderstood and then sidelined.