Courtesy: Pankaj Saxena
Russia, though Christian & partly Western in origin, was never seen as a permanent member of the West, at least by its most influential pillars like France, UK, the German States, the Scandinavians and then USA.
Muscovite Russia ever since Ivan the Terrible was seen as part of the barbaric East. The Mongol occupation of Russia was supposed to have turned them into barbarians too and the famed ‘Russian brutality’ was considered a contribution of the East.
Russia’s choice of religion was also not Western enough. Orthodoxy is the most ‘un-Western’ of the primary Christian sects.
Though the Greek Orthodox Church was seat of Eastern Roman Empire, ever since the rise of the Seljuk Turks at its border and the destruction of Byzantium, the center of the West had shifted to Rome and the Roman Catholic Church with France and German states as their soldiers.
The Orthodox Churches, including the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church as well as all the eastern churches of Asia were ‘othered’ by the West.
The Great Schism, the break between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church came in the 11th century. But even before that differences had cropped up between the Latin Rites Church in Rome and Eastern Rites Church which later came to be called the Orthodox Church.
When Vladimir the Great, the first great ruler of Russia, was hunting for religion, he rejected Islam for it prohibited drinking, rejected Judaism for they had lost their sacred center, and also rejected the Latin Rites (later Catholics).
This ‘betrayal’ of Vladimir and the Russian people was something that the West never forgot. Despite Varangian ancestry, and the active help to Vladimir by their army the choice of Orthodoxy as its religion made Russia ‘un-Western’ and ‘un-Christian’ in their eyes.
To add more fuel to the matter, Orthodoxy, through its continuous touch with eastern cultures like China and India, had imbibed many eastern ‘traits’. The liturgical singing in the Russian Orthodox Church sounds like the chanting of Vedic mantras.
The worship of icons is very akin to the Hindu practice. These icons are worshipped at home and are not just tokens and they are taken on processions in various festivals which are quite alien to most Protestant and also the Catholic church.
Apart from that there are various other ‘eastern traits’ in Russian society. The folk songs & culture of Russia has more in common with India than with the West. Turgenev, Lermontov and various other great Russian poets and litterateurs have remarked and written upon it.
The folksy ‘rural’ art of the Russian countryside is something that the West has always hated and ‘othered’. These eastern traits are considered central to Russian consciousness because Russia expanded into Asia in 17th and 18th centuries and occupied most of what is Siberia.
Though it is not recognized but Russia was also a colonial & imperial power and it is one of the very few countries which still holds its colonial territories which became integral part of its geography as these ‘colonies’ were in geographical continuation of its motherland.
By doing so it came in contact with many eastern cultures and also imbibed many of their cultural traits. These are the lands which are most mineral and resource rich.
Russia has always been seen like an ‘other’ by the core Western culture; as the barbaric cousin of the West who went rogue and whose ancestry is doubtful. The hatred is so deep that throughout the second millennium the West has hated Russia more than East.
This conflict has been seen within Russia itself. It is a major theme in its cultural consciousness. On one hand are the ‘forward-looking’ or Western oriented who think Russia’s destiny lies with its alignment with the West as much as possible.
On the other hand are those who think Russia’s unique tryst with the East is what makes it what it is and it shall not and cannot be lost. This conflict led to Peter the Great creating St. Petersberg and abandoning Moscow.
He wanted a Europe oriented capital in the wake of the Varangians and thus turned a cold damp swamp into the world-class city which looks more Romanesque than many Italian cities. He adopted the title of Emperor & instituted many Enlightenment ideals & institutions in Russia.
But subsequent Czars went back to Russian cultural origins and when the communists took over, they again changed the capital to Moscow for St. Petersberg was too Western for them. In this move they identified more with the unique Russian past rather than the communist ideals.
Many attribute this move to finding legitimacy with the Russians. As Putin seeks to recreate Mother Russia, he is reasserting all the classical elements of Russian culture. After Stalin Soviet Russia was continuously ruled by various non-Russian Heads of the State.
Only with Putin do we get a very strong & very Russian leader who is reasserting the unique identity of Russia and it is not Western. It is uniquely Russian & this is reason the West hates it so much as it does. This is the reason that the West is demonizing Russia so much.