Home [The table below, reproduced with the permission of Nikita Pokrovsky, is the 1999 version, subject to revision and thus not for distribution beyond this website.]

Dimensions of Intercultural Communication between Russia and the United States

Dr . Nikita Pokrovsky, Moscow State University


Any kind of multicultural communication is based on shared cultural values: socially determined ideas about what is good, right, or desirable. When we explore American and Russian values, we find some interesting contrasts that make us realize that establishing long-term communication between our countries may not be a simple goal.

The table below gives some basis for a cross-cultural comparison of some American and Russian values. Hopefully, you will not be discouraged with the lack of "points of contact" between our cultures today since we are making a value-free social analysis (comparable to a medical examination) which may lead to a stage of recovery or improvement. The latter depends on our thoughtful attempts to correct the direction of the contemporary course of events. I strongly believe in that.

The Russian Values described in the table are based on my analysis. The list of traditional American values is taken from Robin Williams (1970) American Society: A Sociological Interpretation, a work regarded as an almost classical formulation of the 20th century American mind. It is obvious that some of the values may not be consistent with one another or are outdated today. Some values may be rejected by part of the American populace, as is also true for the two lists of Russian values.

However, these comparisons can provide a useful beginning for discussion.

Other sources consulted:

Hensline, James: Introducing Sociology. 1975.
Yankelovich, Daniel. New Rules : Search for Self-Fulfillment in the World Turned Upside Down. 1981.
Etzioni, Amitai. An Immodest Agenda: Rebuilding America before the 21st Century. 1982.

# Traditional American Values Russian Values (1917-1991) Post-Perestroika Values
1 Achievement and success Very limited; sometimes even non-existent Recognized by less than 7% of the population (the so-called "new businessmen)
2 Activity and work Very limited; a belief that creativity can substitute for daily hard work A general decline of any motivation for productive work
3 Moral Orientation Depressed by the Communist morality of total permissiveness ("ends justify the means") No moral orientation at all; moral chaos
4 Humanitarianism Remnants of traditional Russian Kindness and Charity A fight for survival; the principle of survival of the fittest
5 Efficiency and Practicality Very reduced, if existing at all Non-recognizable
6 Progress 5.A belief that when socialism "is gone" everything will fine its proper place and order "like in America" almost by itself Denial of the idea of progress; no serious interest in the future; living "from hand to mouth"
7 Material comfort No idea of a high standard of living No hope to attain a high standard of living for present and future generations
8 Equality All are equal in their "socialist poverty. except for those predestined to be apparatchiks Equality of being in full misery except for 7% of new businessrnen
9 Freedom No idea of social or civil freedom; a deeply hidden drive for "volya'' (a subconscious freedom with no limits) A full understanding that freedom can be based only on material well-being
10 External conformity Conformity, in public, to the regulations of the socialist authorities; hidden skepticism of them, in private No conformity unless it is another name for despair
11 Science and rationality Science and creative thinking held in high prestige and become ends in themselves A general disillusionment in rational structures of any kind, including science; progressive" brain drain" of Russian scientists and scholars to the West
12 Nationalism Patriotism Skeptical approach to the official doctrine of Socialist patriotism"; respect for Russian patriotic values of World War II Difficulty in defining the notion of the "motherland" and home country; severe nationalism (patriotism.) among right-wing groups
13 Democracy No understandings the idea of democracy Full and uncritical fascination with Western democratic ideas (1985-91); almost unanimous disillusionment with the ideas of democracy since 1992
14 Individual Personality No knowledge of the principle of self-reliance; priority of unspecific group interests Severe individualism with no respect for public interests
15 Group superiority themes Superiority of the state but not of a concrete group; the principle of the "collective selfishness" Progressing fragmentation of social structures suspicion of all group or collective initiatives
Other values (American parallel values in #16-21 from N. Noonan)
16 Judeo-Christian moral values Belief in the fundamental value of moral and social sacrifice (Christian in origin Polarization of rigid selfish and sacrificial trends in the society criminal and prophetic tendencies
17 Respect for creativity combined with success and achievement Overwhelming value of creativity and respect for talented people without any relationship to their material or social status Market approach to both: creativity and giftedness
18 Among devout Christians belief in suffering (not universal in society) Cult of material and moral sufferings (Christian in origin) Suffering becomes a mode of living for millions
19 Traditional family values Family life as the highest priority: regarded as an end in itself Family crisis; struggle for the survival of the family as a stronghold of social and public morality
20 As a nation, relatively little interest in other countries Enormous interest in other cultures; almost a cult of other cultures, esp. Western (American) The growth of ethnocentric tendencies; general decline of interest in the West
21 Open and friendly society; friendships may be superficial Respect for " true.. friendship and love as opposed to the official state doctrine The lack of a philosophy of friendship and love
22 Education (Henslin, 1975) High value of education as a part of the general "high culture": all encompassing, multifaceted, spiritual, and in opposition to Communist primitivism Rigid market approach to education and culture; both of them should "work by way of bring an immediate profit feedback"
23 Religiosity, (Henslin, 1975) In contrast to the official religious ban, deep inner belief in Russian Orthodoxy as an outcome of the "true spirit"of the Russian soul Parallel with official permission for all church activities, almost a total loss of spiritual identity. The Russian Orthodox Church has become a ritualistic supplement to Glasnost
24 Self-fulfillment (Yankelovich,1981; Etzioni, 1982) Very little understanding of the idea of self-fulfillment; dedication to the fulfillment of social goals through public actions Rigid self-fulfillment among younger people who have no idea of public responsibility; ego-centered mentality" becomes dominant
25 Ecological concerns Gradual growth of ecological concerns in full opposition to the official ban on discussing them General indifference to ecology; no funds to do anything for keeping the ecological balance: "better not to think of this stuff; sooner or later we all will die"