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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Russia’s beauty offset by ugly xenophobia

    In a few weeks the semester will be over. In less than two weeks the Daily Wildcat will print its last issue, which makes this my penultimate article from Russia. Since I don’t want my last article to be sappy or nostalgic, I will use this time to go over a few things about my views on the Motherland and some of the responses I have gotten from everyone back home.

    Do Russians really drink as much vodka as most people think? Yes. A definitive yes. Except, it is not only vodka; in fact, more people consume beer here than liquor (that is according to my Russian teacher). For a friend’s birthday we drank vodka in class (10 a.m.); today people sat outside (the weather is finally bearable) drinking beer and screwdrivers in front of a national monument; and there are entire aisles in grocery stores dedicated to vodka sale (the same can’t be said for any other produce).

    But don’t confuse alcohol consumption with alcoholism. At least not in this case, because most of the things I have seen regarding alcohol have just been cultural differences between Russia and America. You might think from what I’ve said that all Russians are alcoholics, but this couldn’t be further from the truth; it’s more that Russians aren’t as bothered by seeing people drink as Americans are. Drinking is more deeply ingrained in Russian culture than in American.

    A few people have written me from the UA saying that thought my articles were good representations of what Russia was like, while others have criticized me of “”Russophobic drivel.”” When I look back at all the articles I wrote, I try to think what others might think of Russia based on my own words. And so, I will try and paint one final picture of Russia and my Russian experience.

    Is Russia beautiful? That’s a hard question to answer, particularly since most of my experience has been in St. Petersburg. So maybe a more precise question would be: is St. Petersburg beautiful? But still, that is a hard one. Is Chicago beautiful? Certainly there are a lot of incredible and beautiful things in St. Petersburg – mostly architecture. There are centuries-old monuments, buildings, world-class museums and theaters, an incredible river dividing the city, and tons of tributaries and canals running throughout the city center. There is classical and baroque style architecture which would remindyou of Rome or Paris. Of course there are the one-of-a-kind onion-domed churches.

    However, there is a lot more to St. Petersburg than downtown, eighteenth-century architecture. To accuse me of “”Russophobic drivel”” is a bit absurd. I am not “”afraid”” of Russia; I chose to live here. I love St. Petersburg and more importantly I want to love St. Petersburg, but there have been a lot of experiences over the last three months that have me questioning my own sentiments towards the city.

    Without question the most intimidating experiences have been with Russian people. There is a lot of animosity toward Americans. No matter what anyone says, there are more xenophobic people in Russia than any other country I have been (except maybe America).

    There are also a lot of ‘skinheads.’ And I don’t think many people could argue that St. Petersburg hasn’t had a resurgence of white supremacists in the last 15 years. I have also had several friends (and not just Americans) accosted by Russians – one of them ended up with four Russian feet on his face.

    I think many people would be left uneasy after that.

    In addition, to combat much of the beautiful architecture there is still much of the “”not-so-beautiful”” architecture. And by that I mean constructivist Soviet architecture. Yes, I know, none of that has been built for more than 10 years, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t everywhere. For example, many of the buildings on the UA campus weren’t built within the last 10 years ð- which, incidentally, is why the UA still feels like it is stuck in the 1970s.

    Much of the Soviet architecture has not been “”restored”” to the same degree as, say, the Hermitage (museum) has been. In many suburban areas the apartments are still quite old, not only in appearance, but in functionality as well. Also, there is lots of trash in the streets. And I am not talking Manhattan trash – this is different – there is literally trash all over the streets.

    So after that, you may accuse me of “”Russophobia,”” but I am only presenting Russia from what I have seen and I am not afraid to speak frankly. Despite many of the not-so-pleasant aspects of St. Petersburg (I didn’t even mention major government corruption, specifically in the Russian justice system), I have loved being here.

    St. Petersburg, and Russia, are incredible. Maybe it is because I am so far away from Tucson, or maybe it is because school through my program is a joke, but being in Russia has been the most incredible thing I have experienced.

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