Natalia Antonova 😼🕵️‍♀️ @NataliaAntonova Clever girl. @bellingcat editor. Bylines: Guardian, WaPo, Vox, etc. Mar. 07, 2018 2 min read

Let's talk about the Russian soul, a.k.a. That Thing Which Does Not Exist.

Whenever I point out that the Russian soul does not exist, some smartass shows up to whine, "BUT NATALIA, RUSSIANS USE THAT EXPRESSION ALL THE TIME." Yeah, that *expression* is not proof that the Russian soul is, like, a thing.

Russians my age use the expression ironically. Hell, even Putin's generation mostly uses it ironically. "I am getting a new ID & they said I need an ID to get the ID but my old ID is expired which is why I'm getting a new one & they said I can't. I blame it on the Russian soul!"

Bureaucratic hell, weirdos on public transport, dumbass political decisions, bizarrely bad service <<<< People look at that and throw up their hands and go, "I guess that's just the Russian soul, lol!"

There is the romantic, university-Russian-department view of the Russian soul in which it is manifested as a kind of shimmering entity that drinks tea from saucers while singing "Подмосковные вечера" at the dacha. First-year students of the Russian language are sometimes fans.

And then you have all of the lazy, dumb, inexcusable media takes on "the Russian soul" and how it's "slave-like" or "authoritarian" or "barbarous" or "cruel" or whatever. "But look at Russian history!" people shoot back when you challenge them on that.

Uh, yeah, about that. The history of an empire, a nation, a people does not confer some metaphysical quality onto anyone. Does it influence policy, social norms, culture, etc.? Sure. THAT DOESN'T CHANGE THE FACT THAT YOU'RE ESSENTIALIZING IF USING "RUSSIAN SOUL" UNIRONICALLY.


But America was founded by slaveowners. What's your point again?

We don't reverently/pejoratively talk about the mysterious "American soul" because that's laughable fucking bullshit.

You know what plays a HUGE part in understanding Russian governance/foreign & domestic policy/the relationship that Russians have with the state - geography.

I'll spell it out, in big letters:


Russia's sheer size influences literally everything.

Hell, everything from infrastructure to the economy to how history is taught in Russian schools is influence by geography, and how hard it is for Russia to have any kind of effective governance due to it being so huge.

Russia = huge. Giant swathes of it have seriously harsh climate. A nation on paper today but run like an empire. An atomized society. A federal center that saps money/potential. Resentments bubbling under the surface in many republics. Fuck the "soul," this is reality.

When we talk about "the Russian soul" as a serious concept what we're effectively saying is = "Russia can't be dealt with effectively. Nor can it be understood."

This is self-defeating, it's bullshit, and it's bigotry.

I'm not going to shut up about this: Bigotry props up Putin, who thrives on Russians' sense of isolation. He *wants* you to be bigoted towards Russians, because it helps his domestic aims. If you're dumb enough to play this game, be aware that you're playing it by his rules.

In conclusion, fuck your unironic usage of "the Russian soul." Every person who mentions it to me from now own will owe me 20 bucks. There.

You can follow @NataliaAntonova.


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