Russia has received quite a lot of attention in the last few weeks. The media have emphasized the new laws on gay propaganda, the upcoming G20 meeting in Saint-Petersburg and of course, Russia’s stance on the possibility of a military intervention in Syria. These are all very important political questions that have rightly received a lot of media attention. But Russia is so much more than just Putin and the Kremlin. This year, if you are interested in the lives of ordinary Russians and in their culture and history, you do not have to travel far. During the 2013 Netherlands-Russia year, people here in Holland can go to multitudes of events and experience Russian culture and identity for themselves.
This year the Netherlands and Russia celebrate their 400 year anniversary of bilateral relations. Russia has offered an ambitious program in the Netherlands with a variety of economic, cultural and societal activities during the year 2013. Through these events, it is possible to get a better understanding of this country, which is so hard to grasp. Today’s Russia cannot be understood without looking at her past. Russians have experiences hundreds of years of repression, first during the Tsar regimes and later during the Communist regime. In the Stalin era, millions of people were sent to the working camps in Siberia were they were put to work in horrible conditions and often did not last long. This history still defines Russia today. It still explains, in my personal opinion, the attitude of many Russians who simply do not want to get involved in politics. To understand the Russian people and their passive attitude towards politics, it is important to have insight in these historical, cultural and social constructs.
This year it is possible to get these insights without having to take the airplane or bus. The Russia-Netherlands year offers many events and expositions right here in the Netherlands. One of my favorites is the online exposition of the “International Institute of Social History” which focuses on the lives of ordinary people who moved to or from Russia in the 20th century, for example Dutch entrepreneurs in 1920s Russia, Russian refugees in the Netherlands during the First World War, and Amsterdam teachers on a research visit to Moscow during the Interbellum. Here you can find original photographic material, Soviet posters, books, diaries and musical letters.
Russia offered an impressive cultural program during the 2013 Russia- Netherlands year.
Even right here in Groningen, there is a Netherlands-Russia festival program. For those who like cinema, I can recommend the movie “12”. This movie tells the story of a jury who gathers to decide on the fate of a murder suspect. Very quickly, 11 of these 12 jury members declare the suspect guilty for they just want to go home as soon as possible and … the suspect is a Chechen boy. But there is one jury who does not agree with the verdict. This then results in a long discussion, in which the fear of “The Other”, superstitions and cynicism make place for understanding and compassion.
These are just two out of the many expositions and movies which can be seen during this month. If you are interested in Russian culture, cinema or history, look up the program and choose whatever event appeals to you most. Have fun!