Russians hate business. All businessmen are crooks by definition. As s Russian proverb says, ‘Honest work won’t get you a stone palace’. If an American meets a millionaire, his first thought is, “What a clever man he must be!” The first thought of a Russian is sure to be, ‘How has this crook managed to grab so much?’
Not many Russians make trading their occupation. Everybody agrees that it is utterly immoral to buy cheap and sell at a higher price. Merchants and shop-owners are well known for their greed: “Blood-suckers of the poor proletariat, that’s what they are. The Bolsheviks were right to have shot them.” With such a philosophy, running a business in Russia is for the audacious, not to say brave.
Winston Churchill is rumoured to have exclaimed once, ‘For those Russians, to lose an hour is to lose nothing!’ A good example of Russian time-keeping would be the ‘five-minute conferences’ before the beginning of each working day at Russian factories, these may last for an hour or more.
Russians are quick learners. The fall of Communist ideology has brought about an understanding that first come is first served. Hibernation time is over. New companies are emerging and new business relations developing. Outdated laws are being replaced by sounder ones. Still, a good kick from behind would help to speed up matters no end.
Ask a Russian to name part of his face and he will say ‘Nose’. Ask him to name a domestic animal and it will be ‘Chicken’ for certain. And if you ask him to name a poet , his response will be ‘Pushkin’. To say that Russians adore Pushkin is to state the obvious. They just swear by the name; when someone does not do what he ought to, he is asked, ‘OK, who will do that for you, then? Pushkin?’
The Russians have much to boast about culturally. As well as great writers and playwrights such as Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoevsky, world-famous Russian names include composers like Tchaikovsky, the world’s best chess players, the Bolshoi and Kirov ballets, and ‘Hamlet’ which Russians claim is a Russian play. Hardly a drama theatre does not stage ‘Hamlet’ once in a while because its hero is the very image of that unique Russian class, the intelligentsia. Like all intellectuals, he is fond of walking to and fro, asking the audience whether he should or should not be.
All through Russian history Russian authors have had to learn how to say something critical without risking a prison sentence or death. The period of learning was hard, with many of them proving poor pupils. But those who stayed alive were skilful at speaking metaphorically and everybody understood that what was said was not at all what was meant. Before Gorbachev, the following saying was popular: “Don’t think it; if you have thought it, don’t say it; if you have said it, don’t write it down; if you have written it down, don’t publish it; if you have published it, immediately say you’re sorry.” With the advent of ‘glastnost’ (openness), you are free to express the wildest idea possible. But what?
According to a popular poet, in Russia a poet is more than just a poet. The creative artists’ fight for survival served as a stimulant, a catalyst to creativity. Anyone can produce entertaining literature; but to offer the world a masterpiece, you have to have suffered. Authors and musicians, painters and sculptors are painfully looking for new ways to express themselves. Not many succeed.
Although Russian nationalists might not agree, during the last centuries Russian artists developed under strong French and later English and American influence. As a result, a very original art has emerged, something Russians are justly proud of, although Russian painters have not distinguished themselves sufficiently to be noticed by the West.
Icon painting is an art form with which there is nothing to compare. Russian icon painters did not attempt to copy nature; they tried to paint an ideal, something that cannot be seen with the naked eye. The icon is not an image of a living person, it is his soul, the very essence of the man.
Russians take special pride in books for children. “You must write for children like you write for adults, only better.” And they do. Among illustrations children’s authors are Marshak, Tchukovski and Zakhoder. Zakhoder has written a Russian version of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ which has become a children’s favourite. Among foreign authors, the young enjoy Hans Andersen, the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault. They also love Pippi Longstocking, Mary Poppins, Winnie-the-Pooh and Carlson who lives on the roof.
Adults read mostly in buses and trains which has helped Russians to win the reputation of the most avid readers in the world. Since they spend half their time on public transport or at bus stops waiting for a bus, it’s no wonder they are considered the best-read people ever.