Russia History and Culture

By | October 26, 2021


The first state formation on Russian soil was the Empire of Kiev (Kiewer Rus) in the 9th century. Around 1100 it split into partial principalities. All princes had to pay tribute to the Mongols ruling from 1240 to 1480. The rise of the Principality of Moscow began in the 14th century, and in the 16th century it expanded to include Siberia. Ivan IV was the first to be crowned Tsar of Russia in 1547. His reign of terror was followed by a period of turmoil, which ended in 1613 when the Romanovdynasty came to power.

Peter I (Tsar 1682–1725) tried to modernize the “backward” country based on Western European models. He moved the capital to the newly founded Saint Petersburg. Since Catherine II (Tsarina 1762–96) Russia was a major European power. In the 19th century, social tensions grew, which could not be resolved even by the abolition of serfdom (1861). After the February Revolution of 1917, Russia became a republic. A coup d’état in the same year (October Revolution) brought the Communists (Bolsheviks) under W. Lenin to power.

In 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, Soviet Union) was founded. In the power struggles after Lenin’s death (1924), J. Stalin prevailed and established a terrorist dictatorship. In the 1980s, economic problems and social unrest forced Russia to implement a reform agenda of “restructuring, publicity and acceleration” (perestroika, glasnost, uscorenia). It led to the collapse of the communist system and in 1991 to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The previous Soviet republics became independent. They merged in December 1991 under the leadership of Russia to form the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In terms of foreign policy, there were tentative social and economic reforms in the 1990s, as well as a cautious rapprochement between Russia and the Western countries. Domestically, the country took an authoritarian-centralist course under W. Putin (President 2000-08, since 2012). The annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea (2014) led to growing tensions in relation to the western states. Economic and visa sanctions by the EU, the USA and Canada followed.


The ancient Slavic settlement of Kievan Rus and the introduction of Orthodox Christianity in 988 is the beginning of Russian civilization. The opening to the west under Peter I from the 18th century onwards brought important impulses. In the 1920s, an avant-garde developed that gained international attention before the Soviet system introduced political censorship. Many well-known artists and writers went into exile or were expelled, such as A. Solzhenitsyn , Nobel Prize for Literature. With the collapse of the Soviet Union (perestroika / glasnost) a new phase began in the 1990s, which is characterized by currents of postmodernism and a return to realism.

Numerous church buildings with the characteristic onion domes characterize the old Russian sacred architecture as well as the magnificent monasteries of Sergiev Posad or Suzdal. The Kremlin of Moscow, Veliky Novgorod or Kazan represent medieval fortress architecture. The ” confectioner style ” from the 1950s is an example of Soviet architecture. The Russian art found its early forms of expression in icon painting and large-scale frescoes. Painting flourished in the 19th century with the advent of realism. The best-known representative of this direction is I. Repin . W. Kandinsky found great recognition in abstract painting. the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg is one of the largest art collections in the world.

Liturgical, religious literature and chronicles (” Nestor Chronicle “) were written in Old Church Slavonic. A. Pushkin is considered to be the creator of the newer Russian literary language and ushered in the Golden Age. The Russian literaturereached a climax with the realistic novels of I. Turgenev , F. Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy . In the first decades of the 20th century, new lyrical forms emerged such as the futurism of W. Mayakovsky or the acmeism of A. Akhmatova (Silver Age). Especially under the Stalinist reign of terror, many critical writers were banished to labor camps. The processing of their traumatic experiences created the genre of camp literature in Russian literary history (A. Solzhenitsyn , J. Ginsburg ).

In the first half of the 19th century, the “Maly Teatr” in Moscow and the “Alexandrinski Teatr” in Saint Petersburg became the leading theaters in the Russian theater scene. The first address for opera and ballet is the famous “Bolshoi Teatr” in Moscow. In film, S. Eisenstein set an early milestone with the revolutionary film »Battleship Potemkin« (1925). A. Tarkowski made films with “Stalker” (1979), among others, which gained international recognition. Many films were banned by the censors under the Soviet regime. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the lack of capital severely constrained filmmakers.

Theological issues were initially at the center of Russian philosophy. In the middle of the 19th century, the conflict between the traditional Slavophiles and the Westerners who were oriented towards Western Europe was decisive. With communist rule, dialectical materialism (Marxism) was elevated to the status of state philosophy.

In the 19th century, an independent “Russian school” developed in Russian music with M. Mussorgsky and N. Rimsky-Korsakov . The most famous composer of this century was P. Tchaikovsky , whose music laid the groundwork for the creation of the world-famous Russian ballet. I. Stravinsky continued this tradition and suddenly became famous with the performance of the ballet “Firebird” (1910). The Russian romance (romans) as a setting of Russian poetry emerged in the 19th century as a separate generic term in contrast to the folk song.

In the 1960s, bards like Bulat Okudschawa (* 1924, † 1997) and W. Vysotsky interpreted the author’s song (Avtorskaja Pesnja), which is related to the crook song (Blatnaja Pesnja) played in a criminal environment. In addition to Russian-language popular music, Ėstrada, Russian pop (“Popsa”) is very popular.

The most popular sports include soccer, ice hockey, handball, basketball and tennis, as well as boxing. The sport of chess looks back on a long tradition. Competitive sport has been particularly encouraged since the Soviet era. Russia suffered a considerable loss of international reputation due to the serious allegation of systematic state doping. Over 100 Russian athletes were banned from the 2016 Summer Olympics. The IOC expelled the Russian National Olympic Committee from the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Russia History and Culture