Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Russian Idea

Я люблю Москву = I love Moscow
I have been asked on many occasions what it is I love so much about this country. My family and friends don’t really get it, but they’ve gotten used to my eccentricities (Russophilia being one of many). However, now that I am back in Moscow, the question “Why do you like Russia?” has been cropping up again, and I’ve been struggling to put my fondness for the former Soviet Union into words.

People are quick to point out the worst of Russia with clichéd stereotypes, but it’s nearly impossible to do the opposite. I just finished reading a book called Homo Zapiens (Generation “P” in Russian). The main character, a guy who works in advertising, is tasked with “branding” Russia when he’s pulled into a car by a huge mafia type called Wee Vova and told:
“There’s got to be some nice, simple Russian idea, so’s we can lay it out clear and simple for any bastard from any of their Harvards […] And we’ve got to know for ourselves where we come from […] Write me a Russian idea so they won’t think all we’ve done in Russia is heist the money and put up a steel door. So’s they can feel the same kind of spirit like in ’45 at Stalingrad, you get me?”
So how did the protagonist package Russia’s awesomeness? He didn’t. Before he could tackle this formidable task, Wee Vova was shot by the Chechens and our hero was off the hook. Which means I am on my own.

Winston Churchill may have accidentally stumbled upon the Russia idea when he said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” He meant it in an entirely different context, but the sentiment is still true today. Russia is like nowhere else on earth, and no matter how hard one tries to figure it out, they’ll never make sense of it. I like that Russia is a puzzle—unpredictable, challenging, exciting, and in constant flux.  That might not be an answer that would have satisfied Wee Vova, but it will have to do for now.

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