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100 Things Everyone Should Know About Russia

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: Politics, Russian, Russian Life, geography, history, Europe,

Russian LifeYou can almost see it from here, but Russia remains an enigma to many Americans, easily reduced to crude caricatures. Start filling the Ural-sized gaps in your knowledge by reading Russian Life magazine’s “100 Things Everyone Should Know About Russia” in its May-June issue (article not available online).

“How was it that one of the most isolated, illiterate societies in Europe produced, in the 19th century, so many giants of literature, science, music, and the arts? Why is it that such a conservative, deeply religious, and agrarian-feudalist society so eagerly embraced the revolutionary, atheistic, and industrial ideology of Communism, and then, 80 years later, with equal vigor, cast this ideology aside in favor of the previously despised ‘bourgeois capitalism’?”

That’s the provocative introduction to the list, a way of commemorating the magazine’s 100th issue since launching in 1995.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Some 70% of Russia is forested and 22% of the world’s forests are in Russia. As such, Russia—which has been called the “lungs of Europe”—is second only to the Amazon in the amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs.

Among “20 Must See Films”: Belorussky Train Station by Andrei Smirnov and Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears by Vladimir Menshov.

From “10 Important Legends and Folk Tales”: Koshchey the Deathless, the evil sorceror, kidnaps a princess from Russia and takes her to his kingdom, where the hero must save her by finding Koshchey’s death. The princess tricks Koshchey into revealing where he has hidden his death: on an island in the middle of the sea in a coffer buried under an oak.

St. Cyril did not create the Cyrillic alphabet. [He and his brother created the Glagolitic alphabet, from which Cyrillic descended. Ha!]

Vodka, so pure and purposeful, so ideal for warming the despondent soul in February or cooling passions in August, is a feast or famine sort of drink. One would expect something like vodka to arise from a Northern culture with a communal peasantry, where long winters and tortuously short growing seasons mean back-breaking labor intermitted only by community-building social feasts and drinking bouts.

Source: Russian Life