The Conflict of Civilizations or The Russian House that Jack Built

To readers,

I made a short break in writing the series of analytical articles on Ukraine – Russia relations that I have been working on in recent weeks.

To many readers, my decision looked strange. President Vladimir Putin published an article «On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians», which became his most important political statement since his speech in Munich in 2007, and my readers wonder how could I stop writing at that moment.

In an article published on the Kremlin’s website, Putin not only draw the «red line» and sent a signal to the West and Kiev that Moscow had decided to do anything to prevent Ukraine becoming Anti-Russia, including, as it is clear from the article, to use military force or hybrid warfare, but also outlined the cornerstones of a new state ideology, which Putin intends to create in the coming months. This ideology will become the basis for the Russian foreign policy in relation to the post-Soviet states, to NATO countries, as well as China.

Many readers felt that I should speed up writing of new materials on Russian-Ukrainian relations taking into consideration Putin’s ideological outshoot. I will not do that. There are three main reasons for my decision, and two of these reasons stem from Putin’s article.

First, the way to change the regime in Kiev that the Kremlin may choose depends on how relations between the United States, Russia and China develop in forthcoming months. The exact direction of the development of relations between three superpowers will become clear after Biden meets Xi, most probably, by the September. No reason to guess, it’s better to wait.

Second, in his article, Vladimir Putin came close to a very important topic, but did not delve into, leaving it for one of his subsequent articles, which he undoubtedly intends to write, and that is the history of Russian civilization, its present and its future. What happened to Russian civilization in the form of the USSR during the communist rule? What processes and contradictions within the Russian civilization appeared or became aggravated under Marxism, which was built on the doctrine of the change of socio-political formations and rejected or belittled the role of civilizations? How did contradictions inside Russian civilisation contribute to the collapse of the USSR? What is happening to the Russian civilization now and what does the future hold for it?

In Putin’s article, one can find the «red lines», historical and political explanation of the need for their implementation, the cornerstones of a new ideology … However, the article does not explain why Russia in the 21st century until now failed to become a state that the Ukrainian people would seek to join back.

Putin gives no explanation why, for thirty years since the collapse of the USSR, the Russian ruling elites did not seek to unite the territories of the former Russian Empire, or the USSR. Moreover, one can find nothing in Putin’s article about on what organizational and political principles he is going to unite the territory of the former USSR. Will it be done one state framework, as a new Empire, or on some other principles?

Third, in order to understand the future awaiting Russia and the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, it is necessary to answer the main question that Putin has so far bypassed: what is the modern Russia? What is Russia that Vladimir Putin and his clan built? What can be the future of the “matryoshka system” created by Putin and his clan and what are the possible options for its transformation?

There is no short answer to those question. So, I decided to write a separate series of articles on that topic while Biden, Putin and Xi are building a new system of interactions between modern superpowers that will give Vladimir Putin chance to select a correct tool to bring Ukraine back into the Kremlin orbit.

I called the new episode “Russia that Putin built”. However, when I started writing it, I ran into a problem that one begins to understand after living for many years in a country that belongs to different civilisation. One comes to a point when he can clearly see and feel the difference in mentality, that those who belong to different civilisations, understand the same notions, concepts, ideas and even images in different ways. They see and evaluate events in different ways, and they evaluate and relate to the actions of people, politicians, governments in different ways, as well.

The biggest difference in mentalities among the European nations is between the Russian, if we accept that Russia is Europe, and the British peoples.  It is the British who find it most difficult to understand the Russians and the Russians find it most difficult to correctly understand the UK and the British. They belong to different civilisations…

The mutual understanding between the West and Russia is vital, because without understanding, it is impossible to build a world capable of resolving acute contradictions avoiding major military conflicts and cold or hybrid wars. The world based on mutual understanding can withstand and go through the technological, AI and information revolutions. Otherwise, the modern world will face a growing threat of uncontrolled and inevitable destruction.

What can I do to make sure that my views are correctly understood both in Russia, in the UK, EU or the US? Probably, first it is necessary to show how the perception of the world by Russians differs from the perception of the Western Europeans, most of all the British. This is what I will do today, and I invite readers to consider this article as a preface to «Russia That Putin Built»

                         The house that Jack built in interpretation by Samuel Marshak

Over the past centuries, huge heaps of misunderstanding, prejudice and mistrust, mixed with interest and mutual respect have been created between the British and the Russians.

A huge role in this, as I wrote above, was played by the fact that the British and the Russians belong to different civilizations, that the Russians and the British have different mentalities, different historical experience. All that is underestimated both in Great Britain and in Russia. When they see or hear the same thing, the British and the Russians see, hear and understand often different things, while not realizing that.

This topic is huge, and I do not pretend to give a full explanation of it in one article, but I will try to reveal some interesting points…

For example,

Translators and interpreters, both from English into Russian and from Russian into English, played a huge role in creating that misunderstanding. It can be said in another way: civilizational differences in the perception of the world affected literature by distorting the original texts by translators.

One of the most famous English poems in Russia is «The House That Jack Built» translated in Russian language by Samuel Marshak, and very few people know that Marshak’s translation depicts a picture of totally different England, far from the real one.

Samuel Marshak has correctly conveyed only the form of the poem, its rhythm, although the rhythm he also slightly changed, but the meaning was conveyed correctly only of the first line of the English original text:

«This is the house that Jack built.»

Then … Let us take the next few lines to make it clear.

In the English poem, Jack keeps “the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.”

In the Russian text, Jack does not store the malt, but “the wheat That is stored in a dark closet…».

In the English poem appeared «the rat that ate the malt That lay in the house that Jack built «, but in the Russian version, there was no rat, but there was «a funny bird-tit That often steals the wheat…»

In the English original text: «This is the cat That Killed the rat …», but the Russian Jack’s cat is depicted as an innocent fool: «Here is the cat that scares and catches the tit, which often steals the wheat …» Cats in England and Russia act in different ways and have slightly different characters. The fate of the English rat is also different from that of the Russian tit, because Marshak’s cat is only trying to catch the tit, and apparently, this daily process is a pleasure for both.

            Well, let us turn from animals to people.

The English poem tells about «the maiden all forlorn», and «the man all tattered and torn That Kissed the maiden all forlorn …»

However, Marshak tells Russian readers about «an old woman, gray-haired and stern, Who milks the cow without horns…», and instead of » the man all tattered and torn «, the old woman meets «the lazy and fat shepherd, Who quarrels with the strict milkmaid…»

Different England appears in the imagination of Russian children and their parents … 

So, it is no wonder that in the Marshak story about the house that Jack built, there is no «the judge all shaven and shorn That married the man all tattered and torn That Kissed the maiden all forlorn», or «the horse and the hound and the horn That belonged to the farmer sowing his corn That kept the rooster that crowed in the morn That woke the judge all shaven and shorn…»

            However, Marshak tells us about «two roosters that wake up the shepherd, Who quarrels with the strict milkmaid…»

It so happened that the Russian readers looking at this English drawing, think that it depicts Jack looking out of the window of the house that he built, and not the judge (or priest, depending on the English version of the text), who is not even mentioned about in the Russian translation!

All those «inaccuracies» make England hidden for readers in Russia, who see the figment of the imagination of Samuel Marshak, who himself, as it may seem, knew very little about England.

However, Samuel Marshak knew England well, he lived in England for several years, studied at the University of London (1912-1914), travelled a lot, studying English folklore and literature.

After the revolution, Samuel Marshak became one of the most beloved children’s poets in the Soviet Union. His books were published in millions of copies. Moreover, Samuel Marshak was also one of the most respected and famous translators of English literature. He translated sonnets by William Shakespeare, songs and ballads by Robert Burns, poems by William Blake, works by W. Wordsworth, J. Keats, R. Kipling, E. Lear, A. A. Milne, J. Austin that were published in the USSR in tens of millions of copies. For translations from Robert Burns in 1960, he was awarded the title of Honorary President of the World Federation of Robert Burns.

The House That Jack Built by Samuel Marshak was first published in Soviet Russia by the Soviet state publishing house in 1923, next year after the communist government won the Civil war. In 1928, the book was published second time in 15000 copies. Within next few years it became so popular that the Soviet government published the book in 1937, in 500.000 copies, and in 1958, in 100.000 copies more.

Why did Marshak distorted the English text being one of the best and most experienced translators and poets? Marshak’s example is indicative and can explain a lot, because the causes of his distortion were more serious than it seems at first glance …

The main reason for Marshak’s departure from the English original was that the picture painted in the English original was for Russian children, — and not only for children, but also for their parents, although especially for children, — incomprehensible, strange and unattractive.

Let’s try to figure it out …

Let’s take the malt. Whiskey was not produced in Russia, and production of vodka was state monopoly for centuries. Home-made vodka was produced illegally, mainly in villages and small towns scattered across the vastness of Russia. Spirits production was not considered respectable and decent.

Beer and braga (analogous to pruno or mashing) has been produced by mostly poor city dwellers, residents of towns, farmers and peasants. However, they produced beer and braga not for daily consumption, but for special occasions, that is, for family or community holidays, feasts. Children were never involved in this. Those who produced beer or braga for the purpose of earning money, sold the produce in town markets and in taverns. The production of these drinks and drinking were not respected, although it was widespread.

It should be noted that ale and beer in Britain have between 4% to 6% of alcohol. In Russia, home brew, braga and village beer had a percentage of alcohol usually up to two times higher, which affected the attitude towards these drinks.

In everyday life, along with water and milk, Russian people used to drink kvas.

Photo: Modern Russian kvas

Foreigners often took kvas for ale, although kvas has less alcohol, about 1% only. Kvas cost a penny. In 19th century, the French writer Alexander Dumas, who travelled around Russia for over a year, was impressed by a barrel of kvas (100 litres) cost 8 kopecks, or at that time about 20 pence). In the Soviet Union one pint of kvas cost 3 kopecks (a little over 1 pence).

In Russia, kvas was considered a healthy drink. Until 1930-s, it was produced in almost every family. It was usually produced from bread, wheat, rye, honey, raisins, strawberries and other berries or apples. Malt was used rarely…

In England, many households made their beer and ale. Those who could not produce beer or ale bought them. For example, Karl Marx, when he lived in London in poverty, in debt, spent a significant part of his money on beer, and that surprised Marx followers in Russia. Writing or even remembering that Karl Marx drank beer every day was neither accepted nor permissible in the Soviet Union. And to mention that Vladimir Lenin, when he lived in London, drank beer at breakfast, lunch and dinner was the height of indecency.

That habit of daily drinking beer and ale was largely due to the urban development of British cities.

Photo: St. James, London, early 19th century

There was no fresh and safe drinking water in English cities. Before construction of water purification and sewage systems, drinking water in cities with dense population, where houses were adjacent to each other, was dangerous.

While travelling the British also drank not water, but ale or beer. The crews on the ships on the voyages drank only ale (the norm was 6 litters per sailor per day).

That was a tradition not only in Britain, but also in most countries of Western Europe. German city dwellers used to drink beer, French and Italian drank wine.

So, Jack as a respected homeowner, whether he lived in a densely built area or a home with a backyard, kept the tradition and the malt to make beer or ale, and maybe even whiskey, at home, and drank them in his daily life.

However, in Russia the situation was different. There was only one city in Russia reminiscent of Western cities, St. Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great, who actively introduced into Russia not only Western architecture and fashion in clothing, but also smoking, excessive drinking and other habits. The vast majority of the Russian people condemned him for that.

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, over 90% of the population in Russia were homeowners and lived in villages and small towns. Russian cities looked like big villages (there was such an expression: “Moscow is a big village”). The houses had gardens, and every street had wells. Toilets were either inside houses, if these were wealthy men houses or apartment buildings, or they stood separately along with steam bath houses as separate buildings of the estate. No slop was spilled onto city streets.

Photo: Central part of Moscow, early 20th century

 Photo: Preobrazhenskoe, one of the districts in Moscow, 19th century

Photo: A typical manor in a small Russian town. A well with drinking water is visible in front of the house.

Photo: Village in Russia, Soviet times

Everyone in Russia drank water, although many liked teas and decoctions, and that could be explained not so much by the contamination of the water as by the presence of impurities. In the south of Moscow, for example, the water was rich in iron and other substances, so the peasants in the villages of those regions preferred to drink teas and decoctions. Hence the nickname of Muscovites — «Moscow Tea-Drinkers».

It took an effort by tsar Peter I to force the Russian elite to drink like in the West and the ordinary people to drink in order to replenish the royal treasury by selling state-owned vodka. In Russian civilization, the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages could not be a positive example for children, and for adults was the unacceptable content of a poem or fairy tale for children. In the Russian traditional children’s fairy tale, only a negative character could be engaged in production of alcoholic drinks and be drinking or drunk. The positive heroes of fairy tales drank honey-braga at feasts at celebration of successful release of their beloved princesses and at weddings only.

So, the story of “the maiden all forlorn and the man all tattered and torn That Kissed the maiden all forlorn, and the judge all shaven and shorn That married the man all tattered and torn That kissed the maiden all forlorn” was not acceptable for Russian children and their parents.

Russian readers could get impression from the English original text that all the participants are a little drunk, and the text is full of hints and puzzles. For example, why the maiden is “all forlorn”? Why did the judge marry the man all tattered and torn? Why the man could not marry in Church, as it was done in Russia? Why did he need a judge for this? Who did the judge marry the man to? Did the man marry the maiden or another woman? Was the maiden pregnant and was that the reason for her being forlorn?

How could Samuel Marshak explain all that in the poem? How could the Soviet officials, caretakers of the child and adult morality of the builders of communism, permit such a publication? If Samuel Marshak had translated the poem before the 1917 revolution, in the Russian Empire, with its firm Orthodox moral norms and customs, that kind of poems would not have been welcomed and appreciated by the Russian society. There was no Russians married by judges… simple as that.

That was not all that stopped Marshak. The poem is full of inter-civilizational inconsistencies. For example, if the man was all tattered and torn, how could he get married, and a young maiden working in the house of a respectable owner (and the reader initially implies that Jack was a decent person and a respectable homeowner) couldn’t get married? In Russia, a maiden working and living in a house of respectable family occupied higher position on the social and property ladder compared to a man “all tattered and torn”.

In Russia, a maiden in a wealthy house had higher income and social protection than at least half of the population, including those peasants who owned acres of land and had their own houses with outbuildings, horses and cattle. Servants in wealthy families were selected carefully, the requirements were high, their earnings were stable and social protection was better than that of a significant part of the peasants and workers.

So, why was she being harassed by this man? Why did she tolerate him and why couldn’t she find a suitable bridegroom for her, if her position was higher than the majority of the population?

Russian mothers and fathers would have been at a loss on the exact translation of the English text and could be in doubts whether it was worth reading such poems to children and how to explain all that to them … Oh, those British!

Marshak understood well that the fairy tale poem, which is loved in England, is not suitable for Russian children and their parents. What was clear and familiar to British children, was incomprehensible, unpleasant and indecent to Russians. Marshak had to change the malt for wheat, so as not to explain to reader, as I do it now, that the British drank ale not because of evil nature and drunkenness, but out of necessity and for the sake of health, like Michelangelo, who, on the advice of his father, never drank fresh water and lived to 89 years of age, although in the old age he had to drink mineral water to expel his kidney stones.

Photo: Note-drawing by Michelangelo to his servant, who could not read well, indicating what exactly he needed to buy. The wine occupied an important place in the list

These «distortions» we can find not only in literature. The historical and political sciences are full with that kind of distortions, and the most dangerous thing is that today’s politics, both in Russia and Great Britain, are based on the distortions as on centuries-old foundation.

                  Why Stalin and Churchill failed to understand each other

If you enter the Moscow Kremlin from the west through the Kutafya tower, on the right you could see a two-storied building standing along the Kremlin wall, which looks less like a palace, but more like a barracks or an administrative building. This is the Amusement Palace.

The building was built in 1651 as the residence of boyar Ilya Miloslavsky, father-in-law of Tsar Alexei, the son of Mikhail Romanov, the first Russian tsar from the Romanov dynasty. From the 10th century to the 17th century, boyar was a member of the highest rank of the Russian nobility, second only to the ruling princes.

Tsar Alexei did not like his father-in-law for greed, desire for profit and bribery, and called him «Ilya, not father-in-law». The boyar chambers (residence) are built in the centre of the building, and annexes that stretched to the south and north of the central part were built for the boyar’s guards and servants (including maiden “all forlorn”) and as utility yard.

Photo: The Amusement Palace, The Moscow Kremlin

In 1993, when I entered the Amusement Palace for the first time, this building was occupied by the General Directorate of Guards (GDG, now the Federal Service of Guards of the Russian Federation). Since the October revolution of 1917, the Amusement Palace was occupied by the Kremlin Guards Service (or 9th Department of the KGB), and Joseph Stalin, the leader of the USSR, lived in apartment in the Amusement Palace till his death in 1953.

In 1993, Stalin’s apartment was occupied by the commanders of the 3rd Section of the General Directorate of Guards (GDG) that was responsible for construction, reconstruction and maintenance of the Moscow Kremlin. The head of the 3rd Section was Alexey Dyomin, who occupied Stalin’s home office.

That year, Russian President Boris Yeltsin decided to allocate funds for the first works on the reconstruction in the Kremlin after the collapse of the USSR and to begin the reconstruction with replacement of equipment of ventilation and air conditioning systems in the Grand Kremlin Palace.

At that time, I was the General director of York Russia and the representative of the American corporation York International in Russia and other countries of the former USSR. The decision was made that the reconstruction of the Grand Kremlin Palace will be carried out by York Russia, and the customer will be the General Directorate of Guards. The Deputy Commandant of the Moscow Kremlin Valery Pavlovich Gorelov was entrusted with direct supervision of the contract.

Gorelov brought me to Stalin’s former home office and introduced me to Alexey Dyomin.

Photo: V.P. Gorelov (right), my wife Irina and me at the international exhibition of ventilation and air conditioning systems, Moscow, 1999

The officers of the Kremlin Service of Guards treated me with special respect and as one of their own. My grandfather, Ignatiy Filin, served in the Kremlin Service of Guards almost from the time of its creation until Stalin’s death. In 1953, few months after Stalin’s death, my grandfather retired. He served in that very unit that was responsible for the management of the Kremlin and the buildings outside of the Kremlin that were controlled by the Guards Service, including the residences of the top officials of the Soviet state and places of regular meetings and conferences.

My grandfather was responsible for heating and ventilation, including stoves, fireplaces, chimneys and ventilation shafts. It so happened that in 1993, forty years after my grandfather left the Kremlin, I entered the Kremlin to start reconstruction of what he was responsible for more than thirty years of his life…

When I entered Stalin’s former office, I was not only surprised, but shocked. After decades and changes of political leaders and regimes, changes in attitudes towards Stalin, including the de-Stalinization by Nikita Khrushchev, after the anti-communist coup and the criminal revolution of 1990-1991, after all this, I saw that Stalin’s home office remained intact.

Almost everything that was in the office has been preserved there since 1953. Almost nothing has changed since the day Stalin left for his dacha near Moscow, where he died. They took out only his personal belongings, papers, books …

The office was about thirty square meters. The furniture was made of dark, almost black, bog oak.

The room seemed to be plunged into eternal twilight. The window overlooked the Kremlin red bricks wall, which stood just a few meters from the window and blocked direct sunlight. To the left of the entrance the room had a tiled Russian stove in the corner. It was the stove, most probably made and tiled by my grandfather. In any case, he repaired and maintained it for over thirty years… 

Next was a leather sofa with a very high back, consisting of two parts: the lower part of the back of the sofa was upholstered in black leather, and the upper part was made of stained dark bog oak. I’ve never seen a sofa with such a high back before.

There was a working table in front of the door. A guest table was set against it, on either side of which, opposite each other, were two armchairs of dark leather. The armchairs were so heavy that it was difficult for guests to move them. Therefore, the armchairs were arranged in such a way that it was possible to sit down at the guest table and stand up comfortably without moving them.

To the right of the entrance stood a big bookshelf, also made of bog oak. The bookshelf was almost empty. I assumed that after Stalin’s death his books were taken out, but for decades no one dared to put new books in the bookshelf. I could not resist and, having received permission, tried to open and close the doors of the empty bookshelf. The doors moved surprisingly smoothly, easily and silently, except for the characteristic click of the locks. The bog oak has not changed its shape even by a millimetre.

All office furniture was in perfect condition. The quality was so high that I was confident that everything would look great for centuries.

I felt as if the spirit of Stalin was guarding this place. None of his temporary «owners» dared to change anything inside the office, to move or disturb the order. Only the telephone on the table stood out from the surroundings. The phone was manufactured in the 1970s.

Standing in this office, I felt that it had only one real Master and it still remains like that. I remembered my first conversation with Valery Gorelov in the Commandant’s Office, when he told me that the Kremlin either “accepts” or “does not accept” those who come to work into the Kemlin, and the fate of the person, who enters, depends on this … Undoubtedly, the Kremlin once “accepted” Stalin, who was the first in the Moscow Kremlin after the revolution to be called “the Master”…

I was invited to sit at the guest table, attached to Stalin’s desk, in one of the two heavy chairs where Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill sat late on the evening of August 15, 1942, when after difficult negotiations Stalin invited Churchill to his apartment for a drink…

At that time, Great Britain sent weapons, machinery, equipment, and foodstuffs to the Soviet Union. Great Britain lost ships and sailors in the northern seas and repulsed air raids and attacks by German submarines on its convoys.

All this was not enough, too little for the Kremlin. The USSR lost millions of lives of soldiers and civilians fighting against millions of the German, Italian, Hungarian, Rumanian, Slovakian and other European soldiers that made up the Hitler army, on the front line stretching three thousand kilometres from the Arctics through the Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad fronts to the North Caucasus, where Soviet troops stopped Hitler’s army, which was trying to seize oil fields in Chechnya and Azerbaijan.

The Soviet-British negotiations were difficult. The Russians demanded from Britain more active participation in the fight against Nazi Germany, first of all, sending troops to the continent and opening the Second Front. Stalin was angry that Churchill had come to him in the Kremlin to inform him that in 1942 and most likely in 1943 there would be no Second Front opened. Stalin told Churchill: “You British are afraid to fight. Don’t think Germans are supermen. Sooner or later, you will have to fight. You cannot win the war without fighting.»

Churchill was outraged by these accusations, by «rudeness» and pressure from Stalin. When Churchill answered Stalin, out of excitement, he left no time for his interpreter to translate his words. Stalin watched him with a smile, and when Churchill finished his monologue, Stalin said: «Your words are not important, the main thing is the spirit.»

Churchill later described it this way: “I categorically rejected all of his statements, but without taunts of any kind. I suppose he was not used to being constantly contradicted, but he was not at all angry or even perked up. On one occasion I said: «I forgive your attacks only because of the bravery of the Russian troops.» 

On the last day of his visit, after the completion of official negotiations, when Winston Churchill was leaving the Grand Kremlin Palace, where negotiations were taking place, to go to the residence where he was staying, Stalin turned to him: “Why don’t you come to me, to my apartment in Kremlin to have a drink? » Churchill agreed, and they headed to Stalin’s Kremlin apartment, which Churchill later described as «a small, simple, beautiful, four-room apartment.» For a while they were joined by Stalin’s daughter Svetlana and USSR Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. The interpreters Pavlov and Bierce were present during the meeting that lasted until 2.30 am.

There are various descriptions of that late meeting and drinking, mostly written by the English diplomats. According to memories, Stalin and Churchill discussed very wide range of topics: from the supply of trucks for the Red Army, the Napoleonic wars, the Duke of Marlborough, and to the collectivization of agriculture in the Soviet Union.

Alexander Cadogan, the British deputy foreign secretary, who entered Stalin’s office at about 1 am with the draft conference communiqué, later recalled that a suckling pig was brought in at that moment. Churchill ate very little, and Stalin suggested that Cadogan should try the suckling pig, but Cadogan declined the invitation, and, as he wrote in his memoirs, «Stalin ate the suckling pig himself.»

Photo: Alexander Cadogan and Andrey Gromyko

As a matter of fact, all the memories of the British are reduced to such facts and stories. Someone wrote about how Stalin and Churchill loudly argued, someone about the fact that Stalin himself cut a pig with a knife, “took out and ate its eyes” … However, there was one interesting and important fact that everyone confirmed: after that evening Churchill’s entire appreciation of Stalin changed. He was there after enthralled by Stalin, and was extremely pleased by the results of the visit… No one gave explanation.

            The Kremlin guards, who recorded the negotiations and conversations, retained other memories that explain that change in Churchill’s attitude towards Stalin…

Gorelov and Dyomin told me that after the first meeting and negotiations on August 13, Churchill was so angry that at night in his residence he uttered very nasty words about Stalin and the Soviet leadership. His advisers tried to stop Churchill and warned that the residence where Churchill lived could be bugged, and the next morning «Uncle Joe», as they called Stalin, would be informed of Churchill’s angry words and curses. But this did not stop Churchill. «Let him know what I think of him!» — shouted Churchill into the chandelier on the ceiling…

On that last night before leaving Moscow, when the leaders of the two countries were left alone in Stalin’s office, they drank, ate and smoked for many hours, trying to understand each other.

Stalin said:

— How can we trust you if in 1941, you promised us to open the Second Front in 1942? You didn’t do it! Then you promised to open the Second Front in 1943, but now you are telling me that most likely you will not. How can I trust you?

— I told you from the very beginning that it will be difficult to do! — exclaimed the indignant Churchill.

— What do you mean by “difficult”?! Do you know what «difficult» is? We say that a communist is a man, who overcomes difficulties! The Fifteenth Congress of the Communist Party decided to modernize Russian industry and agriculture. It was necessary to do before the war! It was very difficult, nearly impossible to accomplish this, but we have done this! In agriculture, it was decided to modernize the entire sector, transfer the production by small peasant farms that worked by manually, by hand to mechanized production, to unite tens of millions of small farmers into cooperatives — collective farms. We did it in four years! Collectivization of the entire Soviet Union! Millions have suffered, it was incredibly difficult, sometimes brutal, but we did it! We have overcome all difficulties!…

At that time, they could not understand each other. Stalin was surprised at how easily the British explained their incapacity, saying that it was «difficult.» Churchill said after the meeting that Stalin was a madman who was ready to subject millions of people to suffering just in order to implement the «decisions» of some party congress!

Photo: Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and W.A.Harriman, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s representative to the Moscow Kremlin, 1942.

Having lived few years in England, I realized — unexpectedly for myself — that when an Englishman says «difficult «, he means «probably impossible». In Russian language the word «trudno», which in all dictionaries is translated into English as «difficult», actually means «possible to do, but requires a lot of effort.» It turned out that interpreters Bierce and Pavlov, who translated the conversation, could not explain to Stalin and Churchill the true meaning of the words «trudno» and «difficult «. They failed to overcome the differences and create a bridge between the British and Russian mentalities…

However, it was one of the greatest encounters in history. The leaders could not understand each other, but they realized that they could work with each other, trust each other, rely on each other, and so they did until the end of World War II…

These were the memories of the negotiations between Stalin and Churchill in the office of the Soviet leader’s apartment in the Moscow Kremlin that remained with the Kremlin guards and were passed on to other generations …

                                                         The Surikov effect          

In 1981, after serving in the army, including two years in a group of Soviet military specialists in India at the Indian Air Force base in Chandigarh, I returned to work at the Indian Department of the “Novosti” Press Agency (APN).

In the Indian Department, I prepared information materials for the Indian mass media, helped to collect information for Indian correspondents accredited in Moscow and organized interviews for them with Soviet political scientists and heads of different state organisations. I had to meet and work not only with Indian, but also with Western journalists. It was then that I noticed that Western journalists see and understand what was happening in the USSR differently from the way the Indians understood it and how I saw and understood it also.

The fact that Indians saw the world in their own way, I already got used to it, but I was surprised that the difference in the perception of the world between me and European and American journalists was much bigger than between me and the Indians. This was without taking into account the fact that the Western journalists, whom I had to deal with, were all disposed negatively towards the USSR…

Once, after returning from an event attended by foreign journalists, I shared my observations in the Indian editorial office. Most of the editorial staff reacted with jokes or grins, but Henrietta Repinskaya, who was, I think, the best editor among us, looked up from the material she was reading and looked at me with interest.

— Have you heard anything about the «Surikov effect»? — she asked me.

— Of course, I know Surikov’s paintings, but I’ve never heard of the Surikov effect, — I said, not particularly surprised that Geta switched to painting. Her husband was an artist.

— Surikov is considered the most Russian artist. It is believed that his paintings most fully and accurately reflect the Russian character, Russian vision and sense of the world. Scientists have noticed that foreigners see and react to Surikov paintings in different ways. The closer they are to the Russians, the more they like Surikov’s paintings. The more they differ in culture from Russians, the less they value his paintings. The British and Americans perceive Surikov’s paintings worst of all, and the Slavs like his paintings almost as much as the Russians or other nationalities who live in Russia. Indians like Surikov’s paintings more than, for example, the Germans … Western Europeans try to run past Surikov’s paintings, while the Chinese and Indians stop and look with interest … The scientist try to study this phenomena and called it the «Surikov effect «…

— Are you saying that the Americans and the British are more distant from us mentally than the Indians? — I was surprised. — What about Hemingway, Jack London, Dumas, Conan Doyle, Dickens, Salinger and Robert Pen Warren? Why do we read Western literature and not Eastern? I’ve read Tagore and «Mahabharata», and I did it on duty as a student of the Institute of Asian and African Countries, but I used to read American and English writers at night, and my mother used to take away my books to get me to sleep.

— This is different, — smiling, said Geta. — You read them because you like what they write and how they write, but this does not mean that you see exactly what they were trying to portray and express…

— Well, when I read Hemingway, how in Spain, when fishing, he gutted a fish and threw the fish offal into the bushes on the other side of the river, then I see the river, I see how wide it is, I see the bushes. I see what he wanted me to see…

— These are ordinary, common things, — said Geta. — When you get tired of fishing, chases, duels, searching for criminals and shooting games and other detective stories, and you start to think about important things, then you will again be drawn to Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolstoy or Bulgakov, and you will begin to reread and see them in different way, but you will not see and understand what Jack London or even your beloved Hemingway saw reading the same Tolstoy or Dostoevsky … They, perhaps, understood them better or not worse than you, but in their own way, not the way you understand… This is what the Surikov effect is about… You should be dealing with this topic, -she said. — We rarely write about art and culture, only in connection with the visits of Soviet delegations to India. Go to the Tretyakov Gallery and talk to the staff there…

I tried to find publications about the Surikov effect, but found nothing in the Soviet press. I called the Tretyakov Gallery and arranged an interview with a specialist who dealt with this topic.

It turned out that for a long time the staff of the Tretyakov Gallery drew attention to the fact that tourists from different countries of the world reacted differently to the paintings of Vasily Surikov. Upon entering the hall with Surikov’s paintings, tourists from Western Europe usually stopped for a very short time or passed without stopping to another hall where paintings by other Russian artists were displayed. Italians, Spanish and Germans usually stopped for a moment. The British usually glanced at the painting and passed by. Tourists from the United States ran into another hall, as if these pictures were unpleasant to them or frightened them.

Photo: The hall of Vasily Surikov in Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The staff of the Tretyakov Gallery turned to Russian scientists and even invited American scientists and conducted a joint scientific study, as a result of which they confirmed the Surikov effect. This was only the beginning, because the Surikov paintings gave impetus to a new research.

It turned out the phenomena was even more complex and profound. Studying the phenomena, the scientists faced problems associated with different understandings of words and concepts by representatives of different civilizations. However, neither for the US, nor for the Soviet science, this topic was not relevant. The Americans were not interested in the Russian mentality, and in Marxism, the civilizational differences were not particularly taken into account. The theory of socio-political formations lay at the heart of Marxism. Those civilizations that opposed the change of socio-political formations, like, for example, the Russian civilization, including Russians, Ukrainians and Belarussians, as well as most other Slavic peoples, according to Marx and Engels, had to disappear, that is, be destroyed or absorbed by European civilization. Therefore, this topic did not receive much support in the USSR.

(I intend to return to this topic in near future, because the civilizational contradictions and processes of development of the Russian civilization, from my point of view, not only played an important role in the collapse of the USSR, but also continue to play an important role now in the entire post-Soviet space. I expect that Putin will devote one of his next articles to this topic)

However, very interesting differences were established between the Western mentality and the Russian by the Soviet- American group of scientists, and these differences were of a fundamental nature. Here are a few:

  1. Saints in Western Europe are nonviolent people who preach peace and forgiveness. They prove with their lives the absolute value of nonviolence and forgiveness of others and teach this. The use of force is a departure from holiness.

In the “Russian World,” including the Russian Orthodox Church, the saints also preach peace and forgiveness, but, if necessary, resort to violence. Saints turn into warriors, and when they act as warriors, they not only remain saints, but they are risen and praised by the Russian Orthodox Church and by the Russian people if they had to fight for the Church, for their Motherland and their people. The Russian saints should not accept any reward for their heroism. Russian history is filled with such warrior-saints.

  • Americans and Western Europeans, including, or primarily, politicians, easily start a conflict or confrontation to protect or promote their interests. Promoting their interests and thereby initiating rivalry or conflict, Europeans and Americans believe that they do the right thing, that there is no sin in it. Protecting and promoting one’s interests is the inalienable right of an Englishman or an American. However, when a conflict brings too much suffering and too much loss, they start looking for ways to end the conflict, for compromise, and Western politicians turn to negotiations.

In the vastness of Russia, people have lived in communities for centuries, and the interests of the community and those around them were considered priority over the interests of an individual. For millennia, on the territory of present-day Russia, people lived in communities — settlements scattered over vast expanses among dense forests, rivers and steppes. Any conflict between settlements could lead to the death not only of an individual or a family, but also of a clan or community, to other equally serious and tragic consequences. This made people avoid conflict.

The Russians are ready to negotiate at the very beginning of the confrontation in order to avoid or prevent conflict. This has been laid down for centuries at the genetic level.

The more Russians suffer as a result of the conflict, the less Russians want to negotiate. At some point, negotiations become impossible. The confrontation must end with the destruction of the enemy. The community must survive and ensure its safety.

  • Western heroes are violent people. They see violence as a normal way to resolve conflicts. Cruelty and readiness to kill is a normal trait and image of a Western hero.

Russian hero is a non-violent person who is forced to show his heroism and cruelty as a last resort when there is no other way. In accordance with Russian traditional values, violence can only be approved by a «sacred mission» — the protection of the Faith, the Motherland, the people, and the loved ones. As a last resort, violence in Russia becomes the crossing of the border dividing life and death, life and self-sacrifice. This made Russian violence more «ruthless» and «limitless» compared to the West.

  • Loser in the US or GB has negative image. In contrast to a loser, a winner is a positive. Success largely determines the attitude of people and society towards a person.

From the American or Western European point of view, hero must be the winner. In Western Christianity, especially Protestantism, success testifies to God’s support, that deeds are pleasing to God. Failure testifies to the incorrectness of actions, to displeasure with God.

In Russia, loser is treated with tolerance and benevolence. Success, especially in business and finances, is not considered evidence of the correctness of actions and the support by God.

Losers can be heroes, positive people, righteous people. Financial and business success can be the result of breaking God’s commandments. In Russia, it is traditionally believed that working for the sake of money and wealth is a path of sin.

Losers are not treated with condemnation, but with pity. Losers must be supported. This is considered the right and godly deed.

Moreover, most of the heroes in Russian history were losers from the point of view of a Western European and an American. Most of them faced defeat and death. In Russia, heroism and God’s grace were determined not by the result of actions, but by motives, goals and self-sacrifice. Heroes in Russia most often sacrificed themselves and their success, well-being for the sake of their relatives, loved ones, the Motherland, justice, and faith.

Almost all the heroes of novels in classic Russian literature are not winners. They face failures, suffer defeats, but strive to overcome themselves and to search for justice and truth.

                                       Vasily Surikov’s paintings

Vasily Surikov «The Morning of the Strelets’ Execution» painted in 1881

The painting «The Morning of the Streltsy Execution» depicts an early autumn morning in 1698, and the Red Square in Moscow after the Streltsy’s failed uprising aimed to remove Tsar Peter I from power, who at that time travelled to Europe. Streltsy (meaning ‘guards’, ‘gun shooters’ or ‘musketeers’) were the Kremlin guards, as well as the main fighting force in the Russian army in XV-XVI centuries. One of the units of the Streltsy Regiment demanded payment of the delayed salary and announcement of Prince Alexey, the son of Peter I as new Russian Tsar. The unit was defeated by government troops. Peter I was forced to urgently return from Europe and conduct an investigation (Tsar Peter is depicted in the painting sitting on horse). The executions of the archers began in the fall of 1698, in total more than 1,300 people were executed.

Vasily Surikov «Boyarynya Morozova», 1883

The painting depicts a real event that took place during the division of the Russian Orthodox Church or the great schism in the 17th century. Tsar Alexei Romanov, seeking to extend his influence to Ukraine, the Balkans and Constantinople, carried out a pro-Ukrainian and pro-Greek reform of the Russian Orthodox Church, which caused a split in the Church and among the Russian people.

Those who opposed the reform were called Old Believers. They were persecuted and outlawed. Tens of thousands of people were killed. Thousand committed suicide by burning themselves in Churches. Hundreds of thousand left their places of residence and moved to the Eastern regions of Russia to Volga river, the Urals Mountains and Siberia.

Vasily Surikov was born and brought up in the family of Old Believers, and he depicted a real event that took place in November 1671. By order of the tsar, Boyarynya Morozova, one of the most influential opponents of the Church reform, was detained, tortured and sent to the prison in the Moscow Kremlin, where she starved to death.

Vasily Surikov «Menshikov in Berezovo», 1883

The painting depicts Alexander Menshikov, the closest associate, friend and favorite of Tsar Peter I, who was deprived of all his fortune and rights by the decree of the next Tsar Peter II for intrigues and sent with his family into exile in the Siberian city of Berezov, where he died.

Photo: Vasily Surikov «Passage of Suvorov through the Alps», 1899

The painting depicts one of the episodes of a military operation carried out in Switzerland, in 1799, by Russian and Austrian troops under the command of the Russian Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov, who is considered the greatest commander in the history of Russia who did not lose a single battle. 

The troops under the command of Suvorov were surrounded by superior French troops in Northern Italy. Suvorov’s troops had to cross the Swiss Alps to join the Russian-Austrian army corps waiting for them.

Suvorov’s army fought through the Saint-Gotthard Pass and the Devil’s Bridge to the Royce Valley , from where, through the snow-covered Kinzig Pass, descended into the Muotatal Valley . However, by this time it turned out that the French army under the command of General André Massena had already defeated the Russian-Austrian corps awaiting Suvorov.

Suvorov’s troops were again surrounded by the French, but Suvorov managed to escape, inflicting a crushing defeat on Massena (the French general himself narrowly escaped capture). Nevertheless, the total number of enemy troops in Switzerland significantly exceeded the Russian-Austrian troops under Suvorov, and in order to preserve the remnants of his exhausted army, Suvorov began to fight his way through Glarus in the direction of Austria with heavy battles. Having made the passage through the snow-covered and considered inaccessible Paniks pass, the Russian troops, meeting no more resistance, left the territory of Switzerland and moved towards Russia.

The painting by Vasily Surikov depicts the passage of Russian troops through the Paniks pass, which allowed Suvorov’s army to return to Russia undefeated.

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