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Richard Wilson explores the long history of Russophobia in the West, debunking stereotypes and challenging the patronizing tone prevalent in most Western literature about Russia, while advocating for a more balanced, understanding perspective on this complex nation.

“When the Germans or the British come together, they talk about the prices of wool, about the harvest, about their personal affairs; but for some reason, when we, Russians, converge, we only talk about women and high matters.”
– Anton Chekhov, “Ariadne” (1895)

“Apart from suicides, bad bridges and arena festivities, Moscow gives nothing.”
– From a letter to N. A. Leikin, March 22, 1885, Moscow

“The mother of all Russian evils is gross ignorance.”
– From a letter to A. S. Suvorin, October 28, 1889, Moscow

“Moscow is a city that will have to suffer a lot more.”
– Anton Chekhov, “Three Years” (1895)

“O mother Rus’, how many idle and useless people you carry! How many of you are like me, long-suffering!”
– Anton Chekhov, “The Bride” (1903)

He could be a relative, maybe not. Wilson is a very popular surname, I think the 12th most popular in the English-speaking world. Sir Robert Wilson was a British soldier, spy, aspiring politician and propagandist. He spent a lot of time with Russians in Russia. During the invasion by Napoleon, he witnessed the burning of Moscow and the destruction of the French army. Tsar Alexander awarded him medals for bravery and confided in him. When Wilson returned to Britain, he turned into a one-man cyclone of Russophobia. Some historians call him the father of Russophobia. Parliament was diseased with his speeches; he called on politicians. left, right and center, to anyone that would listen to him. Many ignored him. For four years after his return from Russia, Sir Robert Wilson was infected with Russophobic rabies. After four years, his disease culminated in a book, A Sketch of the Military and Political Power of Russia. The book had five quick printings. With this book, says Peter Hopkirk,

The first seeds of Russophobia had been sown. Fear and suspicion of this great power, with its vast natural resources and unlimited manpower…had been planted firmly and permanently in British minds. The Russian bogy was there to stay (The Great Game, 62).

Wilson’s book influenced decisions regarding Russia for the next hundred years.

Russia is the last acceptable target in the West’s colonial shooting gallery.

Almost every single book on Russia by a Westerner has the same patronizing tone, the same condescension, the same upturned nose behind the frantic words. They would never write about Africa the way they write about Russia. Jim Goad once said that American poor whites are the last accepted targets in America’s racial shooting gallery. Russia is the last acceptable target in the West’s colonial shooting gallery. Every single travelogue written by a Westerner speaks of Russians in an almost racial way, an inferior mongrel people, whose women are slatterns who deserve to be beaten, even if they never say they are, whose men pine for totalitarianism or vodka, or both, even if they never say it out loud. We know. Oh, we know what the Russians are like:

Russians have polonium dreams mixed with alcoholic desires of self-forgetting. All that Russians do is insensible; the women are whores, the men aggressive mindless half-Mongol cretins. You think I’m joking, pick up a travelogue of so-called Russian experts. “I’ve been there, I know” is the mantra, the slogan, the bullshit. The white jigaboos of the steppe, knuckledraggin’ Slavs; their alphabet is weird; their language is bizarre; their country, even after 1991, is still the largest on earth.

Probably no other people in Europe, except the Jews, have had so many books written about them.

I’ll be frank: most of you who read this will hate it here. It’s too different. The bureaucracy is a phantasmagoria; babushki here are the real terrorists (I’m joking, not all old women in Russia are terrorists, but they can frighten an unsuspecting Westerner); they can cause you significant pain; the daily operation of ordinary life is so bizarre, so against everything we are used to. And it never lets up.

The Russia that has been around for three hundred years: imperialistic, backwards, animalistic, alcoholic, murderous, barely human. Depressing. Disgusting. Every hundred years or so, the hegemon of the West hides this away, just behind a door. Never do they throw it away on the trashheap; it’s always needed, like now. During Napoleon, during Hitler, they hid this popular stereotype and came out with the friendlier, more acceptable version; Russia is going to help us; she’s one of us. Parliaments and kings of the West have always belittled, denigrated, and attacked Russia when convenient, when needed. Russia is a whipping boy, a bugbear, a golem people, a scapegoat. The Marquis de Custine said, “Once a person visits Russia, he will be happy to live anywhere else.” David Remnick: “Perhaps one day Russia might even become somehow ordinary, a country of problems rather than catastrophes, a place that develops rather than explodes. That would be something to see.” (Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire), Colin Thubron, Ian Frazier, Robert Byron, Chatwin, ad nauseum, some good writers, some great authors – but when it comes to Russia, they fumble and lose their glasses, lose their minds and start seeing dead people everywhere, and do the same thing all Western writers have done before them: belittle, denigrate, scoff, attack. In all the travelogues, the authors, solemn or amused, meet some wretched soul that is from a Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy novel; the Russian, who seems hyperreal, confesses a dislike for X autocrat, a love for Z Western idea(s) and walks away back bent like the Cyrillic letter г. Shuffling away to die a gray, depressing death.

The supposed lack of freedom to have anal sex legally or with animals seems to upset Western writers

There have been a few writers who wrote about Russia with ardour, hell, even a balance. Knut Hamsun, as a young man, came to Russia, was in awe. His short book In Wonderland is almost a non-stop ejaculation of love for Russia; Curzio Malaparte’s The Volga Rises in Europe has moments of pure poetry; Malaparte, of course, came with the Nazis through Romania and Ukraine; he also spent time outside the besieged city of Leningrad. Farley Mowat’s The Siberians is one of the few books that fawns over Russians; he enjoys the Soviet Union and hardly has anything bad to say. Steinbeck too: “We found as we expected that Russian people are people. And as with other people, they are very nice. The ones we met had a hatred of war. They want the same things that all people want: Good lives, increased comforts, security, and peace.”(Russian Journal), but eventually even he recanted.

Freedom is the word that gets stuck in their craws. Freedom, us Westerners are obsessed with freedom to stick our penises inside anything wet, freedom to pray to any cackamammy godlet in the ether, freedom to spray spittle with any concoction of words and shriek about our rights, our freedoms. The supposed lack of freedom to have anal sex legally or with animals seems to upset Western writers, freedom from government is another thorn in our side. It’s annoying to read this, it’s as if every travel writer who came to the USA harped on the genocide of the Indians, the hundreds of thousands of dead workers fighting for a livable wage who were shot, hung. buried alive, bombed, mutilated, etc., the blacks and slavery; here on the corner of Pickadiddle Street and Magenta Avenue was a slave market from 1645—1790; 48 slaves were sold; one was raped by her owner; we found her descendant, a lovely Afro- American hairdresser; then we drove through the plains of Kansas and imagined the killing fields, the tens of thousands of Comanches littering the American steppe lands; Alaska is beautiful but, past the scenery, one must acknowledge the genocide of the Haida, Tlingit, the Yupi’k and Aleut… Imagine if every documentary about America said fuck you to Mickey Mouse and Hollywood, fuck you to the permagrins, the smiles and faux chummery. Imagine every single American achievement flushed down the toilet, and then, the obsession with death, with murder, with past ethnocide in Hollywood, so close to where Ishi, the last of his tribe, came out of the forest (five hundred miles north) and died of smallpox. Don’t be fooled by the glamor, dear reader, think of genocide and persecution. It’s here; it’s never left.

We would think they were insane but Westerners do it to Russia. Incessantly. They can never just fucking move along and take a goddamned picture. They can never ride a train, pass a river, walk a street without bringing up some goddamned grotesquerie, as if Russia invented death and suffering, or extrajudicial murder.

Ernst Jünger, while in Russia with the Nazis: “One approaches one of the great repositories of hardship, a Titan, a genius in the stamina of suffering. Within that sphere of influence, one will learn to know agony in a way that surpasses imagination.”( A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals).

I agree with Jünger. Russians can suffer like no one’s business; they make Zen monks seem impatient, like they are on meth. But, this isn’t all – Russians are more than their suffering. They’re not all dour, moot-faced, ax-wielding beards with fiery eyes and a fur shapka.

Bears don’t walk down the street; not all the women are gorgeous, most are; not all the men are alcoholics, many are… etc., etc.

It’s where we are now. The slit-eyed hordes are threatening Europe again!

The trouble with troublesome Westerners and their books is that they present them as the Russian story. When Steinbeck came, in 1948, after writing The Pearl, with Hungarian photographer Robert Capa, he said : “This is a Russian story.” Only it isn’t the Russian story. After living here for six months, I applied this to all the books I had read about Russia. Most of them spoke of a Russia I have never seen or experienced. They write of people I’ve never met. I’ve been in villages in Russia and Tatarstan, Dagestan, the Volga region. I’ve been to a lot of cities and don’t announce myself as a Westerner looking for caricatures, for stereotypes. It’s a story about Russia, their Russia, and that Russia of propaganda: uncivilized barbarians who only become fully European when the full moon of European peril transforms the Russian barbarian from lapti wearer and vodka drinker into a full-fledged European bourgeois, with a portrait of Voltaire, not an icon of Christ, with a jowled nagging wife, not a feminine Russian wife who can still blush. Once used, again and again, the West burns this image and screams for the older, more useful propaganda. It’s where we are now. The slit-eyed hordes are threatening Europe again! The Great Game is not over (from Kipling’s Kim, whose titular character asks, “When is the Great Game over?” – the reply is: when everyone is dead.)

Britain after India, during India and the race for control of Central Asia, took Russophobia to another level; they spoke of Russians like Antisemites speak of Jews. In Parliament, liberals and Whigs alike frothed at the mouth (à la Lindsey Graham) about Europe’s “gendarme,” “Europe’s last conservatives,” the last bastion of monarchy. They want our India; they want the Stans; they want our Ireland, our worldwide domination. And before that, Napoleon railed against Russia, and before him the Poles and Lithuanians did, the Swedes did, the Teutonic Knights, popes did, Protestant preachers all over Europe and the diaspora with wide eyes and drivel did. Come Nicholas the Second, “Bloody Nicky” the Western press called him; you’d think like a Russian liberal that with Lenin it’d stop; no, Lenin was the bloody tsar; Stalin was The Red Tsar; inside the Western definition of tsar (the Russian of caesar) is all the Western negativity, bloodlust, imperialism, backwardness, totalitarianism, state terror. Now Putin. Western moral microscopes somehow missed King Leopold’s worse orgy of blood and genocide in Congo; their moral teachers were silent when millions died of forced starvation in Ireland and many more millions in British India; mouths were occupied with prayer during the ethnocide against the Mau Mau Rebellion, the Greek uprising, nothing. The West is always against illiberalism unless they do it.

A definition review: whataboutism. A says this country is evil because of x, y and z; B replies, xyz don’t exist; they are figments, myths; let’s talk of your pet countries’ atrocities.

A bleats on about whataboutism.

What is whataboutism? Nothing, it’s a defense used by idiots who don’t know how to argue; their tongues are clubs; their hyper-emotionalism acts as a proof of an argument’s truthfulness, or not.

All Westerners engage in this. They’ve somehow forgotten that one man speaks, another counters; it’s the way arguments work.

It seems, no matter who is in control in the Kremlin, except a puppet of the West like Yeltsin, they are maligned. Any supporter of the Kremlin is a bastard, a traitor to the West. For me, that’s fine. I’ve always been a traitor.

In my decade of living here, I’ve never been beaten by police; they’ve never shot at me, jailed me; the transport system isn’t covered with ethnic narco gangs and their murders and rapes. My wife travels safely. We are not swamped with homosexual lifestyles, with worse degeneracy. I don’t navigate through archipelagos of human feces on the sidewalk. There are problems here, like everywhere else; it’s life. But, the secret to living here is to become Russian or have enough money to insulate your sensitive ass from Russia. The first way is cheaper. Takes some work. All the little idiosyncrasies you think are cute? Shoot them. All the things that make you whine? Stop. Stop now. Nobody cares. Least of all that babushka who will smack your back hard as a drunk rugby player. Tone it down, volume, tovarish. Volume. Down. Think about it, do you really need to talk? Smile? Fake it till you make it. Do it for months… there, all better. If someone bothers you, say zilch; he hits you, hit back, silently. In love with a girl? Buy whatever she wants, read, don’t go Dutch. Respect your elders, get the hell up when a pregnant woman comes on the bus; see that beautiful girl and the old witch with her, struggling with suitcases up the mountain of stairs? Pick them up, don’t ask, just do it. Back hurts, fuck you. Do it anyway. Suffer, find a way to suffer and not tell anyone that you’re suffering, don’t smile too much, don’t frown, middle, man, the middle road, take it. When in the Third and Final Rome, do as the Russians do, and before coming here? Burn most of the books you read about her; they’re useless. I imagine Russia as a pawnshop owner, standing, hands on hips, saying, “The best I can give you? We are not like you…and then he squints, smiles and leans across the counter…but we are also exactly like you.”

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Richard Wilson

Richard Wilson is a writer and professional actor living and working in Moscow, Russia. Originally, he is from Humboldt County in the extreme northern part of California. Before acting, he worked as an Alaskan fisherman, a cowboy, lumberjack, dockworker, road builder, punk singer, farmer, and factory worker. He has performed in eleven Russian films, twelve Russian serials, and many commercials. He is currently finishing a collection of feuilletons about his experiences in Russia and a screenplay based on the last year of Baron Ungern von Sternberg's life.

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Alexander Reynor
Alexander Reynor
2 months ago

The question on the right since the end of WWII has always been what the European relation to Russia should be going back to Yockey and Thiriart. Europe is economically strong and can become militarily strong without NATO if it raises it’s own army. With regards to Russia, understandably, there is skepticism, especially in the former USSR countries in Central and Eastern Europe. A united Europe doesn’t have to be a client of Putin but it should strongly consider a mutual partnership to counteract against American hegemony.

Simon Willoughby
Simon Willoughby
1 month ago

Excellent article, Russia isn’t perfect but at least they don’t tolerate all that Woke nonsense and if one obeys the law there is nothing to worry about. Glad to see a heads up for the great writers Knut Hamsun and Curzio Malaparte. Appreciated the article a lot.

Kenneth Schmidt
1 month ago

Even though I was a big cold warrior in the eighties, my early acquaintance with 19th Century Russian literature cured any incipient Russo-phobia in my makeup.

old boy
old boy
1 month ago

At first I thought this article was a little melodramatic but the final paragraph really won me over.

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