Humanness as a Special Feature of Russian Civilisation


When an economist speaks of Russia, he first thinks of its wealth of resources, its vast territory, and the role of Russian energy in the global production system. When a historian speaks of Russia, he lists wars, statesmen of note like Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, and epic events that influenced the whole world, such as the 1917 revolution or the first space flight. When a cultural historian thinks of Russia, depending on his field of interest, he cannot avoid mentioning our great literature, cinema, the artistic achievements of Russian avant-garde, or the world-famous ballet.

But the average person visiting Russia for the first time doesn’t start here: most commonly, he would talk about the warm welcome he has received, the friendliness, kindness of heart, compassion of Russians, willingness to bare their souls to a foreigner, a representative of another nation. Many visitors to Russia make friends during their first trip and happily keep in touch, in the most informal and friendly way. Accusations of Russian “imperialism”, arrogance and coldness are usually brought by people for whom the very existence of Russia is unacceptable and who themselves are not distinguished by good faith or friendly attitude towards our country.

Difficult and, in many respects, tragic experience that Russia endured throughout its existence — endless wars, cruel social experiments and periods of repression and isolation — have not been able to push out from the Russian national character those traits that grace our short lives on earth: mercy, big heart, compassion. The English saying “nothing personal” is not about us. Everything is “personal” for us, we bring our colourful emotions into everything: politics, attitude towards the authorities, business, even into the traumatic experience of war. The head of state is almost always our “father”, sometimes unfair provoking a childish sense of rebellion, but still our own, “God-given” (indeed, we don’t choose our parents)! We do not only earn money with our business partners, but we also go fishing with them, we go to the sauna, we have arguments and make it up in a family-like way; we feel the betrayal deeply, because “this is not what is done in the family”. Even our attitude towards other countries is usually dictated by emotions: we are always looking for “friends” (and this lets us down sometimes), we sympathise with their misfortunes, we are ready to recklessly, with no hesitation share everything with them, we are ready to accept and care for their children who come to study in our country.

The more acutely and antagonistically we perceive the cynicism, hypocrisy and arrogance that largely determine today’s international atmosphere. We have come to the bitter realisation of the fact that our traditional friendliness, our readiness to back down for the sake of peace, has been perceived as weakness, as an excuse to push us further and further, while devouring our cheap energy resources. This bitterness has been growing on over the past years and finally it has completely overshadowed the memory of our former alliance, our common history and glorious joint victories. We used to love French cinema so much! But today the perception of French culture is totally poisoned by counter-hatred, by stupid, absurd demarches of French politicians. Through enormous moral endeavours we managed to reconcile internally with the people of Germany, who twice in a century came to our land with weapons. But today German shells are again exploding in our cities, killing the old, infirm and children. Not to mention Uncle Sam who seems to have seriously believed in the “evil Russians” invented and depicted by Hollywood! “You have no place on earth, conform or die!” — such is the verdict of the world hegemon who wants to give the law to everyone. And all this mayhem of lies, hatred and violence are called “fight for freedom and human rights”!

We, people living in Russia, feel that the open confrontation with evil, which today is becoming the main contents of international politics, not only discourages us from taking example of our adversaries in cynicism, cruelty, and deceit — but, on the contrary, it multiplies the value of humanness, loyalty to ideals, the value of goodness as the main source of happiness in our earthly lives.


Intuitively we understand the word “humanness” and its meaning seems obvious. But when we talk about humanness as a foundation of our value system, we describe its content through many other semantically related notions. The range of values that we have included in the unified value of humanness contains such concepts as:

· mercy, big heart, humanity;

· goodwill, sensitivity, respect, care;

· love, brotherhood, emotional connection, human touch;

· understanding, empathy, сочувствие, compassion;

· dedication, self-sacrifice, ability of selfless action;

· thoughtfulness, support, consolation;

· honour and dignity.

The importance of these notions was shown in ancient religious texts, berhymed in lyrical poems, and storied in famous novels; nobody would question their significance and ethical beauty. And yet, our contemporary practice of interpersonal communication seems to push away with both hands these beautiful gifts, as if we were ashamed of them. We are told to believe that big heart is weakness, sacrifice is foolishness, love is self-deception. And what are we offered in return? Ambitiousness (vanity), independence (self-isolation), strong upholding of self-interests (loneliness). There is no God — the heavens are empty, man is left to himself; there are no friends — there are business partners; there is no sin — there are pardonable weaknesses, individual peculiarities, which must be cherished and nurtured: they are the main delight of a short and meaningless life. There is no homeland either — there is a place of residence that can be changed any time for a more comfortable one. And, of course, to die defending your country is the most foolish thing man can do with his one and only precious life…

And what then? Has this free of duties and obligations person gained more happiness, joy or calm? Does he stand on two feet? Does he feel confident in himself and in his future? Has he conquered the fear of death?

The answer is obvious: the 21st century man is more obsessed with fears than ever before, suffers from solitude, afraid to trust his neighbour, and again and again suffering a defeat when faced with the various challenges of real life. Having failed to “begin the world”, with no hope for the future, one immerses into the virtual computer world, or even worse — poisons himself with drugs, drowns in depression, or lets out inner aggression, fighting for other people’s interests or smashing shop windows in hometowns.

Such is the price of rejecting humanness, ancient, proven recipes for happiness and sense of purpose in life.


Europeans have their own alternative word for what we call “humanness”, and that word is humanism. It is also widely used in Russia, but with our own meaning. One would think, who can object to the humane treatment of prisoners of war, to the manifestations of humanity in the system of justice, in human communication? However, a correct understanding of “humanism” is inseparable from the system of ideas within which it was born and rose.

A few centuries ago, the great project of the Enlightenment dethroned God, and in his place put Man as the new supreme being, the only benchmark for good and evil. Through studying Man, his weaknesses, wishes and motives, European, and later American scientific thought increasingly succumbed to the desire to “give man what he wants”. Alas, they were not heard, those sages who explored the depths of the human soul and pointed out the contradictory human nature, man’s inner weakness, his need of inspiration to make an effort, to rise above himself in the name of higher goals beyond the limits of his life span.

The doctrine of humanism, welcomed by the finest minds of Europe, has led today to paradoxical results. Instead of liberation, it has bound man hand and foot with the shackles of his own weaknesses; instead of happiness and “brotherhood”, it has condemned him to seclusion, disconnection, and confusion in the face of existential threats. Modern man, the beneficiary of humanism, is no longer sure of anything: he cannot decide on his gender, his wishes, or beliefs. Through destroying his main stronghold, the family, refusing to have children, despising the state, resorting to drugs, man has become an orphan in this littered with rubbish and dangerous world that has forgotten God.

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel we find an ultimate expression of this attitude: “If there is no God, everything is permitted!” But what do we, people freed from the sense of duty, do to ourselves and to the world around us will destroy us.

The more uncomfortable the world of “posthumanism” becomes, the more acutely we, heirs of Russian spirituality and humanness, feel like bearers of traditional values — more European than today’s English, French or Germans. Their great writers — Dickens, Shakespeare, Flaubert, Stendhal, Goethe, Thomas Mann — are on the same “value wave” with us. We understand them, we hear them, we share their attitude to life, we are ready to accept their commandments. We will not rewrite their works, erase the “wrong” heroes, impose ridiculous interpretations to accommodate fashionable theories and crazy slogans.

Wouldn’t it be better if we work on stimulating a healthy immunity to inhumanity in our own people and in the like-minded nations who cherish their identity, heritage, and spiritual tradition?