Updated: Oct 4
The official and non-official, propagandistic-and-stereotyped, and linguistic-and-cultural symbols play an important role in formation of a country and a nation’s image; they build up its recognition.
Symbols of Russia and Russians are quite diverse. There are only three official, i.e. authorized by low, symbols of the state – the flag, emblem and anthem. The number of informal symbols, which are often much more famous and popular, could be divided into the following groups:
Propagandistic-and-stereotyped symbols created by foreigners:
a) They usually support the social myths and political illusions (bear, vodka, KGB, Kalashnikov’s gun)
b) They are associated with the national every day culture (matryoshka, balalaika, samovar, a hat with ear-flaps, three-horse sled, etc.)
Symbols associated with the national every day culture:
c) Linguistic and cross-cultural
Propagandistic-and-stereotyped symbols created by foreigners
Foreigners have lots of wrong and misleading stereotypes, political illusions, and social myths about Russian life due to the old Cold War politics and Western media (the news, newspapers, magazines, TV, movies, radio, etc.) propaganda which often created a sense of fear of the Russians (previous Soviets). As an example of this: how many negative stereotypes of Russians / Soviets were depicted only in Hollywood movies Rocky IV, From Russia With Love, Spies Like Us, Rambo &Iron Eagle, The Bourne Supremacy, The Saint, Salt.
After such propaganda brain-wash, it is not wonder that some foreigners still see Russia as a dangerous enemy and an “Empire Evil”. Others consider Russia a remote, snowed -up country full of bears and KGB where drunk Russians playing the balalaika amidst matryoshkas and samovars. It is Hardly worth saying today that contemporary life in Russia has very little to do with any of that.
What can I say? Never believe stereotypes! It’s much better to visit Russia and look at it with your own eyes.
The bear has long been associated with Russia. Some western explorer discovering Russia about six centuries ago wrote of some remote town full of bears roaming the streets and the barbaric Russian “medved” firmly gripped Western’s imagination.
So the Russian bear cliché stepped in from the West and since the 18th century it has been mainly a derogatory image of Russian emperors (and then other Russian leaders) in western political cartoons and caricatures. It should reflect barbarity and aggression of Russia.
Yest inside Russia, the bear has a different reputation, and this animal has had positive connotations to all Slavs. Pre-Christian Slavs believed the bear to be their common ancestor.
“Medved” (bear) is one of the heroes of many Slavic legends and fairytales. Russians tenderly give the bear a human name of Misha (sometimes adding a patronymic name out of respect – hence, Mikhail Potapych). By the way “medved” (“med” – honey, “vedat” – to know) literary means “the one who knows where the honey is”.
Bears live throughout Russia. Of course, you will not see bears roaming the streets of towns and cities, but you can see their images everywhere. They are on countless Russian town shields as a symbol of strength and courage.
The lovable little bear cub Misha was chosen to be Russia’s mascot in the 1980 Summer Olympic Games held in Moscow and became a favourite hero of children’s cartoon for years. Recently the bear was adopted as the ubiquitous symbol for the United Russia.
The bear has become the male role model on the pages of Russia’s first ever men’s glossy fittingly entitled “Medved”. Bear symbology reached its peak when D. Medvedev became the President of Russia. (In Russian Medvedev literally means “of the bears”.)