Ever since primary school Jess brought an Anastasia DVD from Woolworths, I have been obsessed with Russia. The fallen monarchy, Winter Palace, Russian dolls- even the Rasputin Cossack dance on that wii Just Dance game- I love it all. The problem is, as I’ve grown up, it’s proved quite a hard love to defend: Russia rigged the election, Russian doping scandal, Russia hates gays, whichever part of the internet you go to (unless it’s, like, Putin’s LinkedIn page) there’s at least one article which aligns with Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire’ view.
So this summer when my Russian friend offered me the chance to visit her hometown Izhevsk I was so excited to finally see whether the media was right.
It wasn’t. Now obviously I’m not denying Chechnya’s gay purge or the fact the government’s corrupt- we’ve all seen the Reggie Yates documentaries- but when we talk about Russia we seem to solely focus on demonising it, which is strange considering every country has flaws and when I visited I was amazed by how normal it felt. So here’s why I think we should go easier on the planet’s largest country:
They’ve Had the Most Turbulent Century: I studied Soviet history 1850-2000 and it’s one of those classes that you have to buckle your seatbelts for because every lesson is a bumpier ride than the last. They’re ruled by a Tsar and then suddenly he’s overthrown so they’re communist, and then there’s Stalin who says he’s communist but also becomes known as the Red Tsar because he’s not and then Khrushchev comes along and removes all sign of Stalin and then the economy does fuck all until Yeltsin gets drunk all the time and sells off all the companies to oligarchs which sends everyone else into poverty (ngl though if you’re ever sad YouTube ‘drunk Yeltsin dancing’ for instant feel good videos). But how can people be surprised that the country is so behind morally, politically and industrially when they literally had their revolution 100 years ago? Essentially Russia is still in that experimental teenage phase. It’s basically 1799 for them rn.
We Can’t Blame Russians for the Faults of their Government: I’ve seen you all with your ‘don’t blame me, I voted Labour’ badges so the same logic applies here. Russians aren’t stupid, they know their government is corrupt, they know they aren’t as progressive as the West but there’s also very little they can do about it. Most Russians are just getting on with their lives in the same way that us Brits are ignoring the hybrid DUP-Brexit elephant in the room in the hope that it will just go away. But honestly, the most surprising thing about my trip was how lovely the people were. I even spent a week living with a woman who spoke no English but let me have her spare room in Moscow for free anyway. What. The. Fuck. In England generosity is offering them a second digestive even though EastEnders has started and you want them to leave; in Russia it’s an eight dish buffet followed by a speedboat ride and a souvenir glass engraved with the city’s name. All this actually happened. The people were divine.
There’s No Social Mobility: When people think of Russians they think of beautiful, slim women in fur coats holding the hands of suited men called Vladimir, on a night out to the theatre- while this wealth still exists, the poor are much more abundant. The poverty of Russia makes the generosity even more valuable because people are buying you food despite having so little themselves. As the country is so big, cities are so far away from each other (Izhevsk to St Petersburg took a whole day. RIP my bum muscles) making commuting impossible: people have to find work locally which means the only jobs are within family businesses or labourers. There is no benefit system. You work or you die.
I spoke to a girl my age who said she’d love to visit London but realistically even if somehow she managed to get a tourist visa aka gold dust, and saved up, it would never be affordable. In Izhevsk, a loaf of bread is 11p. A 20 minute taxi ride was £1. A bottle of vodka £2. Meanwhile in London it costs you £2 just to use the loos in Covent Garden. She will probably never see my favourite city. So when Trump originally said he waned to open up trade with Russia you can easily see why these people with so few opportunities favoured him to Hillary’s harsher approach.
There’s a Lot of Fabrication: I’m not denying the problems with race, sexuality or gender, but the media does weave a lot of false narratives including
- ‘Putin doesn’t allow ugly photos of Russia online’
- ‘The mafia try and steal your passport’
- They’ll sell you into sex work’ (My dad even said he’d look for me on EasternEuropeanBabes.com in case they held me for ransom but now I’m not sure if that was for my benefit or his)
- ‘You’ll catch AIDS’
- ‘You won’t come back alive!’
- ‘Russia rigged the election’ No, Russia didn’t do anything- Russia is literally a chunk of rock with some building on it- the government may have done something but why do we drag the whole country into it? Why don’t we blame America for Charlottesville, instead of Trump?
Russia has its flaws- I hate its intolerance, the lack of diversity, the fact there’s no social mobility, etc- but we don’t have to judge it solely by these things. Every country has weaknesses but we still holiday in Trump’s America, staycation in May’s Britain, and spend weekends in Ireland where abortions are illegal. Instead we could see the stunning architecture, friendly af people, amazing food and cakes To Die For. But we don’t, so we miss out.