What does it mean to be Russian to ask?
Well for me, as a Russian and Estonian, the answer for this question is that Russia has been shaped by dramatic and turbulent events. If we go to the start, when Novgorod used to be the capital and German Crusaders were to step on Novgorod grounds through the Peipus lake, it was duty of Russian people to defend their land under the leadership of Alexander Nevsky of the time. After the hardship of the battle of Novgorod in twelfth century, Nevsky said: “those who come to us with a sword, will die from a sword”. Russia faced a lot of ups and downs and was seen as barbaric country, until Peter the Great showed that Russia was a mighty empire, mobilising a new type of Russian army and Russian navy thanks to his studies abroad in Netherlands, England and other advanced European countries. The Russian Empire took Baltic lands from the Swedes who were thought to be the strongest empire at the time! This showed the significance and strength of Russia and generated feelings of pride for the country, that it was mighty in strength and as well as in politics.
Moving forward to the Bolshevik times, after Nicholas II abdicated as people thought him to be incompetent. It was a time, when left-wing policies took over, where you had to be supporting your government, otherwise the Cheka would arrest you in 1920’s.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, and Poland was attacked, it didn’t even resist and fell quite quickly. France surrendered and it as up to UK to endure the Nazis Blitzkrieg and Russia to defend itself during the Operation Barbarossa, when Russia was invaded from five places at the same time. The Nazis where quickly advancing through Russian Border, getting closer to Moscow and Leningrad. Leningrad was under siege for 900 days, where over a million people died of starvation and 250 000 bombs were dropped on Leningrad. People had to survive on 125 grams of bread a day and bury their relatives. People were collapsing on streets, but it didn’t weaken Russians. The city survived the siege and now is forever remembered in Russian history as hero city, said to make the greatest heroism in human history. The Battle of Stalingrad, where the Nazis and the Red Army were fighting for every single street in actual Stalingrad, was a war turning point. Russian had less artillery and less forces in Stalingrad battle, however they still won the battle and started to turn the war around and by the year 1944, the Red Army was already in Europe, pushing the Nazis all the way back to Berlin. By the 9th May 1945, the Reichstag was under the Communist flag, under the Flag of Fifth Division of Red Army.
In the present, the 9th May is one of the most celebrated holidays in Russia, the remembrance of victory in a Great Patriotic War. The government even makes sure that it doesn’t rai, using the latest meteorological technology and they use it only and always of on the 9th May. All television networks show only the parade, for those unfortunate who aren’t able to come and see the parade on the Red Squarer that starts from 9am and lasts for few hours.
The war united us, but communist regimes in 1950’s and 1960’s separated us, as it was really easy to be killed: just tell NKVD that your neighbour disliked the communist regime and the next day he would have been disappeared. There were hard times, when there constantly were food shortages and the food talons were introduced during those times.
So what it is to be Russian? Firstly it is the love for your country. The great achievement, the victory in the Great Patriotic War under the enormous pressure of the Nazi Army, the glorious turn-around of the war in Stalingrad and heroic capture of Berlin, which sealed the outcome of Second World War. Love for own country was so big, the unlike the others nations call it Second World War or World War Two, In Russia, it is called The Great Patriotic War, to emphasize the importance of this bloody war. Under the Bolshevik government, Russians faced a lot of hardship and may not show you the great attitude or may not seem very friendly, but in hardest times, we will unite again to protect each-other. Unity is buried deep in our hearts, to help out each-other out in hardest moments. Being Russian, means you have to share your pride with all other countries. Russian tourists are disliked all over the world, due to their demonstration as if they “own this place”, involves complaining, heavy drinking and sometimes disturbance of others’ holidays.
Being a Russian? In simple: love for your nation and a will to share this with the rest of the world. Great.