Especially in the conflicts between Europe, the United States and Russia, many commentators and reporters repeatedly refer to the Russian soul. The phrase is used as a collective term, attributing various supposed characteristics of Russians, but also of former citizens of countries from the Soviet Union. According to the people who use this term, people in Eastern Europe, but especially in Russia, can be said to have a heightened melancholy, a certain capacity for suffering, and a very unique way of life. While the legendary Russian soul has been invoked in many quotes and books, the term sometimes has quite different meanings.
The origin of the concept of the Russian soul: meaning, explanation
Today, it is difficult to trace exactly how the term originated. It can be assumed that it was mainly the famous Russian literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries that made the „Russian soul“ known to the Western world. Authors such as Pushkin, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy endeavored to define the Russian soul as a concept in their stories and used very different approaches to do so. It is said to have been Pushkin who first spoke concretely of the phrase Russian soul in his poems.
After the golden age of Russian literature, this peculiarity of Russians was forgotten in the turmoil of the First and Second World Wars, and the term was rediscovered especially with the end of the Soviet Union. When people finally had the opportunity to discover the different peculiarities of Russia with their own eyes, they also realized again that at the easternmost edge of Europe there is a country with people who naturally bring with them their very own traditions and sensitivities. Since then, the concept of the Russian soul has been a discourse not only in culture, but also in geopolitics.
The definition of the Russian soul
In general, it can be said that there is not one definition of this concept. In the course of time, people from Russia have always been attributed different typical characteristics – sometimes in an extremely positive sense but also as a negative stereotype that associates an entire people with certain negative qualities. Also, the concept of the Russian soul has changed a lot over the centuries and especially in the last decades. Thus, it cannot be said that there is a very specific definition of this particular description.
The core of the definition goes back to the long history of the Russian Empire. Russia has been an important country in Europe since the Middle Ages and has changed a lot over the centuries, especially in its borders. The founding history of the Russian Empire should also be taken into account when searching for the Russian soul. When the state came into being in its original form, it was a militarily enforced union of the most diverse regions of Europe and Asia, which usually came along with their very own peoples and cultures and at the beginning had only extremely few things to do with each other.
The Russian empire may have grown together in the following centuries, its own cultures and traditions developed, but to this day Russia is a vast country with a wide variety of people and origins, who do not always all see themselves as Russians. Nevertheless, the blows of history are said to have ensured the emergence of a common feeling that is evident in the Russian soul today.
What are the qualities associated with the Russian soul?
Over time, observers have associated the Russian soul with various traits and, of course, have had their own intentions in mind. For example, there are the clichés that Russians are particularly hypothermic and that they would not trust anyone outside their own borders because they have been betrayed too many times. Others relate the term primarily to the often praised hospitality and warmth that emanates from many Russian people. At first distant on the outside, but as soon as one is part of the inner circle, almost gifted with exuberant warmth and kindness of heart – this is how many people who have their roots in Russia still describe it today.
If one takes all reports together, then the Russian soul can be described with certainty with the warmth of the Russians, with which they meet their fellow men. But also with a certain tendency to superstition, a close attachment to traditions and a certain skepticism towards change and transformation, because for many Russians this was usually accompanied by negative times. A certain tendency to excess and a problem with not thinking and acting in superlatives also seem to be part of it.
If one takes a look at the original descriptions of the Russian soul, as described by authors such as Tolstoy, then one must also look at the Russians‘ capacity for suffering. Influenced by the many changes of the last centuries, the Russian soul is said to be particularly strong and tough, but at the same time it has developed a tendency to brutality. It is melancholy on some days and almost exuberant at other moments.
In the end, it must probably be noted that people in Russia are as different as in any country. They differ from north to south and from west to east. Traditions play an important role here, but they are usually mainly the part of a region and not of a whole country. Therefore, it is probably difficult to actually describe the mysterious Russian soul or to capture it in certain character traits. It is above all a philosophical concept that will probably remain a mystery forever and is interpreted differently by every Russian and by every foreigner.