This site is our response to everyone who has ever asked us what Russia is like, and for anyone who might have never wondered, but should have. It’s an attempt to put into words Russia as we see it; our go at explaining that big old riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, that in fact, never went away. It’s about understanding the views, opinions and psyche of a nation that hits our headlines daily, without many of us ever really knowing why. And ultimately, it’s about providing a picture of Russia, as seen first-hand by two people, who think that although the journey they’re on to try and understand this country might never end, the process itself is worth sharing.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

A Fresh Start

С Новым Годом! Happy New Year, faithful blog reader! Yes indeed, if you are still out there, despite our prolonged absence, then thank you very much! As of today, I hereby resolve, in the spirit of the season, to write at least one post a fortnight on all things Russia. I wanted to kick off with a review of Russia's last year and some predictions of what might happen in the next. But then I logged on and read this by Sublime Oblivion, this at foreign policy blogs, and this blow-by-blow monthly account at RIA Novosti, and decided the topic had been well and truly done. Not to mention in detail beyond my wildest dreams. Or that it's already almost Old New Year... the time has definitely past! So instead I've settled for an attack on the use of the word Anglo-Saxon. Which is, I promise, tenuously linked to Russia and the Eastern Blog.

Since starting my course at my small European compound, I have repeatedly heard the term Anglo-Saxon. As in: "the Anglo-Saxon's believe..."; "with regards to the Anglo-Saxon model..." etc. Since I'm studying European integration, it's usually used to describe Britain and Ireland as being somehow linked with the US and so different from the rest of Europe. And when it's spoken about, it's usually accompanied by a knowing nod in mine and my fellow Brits' direction, as though we can confirm that, yes, indeed, that is what those Anglo-Saxons think. But, hang on a moment, just who are these Anglo-Saxons of which they speak? And am I really one of them?

I vaguely remember something back in primary school about the Saxon's invading and indeed, a BBC website confirms:

The term Anglo-Saxon is a relatively modern one. It refers to settlers from the German regions of Angeln and Saxony, who made their way over to Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire around AD 410.

So these Anglo-Saxons were a Germanic tribe, who arrived in the UK over a thousand years ago. So, where did it's association with the US et al. come from? Presumably from the spread of Brits back in our Atlantic-crossing, empire-building days. But surely we aren't all Anglo-Saxon? The word just doesn't seem right.

Firstly I thought it was a uniquely European idea. Perhaps even initially a Gaullist plot that stuck, designed to show how different those damn Brits were and so keep. them. out. Perhaps, I'm just a little paranoid here, but in any case, I didn't think this Anglo Saxon business was a real phenomenon. But then I saw it in a Russian newspaper. And then again! The poisonous term was spreading... everyone was seeing Anglo Saxons everywhere! Except, of course, these so-called anglo-Saxons themselves. According to wikipedia:

Outside Anglophone countries, both in Europe and in the rest of the world, the term "Anglo-Saxon" and its direct translations are used to refer to the Anglophone peoples and societies of Britain, the United States, and other countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The term can be used in a variety of contexts, often to identify the English-speaking world's distinctive language, culture, technology, wealth, markets, economy, and legal systems.

I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but there was something about the term that I had a strong aversion to. A quick internet search for "англо саксон" (that's 'anglo saxon' for those of you terrified by the sight of cyrillic) and the plot thickened. Google's third highest return lead me to the Anglo Saxon homepage, which belongs to a British band formed in the wake of the July 2006 London bomb attacks, which intends to write, record and release songs with a distinctly patriotic feel and a celebration of English/British culture and heritage. (Bizarrely, if you search for the English 'anglo saxon', the site doesn't appear, which is somewhat worrying from the point of view of how Russians must view British identity.) Despite the band's adamant insistent that it is not racist, I'd advise those of you not of a rabid, patriotic bent to stay well clear of the site (it'll just make you angry). Nevertheless, it's interesting just to show the total confusion surrounding this alleged Anglo Saxonism. The band in question seem to fully confuse the term with, I don't know what, Englishness? Britishness? They write:

Anglo Saxon is not part of any political party or organisation. I cannot believe in a country of 50 million people no one has used the name Anglo Saxon. Anyway we’ve got it, patented it and we are keeping it. There has never been any patriotic/nationalist music that has made it into the mainstream, we would like to be the first but hopefully not the last. If other musicians/songwriters can follow through the door we have opened then at least we have contributed something.

In whichever way they understand the term, their usage of it is far from it's orginal description of an invading tribe. BNP leader, Nick Griffin, has likewise used the term 'Anglo-Saxon folk community' to refer to the English member of what he calls Britain's 'indigenous population'. In this was we are witnessing the construction of another meaning to the word 'Anglo Saxon' that is confused, racist and fully exclusive of all the British citizens who are not of a white, Anglo-Saxon ethnic background, of whom there are very, very many.

The question of your average Brit's genetic make up is a hotly contested one in both political and scientific circles. Whilst nationalists might try to draw a marked distinction between the English (mainly derived from the Germanic invasions in the fifth century) and the Celts or Britons who occupied the Island previously (today's Welsh, Scots and Irish), the reality is that we're more likely to be a complicated ethnic mix of all the different invading tribes, probably further jumbled with some genes from other immigration. We're all a complicated bundle of ethnicity generated from our complex history of invasions, immigration and native birth.

To use the word Anglo Saxon to refer to all the western anglophone countries is quite wrong indeed! The word has far too many meanings, ranging from its historical and genetic origins, to the manipulation of it for nationalist and or/racist purpose and ending with its innocent usage by non-English speakers. (Which, I object to anyway, on the grounds that all the allegedly Anglo Saxon countries are culturally and socially very different from one another.) And so, I call on any Russians, Europeans or anyone else out there to abstain from using it. If we must have some phrase to describe a commonality between English speakers and systems can we use one which is less emotionally charged? Suggestions on a post card, please...


Caroline said...

Daniel Defoe :)

Thus from a mixture of all kinds began,
That heterogeneous thing an Englishman;
In eager rapes and furious lust begot,
Betwixt a painted Briton and a Scot;
Whose gendering offspring quickly learned to bow,
And yoke their heifers to the Roman plough;
From whence a mongrel half-bred race there came,
With neither name nor nation, speech nor fame;
In whose hot veins new mixtures quickly ran,
Infused betwixt a Saxon and a Dane;
While their rank daughters, to their parents just,
Received all nations with promiscuous lust.
This nauseous brood directly did contain
The well-extracted brood of Englishmen.

Caroline said...

(From the "The True Born Englishman")