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Quotes / Russia

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By Russians

Russian Literature

"Russia, are you not similar in your headlong motion to one of those nimble troikas that none can overtake? The flying road turns into smoke under you, bridges thunder and pass, all falls back and is left behind! The witness of your course stops as if struck by some divine miracle: is this not lightning that dropped from the sky? And what does this awesome motion mean? What mysterious force is hidden in this troika, never seen before? Ah, horses, horses—what horses! Is the whirlwind hidden under your manes? Is there some delicate sense tingling in every vein? They hear the familiar song over their heads—at once in unison they strain their iron chests and scarcely touching the earth with their hoofs are transformed almost into straight lines flying through the air—and the troika rushes on, full of divine inspiration...Russia, whither flyest thou? Answer me! She gives no answer. The ringing of the bells melts into music; the air, torn to shreds, whirs and rushes like the wind, everything there is on earth is flying by, and the other states and nations, with looks askance, make way for her and draw aside."
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls, final paragraph at the end of Volume I.

I could not help being struck by the capacity of the Russian to adapt himself to the customs of that people among which he happens to be living. I do not know whether this trait of the mind deserves blame or praise, but it attests to his incredible flexibility and the presence of that lucid common sense that pardons evil wherever it recognizes its necessity or the impossibility of its abolishment.
Mikhail Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time (translated by Vladimir Nabokov)

I love my country, but it is a strange love - my reason cannot fathom it.
Yevtushenko, poet

Russian Humor

A politician is being given a tour of Hell. At one point he finds a giant, furiously boiling kettle with dozens of demons around it, tridents poking into the liquid. 'What's that?,' he asks.
His guard replies, 'That's where we keep the Jews. Every time one of them manages to get out, they all try to follow him, so we have to be very careful.'
They move on, and soon come to a larger kettle, but this one has far fewer demons. The guest asks why.
'Oh, that's where we keep the Poles. When one of them gets out, the others just ignore him. So we don't need to keep as much security.'
They move on again, and soon come to a still-larger kettle, but this time there are no demons at all. Before the guest can ask, the demon guide says,
'That's where we keep the Russians. Every time one tries to get out, the others grab him and pull him back in!'
—Typical Russian Humor

By Non-Russians

"The unusual thing about Russia is that it reached cultural maturity in the nineteenth century. Russia didn’t have the Middle Ages of Dante and Chaucer, the Renaissance of the Italians, or the Elizabethan age of the British. They weren’t even sure what language to write in. Pushkin more or less created the Russian literary language, and Pushkin was born in 1799. They were doing for the first time what other cultures had been doing for hundreds of years."
Richard Pevear

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Revolution did not sink gracefully into history. It was flung there — 'on to the dust-heap of history', to borrow Trotsky's phrase — in a spirit of vehement national rejection. This repudiation, which amounted to a wish to forget not only the Russian Revolution but the whole Soviet era, left a strange emptiness in Russian historical consciousness. Soon, in the vein of Peter Chaadaev's jeremiad on the nonentity of Russia a century and a half earlier, a chorus of laments arose about Russia's fatal historical inferiority, backwardness, and exclusion from civilization. For late twentieth-century Russians, former Soviet citizens, it seemed that what had been lost with the discrediting of the myth of the Revolution was not so much belief in socialism as confidence in Russia's significance in the world. The Revolution gave Russia a meaning, a historical destiny. Through the Revolution, Russia became a trailblazer, an international leader, a model and inspiration for "the progressive forces of the whole world." Now, overnight as it seemed, all that was gone. The party was over; after seventy-four years, Russia had fallen out of "the vanguard of history" into its old posture of recumbent backwardness. In a poignant moment for Russia and the Russian Revolution, it turned out that the "future of progressive humanity" was really its past.
Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, final paragraphs.

From the angle of practice, it is possible to see Russia as an example not of modernity, but of its opposite: an example of the persistence of apparently archaic practices existing in a particular, ongoing relationship to modern institutions....It is hard to imagine glowing and dripping religious icons of the head of state appearing in other modern countries today. Continuities with past practices seem less ephemeral and more direct here than elsewhere, and they seem to exist in profound subterranean cultural places that are nevertheless not far from the surface. Among developed industrial societies, patrimonialism, clientelism, and a host of other traditional practices are more common and more enduring in Russia than anywhere else, and have played a dominant role over a much longer span in time...After all, in Russia the deep structures of patrimonialism have withstood two world wars, multiple revolutions, dramatic economic change, and the fall of tsars and commisars.
J. Arch Getty, Practicing Stalinism: Bolsheviks, Boyars and the Persistence of Tradition, Pages 288-290note 

The only way to figure the Russians is to put 2 and 2 together, make 9, add 7, divide by 4, and give up.
Phillip, Never Let Me Go (1953)

Since the end of the Cold War, the Kalashnikov has become the Russian people's greatest export. After that comes vodka, caviar, and suicidal novelists. One thing is for sure; no one was lining up to buy their cars.
Yuri Orlov, Lord of War

There is no need to prove that you are virtuous here. This isn't America.

The secret of politics? Make a good treaty with Russia.

If a Soviet-born Russian person were to come into my office and not complain about anything, I'd have him hospitalized.
Dr. Anna Halberstadt

Communism will probably disappear altogether when the Russian experiment comes to a climax, and Bolshevism either converts itself into a sickly imitation of capitalism or blows itself up with a bang. The former issue seems much more likely.
H. L. Mencken (who was right on the money, no pun intended)

In most countries, criminals need to make their dirty money Russia, corruption has gotten so bad that the logic of money laundering has turned upside down. There, many companies face the opposite problem: In order to get things done, they need to take clean money and make it dirty.

Every single day we're lying and finding sexier ways to do it.
—Former Russia Today reporter Sara Firth

In the Russian language, the word for 'vanish' is the same word they use for 'ordinary' and 'boring.' People disappear so often in Russia that its topsoil is 40 percent human teeth. The most common high school mascot in Russia is the Armed Kidnapper.

Russia is a country that only has "laws" in the loosest possible sense, which is why people there drive like absolute fucking maniacs.

Finally, a plea to America's many beautiful women to place themselves into their bikinis and join me on oligarch's yacht in Zelenogradsk. Stop hanging around these limp American men who do nothing but watch The King of Queens. In Russia we kill monarchs, we do not venerate them with syndication on the TBS. Together we will ride horses and I will shoot a dolphin for you to make a coat. Do you like an eagle? I will kill twenty of them for you. Bald eagles.

Sorry, USA, you are just a joke.

Action movies have conditioned us to associate an actor's indifference toward devastating destruction with badassedness...Combine this trend with the Russian people's legendary inability to give a single shit and the result is the poster for Stalingrad, in which a giant plane is set to crash just above the scene and not one of the eight actors is even looking at it... hold on, is that guy playing a piano? Look at his face. He's clearly going 'So Adrien Brody played the piano in the safety of a studio while bombs were falling all the way outside? Wow, that's so badass. No, seriously, tell me more.'

It's hard not to look all all these war games about Russia invading America and not be reminded of fanfiction. America is a fat teenage virgin lying on her front on her bed staring up at her Edward and Bella poster while crossing and uncrossing her ankles and dreamily writing creepy stories about having filthy monkey sex with the quiet, Eastern European boy down the road.

In a speech at Gorbachev's anti-nuclear forum in Moscow, I quoted a Japanese minister of trade who said that Japan would still be number one in the next century. Then, tactlessly he said that the United States will be Japan's farm and Western Europe it's boutique. A Russian got up and said, "What about us??" I said that they were not mentioned but, if they did not get their act together, they would end up as ski instructors.
Gore Vidal, "The National Security State"

While it is never wise to speak of a culture as if it were inalterable and hereditary, it is not much of a stretch to suggest that, to the extent that Russian political culture can be discussed, it is a ghastly oppressive enterprise. This is, after all, a nation that has spent much of the past millennium stumbling from one oppressive autocracy to the next. The majority of Russia’s population lived, until as recently as 1861, as serfs...given the Russians’ iron-fisted history, they have traditionally expected their leaders to be groznyi, a word that, applied to Czar Ivan IV, was improperly translated as 'terrible' but really means 'awesome.' This, Pipes wrote, explains why a 2003 survey found that 22 percent of Russians supported democracy, while as many as 53 percent actively disliked it. Pipes called this phenomenon, still very much in force today, a flight from freedom, and he explained it had much to do with Russia’s perception of itself as a country under permanent siege. The prominent newspaper Izvestiya, he noted, captured this spirit perfectly when it described Russians as 'living in trenches,' surrounded by enemies.
Liel Leibovitz, "Left For Dead"

Our tale is set in Russia, a land that's rather quaint
I'd like to say it's mythical. Unfortunately, it aint
Allan Sherman, Peter and the Commissar

The strength of the Kremlin lies largely in the fact that it knows how to wait. The Russian people's lies in the fact that they know how to wait longer.
George Kennan