5 September 2017


If you ask Russian citizens, which national symbols they know, most respondents will give the same answer – the tricolour flag, the anthem, and the double-headed eagle, the image of which can be seen on the 1, 2, 5 and 10-rouble coins. It is these elements that represent the embodiment of the national history, the reflection of patriotism, and the country's symbols in the international arena.

However, if you ask the same question to a foreigner (even to a representative of post-Soviet countries), their answer may be quite surprising. The citizens of other countries very often associate Russia with snowy winters, bast shoes, matryoshka dolls, samovars, and other traditional elements of national culture. Heraldry may vary depending on the circumstances – our country has gone through it three times (mainly the change of tsarist, Soviet and contemporary symbols) but the traditional elements still reflect a mysterious Russian soul.

Let us try to find out what symbols may be considered the most recognizable ones.


Birch is commonly associated with just one nation despite the fact that it grows both in Russia and in other countries. It was this tree great poets devoted their poems to, and the first notes of Slavic chroniclers were written on the bark. Bast shoes, bast baskets, icons, boxes, and many other household items were being made of birch. And since ancient times the juice of this tree helped farmers and travellers quench their thirst. That is why it is hardly surprising that many foreigners consider birch to be a symbol of Russia.

Matryoshka Doll

English-speaking people affectionately call this unusual toy "Babushka doll", babushka meaning "grandmother" or "old woman". The first Russian matryoshka doll set was made in the 19th century by artist Sergei Malyutin. Despite the fact that there is a similar toy in Japan, a funny figurine of a wise old man Fukuruma nestling several figurines inside, the foreigners still consider a matryoshka doll to be one of the brightest and most recognizable elements of Russian culture.

"Russian bears" – this is how many foreigners call harsh gloomy Russian men. In the context of the current political situation, many foreign artists and cartoonists portray Russia as a huge bear. However, this stereotype is not new – the jokes about the mighty lord of the taiga forest walking on the Red Square date back as far as the tsarist times, and still remain relevant in the 21st century.

And these are just a few symbols Russia is often associated with. Vodka, winter hat with ear flaps, balalaika, valenki or felt boots – each of these objects reminds a foreigner of the country that stretches from Eastern Europe to the Far East.

Russia as a multinational country

The "one size fits all" expression reflects stereotypes about Russia in the best way possible. The country cannot be associated only with the Slavic culture as more than 200 nationalities reside within its territory, most of them being indigenous population of certain regions. Tatars, Bashkirs, Chechens, Altai, Yakuts, Mordovians – these are just a small part of the Russian peoples, and each of them has their own traditions, rituals, and certain lifestyle.

It is very rarely when a foreigner can look at this side of Russia, which might seem unusual to them, and see how rich the country's culture is, and how different from each other people from different regions can be. However, each of these cases causes a real sensation.

One of the brightest examples of it is the performance of the Buranovskiye Babushki band from Udmurtia at the Eurovision-2012 International Song Contest. The artists sang the song in the traditional Udmurt costumes made as early as 200 years ago. Then the folk ensemble ranked 2nd and the spectators admired it very much.

In 2017, Russia got another chance to show the representatives of other countries the entire depth and diversity of its culture. On September 8 the EXPO-2017 International Exhibition in Astana will host the National Day of the Russian Federation. A number of events, including an extensive cultural program, will be held within the area of the exhibition centre. The bands from different regions of the country – Altai Krai, Tyumen Region, Tatarstan, Altai Republic, as well as the Buranovskiye Babushki band, who are well-known to the Europeans, will perform before the visitors.

Memorable images, vivid performances and friendly atmosphere are sure to be remembered by everyone who visit the National Day, and perhaps, Russia will get a new memorable symbol.