The primary mission of the Russian American Youth Alliance is to facilitate discussion about Russian and American culture, language, and politics. While conversations are happening on our online platforms, we designed our blog to let our members express their opinions in a more direct manner. This blog seeks to accomplish our most critical mission: to bridge the gap between Russian and American youth. For most American teenagers, their high school history classes and major news networks inform them about Russia, but these sources often convey bias or paint an inauthentic picture — they scrape away rich cultural undertones and often fail to represent the whole story.
In an online course that I recently took, Peter Kenez, a specialist in Eastern European history, emphasized the importance of studying Russia. He explained that Russian history is full of "extraordinary circumstances," and how the Russian leaders and people overcame these struggles can teach us about mankind as a whole. Throughout its turbulent past, Russia experienced several regime changes, invasions, and obstacles that drove the people into uncertain, and many times unfortunate, circumstances. All these historical events — from serfdom to the Russian Revolution to the incalculable losses of the Second World War — forged a culture so unique, it is often incomprehensible to the eyes of a foreigner.
While studying Russia in my world history class, I learned the fundamental cause-and-effect paradigms that make up Russian history without diving into its humanitarian and cultural elements. I learned simple relationships: serfdom hindered technological innovation and led to Russia's disastrous loss in the Crimean War, and Czar Nicholas's II inability to respond to the needs of the people paved the way to the Bolshevik movement. By constructing Russian history in such a superficial manner, high school curriculums overlook the foundational cultural factors that motivated these great rulers and people to do what they did. Although this may be due to simple time constraints placed on the curriculum, this portrayal fails to present Russia's rich and distinct culture — many Americans, therefore, continue to see Russia and her people with an aura of mystery and strangeness.
Today, American media judges Russian politics through the lens of Western culture, warping Russia into the mold of American political institutions. By failing to recognize the underlying cultural influences that guide Russia's modern-day political decisions, most Americans only see part of the story, which widens the rift between the two countries and contributes to tense US-Russia relations. I am not justifying Russia's political decisions — I condemn several of Russia's diplomatic and domestic policies — but the mere misrepresentation of the entire picture generates unwarranted animosity. On the flip side, Russians also receive a biased representation of American policy, and through a lack of cultural understanding, they come away with embittered and hostile.
At the Russian American Youth Alliance, we foster conversation between Russian and American youth to allow all our members, Russians and Americans alike, to immerse themselves in the cultures and traditions of both countries and develop a more comprehensive perspective. By facilitating human-to-human interaction, our members receive an authentic view of a foreign culture that the news fails to provide. Through a simple conversation, Russians and Americans can drop historical differences and stereotypes to begin to see eye-to-eye on issues that have kept the two societies at odds. By breaking the barrier between Russian and American youth, we aspire to inaugurate a new generation of changemakers who will work to mend the crevises our forefathers created.
With this blog, we hope to provide a platform for Russian and American youth to present their opinions about current events and their relationship to Russian culture. We believe that by doing so, we will develop a more genuine representation of Russia and American news and culture to bridge the gap between the two countries.