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Russia’s Legacy Is an Ocean as Complex as It Is Vast

“It’s time to understand that Russia is an enormous treasure whose pieces cannot be considered in isolation”

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This post first appeared on Russia Insider

The author is a famous Russian writer whose articles were translated in 17 languages. 

This article originally appeared at Russkaya Planeta. Translated by Natalia Mojdjer

The Russian legacy is not a single chapter but a collection of volumes: Pagan Russia, Orthodox Russia, the Kingdom of Moscow, the Russian Monarchy, and the Soviet Union.

Russia is not only the rightful successor to the grandeur and glory of the Byzantine Empire and the keeper of the Orthodox faith. From a geographic standpoint, it is successor to the empire of Genghis Khan, and it still inhabits those original borders together with most of the nations that formed the Golden Horde. As wise men have  said, Moscow is the “Third Rome”.

Russians are descendants of a number of friendly tribes that share an extraordinary collective past and an exciting future. Unlike the Yankees, we did not rid our land of its native owners, but are proud of our Tatar-Mongol legacy.

Buryatia and Tatarstan, Yakutia, Bashkortostan, Kalmykia, Chuvashia, Khakassia, the Crimea, all were populated for centuries alongside Russians, by the Buryats, Volga Tatars, Crimean Tatars, Yakuts, Bashkirs Kalmyks, Kumyks, Nogai, Khakassia, Chuvash, Balkars and others, who today make up about 25% of Russia’s population.

Russia consists of layered traditions from each historical period: Ancient Russia, the Monarchy, Soviet Russia, and the Russian Federation. These seemingly separate eras coexist happily, their depth and perspective clearly visible beyond the historical procession that connects them.

Russia is not European, but rather a Eurasian conglomerate. It would be extremely difficult to compare people from Kamchatka, Sakhalin or Kabardino-Balkaria with Europeans, nor would Europeans recognize themselves in these peoples.

Yet Russia is undeniably a descendant of the great European cultures, and Russians today are the guardians of European traditions, some of which are perishing. Classical music, ballet, the visual arts, literature and even military culture appropriated from Europe rose to new heights over the centuries.

Today Europe drapes itself in robes of ethical correctness and religious tolerance, but that is nothing new to Russians. We have always lived that way, neither complaining about multiculturalism nor pretending we have all the answers.

Currently, there is a tendency to simplify Russian history. If Monarchists mention the Soviet period, they condemn it. Similarly, although it was in Soviet times that Russia became a major world player, historians of that era reduce the totality of Russian history to the victory of the Socialist Revolution, ignoring its antecedents.

As would be expected, Russian nationalists emphasize Russians, glossing over the other nationalities residing here. They pretend either that they do not exist or that it would be better if they did not.

To be fair, nationalists representing the interests of other Russian nations behave the same way toward Russia. Their textbooks pay scant attention to centuries-long peaceful and fruitful coexistence, but by focusing on the conflicts they eliminate big chunks of their own history.

As for liberals, they generally treat Russian history as a patchwork, starting with Ancient Russia’s democratic traditions  (which they  often ascribe to Ukraine or Belarus, out of spite), followed by ancient Novgorod, then straight to Boris Godunov or parts of Peter the Great, and on to Catherine the Great and Alexander the Third or the Nikolais - again, very carefully - then onto the Soviet Revolution.

After that we have a “black hole” followed by a condensed period of Gorbachev (with some questions) and finally, Yeltsin. Nothing but a patchwork of incoherent pieces.

It’s time to understand that Russia is an enormous treasure whose pieces cannot be considered in isolation. We should stop ignoring its cumulative value in favor of narrow preferences. I have my preferences too, but I keep them to myself. People are never indifferent when they think of their country, they’re always looking for ways to praise or condemn what they see.

Eventually it should become obvious that “democratic principles of governance” and other types of “decentralization” do not justify repeatedly aggressing the nobility, or erasing our not always negative relations with the Genghis Khan Empire.)

Similarly, reform of the Russian Orthodox Church does not justify the prosecution of Old Believers; Peter the Great’s progressive innovations do not compensate for his atrocities and irresponsibility; the Khodynka Tragedy of 1896, the Bloody Sunday of 1905, and the shameful Russo-Japanese war do not justify the murder of the entire Russian Royal family.

The White Army’s atrocities do not justify those of the Red Army. (Evidence of Red terror confirms the existence of White terror.)  The need for a national industrial base does not warrant the brutal confiscation of private property, conflicts within the Communist Party or the terror of 1937/1938.

The slow rate of change in the late Soviet Union does not justify its purposeful collapse, unlawful privatization, the attack on parliament, and the corrupt “rule of the seven bankers”.

Oppression by the nobility did not happen by chance, nor did church reform and the subsequent exile of the Patriarch; Peter the Great retained his rightful place, as did the series of palace coups after his death.

Expansion towards the Caucasus and Asia and the subsequent resistance of these regions also didn’t happen by chance. The same can be said of the 1917 revolutions - and of August 1991. The loss of Crimea did not just happen by mistake, and only the blind fail to see the legitimacy of its return.

If we consider matters of state rationally, we can understand much of what happens, and perhaps even change a few things. Words like “tsar” or “soviet” or “democratic” would never be derogatory for a true Russian. History is like a river that erodes layers of centuries. Why blame the water? We were brought onto these shores by the waves of this river, and thanks to the current, we’ve come this far and survived.

Some people may wish to be somewhere else, however if they do not have what it takes to get there, it may be better to concentrate on staying afloat for now. Just think about it: thousands of countries have disappeared in the course of history. Hundreds of nations have been scattered, thousands of languages have vanished, but we are still here. We must learn to be grateful.

Russia pledges to take care of all the nations on her territory, remembering that for almost a thousand years Eurasian unity was defined by the Russian mentality, language, and spirit.

Russia is bound to experience conflicts with its neighbors simply because its territory is forty times larger than any European country, meaning that its borders are that much longer and, therefore, the probability of getting into arguments with whoever shares these borders, is 40 times greater.

Our traditions of kindness, tolerance and acceptance go hand in hand with our military culture, and anyone who doubts this should have to face Yakut snipers, Siberian regiments, Chechen Special Forces or Buryatia tanks. Our country will continue to adhere to its vast legacy, including the wisdom of the other nationalities populating it.

Now is the time to come to terms with the breadth of Russian history, for time unites us all. There’s no need to settle scores or call “important people” to help divide our pie. The pie cannot be divided, for it belongs to everyone. Fussing over it only damages the frosting. Ironically, destructive ideologies actually worked in our favor, as proof the very existence of the Russian nation.

Russian history is as vast as the biggest ocean. Do not attempt to cast a stone into it: you will be washed away by the ripples.

Anyone who tries to understand our history through ideology passes reality by. Ideology is just a way of conducting economic and social affairs.

If someone were to ask us about our future, the answer would be that we should live up to our past. That past of being European, Asian, from the Caucasus, from the Far East, white or red.  Not just parts, but all of it.

Our immortality is in our soul and Russia is our national and collective immortality.

We can argue about the future, but the past is there forever.

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