It’s Friday, 13th September (2013)

It is Friday, 13th September. I have learned that Russians are very superstitious, unlike, for example, Finnish and Swedish people. However, there’s no reliable evidence to show that Friday the 13th had had any importance in the history of traditional, archaic magic. The idiom seems to be younger than 150 years.

After a rather long (and sunny) period in Finland, I have been enjoying my time in Moscow. (Indeed, summer was nice and warm in Finland.) I do like this city. Yet I have no idea why. Some of my friends in Finland do not understand me on this issue.

Here and there people ask about Russia and her future. Eh, I am a historian, not a fortune-teller. I am not even a specialist of Russian history. When I tell them I like Russia, people ask whether I always accept what President Mr. Vladimir Putin does. That is not the point; I like the people and the country regardless of the politics. I do not always agree with my favourite politicians in Finland either.

Of course, some things worry me. My question is: Why does only one of Russia’s neighbouring countries see Russia as a good and appealing example of a civic society? The Baltic Countries, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, etc. do not follow Russian example (to say anything about Finland and Norway). The dictatorial Belarus is the only state where Russian style is admired – and even there not that much, as they seem to think that Russia, actually, is too soft towards her critics and democratic ideas. (China, close to Russian style in some matters, has her own way.)

The ideological power of the so-called West originate from the fact that people believe in personal freedom, welfare, social equality and fair legal system and personal security – that is, the branding of the image in the western world has been very successfull. In this sense Russia is light years behind the West. What does the youth of Europe think of Russia?

In history, there is a difference between the developments in Russian empire and Western Europe. Starting from the late Middle Ages more and more stress in Western Europe has been put on the freedom of individuals. Of course, the rich were the first, yet step by step the ordinary people got better chances as well.

If I may slightly exaggerate, in Russia the state (the Empire) and the very conservative Church have always been the most important elements of the society. That means there never was a civic society in the same sense as in Western Europe. Many reasons for the Russian developments have been listed; the Roman Law, Reformations, and the Enlightenment never took root in Russia (as I previously wrote here in my Russian diary). At one point it seemed that Russia would almost surpass the west: serfdom was abolished in Russia (1861/1863) before the slavery of black people was abolished in the USA (1863/1865). And as is well known, racial discrimination continued in the USA as a legal practice up until the 1960s!

However, in the 20th century Russia entirely lost the competition of people’s souls. I want to emphasise, though, that Russia is much, much more than just bad politics.