Myths and Truths about Russia

 

Myth: RUSSIA IS FULL OF MAFIA AND IT'S DANGEROUS HERE!

Truth: Really, many people think that Russia is some place filled with Mafia and it's so dangerous to come here. Well, there is Mafia, but the wild west nineties are left in the 20th century. Nowadays it's like any place in the world and Russia is not more dangerous than anywhere else. If you know where to stay, keep away from the "bad" places, do your normal traveler's things and practice your normal traveler's safety, you'll be okay. You can only have contact with criminals when you're into something illegal, like buying or selling drugs, or are really looking for trouble. Really, think about it: why would anybody have problems because of you? The Mafiosi spend all their time making business, the gangs spend all their time dealing with each other, so you certainly will not experience any of that. Also there's so much police on the streets of Moscow it seems like the safest place in the world.

Myth: IT'S A REAL HASSLE TO GET TO RUSSIA: TOO MUCH TIME AND PAPERWORK.

Truth: If you know how it's done then it's no problem. All the paperwork you need are your passport and an invitation from Russia. It's easy now to get the invitation, and you don't need to book a hotel for the whole period of your stay. The invitations can be made through hotels/hostels (which will ask you to book one night), or travel agencies (which will ask only your money), and the price in both cases will be $25-$35 US for an invitation. The invitation can be sent to you by fax. After you received the invitation, you just need to bring it to Russian consulate to get your visa. A Russian visa costs around $50-$60 US (for this price it's ready in 7-14 days), and if you pay more it takes only one day to process. See more about invitation, Russian visa and registration in our Russian Visa section.
Now, some people say it's too long and expensive to get here, but if you travel to Eastern Europe, Russia is really close and not expensive to get to. A return flight to Moscow from most European capitals costs $350 US, and if you're on a tight budget, you can get one of those EasyJet or RyanAir flights from London or Berlin to Riga (Latvia) or Tallin (Estonia), and then get a bus or a train to Russia for $10-$25 US.
If you want to know more about these and other better options to get to (and from) Russia, check out our Transportation section.

Myth: THERE ARE SO MANY CATASTROPHES AND BOMBINGS!

Truth: Not more than anywhere else. It's just that Russia is a very big country and it's size is like both Europe's and United States', do you think there are more disasters happening in Russia than in the whole Europe and United States together?

Myth: OK, BUT WHAT ABOUT CHECHNYA AND TERRORISTS!

Truth: You might be thinking more about it than we do, really. Of course it's sad that the situation in Chechnya is unstable and we regularly get reports about people being shot there in some sort of small local conflicts, but however cynical it sounds we got used to it. People live their lives and try to be as happy as they can. Chechnya seems to be very far away and unless you travel there, you most probably will hear about it only on the news. The state of the people is not as if there's a war going on in the country. It's more like people know there's something horrible happening somewhere very far and they prefer to close their eyes to it.
The terrorist attacks are shocking, but then there's always a chance it might happen in other other country, so in this sense it is as dangerous as anywhere else nowadays, unfortunately.

Myth: THE ECONOMY IS DESTRUCTED AND RUSSIA IS A POOR COUNTRY WITH NO FUTURE

Truth: Well, it's not quite true, though many people think so and they have their reasons. The economy is rising now, becoming more and more independent and stable, but unfortunately there's a temptation to do it at the cost of heavy industries (like oil & gas, resources etc.) which turns Russia into a country, that sells resources only.
At the same time Russia tries to keep up with the latest technological advances, and to improve the side of the economy that workes especially for people. It can be seen: We traveled around Europe a lot and to my mind the quality of services in Russia is among the best. Almost all shops are opened 24 hours here, there are currency exchanges on every step (even in smaller towns), cell phone providers offer much more attractive and less expensive deals. Russia is becoming very capitalist and consumer-friendly.
Also, the government is starting to understand that it's there not to suck money, but to help people and the country, but there's a high level of corrution and a high dumb-head factor still.
At the same time the increasing gap between poor and rich people intensifies social tension in society; there are broken down towns and villages (with dead industries); there are lost people not required in the new system and having nothing to do - therefore drunkenness, narcotics and crimes; low paid old people are really just trying to survive; low salaries in state-employment result in bribes to customs, police...
The good side is that there are more and more people who adapt to the new system, and who understand that they depend not on the government (like in old Soviet times), but on themselves now, and what can be seen and felt now is that the people are changing, their attitude is changing, they understand that only by acting themselves will they achieve something, they look quite optimistic to the future and that means everything is going to be all right. There are young people who want to change how things are and people are trying to do something to make their life better. It works, there are more and more "middle class" people. But the problem with poor, old and "lost" people remains.

Myth: THE WINTER IS SO COLD HERE!

Truth: It's not very cold, though sometimes it might be quite freezing. But if you have warm clothes, you'll be ok. Generally, the lowest is minus 10 or 15 Celsius in the winter, though it might sometimes (rarely) go as low as minus 25 or 30, but even that is not very cold, because it's not humid. And the true thing about Russian winter is that it's very beautiful, that is right. I like it!

Myth: MANY RUSSIANS ARE RACISTS, AREN'T THEY?

Truth: Russians are not racists. Even in the communist time people were raised up on the idea that everybody was equal. The only thing is that few middle-aged and old people have something against the States. But they'll not insult or offend a tourist because of that. Just don't hurt anybody's patriotic feelings.
Anyway, Russians are more often than not very open and generous to the foreigners.

Myth: RUSSIANS ARE DRINKING MUCH TOO MUCH...

Truth: Maybe, but after ages of drinking they have a strong immune against alcohol, so they don't become drunk too fast. Also vodka is considered to be the best thing to warm oneself up with in winter. And, in fact, we have the same stereotype about .. uhm... British. Do they really drink as much beer every day as they say?
Seriously, alcoholism is a big problem in Russia, especially among older people. After the collapse of Soviet Union, many people got lost and instead of dealing with the new challenges, they decided to escape their problems through drinking. Because of that, families are unhappy, many people are unemployed, people don't want to build something new, but want to drift into the 'careless' state of mind and not to do anything.

Myth: PUTIN IS A NEW TSAR AND YOUR COUNTRY HAS DICTATORSHIP REGIME AND NO DEMOCRATIC FREEDOMS.
Truth: Putin is just a very popular politician in Russia and he acts accordingly. Many people in Russia truly believe that we need centralized government, because the country is too big and loose, because there are too many changes that need to be done very fast, and that there's no time for demagogies anymore. Also, many people believe that the country was robbed by bandits and oligarchs and now it's time to give back. So, the elected president is the person who used to be a director of former KGB (now FSB) and he has nothing to hide, because he actions are approved by the majority. So, this regime cannot really be called dictatorship and Putin cannot be really called "Tsar", because he was elected.
The democratic freedoms are a bit tight, but as a person you don't notice it. Perhaps, if you are in big business or want to publish something bad about the government you will feel it, otherwise - it seems the same as anywhere else.

Myth: PRIVATIZATION
Truth: It's a myth. During the privatization in the 90s every single Russian person (even children) got a "piece" of the country in the form of a voucher. Most of them didn't have anything else. So, a director (who was not paying them any salary) told them: "you'll get your salary, but you need to give me the voucher you have".
It's like you are invited to a casino and you are given a chip. But you don't have any money. Then the manager comes up to you and tells you not to risk and just give you your chip and get 10 bucks instead.
The same thing happened in Russia: the vouchers (or shares) accumulated in the hands of directors who were then selling it to big players. The big players would make their stakes and only 1% survived and now own the majority of production in Russia. The people who sold their vouchers stayed where they started and that's why there's a lot of social tension in Russia nowadays.
At least one positive thing is that the middle class is now forming in our country, so the gap is not that huge anymore. But this little story explains why so many people approve that even such an intelligent and charming man as Yukos' former Khodorkovsky is made into criminal. What they don't want to understand though is that the "casino managers", those who gave them the chips first place, and they themselves are responsible, too.


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