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RUSSIA or RUSSIAN FEDERATION, is a country in northern Eurasia (Europe and Asia together). It is a semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects. Russia shares borders with the following countries (from northwest to southeast): Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland (both via Kaliningrad Oblast), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and North Korea. It also has maritime borders with Japan (by the Sea of Okhotsk) and the United States (by the Bering Strait). At 17,075,400 square kilometres (6,592,800 sq mi), Russia is by far the largest country in the world, covering more than a ninth of the Earth’s land area. It extends across the whole of northern Asia and 40% of Europe, and incorporating a wide range of environments and landforms. Russia has the world's largest reserves of mineral and energy resources, and is considered an energy superpower. It has the world's largest forest reserves and its lakes contain approximately one-quarter of the world's unfrozen fresh water.
MAJOR CITIES, ADMINISTRATIVE DIVISION
The Russian Federation includes 21 republics, 9 territories, 46 regions, 1 autonomous region, 4 autonomous districts, and 2 cities of federal subordination: Moscow and St. Petersburg. The capital of Russia is Moscow (about 10 million residents). The largest cities (above 1 million) are: St. Petersburg (4.6 million), Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, Samara, Omsk, Chelyabinsk, Kazan’, Perm’, Ufa, Rostov-on-Don, and Volgograd.
The head of state is the President, but the executive power is also exercised by the Government under the Chairman of the Government. The legislative power belongs to the Federal Assembly which consists of two chambers: the Federation Council and the State Duma.
POPULATION AND LANGUAGE
There are about 143.3 million people in Russia (the data of 2002), Russians 79.8%, Tatars 3.8%, Ukrainians 2%, Bashkirs 1.2%, Chuvash 1.1%, Chechen 0.9%, Armenians 0.8%, other – 10.4%
Russia’s 160 ethnic groups speak some 100 languages. According to the 2002 census, 142.6 million people speak Russian, followed by Tatar with 5.3 million and Ukrainian with 1.8 million speakers. Russian is the only official state language, but the Constitution gives the individual republics the right to make their native language co-official next to Russian. Despiteits wide dispersal, the Russian language is homogeneous throughout Russia. Russian is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia and the most widely spoken Slavic language. Russian belongs to the Indo-European language family and is one of the living members of the East Slavic languages; the others being Belarusian and Ukrainian. Written examples of Old East Slavic (Old Russian) are attested from the 10th century onwards.
Over a quarter of the world's scientific literature is published in Russian. Russian is also applied as a means of coding and storage of universal knowledge—60–70% of all world information is published in the English and Russian languages. The language is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Monetary unit is ruble (RUR).
The climate of the Russian Federation formed under the influence of several determining factors. The enormous size of the country and the remoteness of many areas from the sea result in the dominance of the humid continental and subarctic climate, which is prevalent in European and Asian Russia except for the tundra and the extreme southeast. Mountains in the south obstruct the flow of warm air masses from the Indian Ocean, while the plain of the west and north makes the country open to Arctic and Atlantic influences. Throughout much of the territory there are only two distinct seasons — winter and summer; spring and autumn are usually brief periods of change between extremely low temperatures and extremely high. The coldest month is January (February on the shores of the sea), the warmest usually is July. Great ranges of temperature are typical. In winter, temperatures get colder both from south to north and from west to east. Summers can be quite hot and humid, even in Siberia. A small part of Black Sea coast around Sochi has a subtropical climate. The continental interiors are the driest areas.
The Russians are a talented nation. We are proud of our famous fellow-countrymen. Russia gave the world such world famous writers as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov. Five Russian authors - Bunin, Sholokhov, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn and Brodsky– were awarded with the Nobel Prize in literature. Music by Russian composers is played throughout the world - Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Shnitke. Malevich and Kandinsky - representatives of the so-called “Russian avant garde” - became famous for their innovations in painting. Discoveries and achievements by Russian scientists in chemistry, nuclear physics and aviation – are common and acknowledged all over the world. Among Russian Nobel Prize winners in science are:
1958 – Pavel Cherenkov, Ilya Frank and Igor Tamm – “for the discovery and interpretation of the Cherenkov effect”
1962 – Lev Landau – “for his theories about condensed matter, particularly about liquid helium (superfluidity)”
1964 – Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov – “for fundamental work in the area of the quantum electronics, which led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers on the basis of the maser laser principle”
1978 – Pyotr Kapitsa – “for his fundamental inventions and discoveries in the Cryophysics”
2001 – Zhores Alferov – “for the development of semiconductor heterostructures for high-speed and optoelectronics”• 2003 – Alexei Abrikosov and Vitaly Ginzburg – “for innovative work in the theory about superconductors”
1956 – Nikolai Semenov – “for outstanding work on the mechanism of chemical transformation including an exhaustive analysis of the application of the chain theory to varied reactions and, more significantly, to combustion processes” The names of Anna Pavlova, Galina Ulanova, Maya Plisetskaya, Rudolf Nuriev and Mikhail Baryshnikov are known to each and every educated person. Equally obvious are the achievements of Russia in sports: traditionally high places in team scores at the Olympic Games, world records and titles of our swimmers, weightlifters, gymnasts, figureskaters. Space exploration was always a pride of the Russian science. Pioneer Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was called “The Columbus of the Cosmos”. His epic 108 minute Earth orbital flight on April 12, 1961 was man’s first encounter with the nether regions of space and the beginning of man’s journey to the stars.
1-5 January New Year holidays
7 January Orthodox Christmas
23 February Defender of the Motherland Day
8 March International Women’s Day
1 May Day of Spring and Labor
9 May Victory Day
12 June Day of Russia
4 November Day of National Unity
Most of the believers are Orthodox Christians (the eastern branch of Christianity). Islam, Catholicism, Judaism, and Buddhism are also practiced in Russia.
Various religious creeds peacefully coexist in Russia. There is no one predominant religion; none of them is under special protection of the state, though the majority of believers practice the Orthodoxy. The Orthodoxy in our country is certainly firstly associated with the Russians, though it is acknowledged by greater part of Karels, Udmurts, the Mari, Osetians and other peoples. The total number of Orthodox Christians in the country amounts to 80 million people. Most of them belong to the Russian Orthodox Church, which exists in all the regions. In the Soviet period and especially in the years of Stalin’s repressions when atheism was the state policy the Orthodox Church was persecuted, churches and monasteries were abolished. An outstanding example is the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow only recently completely rebuilt at the place of the old Cathedral.
The main doctrine of the Orthodoxy is the Holy Trinity. You can tell an Orthodox from other Christians because he mentions in his prayers not just “God”, but “Father, Son and the Holy Spirit”. The Orthodoxy is a large family. It is normal for the Orthodox priest to get married and have many children; the church condemns divorces.
Beside the Orthodox and followers of branched-off sects, adherents of other communities of Christianity live in Russia. Among them there are Catholics, though much inferior in number to the Orthodox. There are Protestants, too.
The second largest religion of the Russian Federation is Islam (approximately 13 million believers). The two main branches of Islam - Sunnism and Shiism - are presented in Russia, most Moslem of our country are Sunny. Sunnism was officially accepted in Volzhskaya Bulgaria in 922. Today it is practiced by a large part of Tatars and Bashkirs.
In the eastern regions of Russia there are a lot of adherents of Buddhism - about 900 thousand believers: eastern Buryat, Buryat-Hongodor, the largest part of Tuva and few Evenks. Buddhism is a religion declaring deliverance of sufferings by means of refusal of desires and reaching the “highest blooming”- nirvana. Buryatia has become the center of Buddhism in Russia. Here about 30 Buddhist temples - datsans - have survived. Buddhism in Russia was officially admitted in 1741 by the order of empress Elisabeth.
There are adherents of Judaism in Russia, too. Their quantity is difficult to define because of a great number of mixed marriages. The majority of Judaists live in the biggest cities of Russia. Their largest groups are situated in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod. Among the people of Russia there are also followers of traditional beliefs (for instance, shamanism). Their adherents are the majority of the believers of small Northern nations of Russia - Eskimos, Chukchas, Koryaks.
Rich cultural heritage and great natural variety place Russia among the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The country contains 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, while many more are on UNESCO's tentative lists. Major tourist routes in Russia include a travel around the Golden Ring of ancient cities, cruises on the big rivers like Volga, and long journeys on the famous Trans-Siberian Railway.
Most popular tourist destinations in Russia are Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the current and the former capitals of the country and great cultural centers, recognized as World Cities.
Moscow and Saint Petersburg feature such world-renown museums as Tretyakov Gallery and Hermitage, famous theaters like Bolshoi and Mariinsky, ornate churches like Saint Basil's Cathedral, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Saint Isaac's Cathedral and Church of the Savior on Blood, impressive fortifications like Moscow Kremlin and Peter and Paul Fortress, beautiful squares like Red Square and Palace Square, and streets like Tverskaya and Nevsky Prospect. Rich palaces and parks of extreme beauty are found in the former imperial residences in suburbs of Moscow (Kolomenskoye, Tsaritsyno) and Saint Petersburg (Peterhof, Strelna, Oranienbaum, Gatchina, Pavlovsk, Tsarskoye Selo). Moscow contains a great variety of imressive Soviet era buildings along with modern scyscrapers, while Saint Petersburg, nicknamed Venice of the North, boasts of its classical architecture, many rivers, channels and bridges.
Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, shows a unique mix of Christian Russian and Muslim Tatar cultures. The city has registered a brand The Third Capital of Russia, though a number of other major Russian cities compete for this status, like Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod, all being major cultural centers with rich history and prominent architecture. Veliky Novgorod, Pskov and the cities of Golden Ring (Vladimir, Yaroslavl, Kostroma and others) have at best preserved the architecture and the spirit of ancient and medieval Rus', and also are among the main tourist destinations. Many old fortifications (typically Kremlins), monasteries and churches are scattered throughout Russia, forming its unique cultural landscape both in big cities and in remote areas.
Typical Russian souvenirs include Matryoshka doll and other handicraft, samovars for water heating, ushanka and papaha warm hats, fur clothes and other stuff. Russian vodka and caviar are among the food that attracts foreigners, along with honey, blini, pelmeni, borsch and other products and dishes. Diverse regions and ethnic cultures of Russia offer many more different food and souvenirs, and show a great variety of traditions, like Russian banya, Tatar Sabantuy, or Siberian shamanist rituals.
The warm subtropical Black Sea coast of Russia is the site for a number of popular sea resorts, like Sochi, known for its beaches and wonderful nature. The mountains of the Northern Caucasus contain popular ski resorts. The most famous natural tourist destination in Russia is lake Baikal, named the Blue Eye of Siberia. This unique lake, oldest and deepest in the world, has crystal-clean waters and is surrounded by taiga-covered mountains. Other popular natural destinations include Kam-chatka with its volcanoes and geysers, Karelia with its many lakes and granite rocks, Altai with its snowy mountains and Tyva with its wild steppes.
Works of Russian folk art can tell a lot about Russian national character, about the history of Russia, about the people’s ideals of happiness and beauty. Most homecrafts came into being in ancient times and their roots are lying in the village mechanical arts. Nature itself told people both materials and themes. In the forest regions turning trade and wood engraving used to develop. In places where deposits of clay were found the art of fine ceramics appeared. In Northern regions of the European part of Russia where flax was grown there was the art of trimming with lace. The Urals - the place of deposit of iron ore - is famous for its cast-iron moulding and ornamenting arms.
There are lots of folk homecrafts: wood and bone carving, embroidery, painting on wood and metal, ceramics, prints, production of skin and fur. However subjects of world fame became only some of them - matreshkas, Khokhloma painting, Gzhel’ ceramics, Palekh miniature, Zhostov trays, shawls of Pavlovo-Posad, Vologda lace, Dymkovo toy, painting of Gorodets, Kaslin cast-iron moulding.
Matreshka, the most popular Russian souvenir, is still rather “young”, it is a little more than 100 years old. Its prototype is the Japanese sectional wooden doll of buddhistic sage Fukurumu. In only several years after it came into being matreshka was already exposed at the World exhibition in Paris where it got a medal and world fame. In Paris Kaslin mouldings were remarked either. A cast-iron cigarette-case had the same price there that a silver one equal in weight.
“Khokhloma” — painting on wood with golden, red and black paints — appeared very long ago, in XVII century, and its technology has very little changed since then.
Palekh miniature appeared at the basis of ancient icon painting. In the 20s, in the period of “militant atheism” it did not die away but changed its form. Former masters of icon painting started making caskets, broaches and cigarette-cases painting the items in old technique but giving them another themes: scenes of Soviet everyday life, illustrations to folk tales, historical and literary plots.
Gorodets painting which appeared in the middle of XIX century discloses people’s ideas of “good life”. Beside flowers and animals Gorodets masters liked to depict promenade, tea-parties, celebrations etc.
Nowadays all Russian people love and appreciate works of folk art. Almost in every house one can see a Kaslin statuette, a wooden spoon of Khokhloma; among children’s toys there are certainly a matreshka and a painted pyramidion. One can often see collections of Gzhel, Khokhloma or Dymkovo toys. Production of folk homecrafts are sold in all the tourist centers. Leaving Russia one cannot help taking home some folk work which will remind one of a huge country, of its kind and talented people.