Russians Don’t Feel European

Here is a small article I came across on, Russia’s leftist (and elitist) publishing project. The article is by Daniil Dondurey, a prominent film researcher from Russia. In the article, he speculates on how cultural integration should work. Enjoy.

To change this, we need to reinvent cultural cooperation between and the EU countries. And as long as 2010 is dedicated to cultural cooperation between Russia and France, the latter could be the right place to start.

Not so long ago the Secretary of Culture here in Russia asked me to speak about international cultural policies at one of the ceremonies related to the Year of Russia in France and France in Russia. I went for criticizing the very concept of cultural exchanges. As you may know, since the Soviet border became more or less open (after the party ruled so in 1956), cultural exchanges kicked in. They were essentially about exchanging information. Each nation demonstrated its cultural achievements. This tradition originates in the late XIX century: at that time the English would bring over dancers from Africa and later—Jazz from America. Russia’s export was Dyagilev’s ballet.

What we do today is essentially the same. Paintings by Picasso arrive to Moscow, while the theater of Lev Dodin and the Cossack Choir go to Paris, Lyon and Marseille. As I see it, the concept is painfully outdated. It doesn’t live up to current cultural requirements.

We need to build a common cultural space.

That would allow, for one, a French director to make a Russian film based on a screenplay written by a German or Ukrainian writer. Or that would allow Finnish and Ukrainian actors to take part in a Chekhov-based play under the supervision of a Belgian director. Or to have Russian films distributed and sold in France—some of them are not a bit worse than the French, trust me on that. The problem is that the French are unaware of that, because not a single cent has been doled out to let this common distribution (not to speak of production) happen. And I don’t only mean films—this could cover any aspect of culture.

We also need to adopt a common system of evaluation and merit. This means cross-cooperation in both artistic and financial issues. Then France could invest into Russian projects, and we could finally get rid of the monstrosity of state-funded films. Most studios fight for those projects to get the money, anyway.

This is how we can build a completely new philosophy of cultural production. It won’t be easy to handle for Mikhail Shvydkoy [Russia’s then-secretary of Culture — B&V], because instead of spending millions on making hundreds of singular events happen on both sides, he will have to build brand new cultural institutions in both Russia and France. Then we will have integration and cooperation, not exchange. The connections will shape up in joint productions, not exchange sprees.

Here is another example: France and Germany make a joint TV station called Arte, and it costs them twice as little as Russia Today costs Russia. Why can’t we make something similar, considering that France is much more fond of Russia than it is of Germany?

Nobody even thinks about such projects. Because we, Russians, subconsciously feel that the French are potential rivals.

We have this general idea that enemies are all around us, so we invest into borders.

For 130 years now, in the border cities of Brest and Chop that let trains from Russia into Europe, one and the same story happens every day: passengers get off the trains and wait. At this point the Soviet railroad ends and the European one starts—and the latter is 8.5 cm narrower. That is why people leave the trains and wait as the service brigades install new wheels, designed for different speeds, different rails and a different life altogether.

We have one life, they have another.

And if you were to calculate how often we, Russians, call ourselves Europeans in films, books or TV shows, you’d be surprised to see that we don’t do that at all. We are not Europeans, we are Russians. And until we start to think of ourselves as Europeans (like the rest of Europe), we are not getting a common railroad.

We shall stay an Eurasian country that the civilized world invites to its capitals to show our “African culture”.

By Max Bears

Not much is known about Max Bears, except for his obsession with the Russian language and Apple products. Sometimes seen on a bicycle around downtown Moscow, he is indistinguishable from the wild bears that roam the streets of Russia's capital.