The Culture of Russia

Contemporary Russian culture has been shaped by its recent Soviet past as well as the turbulent 1990's that followed the collapse of the USSR. As with many post-Soviet states, Russia has faced several unique issues that have affected its cultural output. What is important to remember is that from 1917 to 1991, the culture of Russia was and is described today as "Soviet". While the country of Russia existed, the efforts and goals of cultural output were focused on creating a distinctly Soviet identity for the Russian people, one that differed greatly from the recent imperial past.

The Second World War irrevocably changed the culture of the Soviet Union through the destruction it brought to the country. Millions of citizens, many of them men and boys, perished while fighting back against the Nazi invasion. One of the most famous Soviet films about the war, The Cranes are Flying (1957), emphasized how the war tore apart families and completely changed Soviet society. In addition, the cult of personality that surrounded Joseph Stalin greatly affected cinema, theatre, and literature in the decade following the Second World War.

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During the Kruschev era, there was not only a thaw in attitudes towards the West but also towards internal cultural affairs. The publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962 showed for the first time an inside look into the gulags in which so many Soviet citizens had suffered. From 1964 to the beginning of the 1980's, Soviet culture was characterized by economic and social stagnation. One of the most important films in all of Russian culture, called The Irony of Fate, was produced during this era. It is a classic which is shown every year on New Year's Eve, a holiday that outstrips Christmas in terms of importance.

During Mikhail Gorbachev's term as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1985-1991), reforms were introduced that contributed to the decline of the Soviet Union. Glasnost and perestroika encouraged the development of a more open press and society, as well as some aspects of a market economy. However, the new press freedoms lead to the spread of nationalist sentiments in the Baltic states as well as in the Caucasus and Central Asia. This in turn triggered riots and civil unrest in these countries as the Communist government attempted to keep the Soviet Union together.

In 1989, several Soviet satellite states declared their independence. Finally, the Soviet Union itself was dissolved in 1991, and the Russian Federation was established. Consisting of several states and special administrative areas, the Russia of today is a mixture of ethnicities and religions.

The decade that followed the collapse of the USSR was characterized by economic, social, and cultural instability. Television shows were often imported from Mexico and Brazil, a trend which affected later domestic television production. Since 2000, Russian society and culture has changed rapidly. In the past thirteen years, Russian television and film have come into their own. Russia's Channel One produces fantastic adaptations of nineteenth-century Russian literature.

Vladimir Putin has been the President of Russia from 2000 to 2008 and from 2012 to the present day. His terms in office have seen massive economic growth in both Moscow and Saint Petersburg, a brief war with Georgia, and massive protests against both his party, United Russia, and against how the government currently operates. Independent film and theatre began to blossom as more funding became available from both the government and private investors, although state-owned media is still the major contributor to entertainment formats, especially when it comes to television.

While the Soviet Union is slowly fading into the past, it has left its mark on contemporary Russian culture. Stalin's purges, World War Two, stagnation, and perestroika and glasnost remain part of the collective memory of the country and still affect everything from governmental organization to film, theatre, art, and television. No one can say for sure what will happen, but it will be interesting to see how much of an effect the Soviet Union has on the culture of Russia in the next twenty years.

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