Gente di Russia. Due storie dall’Estremo Est e dalla Siberia

Questo post è un’anomalia su Pain de Route, ma è un post a cui tengo con tutto il mio cuore. In sei mesi di vita e viaggio in Russia ho conosciuto persone meravigliose, della vicina Russia e dell’Estremo Est, parlato a lungo e ascoltato a lungo, bevuto centinaia di tè bollenti e assaporato ogni secondo del bellissimo e lungo inverno russo.

Sei mesi in Russia però non bastano, per un’italiana (con la faccia da russa, occhei, ma pur sempre italiana), a sciogliere alcuni nodi nel pensiero. Nodi semplici, sciocchi, ma per nulla scontati. Ho maturato delle domande che mi crescevano dentro da tanto tempo. Ho avuto risposte di una ricchezza incredibile.

In questo post riporto le domande, personali e culturali, che ho fatto a due amiche russe nate nell’Estremo Est russo e in Siberia, una regione remota, disabitata e irraggiungibile che noi italiani non riusciamo neanche a immaginare. Quello che dimentichiamo noi mediterranei, nati in una terra piccola e gentile, è che la gente che vive in Siberia e nell’Estremo Est va a scuola, si diverte, si innamora, lavora esattamente come facciamo noi quaggiù.

estremo est e siberia

L’obiettivo di queste due interviste è promuovere una conoscenza diretta, semplice ma profonda della molteplicità delle culture e popoli che abitano tutta la Russia – Tatarstan, Siberia, Ciuvascia, Estremo Est e non solo  -, un paese così grande da essere un mondo a parte. Questo piccolo progetto si inserisce anche nella mia ricerca personale, iniziata nel 2013, sui confini geografico-culturali e le identità d’Europa.

L’intervista è stata fatta in inglese e ho scelto di mantenere la versione originale, con le parole delle due ragazze. Buona lettura!
Ele

Jacuzia, Siberia

Daria B.

Daria mi ha accolta nella sua casa di San Pietroburgo e da subito ho sentito che aveva qualcosa di speciale: un’anima selvatica e libera, come di un cervo che corre in una foresta. Non solo una grande e avventurosa viaggiatrice, ma anche una persona di grande talento, dalla profondità e sensibilità rare. Nata a Čita, nella Transbajkalia, è poi cresciuta a Jakutsk, la capitale della Jacuzia: un centro importante in una regione sconfinata e disabitata, dove la foresta con i suoi animali è l’unica regina incontrastata e le temperature, d’inverno, raggiungono facilmente i -60°. In Daria abita davvero un’anima antica e tribale. Con i suoi racconti di caccia e di taigà, di neve e ghiacci, di religioni animiste e di vita nel grande Est mi ha letteralmente stregata. Le sue parole e il suo amore per l’europea San Pietroburgo hanno plasmato la mia visita in città, in una gelida primavera. Ho raccontato il mio primo incontro con lei in questo post.

Un bellissimo libro che vi consiglio sulla Siberia e l’Estremo Est, raccontati da un viaggio in auto d’inverno:
Febbre bianca. Un viaggio nel cuore di ghiaccio della Siberia, J. Hugo Bader, 13.20€

1. Is there some unique feature or habit in your soul the Far East gave you when you were rised there? Have you ever felt different or unique because of that, when you moved to SPB?

There probably are some features, but it’s not that I do feel them so much. It’s something that is hidden deep inside, it’s some potential. Probably it is connected with endurance, persistence and survivability. Climate in Siberia is very tough and living there equals surviving.

Also, I remember my feelings when I moved to Saint-Petersburg… It was summer, then it changed to the autumn and then, to winter, but for me it was an indescribable feeling that the time has stopped. Never before I had this feeling and never after. In Yakutia the seasons are changing so quickly, you can clearly feel and see this, whereas is StP (San Pietroburgo, ndr) it’s like always one season during whole year – temperature could be the same in June and in December. Life in Yakutsk and in StP is opposite extreme.

2. You’ve lived and traveled all over the world. Have you ever wondered where you belong to and who you feel to be? Do you think some of those general labels could suit you – Siberian, Russian, or even Asian, European…?

Un ghiacciaio perenne in Jacuzia

Daria su un ghiacciaio perenne in Jacuzia, in estate, con +28°

It always depends on the situation, on the scale. I am Russian and also Siberian, and also Asian and also European. I really feel to be all of them at the same time. I will explain now. When I’m travelling abroad and people ask me “Who are you? Where are you from?” I say “I’m Russian” and I really feel myself Russian. When I travel in Russia and people ask me who I am I say “I’m Siberian” and really feel so and I think ‘oh, those people in Saint-Petersburg cannot even imagine what is that, Siberia’. When I travel in Siberia and people ask me where am I from I say “From Yakutia”. So it always depends on the scale. If we take a bigger scale I will use a wider notion of my self-identification.

Now, if we talk about Asian/European it’s even bigger separation, wider than just a country. When I was working in Indonesia in an international team I clearly felt I am European, it was easier for me to communicate and work with Europeans and we ended up in separation into two teams – European (including Russians) and Asian. But often, when I’m travelling in Western Europe I feel that I’m so much Asian.

Sorry, all these sound like a mess, but that what it actually is. It’s a difficult question 😉

3. Having lived as a young girl in Yakutia, have you ever given importance to your geographic position/origin and felt to be “isolated”? Have you ever wished to be born somewhere else? If yes or no, why?

When I lived in Yakutia, I never thought of geography or my origin simply because I had nothing to compare with. Yakutia was everything I had and everything I have seen in my life, it was my whole world. I don’t like the word ‘isolation’, it has some negative connotations and I didn’t have any negative feelings about where I lived. But the rest of the world didn’t exist for me. I only saw it in TV and it didn’t seem real.

I never wished to be born somewhere else. I think it doesn’t depend on the place, it depends on the feeling of happiness. I had a very happy childhood – great parents, friends, nature, books and I was happy. I guess if you are unhappy, growing even in the wealthiest country in the world wouldn’t make you happy and then you would wish to be born somewhere else.

4. If you want, tell us a good memory you have from Yakutia. 

I often miss Yakutian village. All cities are the same – bigger, smaller, more interesting or more boring, but they are the same. Village is something completely different to the city. Something more authentic, true and I love it. Yakutian village is different to Russian. I only love Yakutian village, especially my village, where I was spending summers with my grandma. It is called Nuoragana. I remember the nature, the food, the smell and I miss it. Sometimes I close my eyes and just imagine that I’m walking in the ‘alaas’ (fields surrounded by forest in Yakutia), drinking ‘suorat’ (special Yakut drink made of milk), feeling the smell of the grass after the rain. It’s always in my memories and in my heart.

About the pictures in attachment.

On two of them I wear national Yakut clothes and jewelleries. They are made of silver and not only beautiful, but aim to protect its owner from the dark forces. On the other picture there is a beautiful glacier that never melts, even in summer when it’s as hot as +35 degrees. And the last one where I am surrounded by the ice isn’t that interesting until I say that it was taken in June, when it was +28 degrees, but it was made under the ground. Under the ground it’s always winter in Yakutia.

Vi consiglio anche di vedere questo video che mi ha mandato Daria: è suo nonno, cantante d’opera, che recita in un’opera Jacuta per un documentario americano.

Blagoveshchensk, Regione dell’Amur, Estremo Est

Daria N.

Ho incontrato Daria per la prima volta in una buia sera di Gennaio. Me l’ha presentata Dalila, la mia coinquilina. Abbiamo passeggiato, noi tre imbacuccate contro l’inverno russo, da Kitai Gorod fino alla Piazza Rossa, chiacchierando dell’argenteo fiume Amur, del suo fidanzato norvegese, delle sue speranze di riuscire a studiare in Europa (è stata appena accettata dall’università di Budapest, in Ungheria!).

Daria viene dall’Estremo Est. Precisamente da Blagoveshchensk, la capitale dell’Oblast’ dell’Amur (in russo, ‘regione’. E’ una suddivisione amministrativa della Federazione Russa), chiamato così dal leggendario fiume che delinea il confine tra Russia e Cina. Essendo lei studentessa di Storia dell’Olocausto, le ho anche chiesto di raccontarci qualcosa dell’Oblast’ Autonomo degli Ebrei, quella regione con capitale Birobidzhan di fianco all’Oblast’ dell’Amur che Stalin aveva deciso dovesse essere la Terra Promessa per gli ebrei russi, prima della nascita di Israele.

Se volete, potete seguire Daria dal suo account Instagram, su cui pubblica anche foto da Blagoveshchensk.

Un buon libro che consiglio sull’Amur e sul crollo dell’URSS visto dalle periferie dell’impero:
Buonanotte Signor Lenin di Tiziano Terzani, €8.50

1. Once you told me you have a ‘Jewish nose’… Do you have a Jewish ancestor, as far as you know? Do you know why they came to the Far East? And have you ever been to Birobidzhan, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast?

The history of my family seems unclear for me and we, family members, tend not to talk about it. The Jews came to the Far East in 1930s when the Jewish Autonomous Oblast’ was formed in 1934. These years were the time of Jewish attendance in that region. After the state of Israel was established, many of the Jews moved there. Now Birobidzhan and the whole Oblast’ have very little Jewish population. I have never been there. All Far Eastern Russian territories were empty before the government started to send expeditions to explore them in 19th century. The explorers were the Cossacks (I Cosacchi, ndr). The first settlements on Amur (which were military) were Cossack’s. With time ordinary people came. The first inhabitants were peasants from western Russia and Ukraine, those who suffered from the lack of lands for agriculture. We studied it at school at the lessons of region’s history.

Close friends can call me a Jew in a funny way, but not random people. Once the mother of my ex friend told her not to be friend with me cause she saw our photo and said that I’m a Jewess. I am obsessed with Jewish culture and history, moreover, the Holocaust is my research subject at the university. I don’t see any reasons to show up your nationality. In the USSR people had the nationality written in their birth certificates and passports. I believe that blood means nothing. At high school I studied with a girl who is half Indian and no one pointed that out. Also Armenians and Koreans studied at my school and no one cared about that. Now black men come to my hometown to study at the military college and they march on the parade of the 9th of May with white men. My town is an exception where the majority of people are not aggressive to those who look differently.

2. You were born in the Far East regions, on the side of river Amur, that draws the border with China. For us, it’s hard to imagine a place more ‘far away’ from everything than your land. Far from Moscow, still far from the Ocean, even far from Beijing. Over you, the big Siberia. Have you ever felt a sense of ‘isolation’ when you were a kid? And what about now, when you come back home after having lived in Moscow and in Europe? Would you come back to live and work there? Are your friends and other young people from Blagoveshchensk staying?

I was not thinking about where I lived when I was a kid 😉 I was not thinking about Moscow either. When I turned 13, I started traveling to China, first with my dancing school, then with a bunch of other kids. In high school I had to choose which university to enter. Parents were against of me studying in Moscow because of the distance. I entered a university in my hometown but after a year I applied for Moscow and moved. I was bored in my hometown. If I didn’t flee to Moscow, I’d move to China sooner or later.

Now I feel how isolated we are. Tickets to Blagoveshchensk cost the same as to America. No opportunities to travel from there to Europe (there are, but too expensive, because first you need to come to Moscow). China does not satisfy anymore – yuan (their currency) grew compared to ruble. I like coming back to Blagoveshchensk to see my parents and relax. But after 2 weeks I am starting to freak out, because I don’t know what to do there. I love big cities and their energy. I would never come back to work and live there. I wanna explore the world! Other young people would mostly agree with me. They move to Saint Petersburg (people from my town like it more than Moscow for some reason) or to China.

3. Have you ever wondered if you feel European, somehow, or not? Or would you define yourself only “Russian”? Do you think the people from your region, living side by side with the Chinese, feel a strong difference between being “Russians” or “Rossiyans” and the Chinese culture, or not? Do you know mixed couples, mixed marriages, or anything that tries to connect the two cultures?

I can’t find myself European. What is European mentality? It’s something that connects people from Italy, Germany, France, etc. But what does it mean exactly? What do these people do with their own culture and history? I was raised on Russian cultural heritage which is totally different from any other culture. I speak Russian and I know traditions, history, art and the way of people’s thinking. It makes me Russian. I am also a Rossiyanka, because it’s how those who live here are called, it’s a political construct. So many people of other nationalities live here, so I am thinking sometimes: “Who is a pure Russian ethnically? Do they exist?”. I have heard that Chinese culture is intense and swallows you when you live in China. Maybe it’s the same about Russia.

Nevertheless, I know that some people from western part of Russia would not agree with me, they would say they are Europeans and Moscow is Europe. About mixed couples, of course, they exist like they do all over the modern world. My town is on the border, so Chinese men come and find Russian wives. Some women move to China, to work or to study, and get married there. Before 1960s the border was not really strict and people could move more or less freely. But when the relations between the USSR and China became tense, the border got closed. It was opened in 1990s again and my hometown survived the economic crisis due to Chinese goods and food. We even have a monument to people who went to China, bought things, came back with tons of bags and were selling food and clothes in Russia. These guys are called “kirpichi”/”кирпичи”.

4. Tell us a good memory you have about Blagoveschensk, or about your region in general. Something you miss, something you like or simply a story from your childhood.

I had a happy childhood. In fact we were very poor and I had not a lot of toys, but parents were trying to give me everything they could. I spent summers at babushka’s playing with my friend on the yard. When I was 4 parents gifted me a video recorder and my first cassette was Anastasia (Disney cartoon about Russian princess). Babushka was babysitting me, because parents were students and after university they started working. Babushka taught me how to read and write. We travelled to Saint Petersburg by train when I was 6 and 9. It was cool, the train stopped and we went out on every station, people were selling fish and souvenirs. I saw the Baykal lake.

My childhood was better than the one kids have these days. I was not hypnotized by a cell phone. I had real friends. 1990s were hard for the country, 1998 was the year of rouble’s default (fallimento di alcune banche russe, inflazione fino all’85.7% e vertiginoso collasso del prezzo del rublo, ndr). It was followed by unemployment, alcoholism, criminal activities. People were survivors. My grandpa worked on several jobs the same time. Government could not supply citizens with salaries for months. I am very thankful to my family that they stayed together and remained strong.

10 Commenti

  1. “I am Russian and also Siberian, and also Asian and also European. I really feel to be all of them at the same time.”
    “I never wished to be born somewhere else. I think it doesn’t depend on the place, it depends on the feeling of happiness. I had a very happy childhood ”
    “I can’t find myself European. What is European mentality? It’s something that connects people from Italy, Germany, France, etc. But what does it mean exactly?”
    Ho adorato queste frasi perchè hanno mostrato, inaspettatamente, un mondo totalmente diverso dal nostro.
    Mi ci ritrovo molto in alcuni passaggi perchè sono a cavallo di culture opposte io stessa.
    Mi fa sorridere molto l’immagine della prima ragazza che, a seconda di dove si trovi, dice di essere di una zona diversa perchè è fatta di un mix culturale. Stupenda immagine di un mondo così lontano e così vicino allo stesso tempo.
    Lo immaginavo, erroneamente, così vicino da non rendermi conto della realtà così vicina con i cinesi che vive la seconda ragazza.
    Grazie per questo post!

  2. “I am Russian and also Siberian, and also Asian and also European. I really feel to be all of them at the same time.”
    “I never wished to be born somewhere else. I think it doesn’t depend on the place, it depends on the feeling of happiness. I had a very happy childhood ”
    “I can’t find myself European. What is European mentality? It’s something that connects people from Italy, Germany, France, etc. But what does it mean exactly?”
    Ho adorato queste frasi perchè hanno mostrato, inaspettatamente, un mondo totalmente diverso dal nostro.
    Mi ci ritrovo molto in alcuni passaggi perchè sono a cavallo di culture opposte io stessa.
    Mi fa sorridere molto l’immagine della prima ragazza che, a seconda di dove si trovi, dice di essere di una zona diversa perchè è fatta di un mix culturale. Stupenda immagine di un mondo così lontano e così vicino allo stesso tempo.
    Lo immaginavo, erroneamente, così vicino da non rendermi conto della realtà così vicina con i cinesi che vive la seconda ragazza.
    Grazie per questo post!☺️

  3. Non ho molto tempo per lasciarti un commento ma lo volevo fare anche se suona stupidamente banale. Finalmente, finalmente una persona che viaggia col cuore, la mente e la testa, e che lo condivide con passione. A leggerti mi vengono i brividi di quando leggevo Bouvier o Maillard. Quello che scrivi è oro, mai letto prima, mai letto da nessuna parte. Ed è bello. E interessante. Coinvolgente. Grazie, semplicemente. Aurelie

    1. Grazie, grazie di cuore Aurelie. Non mi sbilancerei con paragoni così azzardati, ma accetto i complimenti 🙂 sono contenta di essere riuscita a coinvolgerti e interessarti.
      A presto!
      Ele

    1. Grazie Alice 🙂 è proprio vero. Bellissimo anche il concetto di identità relativa, che si approfondisce man mano che le persone possono capirti, e anche la “europeità” contrastiva: in Occidente ti senti asiatico, ma in Asia lavori meglio con gli occidentali. Le sfumature a questi concetti così semplici da stereotipare sono sempre più di quelle che si pensa.
      A presto e grazie!

    1. Anche io sono così felice che abbiano dato risposte così approfondite e sincere… Nel prossimo capitolo vorrei provarne ad avere dalla Ciuvascia, dal Tatarstan, da San Pietroburgo e (forse) dal Kyrgyzstan (una tedesca discendente di tedeschi del Kyrgyzstan…!). Speriamo!
      Grazie Veronica 🙂

  4. Eleonora, che splendido progetto.
    Ho letto le due interviste completamente rapita, proprio perchè per noi certi luoghi sono quasi inimmaginabili. Ammiro queste due ragazze e la loro grandissima forza. E aspetto con ansia il seguito 😉

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