Dmitry SHLAPENTOKH

The Image of the Bear as the Symbol of Russias Foreignness to the West

 

Many nations have an animal or plant symbol, so to speak. The animal could be either real or imaginary. The animal/ plant symbol could be accepted by both natives and foreigners as the symbol of a particular country. This, for example, could well be the case with China. Indeed, both the Chinese and foreigners have accepted the dragon as the countrys symbol. The story is different with Russia, where foreigners have never accepted the official animal/ plant symbol of the country as the countrys symbol. Indeed, since the beginning of the unified Russian states existence, the elite proclaimed Moscow to be a Third Rome and put imperial eagles on Russias coat of mail. However, foreigners had never accepted this; it is not the eagle but the bear that is accepted as the countrys symbol. This was, in many ways, due to the fact that the eagle has been a symbol of many other Western nations; and its acceptance as Russias symbol would underscore Russias sameness to the West. At the same time, the bear was seen as a distinctly Russian animal. Consequently, foreigners who visited Russia in the 17th and 18th centuries often dwelled on bears and Russian preoccupation with the beast. And by doing this, they launched a tradition that has continued up to the present.