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Danilenko D.V. - Why Russians are so different?

(Published in "SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences" 4, 2015)

Many facts and indexes allow us to affirm that Russia and Russians are not so different form the Westerns countries and their citizens. Russian society is complex, multinational, and urbanized. The level of education is quite high here, and literary as well as artistic legacy of Russia is considered as being a part of Western culture. Welfare state and social justice values, especially labor rights developed under the Communist rule, have strong legacy in Russia, which also seems to confirm the idea that the levels of certain human development indexes are comparable to that of the Western countries. The level of equality between men and women is not lower than in the Western countries. Nonetheless, some socioeconomic and political peculiarities of Russia as well as of the cultural identity and worldview of Russians are so important, that even a tourist can observe significant differences in comparison with the Western countries. Indeed, the democratic organization of political power has never existed here; human rights abuses are common here even today; level of social capital is the lowest in the world, even on the level of most intense interpersonal relations; and economy is still struggling to convert to capitalism, among other things.

Many authors, both Russian and Western, have attempted to identify those peculiarities of Russia and its inhabitants, as well as to reveal its roots by comparing them with the Western countries and their citizens. Some of them determined that those peculiarities are of cultural origin and could be explained by religious or climatogeografic factors (Lebedev, Maksimovitch 2015), while others emphasized the institutional factor (role of the state) (Rozenova 2015). We believe that the institutional factors do not play as big of a role as the cultural factors in profoundly feudalistic societies, which Russia was until the end of the XIX century, whereas it would be wrong to reject the influence of the state (institutional thesis) on social capital, economy, and identity of its citizens, since it is axiomatic that the totalitarian states (such as Russia under the Communist rule) are so invasive into the personal and social life of the individual, that such factor could not be rejected. Thus, a historical research of the socioeconomic peculiarities, as well as of the political influence, is necessary in order to understand why Russia and its inhabitants seem to be so different from the Western countries and their citizens.

Therefore, first and foremost, we would have to present some general observations on the social capital in Russia (1); then consider how Russian political institutions work and what cultural as well as institutional factors influence them (2); and finally, present some observations on Russians and their economy (3).

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