East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter 1999, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

Russian Collectivism Article Triggers Lively Response

The East-West Church & Ministry Report received nine requests to reprint or redistribute Steven Chapman's article on Russian collectivism, Vol. 6 (Fall 1998), 12-14, the most requests ever for a single article. Yale Richmond, author of From Nyet to Da, Understanding the Russians, also wrote that he enjoyed the article very much and may use some of its insights if he does a third edition of his book.  Daniel Bulzan requested permission to distribute the collectivism article to missionary friends working in Timisoara, Romania.  "We Romanians," he wrote, "are not as collectivist as the Russians, but some of the things in that article can be applied to us as well, and are a cause of frustration for Westerners who come here."

Note below excerpts from comments on the article on Ray Prigodich's e-mail list on religion in the former Soviet Union.

From Dan Beck, Denver, CO
I must say that I hesitate to comment at all, since the article [on Russian collectivism] has many excellent insights on differences between Russian and American culture and church practices.  Moreover, I have never been to Russia.  Despite these circumstances, I want to address what I believe to be a lack of balance in some Western (especially U.S.) perspectives on the roots of Russian behavior and thought today.  It is true, for example, that Russia did not experience the Renaissance and Reformation as we know it in the West.  But there were other, more recent developments in Russian history that clearly suggest Russia was not destined for a non-individualist, "collectivist consciousness" that would result in some of the behaviors the author cites.  The zemstvo political movement in late nineteenth century Russia, the broader democratic initiatives from the government at the turn of the century, and the success of agriculture during this time frame (Russia was the world's leading exporter of wheat prior to World War I, I believe) are a few noteworthy pieces of evidence that question the author's broad characterization of a purported Russian communal mindset (and its lingering impact to this day), all before the onslaught of Lenin and Co.  If this is the line of thinking the author wishes to pursue, then the road he should travel should include what Soviet socialism did to the Russian people--an omission in his comments that is so glaring as to be unnerving.

From Charley Warner, Odessa, Ukraine
Dan Beck openly admits, "I have never been to Russia."  To study culture is one thing.  But to live in it is another.  The sources that Chapman used are of impeccable quality and depth.  His analysis wasn't just "one view."  It's the predominate and accurate view of both academics and those who actually have experience living in Russian culture long term, both Christian and not.  To suggest that having missed the Renaissance and Reformation, there were other, later, developments in Russian history that would lead to more individualist, "democratic" thinking is simply academically untenable.  The sociological structure of Russian society in the 1860s, when serfdom was abolished, was completely the opposite of American society during the same period:  90 percent of the Russian population were serfs, while only 10 percent of the U.S. population were slaves.  Russia has never overcome the powerful, mainstream cultural forces that resulted from such historical development.  Westerners hold out the hope that if democratic ideals are planted in Russian soil then  eventually something like a Western democracy will develop.  It is not going to happen!  The Russian economic smoke screen of "market" ideals was blown apart by the August 1998 crisis.  Further, the question is not one of reconciling Western and Russian norms of behavior.  Rather, the question is one of reconciling behavior in both cultures to biblical standards.  Sobornost is an important, controlling, major cultural influence.  The Soviet cultural legacy was a continuation of prerevolutionary Russian culture with a veneer of socialism.  Lenin set up the gulag system based on the tsarist system of camps.  Stalin's dictatorship mirrored the tsars' dictatorship, censorship, societal control, etc.  In short, Chapman's article is right on and deserves wide usage.

From Ted Mole, CB International missionary, Donetsk Christian University, Donetsk, Ukraine
I agree with Charley Warner's assessment of Chapman's article.  Although I do not have as much experience living here as Charley, perhaps I can observe the following:  We cannot characterize Russians or Ukrainians with a broad generalization any more than we should characterize all Americans with a generalization.  While I believe and have experienced the truth behind Chapman's article, I would be cautious about using his conclusions across the board.  Why don't we try to personally get to know individual Russians and Ukrainians and see for ourselves that they are each unique? While Chapman's article is historically and culturally accurate, put it aside and get to know the real person rather than categorize them.  I can only love the person and not the stereotype.

"Russian Collectivism Article Triggers Lively Response," East-West Church & Ministry Report 7 (Winter 1999), 9-10.

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© 1999 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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