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Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Romantic love is considered the only acceptable motivation for marriage, and there is a long tradition in literature, poetry, and song of idealizing lovers' passion, usually with tragic overtones, although bawdy approaches to the topic are also popular. Contemporary practice also highlights more pragmatic and cynical aspects of marital relationships, such as improving one's economic status or housing prospects. People frequently meet partners at school, university, or at work, although discotheques and clubs in the cities have become popular meeting places. Premarital sex is generally accepted, and marriages arising from unplanned pregnancies are not uncommon. Since the 1930s, twenty-three years has been the average age at marriage. Cohabitation is tolerated, but legal marriage is greatly preferred. Although economic un-certainty has led many to marry later or not at all, 97 percent of adults marry by age forty, and most before age thirty. Approximately one-half of all marriages end in divorce. Economic hardship and alcohol abuse are major contributing factors. Ethnic intermarriage became fairly common in Soviet times, and most people have at least one ancestor of a different nationality.

Domestic Unit. The multigenerational extended family living with the husband's family characterized peasant life until the twentieth century although household size varied by region. Among the aristocracy, the size and structure of the household unit was more flexible, although strict patriarchal control over the labor and behavior of the household was standard across social classes. One goal of the revolution was to replace traditional family practices with non-authoritarian communal living units. This experiment was short-lived, and after the 1930s, the values of family autonomy and privacy survived state intrusion.

The nuclear family is the most important domestic unit, and most married couples want an apartment of their own, away from their parents. The housing shortage and the high cost of new housing have made this a challenge, and families often live in apartments holding three generations, sometimes in stress-provoking conditions. Many couples with children live with a widowed parent of one spouse, most often the grandmother, who provides child care and food preparation. A grandparent's monthly pension may contribute significantly to the family budget.

Inheritance. Among the gentry, before the revolution, property was divided among all the living sons; as a result, large estates often were dissipated through fragmentation. Among the peasantry, household property included tools, clothes, and domestic items, while arable, pasture, and forest lands were held in common by the village and regularly repartitioned to provide adequate land for each family. Families with more married sons were allotted larger pieces of land. An ethos of egalitarianism with regard to property inheritance has remained strong.

In the Soviet period and for most families today, the most important real property consists of apartments and dachas. Ensuring that children have legal title to their parents' or grandparents' housing requires officially registering of the children as residents of those places before the death of the title holder. Otherwise, the title can revert to the government. With the advent of new wealth, inheritance laws are being reformulated, but there is controversy about taxes and legal procedures.

Kin Groups. Kinship is reckoned bilaterally, including consanguineal and affineal relations, although among the gentry recorded genealogies usually stressed the paternal. Until the mid-nineteenth century, kin terms for over sixty specific relations were in common use; with the social

A man is gathering mushrooms in Saint Petersburg. About 80 percent of vegetables consumed are grown in private plots.

transformations of the last century, the number of terms has decreased. Even across distances, close relations are maintained between a person and his or her siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and their families, and nieces and nephews, and many people stay in touch with more distant relatives. Among the factors that account for the sustaining of close ties are a lack of geographic mobility, the importance of networks of support in hard times, and regular visits to relatives in ancestral villages in the summer to rest, work, or visit family graves.

There has been a resurgence of interest in aristocratic roots. The exploration and celebration of one's genealogical background has become quite popular, and some members of aristocratic families abroad have returned to visit their families' former estates and re-assert their rank. Many people are intrigued by the romance and drama of the great families of the past.


Infant Care. Most women give birth in often overcrowded and understaffed maternity hospitals. Childbirth practices reflect traditional ideologies: birthing mothers are supposed to be stoical and are criticized for crying or complaining. Women stay in the hospital for at least a week after a birth, during which time fathers are allowed to see the mother and baby only through a glass window. It is feared that fathers may spread germs or will be repulsed by the "female business" involved in birthing. After the birth, women are encouraged to nurse, although maternal malnutrition often causes failure at breast-feeding and formula is given instead. State maternity benefits and laws on maternity leave are generous, although they often are not observed by private businesses, and pregnant women may be fired. Infants used to be swaddled at birth and are still wrapped and bundled tightly except during bathing and diapering. It is thought that they will injure themselves otherwise. Many customary beliefs about the evil eye and other natural or supernatural dangers surround pregnancy, birthing, and new babies. Although they are coddled, very young babies can be spoken to as if they understood "civilized" behavior and may be scolded for crying, grabbing, or hair pulling. Babies are kept very warm but also get fresh air; it is common to see parents or grandmothers walking in a park on a frigid day with a heavily bundled infant, its face peeking out from the blankets in its carriage.

Child Rearing and Education. The Soviet state provided nurseries and preschools for children, from the smallest infants through seven-year-olds starting elementary school. There were never enough places to go around, and so mothers going back to work after maternity leave might rely on grandmothers or other female relatives. A range of methods ensured that children were inculcated with the values of communal responsibility and proper social behavior. Learning to follow instructions and rules was valued over developing creativity and initiative. Very little has changed, although funding for public child care and education has diminished, forcing teachers to provide services with reduced resources in aging and inadequate facilities. Major changes have been made in school curricula, but most schools rely on teaching materials prepared by centralized federal committees, ensuring widespread standardization of education. Progressivism in education is not highly developed. Academic standards remain high, and students are well trained in world history, foreign languages, music, mathematics, and science. In Soviet times, the values of internationalism were stressed, and the Soviet Union's role in modeling a multiethnic nation was highlighted; that has been replaced by an emphasis on the importance of citizenship and the nation's achievements in the arts and sciences.

Many nonacademic activities and expectations may be structured in terms of gender. Girls and boys are dressed in very different ways and given different responsibilities. Girls are encouraged to be quiet, friendly, and mutually supportive, while boys are expected to be noisy, boisterous, and competitive.

The school year is highly ritualized from the opening day of classes to graduation, with celebrations and performances, some of which involve parents. Many students spend their entire educational career in one school. A sense of identification with the school and lifelong friendships develop in these institutions, and students commonly keep in touch with each other and with their teachers and principals well into adulthood. Schools may commemorate the accomplishments of their graduates.

Higher Education. The Soviet Union had a world-class system of higher education, with forty universities and hundreds of institutions specializing in academic, scientific, professional, and technical disciplines. Business education, especially in management, finance, and marketing, has been developed only since 1991, but there are more than one thousand business training schools, including some at the most prestigious universities, such as Moscow State University. More than 90 percent of the population has completed secondary education, and around 12 percent have received a higher education. Ninety-nine percent of the adult population is literate, although literacy and completion rates are declining among educationally disadvantaged ethnic groups in the North Caucasus, southern Siberia, and the Far East. Higher education has come to be valued as a mark of social prestige and is regarded as critically important for economic success.


The most significant elements of etiquette are the verbal markers of social status. People use the second person plural pronoun when addressing elders except for parents and grandparents, persons of higher status, strangers, and acquaintances. The informal second person singular is used only among close friends, within the natal family, and among close coworkers of equal status. The more distant two people are socially, the more likely it is that they will address each other with full formality. Addressing someone formally also entails using the person's full name and patronymic. Misuse of the informal mode is extremely insulting.

Table behavior is circumscribed by a code of manners. Hosts and hostesses must show unfailing generosity, even with unexpected guests, and guests must receive that hospitality with a show of willingness to be served, fed, and pampered. Drinking together and toasting are important aspects of these rituals.

The filthiness of urban surfaces means that one never sits on the ground or puts shod feet on a table. Proper feminine behavior requires the observance of a number of specific practices: clothes must always be immaculately clean and pressed, fastidious grooming is critical, and comportment should be elegant and reserved. However, in crowds, lines, and public transport, active shoving and pushing are the norm.

In Soviet times, being demure and not drawing attention to oneself through dress or behavior were highly valued, but this norm has vanished with the explosion of fashion and attention-getting subcultural identities.

The word "uncultured" is used by grandmothers and older people as a reprimand for behavior on the part of their charges or total strangers that are considered uncouth or inappropriate. The use of this reprimand has diminished as the social status of elders has fallen and as blatantly offensive behavior in the cities has become a mark of the power and "coolness" of youthful traders and "toughs."


Religious Beliefs. Although Prince Vladimir converted the East Slavs to Orthodox Christianity in 988, pre-Christian polytheism persisted for hundreds of years among the people, alongside Christian practices and beliefs. Many animistic elements, rites, and feasts associated with the agricultural calendar have persisted. Christian practices such as the curative application of "holy water" from a church are structured along the lines of pre-Christian customs. Churches frequently were constructed on ancient sacred sites. Traditional beliefs about forest and house spirits and metaphysical healing practices still exist among urbanized intellectuals and the working classes, especially among rural populations. A number of behavioral prohibitions stem from old beliefs: whistling indoors summons ill fortune and evil spirits are attracted by bragging or calling attention to good fortune or health. Telling people they have a lovely child may cause discomfort and necessitate warding off the evil eye.

The Soviet Union promoted "scientific atheism," severely repressed all religious organizations, and destroyed or took over many religious

A house and the surrounding hills near Irkutsk, Siberia. The expense and lack of new housing has made for difficult living conditions in Russia.

properties and sacred objects. The recent revitalization of religious identification and practice has been swift and strong among adherents of Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism, although many Jews have emigrated. Indigenous shamanism is also being revived among many Siberian and Mongolian peoples. The state has returned thousands of churches, mosques, and temples as well as icons and other religious objects appropriated during the Soviet period to their respective communities. Monasteries and religious schools and training centers for all faiths have sprung up or reopened, and the number of religious practitioners has more than doubled since the 1970s. There has also been an explosion of alternative and New Age spiritual movements, publications, and practitioners.

A majority of ethnic Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. A much smaller number are active participants in church activities, but the observance of key holidays is increasing. The Russian Orthodox Church has always been institutionally powerful, aligned with the state since Kievan times and even in the Soviet period, when it was allowed to function within strict limits. The control and reach of the state have often been secured through the administrative networks and ideological influence of the Orthodox church.

Islam has been important throughout Russian history. It has been the major religion in the northern Caucasus since the eighth century and in the Volga region since the tenth. Today, Islam is the second largest religion, after Russian Orthodoxy, with at least 19 million practitioners, and among ethnic minorities most Tatars, Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Chechens, and Avars, are Sunni Muslim. Moscow is a center of Islam in Russia, with many active mosques and organizations to serve the one to two million Muslims in Moscow. There are significant populations in many other large cities as well.

Before the revolution, most of Russia's Jews were confined to rural settlements and endured constant persecution. In addition to facing both popular and official anti-Semitism in the Soviet period, Jewish populations were repressed and secularized to the point where the majority were nonpracticing and Judaism was regarded as an ethnicity but not a religious identity. From the 1970s, a slow rediscovery of Jewish tradition, both sacred and secular, has occurred, while major waves of emigration have reduced the numbers of Jews. A few synagogues functioned nominally during the Soviet period, and these have been somewhat revitalized in recent years as some of the several million Jews remaining in Russia rediscover lost traditions and rituals.

Buddhism was officially recognized in Russia in 1741. It is the primary religion of ethnic Buryats, Kalmyks, and Tuvans. Harshly persecuted under Stalin, when most temples and monasteries were destroyed and lamas murdered or sent to the Gulag, Buddhism has made a steady revival, and today claims several million adherents, among ethnic Slavs as well as traditionally Buddhist populations.

Roman Catholicism is practiced mainly be ethnic Poles, Germans, and Lithuanians. Various Protestant sects are long established, especially among ethnic Ukrainians, and in the years since perestroika foreign evangelical sects have sought adherents among nonbelievers and members of other religious groups. In 1997, the controversial "Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" was passed, granting full rights of organization and association to only four religions: Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. Others have to go through a complex registration process and their activities are restricted.

Religious Practitioners. The administrative head of the Russian Orthodox Church is the Moscow patriarchate. Bishops and metropolitans lead the 128 dioceses. Parish priests, who are trained in seminaries and are obliged to marry, serve the 19,000 parishes. The number of parishes and monasteries has grown substantially with the restoration of religious freedom. Islamic muftis lead the Muslim Spiritual Boards, with a variety of jurisdictions, but the hierarchical and regional structure of Islam in Russia is in flux, as numerous religious and religious-political organizations, institutes, and cultural centers vie for authority and followers. Mullahs are the local teachers and interpreters of Islam; many are hereditary, but some young mullahs are challenging existing structures of authority. Among Buddhists, lamas are the most important spiritual leaders and teachers.

Rituals and Holy Places. For most Orthodox believers, religious practice centers on the emotive experience of liturgy, which is chanted daily, on Sundays, and in long, elaborate services on holy days. Icons depicting the Virgin Mary and the saints are widely venerated, and the faithful light candles, pray, bow, and sometimes weep before these sacred images. The peasant hut of the last century always centered on the "red corner" where the family's icon hung, and many urban apartments have a table or shelf set aside for an icon. Churches and cathedrals are the most important sites of Orthodox worship. Local parishes across the country have raised funds to rebuild and restore churches destroyed by the Soviets, with some support from the Moscow patriarchate. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent to restore cathedrals in the large cities. Some, like the enormous Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, torn down in 1931, have been rebuilt from scratch and are widely venerated as symbols of the rebirth of Russian Orthodoxy.

A similar rebuilding and reclamation of older sites of worship has occurred among Russia's Islamic, Jewish, and Buddhist communities.

Death and the Afterlife. Proper care for and remembrance of the dead are considered very important. Around the time of death, it is crucial to do certain things to prevent the dead from staying or returning: mirrors are covered with black cloth, the body is laid out in ways that facilitate the ushering out of the spirit, and mourners accompany the deceased from home to church and from church to cemetery. In the church or hall where the body is displayed, mourners circle the open coffin counterclockwise and may kiss or lay flowers on the body. After burial, mourners return to the family's home, where certain foods are served with vodka and the deceased is remembered with stories and anecdotes. Food and vodka may be set at his or her place for nurturance of the soul. The soul remains on earth for forty days, at which time the family holds a second gathering to bid farewell as the soul departs for heaven. The anniversary of a death is memorialized every year; some people travel great distances to visit their loved ones' graves.

Date: 2015-12-11; view: 864

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