Eastern Europe, predominated by the Slavic language group, shows a great deal of linguistic and cultural diversity. Over 315 million people speak one of over a dozen Slavic languages. These languages are split primarily into three groups: East Slavic, West Slavic, and South Slavic.
The East Slavic group is dominated by Russia, the world’s largest nation. Its population of over 140 million span from Eastern Europe all the way to the Pacific. About 80% of Russia’s population is ethnically Russian; the rest are spread between 185 different local ethnicities and expatriate communities. What binds Russia together is the predominance of its language and culture. This culture is bifurcated. The older, more traditional segment of Russian society is tied to historical institutions such as the government, the Russian Orthodox church (including the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow pictured above) and classic forms of the arts such as the Bolshoi, with its offerings of ballet, opera and symphony orchestra. While the modern-minded younger generations are focused on more cosmopolitan ties to the rest of the world, through commonalities like business and finance, rock music, gaming culture (beyond Tetris, of course), and software development.
The tug between the new and the old since the fall of the Soviet Union has led to a great deal of contrasts and contradictions. As one web site states:
Russia is not just a country of contrasts; it is a country of outright contradictions. A country where free-reign market capitalism in some sectors meets absolute state interference in others. A country where foreign direct investment is actively sought in some areas; whilst made virtually impossible in others. Half the population yearn for a more open, democratic society whilst the other half admires the autocratic approach of the current regime. — WorldBusinessCulture.com
This is nothing new. Russia, going back to its foundation by Ivan the Terrible (Ivan IV Vasilyevich), has always had an internal dynamic between the parochial versus the cosmopolitan, between the traditional versus the forward-thinking, and between autocracy and freedom.
With the international crises in the Ukraine and Syria, working with Russian individuals or companies can potentially lead businesses into politically sensitive areas, and even run afoul of various international sanctions placed on the regime and its leadership. Plus, Russia itself is imposing stricter internal controls, such as on the use of the Internet.
One example of how developers can get caught in the middle of such a dichotomy occurred with the chip giant Intel. In 2014, Russia passed a domestic “Blogger Law” to clamp down on unrestricted postings to the Internet. To avoid the fines, Intel simply shut down its popular Russian-language developer forum, and redirected programmers to Habrhabr instead.
If you are interested in learning more deeply about Russian society today, there is a recent four-part series produced by Al Jazeera entitled “Inside Putin’s Russia.” Enjoy!
- Episode One: Kremlin Rules
- Episode Two: Arising from the Rouble
- Episode Three: Reclaiming the Empire
- Episode Four: State of the Arts