World Cup: stereo types take a big hit
The World Cup opened the eyes of millions of foreigners when it comes to Russians. They understood that Russians have nothing in common with the scary images painted by unscrupulous media in the West. A lot of myths have finally been dispelled. Russians are welcoming and friendly people. But what do Russians think of foreigners?
People in Russia have always been wary of foreigners. Suffice it to say that, in Old Slavonic, all foreigners were called pet’s’ (mute) – “people who are unable to speak a comprehensible language.” Aside from incomprehensible language, foreigners also had other habits, behavior, and even clothes. All of this made Russians treat foreigners with suspicion and distrust. This was likely the case up until Peter the Great, who forced Russia to turn toward the West. Ever since then, Russian people’s attitude toward foreigners has started to change. “After Peter the Great,” says Alla Sergeeva, who has a PhD in Philology, “openness and receptivity to everything foreign became the defining trait of Russian culture.”
Sometimes, this openness and receptivity reached absurd proportions, like excessive admiration of everything foreign. For a whole two centuries, the most important people in Russia, for example, spoke French and neglected their native tongue. Today this seems offensive to Russians, even nonsensical – the same as if the court of Louis XIV spoke Chinese. Even Alexander Pushkin, who later became Russia’s most prominent poet, learned how to speak Russian from his nanny when he was a child. “There were a lot of French people in Russia who had fled from the horrors of the revolution,” Alla Sergeeva explains. At the same time, as she points out in her book “Russians,” it’s hard to find a positive image of a French person in Russian literature. For the most part, they are governesses and tutors invited into wealthy people’s homes to educate their children. They often neglected their responsibilities, weren’t well educated or clever, prone to adultery, and arrogant toward Russians. They came to Russia for one reason: to make money and to save money. They left a few years later, having learned nothing about the country or the language, and feeling nothing toward Russia except irritation, alienation, and fatigue.
Thus, two lines of thinking evolved over the centuries with respect to Russian attitudes to foreigners. There is distrust on one hand, and admiration on the other. In one way or another, these two lines of thinking still exist today. In this sense, the law prohibiting marriage between USSR citizens and foreigners, which was adopted in February 1947, looks harsh but logical. Among other things, the law stated that “Soviet women don’t feel well living in circumstances they’re not used to abroad and encounter discrimination.” Back then, those who violated this law were considered enemies of the people.
International marriages only became more accepted after the 6th International Youth & Student Festival, which was held in Moscow in 1957. Moscow hosted 34,000 guests from 131 countries. The festival was remembered for its friendliness, smiles, and open interactions between foreigners and young people from the USSR. Because of this, a lot of so-called “festival babies” were born in the spring of 1958. Many young mothers couldn’t conceal their brief encounters with foreigners because their children had darker skin. After this, there were amendments made to Soviet marriage laws. In 1969, Soviet citizens were granted the right to start families with foreigners. In practice, however, these marriages were not welcome. Some echoes of those harsh post-war times unexpectedly came up before the 2018 World Cup, when State Duma Deputy Tamara Pletnyova told Russian women to avoid intimate encounters with foreigners during the championship. In an interview with “Govorit Moskva,” she said that behavior like this results in children being born to single mothers, citing young people’s experience with the 1957 Festival and the 1980 Olympic Games as examples. According to her, both events led to an increase in the number of single mothers in Russia.
“The Deputy’s sentiments didn’t resonate with many people, because the championship was defined by love that had nothing to do with country of origin or the color of people’s skin,” journalist Sebastián Fest says, “A sea of fans spread out all over the city’s streets, talking to locals, listening to music, and dancing. Russian men and women gladly joined the celebrations.”
So yes, the 2018 World Cup helped do away with a lot of stereotypes that foreigners had about Russia, and also dispelled myths Russians had about foreigners.
A poll conducted jointly by Mikhailov & Partners, the Center for Knowledge Management Research Agency, and social media monitoring service YouScan confirms this to be the case. The results show that 93% of the people polled noted that foreigners saw that the people living in Russia are the same as everywhere else. 87% think that Russia is a very cultured country, 81% of responders said that the championship helped get rid of negative stereotypes created by the media, and 71% said that attitudes toward Russians improves after the World Cup.