Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Siberian Spacing And Mentality

Siberia has a lot of space. According to Wikipedia, the population density of Siberia is 3.9 inhabitants per sq.m. Living in a remote and unpopulated area has some effects on people’s mentality. Being a native Siberian, I didn’t notice them until my husband and I moved to the Russia’s enclave on the Baltic sea and then came back to Siberia after 5 years of living in the Kaliningrad region.

What do I mean by these effects? First, it is a very loose spacing. Roads in Siberia are, on average, wider than those in Europe (though the quality of Siberian roads leaves much to be desired). People keep more distance when talking or passing by. During my first month in Kaliningrad, I felt great discomfort in supermarkets because all the people there seemed to stay toŠ¾ close to me. We Siberians think of space on a very large scale. I.e. Novosibirsk is 270 km to North from my hometown Barnaul. We used to think that Novosibirsk is very close to Barnaul. When I was a teenager, I often went to see my grandma who lived 380 km away from me – and it was quite an ordinary thing. European countries are much more compact, and traveling 380 km would most likely mean crossing the border of another country.

Another side effect of living remotely from the rest of the world is the feeling that history is happening somewhere else. Any political movements, social changes, even natural disasters are far away from here. In Europe, history is material – it is in every stone. In Siberia, history is intangible. We saw sad signs of World War II in the Kaliningrad region and only there, in Kaliningrad, we realized that the war was real. Until then the War was something from the realm of media – movie, propaganda advertising etc. When people here read news about swine flue, global warming, and earthquakes the first thing that comes in their minds is “we won’t be affected, it is too far from here”. There is a very popular local myth, rooted, I believe, in Nicholas Roerich’s philosophy, that the whole world will be swept away by global flooding soon, and the Altai region is the only place that will survive. This reflects perfectly the mentality of people here.

Red Claw