Sunday, October 25, 2015

The bear as a symbol of Russia

          Many countries have a national animal; the United States has the bald eagle, England has the Barbary lion or the English bulldog, Canada has the North American beaver, Mexico has the golden eagle, South Africa has the springbok, and even North Korea has the mythical chollima. Many consider the bear to be the national animal of Russia, but is this really the case? The answer is not entirely clear, and the history of the bear as a symbol of Russia is an interesting one. Use of the bear in Russia began as early as the 16th century as part of the symbols of three Russian lands (Novgorod, Yaroslavl, and Perm), as well as part of the emblem of the Muscovy Company (an English company founded in 1596). The bear started its use as a personification of Russia in the 18th century, not by Russians themselves, but by western European political cartoonists in the heat of trade competition between Russia and Great Britain. Like the donkey of the U.S. democratic party, the Russian bear was arguably first used in a derogatory fashion, portraying Russia as brutal, clumsy, and ruthless. The use of the bear as a personification of Russia has continued ever since, more frequently in the west than in Russia itself. Russians have somewhat mixed feelings about the bear as their symbol, considering using it as their coat of arms after the fall of the Soviet Union before deciding on the tsarist double-headed eagle instead. Some look at the bear's positive traits such as their strength and cunning or how they typically do not attack unless provoked. A bear cub was used as Russia's mascot in the 1980 Moscow olympics, and is the symbol of the United Russia party, which is currently in power.

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