Dostoyevsky on why Russians were perceived as barbarians in Europe: ‘Scratch a Russian and you will find a Tartar’


The quote is taken from The Diary of a Writer: “I have said that Russians are disliked in Europe. That they are disliked, I believe, this no one will dispute. Inter alia we, all Russians without exception, are being accused in Europe of being awful liberals—moreover, revolutionists—and of the fact that we are always inclined to join the destructive, rather than the conservative, elements of Europe. For this reason, many Europeans look upon us scoffingly and with haughty hatred: they cannot under¬ stand why we should be negators in an alien cause. They positively deny our right to European negation, on the ground that they do not regard us as belonging to “civilization.” They rather perceive in us barbarians knocking about Europe and rejoicing over the thought that something somewhere may be destroyed—destroyed for the sake of destruction, from the pleasure of beholding how all this will fall apart, much as Huns ready to invade ancient Rome and to tear down a sanctity, even without any conception of what a precious thing they were destroying. That the majority of Russians have presented themselves as liberals in Europe is true; this is even strange. Has anyone raised the question in his mind: why is this so? Why, practically nine-tenths of the Russians, all through this century, culturalizing themselves in Europe, invariably have joined that stratum of the Europeans which was liberal, the “left camp,” i.e., that camp which itself denied its own culture, its own civilization—of course, more or less (that which Thiers denies in civilization and that which the Paris Commune of 1871 denied in it—are altogether different things). In the same way “more or less” and equally in many different ways are Russians also liberal in Europe; nevertheless, I repeat, they are more inclined than Europeans to side, directly and from the very start, with the extreme left than to hover first in the lower grades of liberalism. Briefly, among Russians one finds a lesser number of Thierses than of Communards. And please note that these are by no means some empty-stomached fellows, but even people having a solid and civilized appearance—sometimes almost in the category of Ministers. This precisely is why Europeans distrust us. “Grattez le Russe et vous verrez le Tartare” [Scratch a Russian and you will find a Tartar|—they say. All this may be correct, but this is what has occurred to me: do the majority of Russians, in their intercourse with Europe, side with the extreme left because they are Tartars and are fond of destruction, as barbarians, or are they prompted by other motives? That’s the question! And you must admit that it is a rather curious one.

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Leo Tolstoy’s quote about Russians.

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