Volgograd, June 1, 2001

"Yankee, go home?", Elena Zharkova
(Story On March Volgograd Forum translated from national "Rossiya", March 23, 2001)

Americans through the eyes of Russians (in order of frequency of mention):
Friendly, hospitable, thrifty, optimistic, active, enterprising, assured of their rights, ambitious, independent, energetic, work-alcoholic, patriotic.

 Americans appear:
Fat, smiling, but insincere, hale, neat and tidy, prosperous, healthy, and one-dimensional.

Americans love:
Coca-Cola, fast food, their country, pop-corn, chewing gum, hotdogs, work, money, family, sport, entertainment, their president, and psychoanalysts.

 Americans always:
Say “greetings” and smile, interfere in any matter, plan their future, think only of themselves, speak a great deal, make a lot of noise, praise themselves, offer stupid questions, work hard, are preoccupied about their rights and personal space.

Americans never:
Deceive, cry, dream, think, say pardon, excuse themselves, complain, waste time or money, carry out their promises, eat soup, leave their automobiles, wash their dishes, drink, understand Russians.

Russians through  American eyes:
Well educated, intellectual, poor, emotional, passionate, religious, depressed, proud, hospitable, industrious.

Russians appear:
Serious, sad, truculent, threatening, hungry, unhappy, coarse (even women), tired, frightened, severe, tense, suspicious.

Russians love:
Vodka, fatty foods, books, American culture, friends, music, ballet, art, culture, war, family, the Cold war.

Russians never:
Have a good time, wear shoes in their homes, stop working, are optimistic, wait their turn in line, make plans for the future, smile on the street, take stupid actions, understand Americans.

          This is the data that Olga Leontovich, director of the  American Center of the Volgograd Pedagogical University, found in her work for a doctoral dissertation.  Olga Arkadyevna has worked a long time in the USA, has conducted many surveys for her research and has thoroughly studied intercultural communications between Americans and  Russians.  These curious findings were announced not long ago at the widely known discussion club, in our city, the Volgograd Forum.  The forum’s chairman, Alexander Yevreinov, proposed for discussion the complicated issue: “Are we witnessing a contemporary rise in anti-American sentiment?”

          The special push for this topic resulted from the recent publication in the Western press about how many young people in Russia are infected with the dangerous virus of anti-Americanism.  The author of one article on the subject  supports his conviction with personal observations.  In particular, he is convinced that the song, “Kill the Yankees”,  from one of the lesser known rock groups has become almost a hymn in youth circles, and heralds the views of Russian young men  and  women for this reason. 

          Volgograd has its own experts on this question, both Russian and American.  There were invited for discussion: teachers, and students of higher education, social activists, partners with American organizations, represented in our city, Volgograders of different ages and professions, having worked and studied in the USA. The largest group, more than ten, were representatives of the Mormon Church.  True they for the most part courteously kept silent and only at the end of the meeting announced that they were happy to be there and hear all opinions.

          There was more than enough interesting and sometimes mutually exclusive opinions on the matter.  Alexander Kubyshkin, director of the Center for American Research at the Volgograd State University set the tone of the discussion.  He reported on an all Russian conference of  scholars of America where there was revealed the results of a sociological research project, conducted in the major cities.  At the level of the subculture of youth, conducted especially among students at techno-colleges and techno-academies the popularity of the song, “Kill the Yankees”, was clearly apparent as was the presence of anti-American slogans, reflecting a mood seeking to do away with Americans.  The clearest indicator for this was the delight with the film, “Brother2”,  which is overstocked with similar sentiments.  However, in Volgograd there also was conducted a poll of students, giving a somewhat different result.  Of 15 polled, only two negatively related to America, 11 students remained neutral, and not one participant expressed enthusiasm for anything American. 

          In this regard, all students emphasized that such tendencies do not run deep and anti-American sentiment hardly has turned into anti-American hysteria.  In the opinion of Alexander Kubyshkin all this results from the fact that the Russians, not withstanding  all the apparently available information, know very little about Americans and think basically in stereotypes.  Added to this there appears to be among the business elite a growing national self-awareness, in particular among those, who are only around thirty.

          Mikhail Anipkin, a professor at the Volgograd Academy of government service, stated that according to some reports in Russia anti-American sentiment is growing, and that in 1999 the number of Russians nourishing antipathy towards Americans reached 45%.  Mikhail Alexandrovich thought that the reasons for this are explained in the “superpower complex” of another era and that Russia and America so far are not able to leave behind such form of relations. (In this regard the present leadership of Russia shows a clear tendency to befriend Korea, Vietnam, China, Iran, and other authoritarian regimes).  The principle villain for the USA remains, as before, Saddam Hussein and the uncontrolled distribution of Russian nuclear technology and nuclear waste.  Moscow nutures the growth of national consciousness against a background of ideology created by the Communist Party.  Much to encourage this results from political posturing.  For example, Vladimir Zhirinovsky announced at a session of the Duma, that there was no point of having dealings with the Bush administration – as his administration will be the last in America as the state will soon fall apart.

          Professor Kontantin Shurin of the Volgograd Agricultural academy seems more realistic.  It seemed to him that under the cloak of the anti-American mood hides an elemental provincialism.  It is very noticeable among his agricultural students as they feel about Americans as  the chattering classes of the regional center of Volgograd or  Muscovites, and even more try to be like them.  The reasons are different at different stages of life, different perceptions and values.  This is ordinary social camouflage, nothing more.

          In line with Shurin’s views appeared a major part of the audience.  One of the students said that the problem is imagined and does not have a realistic basis.  A colleague supported another side of the table, laying blame for what is happening on the absence of political involvement in student milieus and failure in the sphere of mass media.  A co-worker in the Russian office of an American organization recognized that such work from the beginning appeared but the embodiment of a dream, but now they are suffering from open scorn on the part of their foreign masters.  The teacher at one of the local institutions of higher education supported some girls, and advised that that when he was in the states at the height of the scandal with the Bank of New York, from this he felt himself ashamed.  However, he added that in Russia  there are studying many Americans,  potential closet Russians, and after 20 years or so they will constitute a powerful Russian lobby in the US.

          With this last view a potential future Russian lobbyist, Stephen, a student studying in Volgorad under a Fulbright scholarship, expressed his anxiety about the recent arrest of a fellow Fulbright scholar in Voronezh by the Federal Security Service, burned  on espionage and narcotics charges. Between global thinking and stereotype thinking there is a big difference, spoke out the ambassador from Fulbright.  If I am from that fund , am  I a spy or a future spy?

          “I returned from training in the US deeply insulted,” chimed in another participant to the discussion, a businessman.  Namely over there I was to understand there exist only two opinions: one is the American opinion and the other is the incorrect opinion.  The discussion became heated so that it became clear that it was time to pour coffee and mineral water.  As a result the participants at the meeting came to a general conclusion, that over all the differences between Russians and Americans, there is the expansion of interpersonal ties and the working out of a measure of patience and culture, traditions and values of both nations.  “The more individual contacts will arise between the USA and Russia, the lesser the chances that our governments will lead us to a dead end.”

          I have twice spent time on long training programs in the  USA and have my own clear opinion about Americans.  They, like us, come in various shapes and sizes.  But among the overwhelming majority of representatives of that great country there is something admirable to envy and emulate- the stars and stripes flag on each roof, sincere pride for their country and a high national self-consciousness.  Perhaps the sociologists are right regarding trends that are beginning to gather strength in Russia.  But posing the question to the participants at the forum is this process for the better or for the worse, I did not get from anyone there either an argumentive or responsive answer.  It appears that the  problem of the formation of a Russian national consciousness interested only Mikhail Anipkin, carefully noting that this idea of national consciousness has been forming for over a thousand years and stems from our well known open spaces.  Perhaps.

          And what do you think?

Translation by Edward R. Brown


Home : About Us : Our Projects : Get Involved : News & Events : Library : Key People : Special Thanks : Links : Contact Us

2002 Greater Cleveland - Volgograd Oblast Alliance