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Know your sobornost from your stroganov

By Josian Phillips, 

At some point in the Russian export arena, or even if you have good Russian friends, you will come across sobornost. It is not as it may sound – a delicious Russian dish – far from it.

In crude simplification sobornost is a philosophy that can be translated (loosely) as a “Spiritual community of many jointly living people”. A complex transcending omnipotence uniting communities for the good of all.

Sobornost philosophy underlies Russian society, and to understand a Russian just a little bit, to respect their rich culture, to enjoy social and business opportunities, we would be wise to have some understanding of the philosophy. At very least just know it exists. For sobornost is still a powerful mystic at work in the heart of Russians.

Sobornost was historically drawn on by the founders of the Slavophile movement: the poet, theoligian and linguist Aleksy Khomyakov (1804-1860), and the Russian literary critic, Ivan Kireyevsky (1805-1856). Khomyakov in particular considered it to be the unification of the Russian obshchina (or “poor folk”, to translate a phrase). The Slavophiles advocated against Western influences, the contrasting camp of Zapadniki wished to accept western ways to bring Russia closer to Europe. Russian Orthodox philosopher Nikolai Lossky (1870-1965) later embraced sobornost as a way to find middle ground and cooperation in opposing communities, protecting against Western socialism and capitalism. The 200 year old debate continues as the EU finally welcomes Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation. Sobornost. Know it. Respect it.

And then there’s blat.

In Russia, blat is thicker than water. Think of Eton and the old school network, British social networking in its highest form. In China it’s Guanxi, somewhat easier to permeate. In Russia, it’s simply blat. Sometimes it is just who you know, and no matter how good you look on paper, having the right contacts in Russia is going to get you straight in.

Further reading:

You want to seriously impress your Russian business contacts and read some hearty philosophical texts? You need Dostoyevsky. One of the most widely read and highly regarded Russian writers. Dostoyevsky is sobornost personified. His works are highly recommended, and it would be most flattering to a Russian if you were to be well-versed in just one of Dostoyevsky’s writings. Steep yourself deep into Russian culture and enjoy.

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky 1821-1881

Russian novelist, short story writer, journalist and essayist. Translator and engineer. Liberal utopian fascinated by sociopolitical psychology and spirituality.

Click here for Dostoyevsky books on Amazon.

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