September 01, 2016

Yes, We're a Sexagenarian


Yes, We're a Sexagenarian
The first issue in our ancestral lineage.

Sixty years ago, bureaucrats and journalists on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain came to a remarkable agreement: our bipolarized world would be better served if we exchanged magazines to show one another how the other lived.

In October 1956, the first issue of USSR appeared. It would later be renamed Soviet Life, and after the fall of the USSR it was resurrected as Russian Life. While the Soviet Union existed, the magazine was unquestionably a propaganda tool of the Soviet Communist Party, and some of our readers (many of whom have subscribed since the Soviet Life days) have told me that copies were sometimes mailed in brown envelopes, to hide their “subversive” reading from their neighbors. 

By my count, the current September/October issue of Russian Life is the 574th in the long lineage of these magazines, and it is the 143rd we have produced since we took it over (making it free of censorship for the first time) in July 1995. 

Sixty is a proud anniversary, but don’t look for a retrospective in this issue. We did that a decade ago, when we celebrated the magazine’s 50th. The article from that issue is available here (PDF) for those interested in delving into the history of the magazine and its American counterpart, Amerika Illustrated.

So, now that the Iron Curtain is gone and the Cold War is over (sort of), is a magazine like Russian Life still necessary? And what need is there for a glossy print magazine when one can read or see anything on the internet?

We grapple constantly with these questions, with how to adapt Russian Life to new media and new opportunities. But suffice it to say we are convinced that Russian Life is as important today as it was in 1956. Mainstream media are producing little in-depth journalism on Russia. What is more, many who watch Russian affairs seem to feel that we must begin our analysis from a position of fear and paranoia, that certain forces at work beyond the Kremlin walls are relentlessly seeking to undermine and destroy our world. 

It is my contention, however, and it is a guiding principle of this magazine, that Russia-watching needs to begin from a position of engagement and investigation; that Russia is no different from any other society in having good and bad elements; and that our world will be better off if we focus more on what Russia is doing right. Does that mean we should gloss over the bad (or even dangerous) bits? Of course not. But we should no more let the bad unnecessarily darken our image of Russia than we should let the good give it a cartoonish cast. Context is everything.

And stories matter. A proper understanding of Russian motivations and actions requires that we seek out and tell the stories of people, places and things that live well behind the attention grabbing headlines. 

Constructing an enemy relies on dehumanizing him, painting him in black and white. It therefore is and will remain the job of Russian Life to show Russia in living color, in all its baffling, human complexity. 

Thankfully, we can now do this without having to use brown envelopes.


A slightly different version of this column appeared in Russian Life's Sep/Oct 2016 issue.

You Might Also Like

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
At the Circus

At the Circus

This wonderful novella by Alexander Kuprin tells the story of the wrestler Arbuzov and his battle against a renowned American wrestler. Rich in detail and characterization, At the Circus brims with excitement and life. You can smell the sawdust in the big top, see the vivid and colorful characters, sense the tension build as Arbuzov readies to face off against the American.
Fish: A History of One Migration

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
22 Russian Crosswords

22 Russian Crosswords

Test your knowledge of the Russian language, Russian history and society with these 22 challenging puzzles taken from the pages of Russian Life magazine. Most all the clues are in English, but you must fill in the answers in Russian. If you get stumped, of course all the puzzles have answers printed at the back of the book.
Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.
Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955