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Stereotypes are a funny thing. On the one hand, they’re often no more than caricatures. On the other hand, there’s a surprising amount of bitter truth to some of them. Like the Russians say with their morbid humor, “In every joke, there’s a bit of a joke.”
This is especially interesting when we consider old Rus. We don’t have much to go on, historically speaking, other than chronicles, treaties, and a few bits of birch bark.
However, Russians have preserved some interesting stereotypes about the inhabitants of old Russian cities. Whether there’s any truth to them or not is almost beside the point. They’re fascinating, revealing a window to a world long gone, yet still persisting in the habits and personalities of today’s Russians. (Here’s the original Russian article that I translated)
EVERYONE IN GREAT NOVGOROD IS A REBEL
Novgorod’s rebelliousness is legendary. The image of a brawling Novgorodian is almost a calling card of the city. The reason this stereotype came about has to do with the old chronicles. They were filled with illustrations of the constant arguments at the Novgorodian Veche, a kind of popular assembly that met in the central square. (See my translation of “Martha the Mayoress” for a vivid fictionalized example).
Of course, there were arguments and even fights during the Veche. However, they did not constantly devolve into fist-fights, as the legends suggest. Naturally, the chroniclers would choose the most vivid and bloody examples from history to illustrate their point. After all, Novgorod was often an opponent of Kiev and, later, Moscow. But in actual fact, the inhabitants of Great Novgorod were fiercely loyal to their government and loved their city. Compromise was the order of the day, not broken heads. Plus, they were more than usually literate.
EVERYONE IN PSKOV IS A THIEF OR A MORON
Even in modern times, Pskovians have had to endure countless jokes about their crudeness, stupidity, and their lack of good manners. This may or may not be true. As for their lack of manners, that is entirely a matter of hats. The inhabitants of Pskov, no matter what their social standing, hardly ever doffed their cap before anyone (which is extremely bad form in old Rus). However, this wasn’t crudity or bad breeding.
It used to be that a hat symbolized one’s personal dignity. In Pskov in particular, to actually take off your hat meant to be shamed. It may be a bastardization of the more generally accepted rule that if someone else took your hat off your head, that was a terrible insult.
EVERYONE IN NIZHNI NOVGOROD IS A DRUNKARD
The painful topic of Russian alcoholism became especially relevant in Nizhni Novgorod at the end of the 17th century. A kind of epidemic of alcoholism rose up, and it was normal to see women as well as men lying in the streets in a drunken stupor. Foreign travelers recounted after their visits to Nizhni Novgorod that “Russians don’t do anything but feast.”
Of course, they did more than feast. But on holidays, Russians have always allowed themselves some excesses. It’s not entirely fair to single out Nizhni Novgorod, when alcoholism still is the gravest problem facing Russia today, as in olden times.
EVERYONE IN VLADIMIR IS A CRIMINAL
This stereotype appeared very early. It’s easy to understand. Vladimir itself had five prisons, including the famous “Vladimir Central Prison.” From the beginning, Vladimirians have been considered con artists who like a dangerous life. It didn’t help that the path to Siberia for exiled convicts went through Vladimir. It was even called the “Vladimirka.”
Exiled convicts stopped in Vladimir to have half their heads shaved (a scene vividly recounted in the excellent Russian film The Siberian Barber). Then they’d be branded as exiles or thieves, clapped in irons, and set upon the road to Siberia. In old times, the path could take as long as two years, and those two years were not counted as part of their allotted time.
Vladimir itself, for all that, was a typical enough provincial town.
EVERYONE IN ROSTOV IS AN ARTISAN
When a Russian hears the word “finift’” (enameling), he immediately thinks of Rostov. Nothing could change the old stereotype that every inhabitant of ancient Rostov worked in the enameling guild. That’s complete nonsense, of course. First of all, the best enamellists in old Rus were as a rule in Kiev, the capital city. There were also some famous artisans in Pskov, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, and Great Novgorod.
The only difference is that Rostov alone has preserved the traditional techniques of enameling since ancient times. Even today, there is a factory producing enameled work. Perhaps for this reason alone, tourists still visit Rostov exclusively to see enameled boxes.
THE INDUSTRIOUS YARSOLAVIAN
The industrious muzhik from Yaroslavl is an image that we even find in Gogol. From the times of Rus, Yaroslavians were known as people who were never apathetic, lazy, or prone to tiredness. Instead, they’re known to be active to a manic degree. This may have something to do with the odd tradition that Yaroslav is a city of buried treasure.
Apparently, wherever you turn, you see someone uncovering a jewelry box or trying to break into an ancient chest of drawers. Perhaps a little more seriously, Yaroslavians have long been known as “chicks of the cuckoo.” In other words, they’re more than usually capable of leaving their homeland without much regret. This quality has a clear historical origin.
Yaroslav was built on the crossroads of ancient roads—a path used by merchants from Scandinavia all the way to the Arab lands. From the middle of the 16th century, Yarsolavl became the most important center for trade in all of Rus. This constant movement often inspired young Yaroslavians to try out their luck in foreign lands.
True or not, such stereotypes make for fascinating stories. For myself, the “myth” of the boisterous Novgorodian comes to life in my third novel, The Heart of the World, in a semi-fictionalized setting of the Veche that goes fabulously wrong for all concerned.
Source: Nicholas Kotar
Commitments to end direct provision ‘already behind schedule’
Government commitments to end direct provision are “slipping”, the State’s chief human rights and equality commissioner has warned.
Sinéad Gibney, chief of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), said slippage meant delays and “people continue to languish in this system which deprives them of so much”.
She was addressing the Oireachtas committee on public petitions on progress implementing the Government’s White Paper on ending direct provision. Published in February by Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman, it envisages closing all direct provision accommodation centres by the end of 2024 and replacing them with a new system of accommodation and supports.
Ms Gibney said “relatively simply fixes”, such as ensuring asylum seekers had the right to apply for a driving licence, were “already behind schedule”. The White Paper had promised legislation would be introduced before summer 2021.
“As we appear today the commission is not aware of any specific legislative amendment having been introduced to allow applications for driving licences . . . Being barred from even being able to apply for a driving licence is a massive State-built barrier to securing or seeking employment,” she said.
“The right to seek employment was hard won for asylum seekers in a Supreme Court case by a determined Burmese man . . . That victory is made hollow by such administrative barriers as access to driving licences.”
IHREC, she continued had “concerns” that an independent inspection regime of accommodation centres had not yet begun.
Before the White Paper the State had been in breach of EU directives by not ensuring vulnerability assessments were conducted on every asylum seeker on arrival.
These were now happening but at far too low a rate. “Figures provided to the Oireachtas in April this year show that 258 applicants had entered the vulnerability assessment process with 151 assessments completed and 107 then ongoing. This obviously needs to be significantly scaled up given there had been 886 applications received this year alone,” said Ms Gibney.
Stephen Kirwan of the Law Society’s human rights and equality committee, described “frustrations” among colleagues that clients in the asylum process were often not getting legal advice until “a very late stage”.
One of the “most significant obstacles to the White Paper being realised” was delays in the processing of international protection, or asylum applications, said Ihrec commissioner Colm O’Dwyer SC.
At the end of July there were more than 5,000 people awaiting a “first instance” decision on the applications and the median time to get a decision was 26.9 months, he said.
Ms Gibney called for a “mindset change” in the whole international protection system.
“It’s about moving towards informing our system with a mindset that we are lucky to welcome in many of the aspirant citizens . . . We need to invite them. We need to offer them integration from day one. We need to see and value the contribution they can make to our society and I think when we do that we do start to then see a system that is informed by trauma, that understands the trauma that some of the people have been through [and] that provides wraparound supports tailored to their needs.”
Q&A: What is the British government doing to help Brits in Italy overcome post-Brexit hurdles?
On Wednesday the British embassy in Rome organised a town hall-style question and answer session to allow British residents in Italy to raise concerns and put their questions to Minister Wendy Morton and British Ambassador to Italy Jill Morris.
After the session, The Local was granted a brief interview with the minister to discuss some of the major issues for UK nationals in Italy that we’ve been reporting on this past year.
From residency rights to driving licences, here are the minister’s answers to our questions about the post-Brexit rights of British citizens in Italy.
How is the UK government assisting British nationals struggling to access the new carta di soggiorno elettronica?
UK citizens living in Italy have been encouraged by the British government to apply for a carta di soggiorno elettronica, a new biometric card that proves their right to live in Italy under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.
While the card is not required by the Italian government, it’s strongly recommended as the simplest way for Brits who have been resident in Italy since before January 1, 2021 to demonstrate their rights of residency and ensure they can continue to access essential services.
Some UK citizens, though, have had trouble accessing the card due to processing delays or the fact that their local police station, or questura, hasn’t yet got set up to issue the document – and have run into problems obtaining work contracts and applying for driving licenses as a result.
Anti-Brexit protesters on September 22, 2017 in Florence, Italy. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP
The minister said that the British embassy in Rome has been holding regular online meetings to listen to residents’ concerns about the card, and also provides updates via a newsletter.
“Our ambassador has a newsletter that is a way of communicating regularly to British citizens, so they can sign up to this, as well as signing up to the Foreign Office’s ‘Living In…’ guide, to get up to date information on an ongoing basis,” she said.
Ambassador Morris highlighted that the British embassy is collecting reports from British citizens who have experienced problems accessing the card (as well as any other issues) via a contact form on its website.
“We encourage British residents in Italy to report to us when they have any difficulties exercising their rights, whether that’s related to healthcare, whether that’s at the questura to get the carta di soggiorno elettronica, or any other issues people may have,” the ambassador said.
“We log the individual cases; we also look for trends, so when we see there’s a trend of a problem, for example stamping passports at a particular airport, then we target the authorities at that airport to give them information and make sure all the border guards have that information.”
The embassy sends a monthly update to the Italian authorities to alert them to ongoing issues, she added.
You can find the embassy’s contact form here.
The ambassador also noted that the British embassy has worked with Italy’s national association of mayors, Anci, to distribute a booklet to comuni across the country laying out the post-Brexit rights of British citizens.
Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement on reciprocal driving licenses before the grace period expires at the end of this year?
After Britain left the EU at the end of last year, British residents who hadn’t yet got around to converting their UK license to an Italian one were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to use their British license in Italy.
Many hoped that Italy and the UK would later come to an agreement which would allow drivers to continue using their British license beyond that point.
But with less than four months to go before the grace period expires, Brits are now wondering whether to gamble on the two countries reaching an accord by the end of this year – and risk being unable to drive come January 1st – or to undergo the time-consuming and expensive process of retaking their driving test in Italy.
When we raised this issue with Ms. Morton, she said: “We absolutely are continuing to negotiate with the Italian government on the right to exchange a UK license for an Italian one without the need to retake a driving test, and I can assure you it’s our absolute priority to reach an agreement before the end of the grace period which is at the end of this year.”
Photo: Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP
What is government doing to help British-Italian families wanting to return to live in the UK?
UK nationals wanting to return to live in Britain with their EU partners have until the end of March 2022 before the bar for being granted a spousal visa will be significantly raised. That deadline is fixed and will not be extended, the minister confirmed on Wednesday.
“If they want to apply, it’s important that they apply before the deadline,” she told The Local.
“Close family members of UK nationals who return from living in the EU by the 29th of March next year can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme as long as that relationship existed before exit day,” said the minister.
“It’s also worth remembering that family members of individuals from the EU, from Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Lichtenstein, as well as the families of British citizens may also be eligible to apply for a family permit under the EU Settlement Scheme, which will make it easier to travel with a family member to the UK.”
Some EU-British couples, however, are already experiencing problems having their right to live together in the UK recognised, with reports coming out that the Home Office has denied some applications on seemingly flimsy or technical grounds.
“The fundamental thing here is that British citizens can return to the UK at any time. And it’s important that we remember that,” the minister said when asked about this issue.
In case you were wondering.
For British-Italian couples in Italy experiencing problem, “the first port of call should be our team here in the embassy; it may be that they then need to be signposted if it’s a Home Office issue,” said the minister.
“The Home Office has made a whole range of advice available online, and can also be contacted by telephone and by email.”
See The Local’s ‘Dealing with Brexit‘ section for the latest news and updates.
DUP queries whether President is ‘snubbing’ North centenary events
The DUP has questioned whether President Michael D Higgins is “snubbing” events marking Northern Ireland’s centenary after it emerged he declined an invitation to attend a commemorative church service with Queen Elizabeth.
DUP Assembly member Peter Weir also asked if Mr Higgins was joining Sinn Féin and the SDLP in “boycotting” such events, a move which he said “speaks volumes” about Ireland’s “commitment to reconciliation and progress”.
Mr Weir said on Wednesday he had written to Mr Higgins “asking if his office is officially snubbing all events marking this milestone in the decade of centenaries”. If this was the case, Mr Weir said, “I have urged him to think again”.
However, he said the reciprocal state visits of the queen to Ireland and Mr Higgins to Britain were “the high water mark in Anglo-Irish relations”. He said Mr Higgins has “shown a consistent willingness to outreach and a focus on reconciliation. So until we know the reason why he can’t attend we cannot be critical.”
The Service of Reflection and Hope, taking place in Armagh next month, will mark 100 years since the partition of Ireland and the creation of Northern Ireland. It is organised by the leaders of the island’s main Christian churches, who had anticipated Mr Higgins would take part as head of State.
However it has emerged that Mr Higgins would not be present. Mr Higgins, who is on a four-day visit to Rome, has not yet commented on his decision.
The President attended a meeting of non-executive presidents from 14 EU States yesterday but made no public comment other than remarks on the meeting itself.
His spokesman had told The Irish Times on Tuesday that the President was “not in a position to attend” the service. He did not elaborate on Wednesday or say why the President could not attend. Asked about the DUP’s remarks, his spokesman said the President had nothing further to add.
The President does not need to request Government permission to travel to Northern Ireland so the decision was made by his office, without reference to the Department of the Taoiseach. Sources said a Government representative will attend the service but it had not yet received an invitation.
It is being organised by the Church Leaders’ Group “as part of their wider programme of collective engagement around the 1921 centenaries, with an emphasis on their common Christian commitment to peace, healing and reconciliation.”
A statement on Wednesday from the group – which is made up of the two Archbishops, the Presbyterian Moderator and the presidents of the Methodist church and the Irish Council of Churches – did not reference Mr Higgins but said the service was “offered as a contribution to the work of building community and deepening relationships”.
A spokesman for Dr Martin commented earlier that “the important thing is that this service is going ahead. It is an initiative of the main Christian denominations on this island and is underpinned by prayer, peace and reconciliation”.
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