Welcome to Northern Asia!

A.Blok, Skify

What to do with Russia? It would seem to make the whole concept of Europe and Asia ridiculous.
John Clark (from an e-mail distributed in "Cenasia" on 11th Sept, 1996).

You may be surprised why Russia is termed Northern Asia on Green Pages. This name appeared partly by chance, partly after reflections governed by whim.

During the summer of 1995, I was in correspondence with the maintainers of City.Net. I pointed out to them that their server indexes Russia only in Asia, but does not include it in Europe despite the fact that a part of Russia belongs to Europe: from the geographical point of view the territory between the western Russian border and the Ural mountains is considered to be in the eastern part of the European continent. I thought that my argument is convincing enough, but apparently the maintainers of City.Net were not completely convinced and for a long time Russia was not indexed in their European index. In fact, the dispute whether Russia is "part" of Europe or "Asia" has a long and gory history and many Russian ideologists, journalists and humanitarian scientists harassed by the statement that Russia is not part of Europe have struck back by referring to great Russian names and the cultural heritage of the country.

Let's step aside from that trampled down path of useless dispute. Take a globe or a physical map of the World and look first at the western coast of Asia, the Middle East, then glance at Central Asian states and finally turn your eyes to the dynamic South Asian region. You will notice immediately that the northern part of Asia is occupied by Russia. It's so simple. Those who like arguments may enjoy the following thoughts suggested by this matter-of-fact observation.

  1. Since the eighteenth century Russia was attracted by the spaciousness of Asia. Russian explorers, merchants and warriors dreamt about new Asian territories. Now, the Siberian cities of Tomsk and Barnaul are closer to the geographical center of Russia than Moscow and St.Petersburg.
  2. An association of Russia with Northern Asia assumes that it and countries located in Southern Asia could establish more close economic and trade cooperation, in the perspective, - a large free trade zone similar to a free trade zone being developed between Northern and Southern Americas.
  3. Will the estimation of Russian cultural heritage change if one accepts the simple geographical metaphor suggested above? Obviously not. The icons of the lucid fifteenth century painter Andrei Rublev will not become less spiritual and conciliatory, the novels of Dostoevsky and plays of Chekhov will not lose readers, the music of Chaikovski and Rakhmaninov will remain beautiful, the haunting images of Tarkovski's films will continue to attract new spectators, and the movies "King Lear" and "Hamlet" directed by Kozintsev will still be regarded by scholars of Shakespeare as some of the best screen versions ever made. Real cultural and humanitarian values cannot be affected by classifications or schemas whatever they are. So, you may ask why bother at all? Just because many Russian intellectuals felt that there is a gap between Russia and Europe, and many sensitive visitors and scholars were surprised by differences in life-styles.
  4. On the other hand, what will change if one agrees follow the dogma that Russia is an European country? The weather will not become more mild, bureaucrats - less corrupt, politics - less Byzantine, the intelligentsia - less gloomy, all people - less spoiled by contemplation, life - less tough, and the environment - less polluted.
  5. Asia was a source of three main world religions: Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Asia was the home of several sophisticated ancient societies and cultures. Many countries located in Asia can proudly derive their traditions from that cultural heritage. Furthermore, if European countries do not mind against the American mass-culture influence, Russia may be even more comfortable with penetration of Arabic, Chinese, Indian and Japanese traditions into everyday life. Some of them (e.g., Indian culture) have already roots in Russian consciousness.
  6. The prolongated turmoil in the Russian economy and society prevents having a clear and simple view on the country. But the country for a long time needs a simple and generative metaphor that will help to understood its role in the modern world.

Questions where is the eastern border of Europe and arguments for and against the name Northern Asia for Russia may go on forever. Let's stop here.

Welcome to pictures from Northern Asia!

On the top of this page you see an excerpt from Aleksandr Blok's poem "Skify" and the epigraph to that poem from V.Solovyov's verse. A.Blok wrote the poem on January 30, 1918; it was published in "Znamya truda" on February 20 (7), 1918. The poem is included in many collections of A.Blok's poetry.

An excerpt from John Clark's e-mail message was copied from the int-boundaries Mailbase, UK's major electronic mailing list service for research in Higher Education based in the University Computing Service at the University of Newcastle (UK).

Mikhail Soutchanski, March 14, 1997.

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