If you are familiar with the classic Russian literature, then you have likely encountered the Russian soul. Just like the word itself, “soul” is something intangible and mysterious. People who live outside of Russia, but have always been curious about what the country is all about, may find this Russian soul hard to understand but at the same time the key to get to the heart of the country itself.
Russia is very old and vast. The history and diversity are breathtaking that they make the world wonder what the nation’s genuine character is like. People from around the world have been visiting Russia to grasp not only the beauty of the nature and culture but also the spirit of the country. By understanding the Russian soul, foreigners will hopefully dismiss the wrong stereotype of Russia. So, what is the Russian soul all about? Let us dig deeper.
Nikolai Gogol was the author who first came up with concept of Russian soul through his masterpiece Dead Soul in 1842. In this novel Gogol wrote about the travels and adventures of Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov and the people he meets along the way. Most of these people are Russian middle-class. Gogol wanted to bring up the phenomenon of Russian landowners and their serfs – the people who were seen as commodities – that the landowners could buy and sell. The dead souls in the book are the deceased serfs but at the same time also a depiction of the landowners’ loss of humanity.
The term then carried on by Vissarion Belinsky, a literary critic, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky until the soul fully evolved into the complete Russian soul as the identity of the nation. It is the spirit of the youth and the peasants as the true optimism of Russia that will bring the nation upward and forward. This also explained why revolution happened in the country.
Russian Soul now and then
The study about Russian soul that started off in the 1840s as a literary term has developed into something that the world is taking seriously especially by the West. It has been discussed in many forums and lectures as a topic that should be looked deeper into in order to understand Russia better as a big and powerful nation. It is a collective consciousness that identify Russia as a country. However, the modern Russians who use the term in their current lives don’t always put as much thought about it. Most of the time, they just say it because it is what they are. Russian soul is something that has been burning inside their hearts and making them proud to be Russians.
Understanding the Russian Soul as a non-Russian
As the time went by, so did the Russian soul. There is no more system that binds people as trading goods, and so the whole concept of “soul” has shifted. The simplest way to understand what a Russian soul is as a non-Russian is by observing the manners, characters, personalities, and how the people there uniquely do their things on daily basis. This by no means putting them all in a box, it is just something that you would notice come naturally to Russians either by habit or, well, because it is in their blood.
1. Russians are straightforward
This might be shocking and quite a hard pill to swallow for some people who are used to maintain politeness with strangers in their culture. Russians will say exactly what they have in mind with no filter. If they think you have a terrible idea then they will say so. As a return, they won’t mind getting honest opinions about themselves either. Fair is always on the game.
3. Russians judge for your benefit
Related with the point before, judging is nothing to be hidden in Russia. When they think their colleagues show up with improper dress, for example, they will just shoot it out and say it in the face. The intention is not terrible, because they think it is for their colleagues’ benefit and save them from embarrassment and such. Again, for people from different culture, this might sound rude and could hit the heart quite bad. But a little get used to will heal it.
4. Russians live in duality
They may seem rude to strangers, but actually love to humor people. They believe in superstitious but hang on to fate as an explanation to what they have in life. They treat friends of friends politely but would cut the small talk out with close friends and family – again, the straightforward habit.
5. Alcohol is a part of living
This is a one of the more common things that the world knows about Russians; they love Vodka. It is probably like water to them. But, most of the time they drink to keep things close and warm. Going through nine cold months in a year would definitely affect one’s personality and that’s what happens in Russia. Drinking is a preamble to deeper conversations and more intimate get-togethers.
All the five points above are, of course, not to be equally applied to every Russian. Because, just like any other human beings, every Russian is unique – but, one or two of the traits are there because they are the ideas that most of the Russians grow up with. One thing to highlight about the Russian soul is that it is a symbol of strong nationalism. There are a lot of deep and lengthy explanations, researches, and studies about the term, but the bottom line is always nationalism. It is a great sense of belonging as a part of a huge nation that can only be shared with fellow Russians.