March 18, 2014

In Defense


In Defense

This editorial was printed in our March/April 2014 issue, before the events in Crimea began to unfold. It is all the more important now, to help readers understand what our magazine is about, and what our mission is as journalists covering Russia.


The negativity of western press coverage in the buildup to the Sochi Olympics was rather more than even we expected. Certainly some of it was deserved, some not (see my February 7 blog post to this effect). Yet, thankfully, once the competition began the focus turned to the athletes who had all worked so hard to get to Russia. And, as of this writing on February 12, it has been a truly exciting, amazing competition.

Meanwhile, there were some during this fracas who wondered to me out loud if it was not rather difficult having to “defend Russia and all it has become.” To which I replied rather simply:

“At Russian Life we don't defend Russia. That's not our job. And neither is attacking Russia.”

As I have noted in this space before, there is no such thing as “objective” media and we make no claim of impartiality. But our bias is not one that leads us to say that all about Russia is either good or ill. Our bias is our tendency to be more interested in, more drawn to things Russian. And we do our best to present all sides of this complex country in the most balanced way we know how.

The range of topics we cover in each issue is a reflection of this. In this issue, for instance, we have stories on the northern tundra, folk art, terror and the Church, Vladimir Nabokov, a secret bunker in the UK, Russian troops in Paris, subbotniks, Karelian pies and shapka-ushankas.

Our definition of a Russophile is not someone who blindly embraces all things Russian as superior, but someone who is innately fascinated by Russia because it is different, because it is interesting, because it is important.

While we are on the subject of bias, let me share some guiding principles that comprise the fuzzy outlines of our editorial philosophy:

  • Treat freedom of speech as sacrosanct. A society cannot be free without it. Any attempt by anyone, anywhere, to limit anything other than hate speech (or that which incites violence) should be scrutinized mightily.
  • Avoid oversimplification and distortion. And stereotypes.
  • Embrace pluralism and toleration. And diversity.
  • Seek understanding, not truth. No, all things are not relative. In most situations, there is in fact a right or wrong. It may not be the same for everyone, but it is there. You just need to stare and study long enough. If you find it, don't moralize. Just note what you see and why, then move on.
  • Beware the person who claims to have the one right answer. About anything.
  • Shine a bright light on anyone whose actions destroy the planet, the past, or our common future.
  • Expose and condemn violence.
  • Use humor liberally when covering politicians, celebrities and zealots. And, most importantly, yourself.
  • Question all sources' motives, and always disclose one's own to readers.
  • Maintain a clear line between advertising and editorial.
  • Be original.
  • Be independent.
  • Be accountable.

You can help with that last one. If you see us straying from our principles, please tell us what you see. Sometimes we get a bit busy or amped up on coffee and forget which way is up.

Enjoy the issue.

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Some of Our Books

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.
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.
The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

This exciting new trilogy by a Russian author – who has been compared to Orhan Pamuk and Umberto Eco – vividly recreates a lost world, yet its passions and characters are entirely relevant to the present day. Full of mystery, memorable characters, and non-stop adventure, The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas is a must read for lovers of historical fiction and international thrillers.  
The Little Humpbacked Horse

The Little Humpbacked Horse

A beloved Russian classic about a resourceful Russian peasant, Vanya, and his miracle-working horse, who together undergo various trials, exploits and adventures at the whim of a laughable tsar, told in rich, narrative poetry.
Murder and the Muse

Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.
A Taste of Chekhov

A Taste of Chekhov

This compact volume is an introduction to the works of Chekhov the master storyteller, via nine stories spanning the last twenty years of his life.
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
The Samovar Murders

The Samovar Murders

The murder of a poet is always more than a murder. When a famous writer is brutally stabbed on the campus of Moscow’s Lumumba University, the son of a recently deposed African president confesses, and the case assumes political implications that no one wants any part of.
The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
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.

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.

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