Viking Russia, Land of Barbarians

Alexei Bayer, writing in the Moscow Times:

The origins of the Russian state and its early history help explain the country’s modern political makeup.

According to the Kievan Primary Chronicle, compiled around 1110, Slavic tribes invited Scandinavian prince Rurik to rule over them in the 9th century. But the history of the Viking expansion in Western Europe suggests that an “invitation” was hardly necessary. In the West, the Vikings began by raiding settlements, pillaging them and dragging their inhabitants off to slavery. They set up outposts to collect tributes, gradually becoming feudal lords. They adopted the local language and customs and eventually melded with the local population.

The Norsemen followed the same pattern in Britain, France and Sicily. The Varangians, as they were known in Russia, became feudal lords and the name of their tribe, the Rus, gave Russia its name just as Normandy was named after the Normans.

Soon Rurik’s descendants and other Varangians adopted the Russian language and merged into Russian society, creating the Russian state. Assimilation occurred in the West as well, but the difference in Russia was that the division between “foreign” rulers and the people was never erased, persisting through the ages. Most of the time, the rulers and the people lived at peace, but in the 16th century, Ivan the Terrible waged a war on his people that was just as brutal as his campaign against the Tatars.

Peter the Great reasserted Russia’s origins as a Viking state by gaining access to the Baltic and establishing St. Petersburg in the land of his ancestors. The new capital has often been referred to by Russian authors as a foreign city. Peter also ushered in a new foreign invasion. Over the next century, Russia had three foreign-born rulers and a steady stream of foreign aristocrats, artisans, farmers and adventurers seeking work, profits and favors from the court.

Of course, the aristocracy and royalty were often foreign in many other countries in Europe. The fact that Russian rulers came from abroad or that in the 19th century the aristocracy spoke mostly French does not mean much. But the Russian people have always shown not only a strange alienation from their rulers, but also a complete disengagement from their state. They have behaved like an occupied nation, never demanding a voice in their own affairs and implicitly recognizing the right of the Varangians to rule. Gentler rulers were never popular. Especially despised were those who tried to find common ground with the people or were “too Russian,” such as Nikita Khrushchev andMikhail Gorbachev. The most respected leaders were harsh — and frequently foreign, such as Catherine the Great and Josef Stalin.

On the other hand, the only major popular rising in Russian history — the 18th-century Pugachyov rebellion — bore the hallmarks of a war of liberation, with its leader styling himself as a truly Russian tsar.

The Bolshevik regime was established along the same lines. Based on an imported ideology, Marxism, it initially considered Russia a steppingstone toward a worldwide proletarian revolution. This did not pan out, and later Soviet elites were drawn from the Russian people. But the ruling elite remained a separate, foreign caste. Stalin unleashed a brutal war on his own people that was far more destructive than the German invasion.

Today’s Russia, though ruled by Russians, is another variation on the Varangians. The ruling bureaucracy — starting from Prime MinisterVladimir Putinand the members of his clan — act like voracious invaders, stripping Russia’s assets and sending them offshore. Anyone trying to stop or expose this despoliation risks going to jail or worse. The massive neglect of investment, infrastructure, education and other aspects of Russia’s future can only be understood by accepting Russia as a Viking state.


14 responses to “Viking Russia, Land of Barbarians

  1. Manfred Steifschwanz

    The above writer clearly has a fundamentally different view of the Russians than what passes for “mainstream” here at LR’s. Didn’t the team read the text at all? They should have reacted sharply against the following passage:

    >> But the Russian people have always shown not only a strange alienation from their rulers, but also a complete disengagement from their state. >>

    Oops, just what is he saying? If the team agrees with the above judgement, then indeed we have a plain about-turn from the belief usually peddled here according to which there is a rock solid Russian majority behind Putin.

    So which one is it, folks? Or don’t you care about consistency at all here at LR’s ?

    • Manfred,

      This is an opinion piece.

      LR is able to post it regardless of whether it differs from the opinions of one of the editors.

      So what?

      It’s a free society man and different opinions, diversity and and open discussion are encouraged and flourish like gonorrhoea on a Russian submarine!

      Now please, go outside, take the knife, pick up the twig and start whittling.

      • Manfred Steifschwanz

        Oh, thanks for enlightening me, Wal. I had no idea it was an opinion piece. I used to believe that the contents of this blog formed the very apex of science in any conceivable field. My mistake, sorry.

        Needless to say, the dolts forming the LR team are too sloppy to bother about such a thing as consistency. My guess is that the article was chosen based on the cartoon along with the first two or three sentences. LR verdict: “Seems promising, eh?”.

        Now, Sweden happens to be this planet’s most “Paradigmatic Viking Country” to boot, mind you. Still, Manfred Steifschwanz, for all his overt sympathies toward barbarism, cannot possibly be a Swede according to certain “sages” around here, ha!

        • Oh Manfred!

          You’re such a playful little thing, and your twee banter is so refreshing!

          Please keep you wisdom flowing….like…like the Azov Sea!

        • kleine russian baboon, manfred, nice try, Viking Russia, Varangian Russia – don’t make us laugh – mongolian russia – that’s more like it – look at your slanted eyes, high cheak bones, flat faces and those noses; oh my God….you are russian mongolians dear….

  2. Hi – this is a bit like the thesis advanced in the work of Dmitri Bykov in Living Souls. In that book he sees the Varangians as a kind of tribe pitted against a sort of Muslim, Jewish, intellectual segment of the population in a struggle which passes by the ordinary folk. There were some interesting passages in the book but as literature I would not recommend it, as it does not have a story. This quote from Bykov I got from the web:

    ‘The Russian elite has a vague idea about the life of common folk; yet their standards of living, fundamental values and even subcultures have diverged so far that they hardly speak a common language. The Russian people have long given up the voting game, and demand no accountability from their government.’

  3. bad history and complete twaddle

    Bizarre rereading of the history of the Kievan state that somhow misses the Golden Horde and thus “inadvertently” transfers the root faults of Russia to someone other than the Moscovites. Drip drip drip revisionism.

  4. Pingback: My review of Varangian: The Stone of Babylon « …At Your Fingertips

  5. It’s a little bit shallow and a very judgemental article. I was born in Russia and know that vikings had some influence on Russia and he did not mention many other rulers and states of Russia as “Kievskya Rus” and os and so. I would not pass this a a valid historical article. What’s written about Putin is not true. Russia for Russians nationlistic movements are spreading over in Russia. Where does the author live that he knows he knows a lot about Russia.

  6. Not only in Russia there are people who don,t like their rulers or country, here in Holland its the same, led by terrorists and land traitors they ruin this county and robbing it empty. Hopefully Russia sees the Light (very) soon otherwise they end up like the majority here. In Hell.

  7. 1) It’s a deep-rooted concept that it was Scandinavians who came to the Western Slavs. And this is the old and wrong concept, because now it is proved that in fact it was Baltic Slavs (the Obodrites), who led the same “way of life” as the Scandinavians (that is why they were also called “Varangians”). The Obodrites had besides Slavic names also German and Celtic names (Helga, Igor etc).
    2) It isn’t true that somebody came to the land which we now call Russia and just created a “state”. As you probably know Baltic countries hardly had states themselves in the 9th century. And Russia was a large country with developed trade relations and legislation. So this article is just a repeated stereotype view on Russia.
    3) What country in Western Europe didn’t have a problem with alianation between rulers and people in the Middle Ages?

  8. Must be a joke: “Gentler rulers were never popular. Especially despised were those who tried to find common ground with the people or were “too Russian,” such as Nikita Khrushchev ” He was Ukrainian and one of the worst Stalin’s henchmen… That he posed as a victim doesn’t make him “gentle”.

  9. ну ахуеть теперь

  10. I guess as a Russian national, I am supposed to be very angry or something…. But I don’t care.. The article is largely meaningless and stupid. I am only reading this blog because this is the most russophobic, schizophrenic, chauvinistic and full of hate-speech site on the web, to the point that it is quite entertaining. Then again, I am (as old Kim would say) stupid ignorant drunk arrogant Russian moron, so what do I know…
    P.S. Peculiar to see that the last comment was made almost two years ago, makes me worried if dear Ms. Zigfeld is alive and well. We sure wouldn’t want for anything to happen to her…

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