What might be the average Russian’s worldview?

Posted on 18 June 2022

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I will dare and take such a responsibility and (attempt) to explain to my international audience how it might feel being a Russian from several perspectives. I will rely on my own partial belonging to the Russian people, and on the experience of when I was in Russia, spoke to Russians, and lived among them.

Russians outside of Russia

My audience knows me as an “Estonian with mixed Russian-Ukrainian heritage living in the UK”. This is complicated and not exactly right. This description is for the western, international audience. I’m not an Estonian – I was just born in Estonia, and many true Estonians would not consider me as an Estonian (outside of my citizenship). For us, there’s even a special term in Estonia – something along the lines of “Estonian residents”, which are those who were born or live in Estonia but have no family connections with previous generations of Estonians.

Historically, people like me were and are still considered Russians. We are the descendants of the people who ended up in Estonia during the Soviet times, when there were no borders between the states of the USSR. By the way, this is what the modern Russian Federation is emphasising, claiming that the rights of “Russians” abroad are being suppressed, justifying their hostile actions across the whole of the ex-USSR. The relationship to people like myself within the post-Soviet states differs. In Estonia it is perhaps the most… controversial, since Estonians very well remember the atrocities done to them by the Soviets. They cannot be blamed. Likewise, the attitudes of many “Estonian residents” give ground to such perspective of native Estonians towards them. I personally believe that as long as the individual is adequate and is in tune with the native population, they will be treated well, so I have no complaints about Estonians. Personally, I’ve never had any problems.

Estonian-Latvian border, photo: Global Risk Insights

My parents are Russian and Ukrainian, they met in Riga in the 80’s moved together to live in Estonia a few years before the USSSR collapsed. Thus, I was born in an independent Estonia. As I said, we are considered to be Russians (thought different from Russian Federation Russians), even if our origins have Ukrainian or any other roots. In families and with friends we speak Russian, we studied in Russian-speaking schools, learned Russian literature (of course, we also studied Estonian and English, allowing us to know three distinct languages by the time of graduation). Therefore, we are in one way or another connected to what’s happening in the East, perhaps even speaking with “Muscovite” accent if it can be called that way. Many, including myself, have connections in Russia, be it business or family, and we inevitably fall into the sphere of influence of the Russian media.

With this in mind, for most of us the choice of being on Ukraine’s or Russia’s side in this conflict is first and foremost a matter of choice, rather than a given, unlike the Ukrainians and Estonians for whom this choice is much more obvious. I would note that in my political views I’m a complete westerner, a capitalist, a libertarian, a NATO supporter, especially compared to even the most “westernised” of my friends back in Estonia. I was around 20 when I came to this understanding. Yet still, I believe for me this position was probably a choice, albeit very natural and clearcut. But I could have easily ended on the other side just like many of my acquaintances, classmates and their parents.

From this natural belonging to the so-called “Russian world” (I use this word simply because I cannot find a better analogue, though I realise it is as tainted as a swastika), I can to a certain extent judge the perception of the world by modern Russians, and attempt to explain it to the audience. After all, my grandmother lives in Russia, my mother is a native Russian (despite having lived in Estonia for over 35 years). I’ve been to Russia many times – over twenty trips in total, and visiting a variety of places, not only the well-known St. Petersburg and Moscow, but in the south – Voronezh, and in Urals region – the Chelyabinsk Oblast, where I often spent months. I’ve even been in the remote Russian villages hundreds kilometers away from civilisation. I dated someone from Russia. To say it frankly, it’s a bit easier for me being around Russians than being with the same Britons (whom I admire still). I could go to Russia tomorrow and naturally and easily be a Russian, and no one would even realise that I’m a foreigner. So an “Estonian with mixed Russian-Ukrainian heritage living in Britain” is probably the most Russian of the non-Russians.

Being this hybrid of several nationalities and cultures I can try and put myself into the shoes of each of them. This is not easy and resembles some kind of a psychological exercise, frankly. It’s not a natural phenomenon – I can only experience it while under the influence of propaganda. For instance, watching some movie about the Great Patriotic War, or a history program on TV, I can “in a moment” feel the very thing that the brains of the Russians are clogged with on a daily basis. But I can still feel it, unlike many who wouldn’t have any idea what it might feel like.

Therefore, through myself I will try to convey the attitudes of a Russian person. How do Russians feel their own place in the world?

Isolation is not a problem

First, we need to understand why the Russians are not afraid of isolation. Russia is an absolutely massive country, it’s a kind of a micro-world within the global world, which you don’t really need to leave to see a lot. Russia has many lands, republics, peoples, climatic zones. Here you can find both hot sandy beaches and freezing northern seas, largest lakes and rivers, tall mountain ridges, endless forests and crop fields. You can have a conversation with both very much European people and experience cultures of the eastern Turkic or southern Caucasian peoples. Moreover, conveniently everyone speaks Russian so you don’t need other languages to visit these places.

By the way, the story with the Russian language is interesting on its own – in the times of the USSR and the Russian Empire, Russian language in Eastern Europe and Central Asia resembled what the English language is for the whole world today. Obviously, in many states in Eastern Europe and Baltics they do not speak Russian anymore, yet in the countries such as Kazakhstan and Ukraine you can quite easily get by with just the knowledge of the Russian. This creates a certain sense of greatness and entitlement among the Russians.

This influence of the language is very important – few in Russia speak English, they are quite satisfied with the Russian language, however I know from the example of my friends how much the lack of knowledge of English narrows your horizons. In the English-speaking web you can find a huge amount of resources about a specific theme, often contradicting each other and stimulating a discussion. Conversely, with Russian sources you are almost always relying on a much smaller circle of people qualified to speak on the topic, navigating in an echo chamber with little input from the outside. That is why many Russian sources are often very limited and one-sided, which in turn affects the perception of the world by the reader and undoubtedly reflects on the general worldview of the Russians.

Many in Russia have never left it and their movements are limited to travelling within their regions and republics – they never dreamt not only of Europe, but even of neighbouring republics and cities. Those who do have a chance to leave Russia perhaps never travel beyond the neighbouring countries like the Baltics. There are comparatively few of those who travelled around the globe, as it is simply too expensive. So there is no fear of isolation to be spoken of when the life of an average Russian in a provincial town consists of a 9 to 5 job and TV on the weekends. In Britain, even those on the lowest income get an occasional chance to visit other countries or at the very least meet at their work the representatives of cultures from around the globe thus expanding their horizons.

Bashkir village, photo: Wikipedia

In some way this isolation unites Russian people, it is not as terrifying when around you are millions of people speaking the same language, connected with the same fate, however tragic it is. If your standard of living is dropping, it is dropping for everyone, and a small person cannot do much about it. It’s fine to suffer as long as others around are suffering (state officials excluded). The rest of the world is too far to perceive it as something tangible, perhaps even something real.

Finally, Russia is after all a very large and resource-rich country, it is capable of providing fuel and provisions to its people. The rest is secondary, unnecessary, in places perhaps even immoral. Generally, the topic of self-sufficiency and production can be often heard in reasoning of the greatness of Russia – “we produce everything ourselves including metals and food, meaning there are workplaces for hundreds of thousands of people”. This is especially noticeable in the older generation for whom iPhones and modern “luxuries” have little significance when there is access to TV with news and gardening channels. For Russians, big factories are very important.

The Great Past

To say that Russia as a nation has little to be proud of is wrong, quite the opposite – the pride of Russians for their country often goes beyond the bounds of reason despite all the horrors of their history (which nation doesn’t have them?). And there are things to remember – in the past (and today, too) Russia was an empire which influenced the world around it, was one of the leading European states which armies have been to Paris and Berlin. USSR was one of the two dominating superpowers which influenced the whole world. There were many scientific achievements, although many are certainly questionable, many have been stolen, but still the first person to go to space was a Russian. This cannot but affect self-pride.

All this history is inflated by state propaganda to such an extent that even if you are living in a complete cesspit you can still easily feel yourself as a part of something grandiose, and the external threats for you mean little. In Russia, everything is set up in such a way to create this image, this includes graffiti, street banners, holidays, concerts, even if it’s a complete fluke. The quality of the greatness is not as important as its quantity.

And certainly, comparing with many other countries, take Estonia for example, Russia is a colossal country in historical sense. Russians will always use this argument to belittle other nations – my life-long Russian friend does that occasionally, positioning Estonia as something laughable in its world significance. The fact that Estonian standard of living is times higher than that of Russia’s is not important, the main thing is that it’s much bigger and stronger.

It is difficult to explain with words but this feeling of belonging to something much greater than you is very strong, it gives you identity, it gives you a reason to sacrifice your life for the country, especially when a fierce enemy is created for you. As we know, this feeling has been masterfully exploited by the Russian authorities through centuries and especially in the recent decades. This feeling of superiority can still be observed among those Russians that are sympathising with Ukraine today – one may notice the elements of imperialism in the outputs of people like Navalny.

It would be impossible to not mention the Great Patriotic War here, the biggest war in history, in which the USSR still won despite the colossal casualties, and thanks to the critical aid from the allies. This victory is extensively paraded and exploited by the Russian propaganda machine, you cannot get away from it, and you cannot be against it. It gives a tremendous boost to the sense of patriotism in Russians who practically “saved the world” by defeating the German Reich. Older and perhaps even newer generations draw a lot of sentiment from the Soviet times. Even I sometimes think how curious it must have been living in the USSR, without borders, with a common idea, working for the good of the country and being friends with many nations, feeling as a part of something much bigger, and not migrating into someone else’s countries. The economic inefficiency, lack of the basic household items, general greyness of everything around you goes away to be replaced by an idealistic image of the Soviet past. And for those who lived in those times and then ended up in Russia in a situation much worse… Everything bad is once forgotten. In Russia, the past almost completely determines the present Russian identity – it’s not as important what happens next, the main thing is that we are the descendants of the great ancestors!

Victory Day in DPR, photo: RIA

This is why many Russian-speakers in Europe and other countries often have a severe identity crisis and totally side with Russia by joining car rallies, marches in support of Russia, displaying Russian flags. These people who have been living abroad for a long time (or always) in foreign countries have nothing to belong to – they don’t feel themselves as locals, but at the same time they know of a “Great Russia”, which can attack other countries, possesses nuclear weapons, has great history and is not afraid of isolation and threats from other countries. The more defiant it is the better, since that demonstrates its power. Otherwise it wouldn’t be able to act like this, right?

And the nuclear bomb, and weapons in general, it is also one of the pillars of the Russian identity. Putting aside all of our newly found knowledge about ineffectiveness of the regular Russian army, they still have weapons in theory capable of bringing any military conflict at least to a draw. It’s an extremely powerful feeling which in many ways determines the confidence of a Russian person not only in their ability to withstand any conflict but also inflating their entitlement in general.

Russians are quite similar to the British in the feeling of greatness, however whereas British will often use self-depreciating humour to ground themselves, Russians have none of that – they are always the best, the most courageous, the most moral, powerful and so on.

Our Common Enemy

The stubbornness of the patriotism of many Russians is undoubtedly linked with the effects of the propaganda, which albeit in some ways is based off well-founded fears, it is inflated to unprecedented levels in Russia. Speaking to a Russian person, a foreigner may be really taken aback by inconsistencies – Russians blame EVERYONE, often contradictory phenomena and population groups, including Americans, Ukrainians, Poles, Nazis, Jews, Muslims, officials, bureaucrats, liberals, communists, homosexuals… Ask any Russian and they will always show you exactly who is ruining their life.

By having a common enemy it is much easier to unite and survive the hard times, especially if you are not afraid of the consequences. By shifting the responsibility for your own failures to others you stop being responsible for anything and can rely on the big man (in our case, Putin) to solve everything. Your life gets much easier.

As I said, the propaganda in Russia is extremely effective. The most surprising thing for the western observes may be just how significantly the Russian media is focused on the West – every day in the news, in late night shows, even in entertainment talk shows one way or another the common enemy is mentioned. Try remembering, when was the last time you saw something about Russia on your TV (outside of the current war, of course)? I bet it is almost never. In Russia, it is the complete opposite – they are so obsessed with the West that watching Russian TV you may think the whole world only revolves around the confrontation between Russia and the West. This topic permeates the whole essence of modern Russian reality. Which is logical. If this topic is abandoned, what is left? Nothing, just observing the wrecked roads, which the authorities really don’t want you to think about.

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I think I’ve managed to give an approximate image of the worldview of the contemporary average Russians. I could go on and it would fit in a small book but I don’t want to repeat myself and the main theses are determined.

it is very difficult to understand Russians. Compared to western people (including Ukrainians) who, despite their difference always find common denominators, Russians are different. However, our task is to prevent their destructive power from destroying us. We must show that the power of agreement is stronger than the power of weapon, whatever it takes. And then, they will have to pay for every bit of own delusion and genocide they inflicted on innocent people in Europe and beyond.




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