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Russian Bear – Myths and Reality

 Russian Bear - Myths and Reality

A Russian bear is an animal that Russia has been associated with in the West for many centuries already. A lot of myths and stereotypes about the Russian bear have appeared for about 400 years. Let’s try to find out how these stereotypes appeared and what bears’ life in Russia is like.

There are many bears in Russia. The most popular one is a brown bear which is known around the world as a “Russian bear”. A bear is the biggest and strongest animal on the territory of Russia and northern Europe, therefore Russians call it the forest (taiga) master.

What “Russian Bear” is

What "Russian Bear" is

The story of the “Russian bear” is related to foreigners’ observations. In Western Europe the image of the bear started to relate to the image of Russians in the 16th century. It started with the travel notes and diaries by western travelers who looked at bears as exotic animals. A great deal of speculation grew around their stories; the stories transformed. Actually, that’s what was going on until now.

Foreign diplomats often received bear pelts as presents, and they also often mentioned carriages and sleds decorated in bear pelts. There were a lot of funny and unusual stories. Political cartoons depicting a Russian riding on the back of a bear which symbolized the Russian state were widely spread in Europe in the 18th century. First examples of self-identification of the Russian state with a bear started to appear since the end of the 19th century.  This is how the cliché about Russia as the state of bears gradually formed.

the Moscow bear, Mishka, that was the mascot of the 1980 Olympics

The most famous Russian bear is the Moscow bear, Mishka, that was the mascot of the 1980 Olympics. The task of this extremely cute cub was to help foreigners feel more confident and comfortable in Russia and change their attitude towards the USSR.

Today the image of Russian bear is being actively exploited in mass media around the world. Cartoons, funny pictures of politicians with bears, word plays on Russia’s ex-president’s surname Medvedev, etc.

Making use of people’s interest in Russian bears, bear tamers train their bears to hold a balalaika, and a bottle of vodka; they dress bears in traditional costumes, and after that, film them.  It also enhances the already established stereotype and enables the appearance of more and more new stereotypes about brown bears.

On the Internet, you can order the trained bear show for any holiday, as well as hire a tamed bear for a photoshoot session. Bear tamers make their bears dance, play Russian traditional music instruments, as it’s so “Russian”.

Do you have a picture with a bear?

Do you have a picture with a bear?

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