04:09 GMT +313 December 2018
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    Brave New World

    What is 'The Russian Soul'?

    Brave New World
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    John Harrison
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    Russian classical literature, from Gogol, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky is full of references, sometimes sardonic, sometimes extraordinary, but never banal about the Russian soul. How important is the Russian soul today, and how easy it is for foreigners to understand what this is?

    Daniel Brooks, an American who worked as GM for several corporations and now lives in Moscow, joins the program.

    Daniel says that he does think that Russians have a certain belief in the "Russian soul,' and that this is a set of beliefs that are shared amongst people. "I think it is an outcome of the history, literature, traditions and some of the experiences they have, and some of the ways they live their daily lives, mixed in with some of the mysteries that surround Russian traditions. So, I think that Russians do think that this exists, kind of like a faith in certain beliefs, and I do believe that this ‘Russian soul' that they have is seen by them as setting them apart from people in other countries, from people in western Europe, the United States and so on."

    "This comes up in daily life, in conversations that Russians have. Russians believe in spending a lot of time with each other, they believe in forming groups, collectives, and when they are together, they share the Russian experience from all angles. They share both the difficulties and joys of life in Russia because this is a country that has gone through hardship, but which has emerged from it. On the one hand, they are very decisive and on the other hand impulsive. I think that this is something that in daily life is discussed, and the idea is discussed, especially when there are foreigners around — such as me — an American, that the Russian soul is something that is lacking elsewhere, particularly in my country."

    In terms of relationships, Daniel says that Russians have a certain set of common beliefs that allows them to come together in a certain Russian way. "These end up being fairly traditional events, with big families, which means that despite the difficulties, people still manage to come together, and at the end of the day, they stick together."

    Interestingly, Daniel explains that there is a revival going on now of Russian culture, of things that people believed in before the revolution, which is the music, the art, the pull that everybody living in Russia experiences, to get out of the cities and into the countryside, to try and feel what Daniel describes: "An authentic Russian agrarian past. I think that one of the things that were taken away during communist times was a focus on Russian traditions. There was a resurgence in 1992 of the Russian Orthodox Church, of music, dance, both traditional and adapted, and also a celebration of the fact this is Russia, not a part of a Soviet whole….I remember during the Sochi Olympics there was an entire show where Russian art was on display for the whole world to see, and I think that was really a demonstration of the ‘Russian Soul', right there."

    In terms of the importance of understanding the ‘Russian Soul' for doing business in Russia, host John Harrison suggests that there is a certain preference for doing business with people who you know and trust? Daniel says that in a country that has undergone tremendous transition, it is only natural that there is a preference for doing business with people that they know, and with whom they have close friendships, and this "explains why businesses in Russia are often run by individuals and are often highly centralized, as far as the decision-making processes are concerned. I think that when Russians sit down and cement that relationship, during work, after work, they do it in a way that brings up the whole topic of the ‘Russian Soul'. And I think that this is cemented quite often; people will sit down with a few shots of vodka and look each other in the eye and make sure that they are on the same page and that they are brothers in arms….Obviously, partnerships are important everywhere in the world, but it is easier in the United States or Europe to simply sign a contract with people and go into business because you have a contract and you believe in it."

    As far as foreigners' being able to understand the ‘Russian Soul' goes, Daniel says that there is a connection with the way the Russian economy has changed. "There was a period from 1992 to 2014 when Russia needed investment to grow; they needed to bring in help from the outside. Several segments, even oil, aluminum were open to outside investment, and they were much more accessible in those days. Gradually, Russians learned how to run businesses, now they have learned, and there are many Russians who are fully capable of doing any kind of business, and there is no demand for foreign expertise. So that makes it far more difficult to break in… On a personal level, foreigners perceive Russians sometimes as being fairly strict, but then most people discover that once they sit down at a dinner table, in a traditional sense, in a big group, making toasts and eating and talking, that the public façade goes away, and my advice for foreigners visiting Russia is to wait for that façade to go, because Russians are really emotional people who are willing to open their hearts. It's really there. The trick is to get to that point. If you are looking for it, it is a lot faster to connect with it. It is my experience that people realize surprisingly quickly that there is more to the Russians than might meet the eye in public, and Russians are not stupid, at all. They have gone through a lot of hardships and difficulties; there is a tremendous amount of skepticism here, in terms of relations with foreigners. There is a high level of concern of being taken advantage of. Often a Russian will not haggle in negotiations in his own country, but he will when he is abroad, such as in Greece or Italy… There is an aspect of living now, not for the future, and that again is for historical reasons, if we remember in 1992, one minute we had one government, the next another one…"

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    Soul, Russians, people, society, traditions, culture, Russia
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