Wednesday, April 6, 2011
This is a shop in our part of town in San Francisco. These sure look like Russian bears to me.
It's the red stars that do it.
The Russian Bear is a national personification for Russia, used in cartoons and articles and dramatic plays at least since the 17th century, and relating alike to Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.
It often was and is used by Westerners, to begin with especially in Britain and later also in the US, and not always in a flattering context — on occasion used to imply that Russia is "big, brutal and clumsy". The bear image was, however, on various occasions (especially in the 20th century) also taken up by Russians themselves. Having the teddy bear "Misha" as the mascot of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games — boycotted by numerous countries due to the invasion of Afghanistan. Russia — was evidently intended to counter the "big and brutal Russian Bear" image with a small, cuddly and smiling bear.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was some support in the Russian Parliament for having a bear as the new Russian coat of arms — with the proposers pointing out that "Russia is anyway identified in the world with the Bear" — though eventually it was the Tsarist coat of arms of the Double-headed eagle that was restored.
Later, the bear was taken up as the symbol of the United Russia Party, which dominates the political life in Russia since the early 2000s. Coincidentally, the surname of Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president elected in 2008, is the possessive adjective of медведь: i.e. his surname is "bear-owner".